With the Montreal Canadiens ending their second eight-game winless skid of the season, they tried to build on Saturday’s momentum with another victory at the Bell Centre.
The Calgary Flames were in Montreal on Jan. 13, fighting for their playoff lives, but it was Montreal who looked like the playoff team with a 2-0 win.
Ryan Poehling did it. He scored.
Poehling was certainly struggling to get on the score sheet, but he wasn’t struggling to play good hockey for the Canadiens. He finally got the first goal of his season to go with the three of last year — and what a goal it was, coming during his 20th game of the year.
Poehling had the puck in front of the net, and he could have panicked and put it right into the goalie’s pad. However, he maintained tremendous composure considering how tight his stick must have been, waited, then finally put it upstairs with the goalie stretched out and beaten.
Poehling brings a style of play that the club needs. He is tough on the puck, battles hard, is difficult to handle in front of the net and isn’t a soft out at all. You see his good work so many times in the contest; he is making a difference.
Generally speaking, the Habs are bringing kids into the NHL too quickly. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was brought in quickly, and he hasn’t had enough time to get the puck on his stick and own it — something that’s required to develop stick skills. It would be advantageous for players like Kotkaniemi and Poehling to get more time to hone their skills at the AHL level, but that isn’t to criticize what they are doing and how they are managing. It’s good. It could be better with more development of their skill set, but overall, they will be fine.
Poehling looks like a winger at the NHL level and a tough one, who will make a very good complimentary player on a line with a scorer like Cole Caufield, and a passer like Nick Suzuki. As they say in hockey parlance, Poehling will be a good ‘F1’ — a first forechecker to go get the puck on the dump-in and make that defenceman a little nervous with his head up for anything coming from a strong skater with a big body.
Poehling is going to be a solid NHLer eventually. This first goal may just relax him, so that second one comes a lot sooner. This moment you could see coming. The hockey he was playing was just too good for the reward to not be on its way.
There wasn’t a lot to note about Cale Fleury‘s game against the Flames. He was just another one of the defenders who was solid on a night when everyone looked solid. However, one moment of note: He had a collision with the giant Milan Lucic that absolutely destroyed Lucic. The big winger tumbled to the ice like a barrel over Niagara Falls, then crashed into the boards with a thud so loud it electrified the fans. Imagine a Montreal blue line on which Alexander “Hip Check” Romanov joins Fleury. Add that to the big checks that Shea Weber can also engage when he wants to, and the Habs will keep some heads up at the blue line for sure.
It’s not getting a lot of ink these days, because the Canadiens were on an eight-game losing skid, but the team’s penalty kill has greatly improved over the past month.
The Habs’ penalty kill was 31st in the NHL for the first couple months of the season, but in the last month, the kill is actually top 10. The team addressed that issue quite well, having killed 23 of their last 25 penalties.
It’s interesting to note that Ryan Poehling has been strong at killing penalties, and has helped that stat turn around. Artturi Lehkonen has always been the type of player who knows how to kill penalties; he’s dominant at it. There is zero reason that the Habs, with all of their intelligent players, should be poor at killing penalties. The kill is now 23rd in the league, which just shows how hard it is to make ground.
However, they have worked hard at being more aggressive and covering the lanes better. They’ll lament that they had to have such a horrendous start on it, but the optimist will note that they can at least correct their errors and improve on weaknesses. The coaching staff will be pleased with the effort to turn it around, despite other malaises.
This is some of the best goaltending that we have seen from Carey Price this season. He was dialled in against the Senators in Ottawa in that victory with 41 saves, and he was even better in this one, facing a higher-quality shot selection. Price had 31 saves for the shutout. He also had the pressure of knowing just one mistake would be massive, as the score was only 1-0 Montreal for most of the game. Price has had a difficult season, with a save percentage of around .900 for most of it, but this was the .930 Price that we all know. He tracked beautifully; he was engaged; his reflexes were fast. He looked square to the puck and made sure that he was big in the net — all of the things that he talks about all of the time when assessing his own game.
It is a ridiculously difficult road into the playoff fight, but it is certainly more fun to watch when Price is at his best.
This was the best game of the season for the Habs, or at least in the same category as the best.
Perhaps the best was the win over the Capitals in Washington, but this was certainly in the same class as that win. The Habs were hungry from the start, dominating the first period. Score effects evened the game out a little, but Montreal stayed strong.
They also put together a terrific effort defensively, not allowing odd-man rushes and making sure that Price didn’t have to face a bevy of east-west saves. Therefore, not a single Wilde Goat. This was complete. This was a night so good, it is difficult to imagine it is the same team that had two losing streaks of eight games.
The Montreal Canadiens were a very good hockey team on Monday night.
In this week’s Call of the Wilde podcast, the topic of discussion is how to build a Stanley Cup winner.
Just about every cup winner has had a formula for success, which has four must-have pieces. You have to have a dominant centre; if you win the middle, you win the game. You also have to have a scorer for that dominant centre to pass the puck. You have to have two 30-minute dominating defenders that you can use in all situations. The Canadiens don’t have any of the key components at the moment. They may have them in Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Alexander Romanov, but they still have to grow as players for anyone to think they have that possibility to be in that lofty category.
As it stands now, knowing that elite players win championships, the Habs aren’t close. Therefore, the trading deadline should be interesting again for Marc Bergevin as he decides how much he wants to rebuild this team two seasons after he thought he was already done the ‘reset’ to rebuild this team.
There are interesting times ahead as the GM discovers that he is living Groundhog Day. The podcast is available to listen to on Global Montreal’s website.