With over 10% of their regular season schedule now complete, the Montreal Canadiens have yet to lose. Production on offence, defence, and special teams has been impeccable, and now, they'll take their momentum to the west coast.
The Canadiens don't often enjoy the road trip they'll complete over the next three games. In fact, the Habs took a similarly hot start over the Rockies last year, only to have it snuffed out by three underwhelming performances. As with much of their schedule to-date, tonight is another opportunity for this year's Habs to prove they're different.
If they're to do so, they'll have to hope that a two-day break between games is enough time to refocus on what has made them so successful in the early going. The efficiency that characterized their earliest performances of the season was absent on Friday and Saturday, but the Habs enormous talent advantage carried them to four more points.
There's no question that Montreal has more talent than tonight's opponent, as well. If the Habs want to extend their record streak though, they'll need a quick return to the style of play that started it.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|53.3||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.6|
|2.6||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.09|
Know Your Enemy
The Vancouver Canucks are clearly a team in transition. What isn't clear is where the transition is intended to end up.
Franchise icons Henrik and Daniel Sedin are the standard bearers for hockey in Vancouver, and they continue to lead the charge on the ice. Radim Vrbata, and Ryan Miller, each a veteran signed in free agency, supplement the twins' contributions.
In formulating the remainder of their roster, the Canucks ostensibly took a survival of the fittest approach, leading to several young players earning NHL playing time. Recent draft picks Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen were among the beneficiaries, while Bo Horvat, who stepped up to the big leagues last year, has had the chance to expand his role.
The ideas of relying on still-productive veterans, and running with up-and-comers over replacement-level veterans, are not in themselves problematic. The issue lies in the execution of the strategy.
The kids may be superior to the veterans they've replaced, but that doesn't mean they're ready to keep the Canucks competitive. Sven Baertschi and Virtanen have been good while heavily sheltered, but neither appear to have earned the trust of Willie Desjardins. Both are averaging under nine minutes per game at even strength, while McCann, in tougher minutes, has cracked 10 minutes per game of ice but is getting buried on possession.
That leaves the middle of the lineup, which is the epicentre of the issue. The Canucks have a number of decent support players, but none talented enough to bridge the gap between the old guard and the inexperienced youth.
Players like Brandon Prust, or Derek Dorsett, or Adam Cracknell, for all of their merits, are not going to contribute much in the way of goals. And for an organization that apparently intends to reload on the fly, that places a lot of burden on the shoulders of team's most senior players.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens' last meeting with the Canucks is memorable for all of the circumstances that surrounded it, but the Habs' young veterans made the play on the ice memorable as well.
Following an emotional ceremony in memory of Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens dropped the puck on a game they had to win. Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk were absolutely dominant, each taking at least 90% of on-ice possession for the game. The pair, flanked by Max Pacioretty, earned the Habs' first goal, as Gallagher went high glove on Miller.
After Dorsett evened things up on an odd man rush, it was Tomas Plekanec who secured the Montreal victory in the waning minutes.
If the Habs want the same result tonight, they'll need to distance themselves from many of the habits that characterized their play last year. If there was ever a game to emulate, however, it might just be the one from last December 9.