About damn time.
For 16 games to start 2014-15, on the Canadiens powerplay, the Habs managed about 3.5 shots per two minutes of man advantages. With a personnel change, and a tweak to their tactics, they've more than doubled that rate of production in their last two games. On Saturday, it paid off big time.
The Habs led off with three consecutive powerplay goals, the third of which was an orgasm of collaboration among the team's two most talented young players. The long-awaited outburst put the game out of reach, and even when a Philly push brought the game closer, the Canadiens always maintained the appearance of control.
For a Montreal team still finding its way at even strength, the apparent special teams resurgence makes a world of difference. Between strong goaltending, a sometimes-dominant penalty kill, and a powerplay suddenly willing to threaten opponents, the Habs have three redundancies to back-up their regular lapses in even strength performance.
Tonight, they get another chance to prove that their even strength play is coming along, too.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Quebec: RDS
In Canada: City TV
In Michigan: FS-D
Elsewhere: GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
The Red Wings have the numbers of a team that is both well-coached, and lacking talent.
As a team, they expertly suppress shots, allowing fewer attempts than only four other NHL teams. Individually, subscription to Mike Babcock's rigorous system has paid dividends, and twelve of the top thirteen defensive players tonight (in terms of Fenwick against/60 minutes) will be wearing the winged wheel. When it comes to producing attempts, the Habs have surpassed their season average in each of their last two games, but even that increased output leaves them near the bottom of league-wide achievement. The Habs will need to be disciplined with their zone exits and entries, or they may find themselves smothered.
Luckily, the Wings aren't nearly as dangerous at the other end. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are still among the league's most dangerous, but the rest of the Red Wings lineup lacks bite. Gustav Nyquist has an impressive eight goals, but has managed only half that total at even strength. The 21.1% shooting percentage doesn't hurt either. Meanwhile, other contributors like Justin Abdelkader, would appear to be the beneficiary of talented linemates or soft minutes, depending on where he finds himself in the lineup.
If the Habs can hold back that strong first line, they'll be in a good position to earn their second win of the year against their new division rival.
Last Time Out
The last Habs-Wings game played out much like those numbers suggest they would. The Habs didn't allow the Red Wings a lot of ground, but found themselves absolutely suffocated when they advanced toward Jimmy Howard. An overpowering third period finally yielded a tying goal, as Alex Galchenyuk clambered over Kyle Quincey and wrapped in a beautiful goal.
Once the Red Wings were without a lead to defend, the Habs took control. Finally giving way to constant pressure, David Desharnais tapped in a Max Pacioretty rebound to seal the win.
The Habs special teams success makes for a nice insurance policy, but Montreal would be best served to apply the lesson they learned last time. Detroit has won only three times when they trail first this year, as well as only three one goal games. With Dustin Tokarski's support, the Habs can leverage that record, and push their season-high winning streak to six.