The Montreal Canadiens started a seven-game road trip with two wins.
For their third road game, against the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night, the Canadiens had one goal: Stop Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
If they’re not scoring, the Oilers aren’t winning.
Well, they were scoring, and they were winning — 4-3 — to hand the Habs their first road loss in three games.
- It’s always a good feeling to return to the city that let you go and didn’t think that much of you, then play one of your best games there. Jeff Petry was a scapegoat in Edmonton for some of their troubles back in the day. Though he was an unrestricted free agent when he was traded to Montreal, the folks in Edmonton did not like him. They didn’t think was good. They thought he didn’t have any hockey sense. Petry proved to all that those things were false, and the big problem was actually evaluation of talent in the Big E. Petry has been strong-to-stellar in his time in Montreal. Sure, there has been the odd bad night. Every defender can claim these. Overall, though, Petry has been more than Marc Bergevin could have asked for when he committed to him. Petry got the Habs comeback started when he scored shorthanded. Then, he fired the point shot that Phillip Danault deflected to tie it up at 2-2. He followed that up by starting the rush on the 3-3 goal for a three-point night. Memorable for Petry in his return to Edmonton.
- Ryan Poehling is still not putting the points on the board, but he is subtly figuring this out at the NHL level. Poehling plays a tough, strong and powerful brand of hockey at this higher level. He used to be more finesse at a lower level, and that will come later. Until that finesse arrives, though, it’s going to work for him being a strong forechecker, a big-time puck battler and a tough body to face. A couple seasons later, the bigger numbers of goals and assists will come, too. He’s going to be a good 10-goal man playing strong hockey for a while before 20-goal seasons eventually arrive. Poehling will be much like Artturi Lehkonen. A useful hockey player who does not hurt you, who sometimes goes into some goal-scoring droughts that do not cost you because he’s taking care of 200 feet of ice so well. Poehling is going to be a solid pro. You can see him getting there from shift to shift. He’s no fun to play against in the same mold as Joel Armia. The Habs need more of this type of player, especially in the playoffs when the hockey gets heavier. You know, if they make them.
- Max Domi seems to be finding his way as he is really starting to move his feet more on this Western swing. Domi was flying on the overtime winner for Montreal in Calgary on Thursday night. In this one, it was early third period, the Canadiens needed a goal desperately and there was Domi to answer the call again. And again he was flying. Domi undressed Darnell Nurse badly with his speed, turning him and leaving him in his dust. Domi then went far side smoothly. The Habs could use last season’s Domi. He may just be arriving again.
- One theme this season statistically for the Canadiens is how much better Carey Price’s numbers are on north-south shots compared to east-west shots. Now obviously every goalie is going to be better at north-south shots, but for Price the numbers are astronomically in favour of allowing him to face a direct shot instead of allowing a cross-ice pass that he has to save. The coaching staff has seen these advanced stats. They know that Price in a one-on-one confrontation is as good as it gets, but on a cross-crease pass, he suffers. Therefore, the defenders need to be instructed on a two-on-one to make sure that they take away the pass and allow the shot. However, the game has barely started and Shea Weber is alone on a two-on-one with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Weber allows the pass. He played it in the middle, and he was no match for the pass across for an easy goal. Now, no one is arguing that the clean shot from McDavid was going to be an easy contest here, but the stats show that the pass has to be stopped for Price. The point can’t be completed on this first goal, though, without mentioning how badly Ben Chiarot got schooled as McDavid went around him like he couldn’t skate. Sometimes no matter what you try is not going to work, but you also have to give yourself the best chance. For Price and the Canadiens, the best chance is not allowing the east-west pass, and systematically attempting to close lanes. When Price sees the shot and is set for the shot, he stops the shot as well as anyone in hockey. So let him do that already because it happened on the 1-0, and then it happened again on another 2-on-1 when Brett Kulak didn’t stop the cross-ice pass for yet another east-west goal against Price. That made it 4-3. Same problem over and over again. No one seems to be focused on correcting it.
- Another drum that has to be banged again and again for the Habs is their need for a left-handed defenceman with some skill. Ben Chiarot is starting to play some ridiculously high minutes to make up for the fact that there is no one steady to play behind him on the left side. Chiarot played 9:47 in the first period in Edmonton. It’s easy to proclaim that Chiarot is playing well for the Habs this season, but he is not playing so well that he is going to last in the long run playing 29 minutes every game. He’s going to need a break or he’s going to breakdown. However, you know that the head coach is using him because he looks down the bench and it makes him nervous to use anyone else. But that’s all he has. He’s got Chiarot, a hope and a prayer, and then back to Chiarot. On the second goal, there’s only one viable question to critique: what the hell was Mike Reilly doing? Claude Julien surely was not impressed as he used Reilly only three minutes in the first period. Imagine how much better this Habs team would be if they had one more strong left side defenceman. It would shock a lot of people how much better they could be. A strong first pair left side defender would put the Canadiens in the top 10 ranking in goals against. Any team that is top 10 in goals for and goals against can do great things. One defender short. That’s all this team is from being a very good team, but until they get that defender, it’s always going to be a struggle defensively.
- Let’s take a look at that power play, shall we? On the first wave, oh for the love of God, why Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins again? This is confounding. The Canadiens actually have some talented hockey players. Max Domi was a talented junior. He has some sweet moves and passes beautifully. Brendan Gallagher had 35 goals last season. He’s quite the player. Nick Suzuki is going to be a tremendous hockey player. Tomas Tatar leads your team in scoring. Why? Why the love affair with Cousins and Weal?
- Still, with special teams, the head coach stressed with the Edmonton Oilers the one thing you can’t do is take penalties. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl excel even more with the extra man. The Habs took five minors. The Oilers took one. The third-period penalty by Cousins was needless and stupid. It broke the Habs momentum trying to look for the equalizer, even though they did kill it. Montreal is horrendous at killing penalties. They need to be much more diligent in handling what they are not good at. If you can’t kill penalties well, then don’t take them, especially the 200-foot penalty.
- The World Juniors are just around the corner and it does not appear as if Mattias Norlinder is going to get a chance to make a big impact for the Swedish team. The Canadiens draft pick is having a strong season in the second league in Sweden, but some of his competition for a defenceman spot on the team is playing at a higher level in the elite league. Phillip Broberg is one of those players. The Swedes are strong on the blue line. They will be formidable. Their number one pairing is Rasmus Sandin and Victor Soderstrom. It appears there will have to be an injury, or some coach frustration at another defender, for Norlinder to see playing time in the tournament.