The Montreal Canadiens have played four games this season and earned points in all of them.
It’s a good omen for the Canadiens. They have been in every game so far, though they have not yet found good fortune in extra time or shootouts.
The Canucks met the opposition again on Thursday night in what was the middle of a three-game set.
The Habs were not sharp in the first contest, playing undisciplined hockey. Their two overtime losses this year can be attributed to allowing three powerplay goals in each of the games. If they stay out of the box, the chances of winning become much higher.
That was the challenge on Thursday. And while they didn’t stay out of the box, they sure put on a show, winning 7-3 over the Canucks.
- Tyler Toffoli enjoyed playing in Vancouver last season. They loved him there. He put up terrific numbers, but they couldn’t find a way around a cap crunch to keep him. The Canadiens are the big beneficiaries. Toffoli can score in bunches when he gets hot — and he’s hot now. Toffoli with five goals in the last two games to take the team lead in goals. The second goal was on a breakaway deke that was about as perfect as can exist. Toffoli also drew a helper on a very smart and patient pass to Joel Armia to free him on a breakaway. Armia had a quiet four-point night. Toffoli is a terrific linemate for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who is best at passing. It’s always nice for a centre to see his passes result in goals. The Toffolis of the world make the Kotkaniemis of the world look good.
- The Canucks started the night without two key defenders, Travis Hamonic and Alexander Edler, who were injured on Wednesday. On Thursday night, they lost Jalen Chatfield to injury as well. So the Canucks are simply not the same team anymore. They had to roll five defenders, and that’s not enough — especially when two are inexperienced. The lack of talent was too much against the Canadiens scorers, who began to feast late in the second period. Montreal scored three goals in 1 minute and 34 seconds. Josh Anderson scored on the rebound of a breakaway by Nick Suzuki, who was fed beautifully by Jonathan Drouin. Directly after, it was Paul Byron to Jake Evans, who roofed it with a terrific shot. Right after, it was Joel Armia with a gaping net for his second goal of the night. It was 6-2 after two periods, and the rest of the night was an attempt to pad stats. After 40 minutes, it was 30-9 for the Habs in shots. That’s 30-9 for a team that was shorthanded five times. The Canadiens offence is a wrecking ball with 24 goals in five games.
- What’s a little unusual about how much trouble the Canadiens are having with penalties is that they don’t seem to be learning as they go. Bo Horvat scored on the power play on the exact same play that worked on Wednesday night. It’s hard to believe that, after being beaten on the same play over and over again, they are not making an adjustment on it. Also, there are no adjustments in the discipline category. The Canadiens are going to the penalty box at an alarming rate. This would be concerning at any time, but when you can’t kill penalties … well, it’s quite unsettling. The Canucks scored three powerplay goals in their win on Wednesday, and added another one on Thursday night. It’s not as if they were good penalties, either — that is, the type that is a snap decision that stops a big scoring chance. These are penalties 180 feet from the Canadiens goal where it seems harder to keep the skates moving than the stick engaged where it shouldn’t be. There are also revenge-driven, anger penalties that shouldn’t happen. The Habs are going to have to figure this out. One could easily make the argument that the team would be close to perfect without the powerplay goals against them. They allowed three in a loss in Toronto. They allowed three in a loss in Vancouver. Stay out of the box, and those would have been wins; the Canadiens could have started the season with five games undefeated.
- A couple of sour notes in the health department. Paul Byron took a shot off what looked like the top of his foot from Shea Weber. He hobbled off and went to the room. He came back for a very short shift and then did not return the rest of the night. With only 2:28 left in the contest, Tyler Myers blindsided Joel Armia to the head. He received a five-minute major for the boneheaded play. We shall see what the line-up looks like Saturday. One strength of the Habs is their depth. At forward, Michael Frolik and Corey Perry are waiting for a chance to play.
One of the best aspects of analytics is that you can use them to compare the clubs you are watching with the clubs that you can’t watch — and do so with the same intensity.
Critics of analytics usually say they don’t need them because they use the eye test. While that may be true for the games before your eyes, it does nothing for the games that you can’t watch. If you’re watching the Habs, then you have a great eye test for them, but what about the other seven games on at the same time?
Analytics are most enjoyable when it comes to comparisons around the league with your favourite players.
Right now, this is where one gets a real sense of how well the Canadiens are playing early this season. One of the most enjoyable analytics is Expected Goals Percentage. It is the go-to now replacing Corsi, which just tracks shot attempts.
Expected Goals adds many metrics, including where those shots are coming from in terms of how much you could expect a goal from them. Was it a dangerous shot attempt or a dump-in from centre? One really gets a sense of who is playing well. However, the bigger the sample size, the more accurate it is. If it is just one period, or one game, it can be skewed, obviously. As the season progresses, we will get an even better idea of where the Canadiens lines and pairings stack.
For that reason, the minimum requirement early in the season to be on the list was 30 minutes of ice time. So how are the Canadiens lines doing? Extremely well.
The top line in the league is Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Joe Thornton, with a 71.4 per cent. Right behind, at 70.4 per cent, is Philip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. Danault is certainly making a case for a nice contract early this season.
The third-best line in the league is Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson. Closely in the shadows, at the fourth-best line at 69 per cent is Nick Suzuki, Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin. What is interesting about this line being the fourth-best in the NHL so far is Suzuki that is a second-year player and playing dominating hockey. The other salient point is Drouin is being roundly criticized for his play, but his line is playing most of its hockey in the offensive zone.
Sometimes the eye test isn’t so great for all people. The seventh-best line in the league, just behind Sidney Crosby’s line, is Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia, and Tyler Toffoli. That’s impressive.
On defence, the Canadiens are also doing well, though not as well, showing that the forwards are the ones powering the success so far, not the defence. The 13th best pair is Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot.
There is a long way to go, and this will certainly change. If the Canadiens can keep Suzuki’s line and Danault’s line in the top 10, it will have been a hell of a season.
Look for a tracking of how the Canadiens are fairing in analytics this season about every five games.