The Montreal Canadiens earned four out of a possible six points on the road to start the season. Any fan would have taken that, considering the level of the opposition included Carolina and Toronto.
The Habs home opener didn’t fare much better, losing to the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 Thursday night.
It was the first chance for head coach Claude Julien to match lines — something he’s highly skilled at.
- Even when it does not go Brendan Gallagher’s way on the score sheet, there is something to appreciate about him. The work rate of Gallagher does not slow down from year to year, or even from game to game. He is also fearless no matter what the clock or scoreboard says. He knows only one speed — all out. In the first period against the Red Wings, Gallagher came out of the corner and into traffic so thick in front of the net you couldn’t see light between bodies. Didn’t matter. He put his head down and ploughed through the fray for an excellent scoring chance.
- Joel Armia is already a valuable player for his size and ability to hold on to the puck. He is the best puck battler on the team. There are times when the opposition puts two players on Armia and he still won’t relinquish it. Now if he can add a scoring element this season, Armia’s value to the club increases exponentially. In the first period at the Bell Centre on Thursday, Armia rocketed a shot past Detroit’s Jonathan Bernier into the top corner for his third goal of the season. Armia came to the Habs basically because GM Marc Bergevin manages his salary-cap space well. He’s been a strong addition, especially so far this season, leading the team in goals, though, of course, it is early.
- Speaking of Bergevin’s best trades, it might just be that his best is going to be trading Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi. It was such a suspect move at the time with Domi just completing a nine-goal season in Arizona. But Bergevin saw something then that we are all seeing now. Domi scored a powerplay goal against the Red Wings after getting into the dirty area and taking a hit around the net to make a play. Why Domi is on the second unit is a true mystery at the moment. Domi is far and away a better offensive player than Philip Danault, a solid hockey player for sure, but he is not a powerplay centre. He doesn’t have the hands of Domi. He’s not in the same league as Domi. Surely that has to change at some point because Domi coming on for the last 45 seconds is illogical in anyone’s hockey pool. In fact, one step further in the discussion, Danault should not even be on the second unit. That honour should belong to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who has hands and vision superior to Danault’s as well. Danault is the best five-on-five centre on the team. Save him for that set-up in the contest.
- There was voluble, annoying and irrelevant criticism directed at Jonathan Drouin for the pre-season that he had. The veteran stayed healthy so he achieved his objective. Now that the season has begun, Drouin has been quick out of the gate. He has four points in four games, but the coaching staff will like his work rate even more. Drouin is battling harder than we have seen before in a Habs uniform in two full seasons. He seems to have embraced the idea that a puck battle sets the tone for the next 15 seconds — so work hard to win it. Drouin is off to a strong start defensively as well as; one can’t note even one gaffe after four games. Considering last year, this is a marked improvement.
- The defensemen seem to be playing goaltender a lot so far this season. Too many times this season there is traffic in front of the Habs goal and no one is taking a man; instead, the rearguards are hoping to block the shot. Ben Chiarot was guilty of it in Buffalo, then on the first goal against Detroit it was the same issue for Christian Folin and Mike Reilly. They both watched the point shot come and didn’t concentrate on taking a man in front of the net. Their focus was not where it should be. Let Carey Price do what he does — easily stop 55-foot slap shots. Defenders need to clear lanes and tie up attacking players. Both Reilly and Folin were guilty of the poor work, but the puck happened to go to Folin’s side, leaving Darren Helm alone to take the rebound to make it 1-0.
- The biggest goat of the game again is the defence overall. No need to go on and on early in the season pointing a finger at any player of the six on the ice, or even the two more in the press box. One through eight, this is a struggle. The Habs allowed 34 shots in this game. They were allowing a league-worst 39 shots per game before the Detroit contest. Again, this is a small sample size naturally, but a small sample size is all anyone has at the moment. We can’t just laugh it off as a small sample size but at the same time highlight everything else as if sample size is irrelevant on the positive points. This type of defence can’t last. It is just too taxing to score four goals a night to get a result. It is just too taxing on even the great Carey Price to allow this number of shots. It is just too taxing to have to comeback from behind game after game. Will the defence improve? Everyone knows Julien will tighten this up, but that simply means he will look to play low-event hockey, so the offence will naturally suffer if the forwards can’t transition up the ice with speed because no one can get them the puck. There will be sacrifices made to the offensive structure to accommodate defensive difficulties. It’s going to be interesting to watch how this shakes out in the end. The players manning the blue line will stay the same, but Julien will not allow this type of defensive posture to stay the same. That is a guarantee. What will change to tighten this up will be the interesting development to come.
- It must have been hard for Cale Fleury to hide his disappointment in being left out of the line-up for a second-straight game. His parents flew in from the prairies to see their son and visit Montreal for the first time in their lives. Fleury had a bright training camp and didn’t seem to falter too much, but Julien likes his veterans. Julien, when asked about Fleury sitting for a second-straight time, suggested if he doesn’t get enough ice time, he will be sent back down to the minors. The thinking, of course, is that a young player needs to play; he needs to get a lot of minutes to improve his game. The truth is, there is not much to choose from defencemen four through eight on the Habs roster, so no one should make a giant fuss whoever is listed on the line-up. However, the parents coming all that way to not see their boy is a bit sad all in all.