Canadiens off to Good Start, But Could Have Been Better
Earning three of a possible four points on the road is a good way to start the season, particularly if you’re without the best goaltender in the National Hockey League.
Two games is a small sample, but they showed the Canadiens are capable of doing a lot of good things, although there are also some problem areas that will need to be addressed as the team goes forward.
Here are some pluses and minuses:
Plus: The dull, boring defensive-minded Canadiens scored seven goals in two games and if they can maintain, they’ll win more games than they lose. People tend to forget Montreal was among the highest scoring teams in the NHL before Carey Price was injured last season. They had 83 goals in their first 23 games, an average of 3.6 a game.
Minus: The Canadiens scored a power-play goal in the 4-3 shootout loss to Ottawa on Saturday and had another one as Dion Phaneuf was leaving the penalty box. But both goals were scored by Jeff Petry on th second power-play unit. The first unit appeared disorganized with sloppy entries and no inside presence. Associate coach Kirk Muller, the man responsible for the power play, said he doesn’t want a perimeter power play, but that’s what we saw in the first two games.
Plus: Penalty-killing is mostly about work and sacrifice and the Canadiens earned a point because the PK came up big early in the third period with the score tied 2-2. The Senators had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:49 and managed only one shot on goal. While we haven’t seen Shea Weber’s impact on the power play, his solid defensive play should elevate an already good penalty kill.
Minus: The Senators took a 2-0 lead and outshot the Canadiens 13-6 in the first period of Saturday’s game. Several Montreal players said they expected Ottawa to come out strong and that raises the question of why Montreal wasn’t able to respond. Give the Canadiens credit for battling back, but they can’t into the habit of falling behind early.
Plus: Al Montoya did a fine job of filling in for the ailing Price and it’s likely he’ll get a third consecutive start when the Canadiens meet the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night in the home opener at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet 360, RDS, TSN-690 Radio). He emerged from the weekend with a 1.92 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage.
Minus: Petry, who scored two goals in Ottawa, said he made a mistake on the Senators’ tying goal when he allowed Tom Pyatt to score on the back door, but defence partner Andrei Markov was nowhere in the picture. Markov was also a step behind on Ottawa’s first goal by Ryan Dzingel. The Canadiens like to talk about their speed, but Ottawa was quicker for most of Saturday’s game.
Plus: Coach Michel Therrien produced some positive results when he juggled his lines after the first period in Ottawa. He gave Alexander Radulov some time on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk and, while the Russian is still looking for his first point, his work ethic is impressive. Rookie Artturi Lehkonen scored his first NHL goal, which is good, but it came after he was demoted to the fourth line. The Finn has shown a willingness to go to the dirty areas and should be rewarded for that effort.
Minus: Pacioretty and Galchenyuk shared the team lead in goals last season with 30 each, but the top line is off to a slow start with the exception of Brendan Gallagher, who scored twice in Buffalo. Part of the problem is Galchenyuk can’t win faceoffs and that’s a problem if you’re trying to create offence He won five of 11 in Buffalo and only two of 15 in Ottawa, where he was schooled by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Canadiens won only 37 per cent of their faceoffs in Ottawa and 38 per cent in Buffalo. After two games, David Desharnais had won eight of 13 draws and is the only Canadien who has won more than 50 per cent of his draws.