Two and one or one and two. The success of most three-game road trips hinges on those two records. The Habs had a chance for a rare successful three-game western Canada swing with a win in Vancouver on Saturday night. On Thursday, Carey Price faced 45 shots while stealing a win for the Habs in Calgary. Price was back in the net in Vancouver Saturday, in the province where he was born and raised.
- There are some nights when you can see the emotional and physical fatigue in Jeff Petry`s game. With Shea Weber not healthy this entire season, the load that Petry has had to shoulder has often been too much. He can have difficult nights when playing outside his comfort zone with too many minutes. However, there are other nights when Petry is not feeling overworked and you can see all that he can bring. Petry’s work on the first Habs’ goal was exquisite: he skated away from his check behind the net with such authority that he had all the time in the world to get up a head of steam and make a perfect stretch pass to Tomas Tatar. The rest was what a finisher does on the breakaway, scoring for to make it 1-0 Habs. Petry gets the primary assist but he did 80 per cent of the work for the goal. When the good Petry is on the ice, it is a beautiful thing to watch. It can be expected that when Weber returns, Petry will be asked to do less. As a result, with more energy and easier assignments, you will see the Good Petry even more often. Petry has 15 points in 20 games, an enormous contribution offensively.
- Noah Juulsen has the odd bad game as a rookie, but his progression is obvious. In Vancouver, he was standing up at the blue line and delivering hits, even shorthanded. He isn’t afraid to join the rush either. He took some good shots on goal when the Habs were on the attack. Juulsen certainly has the potential to be a second pair defender. Finding a successful draft pick in the final third of the first round is a 50-50 proposition but it is guaranteed now that Trevor Timmins has landed that with this pick. Juulsen will get more comfortable over time. He will get a book on the preferences of attackers as they meet him at the blue line. Conversely, attackers will be forced to remember that when they go down the left side they better be careful, because Juulsen very well might lay them out with an open-ice hit or crush them into the boards. It’s not a skill many have these days, and Juulsen has it in abundance. He will become a fan favourite too as he continues to grow his game. It’s got to be extremely satisfying for the organization to see his development because they can also see that you just can’t pluck a third pair defenseman off other rosters and expect them to automatically show talent. Juulsen is no Alzner, nor is he a Benn or a Schlemko. He has some ceiling to his game.
- Max Domi has done it again. He got a third-period assist to make it nine straight games with a point which is the best Habs point streak in a decade. Domi didn’t do much in this one and he still contributed in a big way. That’s what top players are able to do. They get points on the nights that they are not on their game. It might just be that Domi is on his way to being a top player on a regular and consistent basis in the NHL, and at centre no less.
- Jonathan Drouin continues with a scoring pace that he has never shown at the NHL level. Feeling comfortable back on the wing with less responsibility, he’s free to do what he does, and man is he doing it well. Drouin got another goal and an assist. He ripped a shot into the top corner late on the power play for the 3-2 game-winner. Drouin now has seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points in 20 games. He is on pace for 70 points on the season. Drouin’s career best is 53 points. The trade took a bit of time to look like it was a good one, but right now, it’s looking mighty fine.
- Carey Price took five days off to get his head clear. He flat-out admitted that he had to get straight upstairs. He then got back in the net to face 45 shots to absolutely steal a win from the Flames in Calgary. He then faced 37 shots in Vancouver to steal one — to a lesser extent — from the Canucks. That’s four points that they likely don’t get if not for Price`s goaltending. He’s not back to .920 yet by any means, but he is moving in the right direction. As a result, so are the Habs.
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- The coaches of the Habs penalty kill didn’t do their homework and it cost them the go-ahead goal. The players don’t have time to read the book on tendencies of the other team. They’re too busy playing. The coaching staff is assigned to pre-scouting and knowing their opponent. The book on the Canucks could not be more obvious to anyone that has been following hockey at all in the first quarter of the season. Everything they do goes through Elias Pettersson. He is their offence. So when he parks on the right side at the point, then he takes one clean shot with no one around him, that’s a problem. When he gets a chance to fire it again right after that and rips it top corner and still no one is checking even close to him, that’s on the player of course, but it is also very much on the coaches for not preparing the players to cover the magic spot that the rookie loves. It’s as if a team came into Montreal when Shea Weber is on the point and they never had a man tight to him to avoid him getting clean looks from 30 feet. Soon everyone will know that Pettersson loves this spot, and for the Habs, they should have known it already.
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- The year 2017 was the worst one in General Manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure. His job was in jeopardy if he could not turn it around in 2018-2019. Bergevin entered the 2017-2018 season with the eighth best record among GMs in his six years at the helm, but it all fell apart with the Habs going from Atlantic Division champion to Atlantic Division disaster. Fast-forward only a short time to this October, and there can be no denying the low point in this Habs cycle has already passed. What a recovery we are witnessing! Firstly, the two-decade-long problem of having not enough strength down the middle is finally getting corrected. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is the number one centre the team has been looking for. At only 18 years of age, he is already making strides in the NHL. Ryan Poehling is also coming to help down the middle after starring at Saint Cloud State. On defence, Josh Brook is also going to be a strong defenceman. Those moves are primarily Trevor Timmins actions drafting. Let’s give the credit where credit is due to Bergevin: he made three trades that have paid big dividends. The numbers in their entirety speak for themselves. Here’s the math behind them (with a big thank you to scout Grant McCagg): The departed Alex Galchenyuk, Mac Pacioretty and Mikhael Sergachev have five goals, 14 assists and 19 points collectively the season. The arrived Max Domi, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin have 26 goals, 32 assists, and 58 points. The Habs also have more talent coming as Nick Suzuki in the OHL has 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points. Suddenly, the centre position of the future looks powerful with Kotkaniemi, Domi, Poehling and Phillip Danault. The Habs will be a strong hockey team up front for years to come. In fact, these Habs already lead the league in 5-on-5 goals and they’ll be getting considerably stronger in just the next two years with the improvement of Kotkaniemi, and the arrival of Poehling and Suzuki. Bergevin has done a strong job, but still has much work to do. Bergevin has to figure out the defence to right this ship completely. The right side will be strong soon with Shea Weber returning, Noah Juulsen improving, Josh Brook arriving, and Jeff Petry not having to play so many minutes that he breaks down. On the left side though, there are massive issues. Victor Mete is a third-pairing defender. Mike Reilly is the same. The top priority is a left-handed, first pair defender. That will not be easy to find. Then again, last year at this time the top centre was Phillip Danault. Two years from now, he will be the number four, likely with a 40-point ceiling, assigned as mostly a shutdown guy. So let’s see what Bergevin can do to turn around the defensive corps. Very few had any faith that he could turn around the offensive side either, and he most certainly has done that.
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