The Montreal Canadiens started the season as a loose hockey team. The Habs’ defence had not yet figured it out. The club was averaging 39 shots against before they finally started to tighten it up this week. Their best performance was a 5-2 win over the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday. The weekend ended with a date against a struggling Minnesota Wild, who came back for a 4-3 win over the Habs on Sunday.
- The Habs powerplay has scored in eight consecutive games. The second-worst team with the extra man last season is suddenly one of the best this season. Now, it’s early but there are obvious changes that are making a massive amount of difference. The Habs powerplay goal against the Wild was a microcosm of the changes the coaching staff has made. Earlier this year, it was Shea Weber’s slap shot, over and over again, as the primary strategy. They quickly, but finally, saw the light on this. Every team in the league knew it was coming, and it was therefore worth nothing. Now they are working hard down low, changing angles for cross-seam passes that make it so difficult for defenders, three on the point then collapsing to one on the point, point men charging the net on slap shots from other defenders. And when Weber is finally there on the point, feints to him to open up other lanes. It’s all brilliant. It’s all making a massive difference to the Habs results this season. The powerplay goal in this one was a simple but effective strategy: take a point shot, then charge the net in all avenues and hope the rebound comes back out to someone. Tomas Tatar was at the point, then saw the shot, then charged the goal, and the rebound was a wide-open net for a 1-1 game.
- The Habs struggled so badly on defence to start the season. The organization felt that they had a new top-four defender in Ben Chiarot. He was given Jeff Petry as a partner. The result was ugly: 40 shots a game allowed. To their credit, they quickly saw the issue. The change to the Habs D is so obvious with Chiarot on the third pair. Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry are both top five in Corsi on the team. This partnership has settled the team. There was a shift in the second period that these two defenders showed so much impressive trust in each other. Kulak was dragging the puck all over the ice like Sidney Crosby. He got a good shot away. The left side was vacated when Petry read the play perfectly, took the attempted clear from the Wild at the point, then he too skated toward the net like Crosby. At the same time, Kulak then got back to his point position successfully. This is gorgeous modern-day, 200-foot hockey. You have to give the coaching staff credit for such innovative hockey allowing every player to be a forward, if the chance presents itself. It has to be noted that it is clear that Petry and Kulak are the new number one pair on the Habs. They deserve the hard match-ups, and most ice time. At 34, pushing Shea Weber back to lower minutes as he tries to move along a second-year D-man in Victor Mete is completely acceptable. Weber has a lot of years left on his deal. Helping him stay strong through those years is common sense.
- They are one of the best-kept secrets in the NHL. They are one of the best lines in the league that absolutely no one talks about. The Bergeron and MacKinnon line are in the same statistical class as the Danault line for Corsi. No one would believe you in any other city in the league if you didn’t show them the numbers. Philip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar are top five in the NHL. The stats bear it out. The eye test bears it out: they are suffocating. Danault with two goals in this game, and Tatar with the other as the line dominated again.
- While the Habs power play has been exemplary, it is being cancelled out by a terrible penalty kill. The Habs are 24th in the league with a man disadvantage. They continue to give easy looks to their opposition. The Habs are at 73 percent while the best team in the league Vegas is at 94 percent. The Habs are far too passive killing penalties. They go directly into their box which is the dream scenario for any modern-day powerplay.
- Another goat in this one was the NHL schedule maker. The Habs were trying desperately to keep their energy up playing their fourth game in six days. The lactic acid was building for Montreal, while Minnesota had not played since Thursday. Fans hate to hear the fatigue excuse, but there is so little between many of these players, so having the energy to puck battle is vital. The Habs have 14 back-to-back situations this season. That’s difficult, but it’s doubly difficult when the other team has been resting for three days.
- The Habs are rumoured to be interested in a Russian winger playing for CKSA Moscow in the KHL. Konstantin Okulov is receiving interest from GM Marc Bergevin according to Sportsnet. Okulov is a left-shooting winger who had 20 goals in 48 games last season. He was stronger in the post-season with seven goals and 14 points in 19 games. Okulov is off to a strong start this season with 14 points in 19 games. Okulov is 24 years of age and has a contract until the end of this season. This seems like a long shot.