It was the first game with Dominique Ducharme as the new head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s not an easy task, as the Canadiens are a slow-moving car crash he will try to turn around after the firing of Claude Julien. Ducharme didn’t tinker with the lineup too much, but did make some moves on the forward lines.
The biggest was putting Tomas Tatar back with Philip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. He also sat Jake Evans opting for veteran Paul Byron at the centre spot on the fourth line. The Winnipeg Jets were the opposition and they roared back to beat the Canadiens 6-3.
While behind the bench looked different, on the ice it looked the same.
During the first game after a coaching change, always watch for who seems to be playing with more joy and freedom. The answer in this one was Jonathan Drouin.
That’s not to say that he may have had any difficulty whatsoever with Claude Julien, but if you look at it logically, Julien likes extremely responsible players defensively. It raises the question that perhaps Drouin has been so focused on defence that he has been unable at times to get his head wrapped around it that he is there to provide excitement.
And my oh my, did he ever provide excitement.
Drouin was absolutely flying in the first period, making play after play. He was rewarded when he had a puck on the left side just over the blue line, then waited and waited until the lane opened up for a clean pass to Joel Armia. All he had to do was tap it home for the goal.
It was the second goal of the night for Armia already in the first period. The first goal he was also sent free with a beautiful pass, this time from Alexander Romanov. Again, the same story prevails as a player seemed to get free again in this game.
Romanov in his first two games this season was aggressive.
He was head-manning the puck with gorgeous passes. He was also looking to step up and level players approaching the blue line or in the neutral zone if they did not have their head up.
That ended by game five. It all ended by game five.
He became businesslike. Not that it’s a bad thing to be businesslike,if that’s your skillset. It isn’t for Romanov, though. He has the skills to be something much more than dump it in, dump it out. He’s a complete player and it was refreshing to see the defender who started the season come to life.
Dylan Demelo is a goat, even though he isn’t even a Canadiens player. Demelo in the first period had a clear slew foot on Josh Anderson. It’s bad enough that it happened, but then it wasn’t even called as a penalty.
Even worse, it meant that Anderson was done for the night with an injury. The replay did not look good at all as Anderson’s leg was twisted back in an awkward position. Here’s hoping it is only precautionary.
The injury messed up the lines for the rest of the game, with the Habs now having only 11 forwards. Considering it was the first game for Ducharme, there is now not much to be made of ice times overall, though he sure did lean on Philip Danault’s line against the Mark Schiefele line.
The Canadiens were in good shape in this one until midway through the second period. It was Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot on as the defensive pair when the Jets executed a beautiful passing play tic-tac-toe. It was hard to blame the pairing too much on that one. Talented players do talented things many times and you tip your hat.
However, a couple minutes later, it was the same pair on the ice again, and this time you can certainly blame the pairing.
Both defenders backed in far too far, but it was on Chiarot’s side that he was inside the dot, allowing the Jets to walk right in. Chiarot had an opportunity to simply poke check Blake Wheeler, but he gave it a poor effort of blocking the shot instead.
It was 3-3. It was an exceptionally poor play.
This brings us to a point that is becoming increasingly obvious.
It’s so obvious that it has to be said: Weber and Chiarot simply cannot be a pairing. No one can get to a puck first,o one can get the puck out and up. In the defensive zones, they do this things well: cover the man, cross-check the man in front of the net, win puck battles in the corner.
Here’s the problem though: they are always in the defensive zone doing these things. They can’t get the puck up to a forward quickly. They can’t win races to free pucks, so they’re defending instead.
Individually, they would be fine. Each playing with a puck-moving defenceman would handle their own duties, and leave some of the more offensive elements of hockey to the rearguard who can get control and get it up and out with a clean pass, or with skating legs. They were hemmed in their own end so often in this one. As an erudite Twitter user likes to say: If you have too many stay-at-home defencemen, your team is going to be staying home a lot.
If each of Weber or Chiarot had a Petry-type, they’d be fine. Together, this is not fine. It cannot be stressed enough that this team needs Romanov to be ready for a bigger role. He has to be good enough to take bigger minutes soon, or this team will suffer.
Petry as one puck mover on the first pairing and Romanov as a puck mover on the second pairing has to be the future. There is simply too much time spent in the Canadiens zone.
Sadly, the difficulty of Carey Price continued. It’s difficult to critique goaltending as it’s an extremely intricate science, but one of the basic tenets of the new system of playing net is the goalie takes away the entire lower part of the net and forces the shooter to find the top corners under the bar. What that means is when a shot is coming from five feet, it is nearly impossible to get that shot up fast enough. Therefore, when that shot comes from five feet out and Price does not have his paddle down, this is about a big of a mistake a goalie can make in modern goaltending.
The weakest of shots snuck through the five-hole because Price, for some reason, had his stick off the ice, doing nothing. If you don’t want to concentrate on the paddle, then that’s fine. Price better have the gap closed between his legs, though. Again, modern goaltending is no way can that go on the ice five-hole. It was a huge goal for the Jets, and it should have 100 per cent been saved.
Price entered the night 53rd among NHL goalies with an .893 save percentage. His percentage in this game was .833.
The Laval Rocket are finding the Manitoba Moose a difficult prey so far this season with two losses. However, Jesse Ylonen’s shining brightly, considering it is his first attempt at playing on smaller North American ice. However, it should be noted that Ylonen has played on the hybrid ice mostly, and not often the bigger Olympic style ice.
Ylonen scored his first goal of the campaign for the Rocket. He has also added four assists for five points in six games.
What’s sticking out more than anything, though, is how comfortable he already looks. He is holding on to the puck with great poise. He isn’t feeling the pressure to release it in a dump and chase fashion, or try an ill-fated pass when the pressure of an opponent closes in. He looks like the could be a sleeper in the future of the Canadiens.
Certainly, not many people have spoken of Ylonen, a second-rounder out of the Finnish system even though he is actually American-born, because there wouldn’t seem to be a place for him on the roster.
Ylonen has outstanding speed which is always important at the NHL level. He also has an ability to make plays at that same level. The top forward prospect for the Canadiens is, without a doubt, Cole Caufield. Ylonen might just be the second best forward prospect for the Canadiens.
It’s a long road, but so far, Ylonen has been a pleasant surprise far ahead of his expected learning curve.
— Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.