The Habs topped the Devils 2-1 on Wednesday night, we watched with a keen eye, here are ten takeaways from that matchup.
1. Mark Barberio belongs in the NHL.
In the five games that Barberio has been up with the big club he has done nothing but impress this blogger.He's clearly impressed his boss as well. It took Michel Therrien a game to vault Barberio over Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn on the depth chart.
What's not to like? He's a great skater, is confident with the puck in all 3 zones and drives possession to name a few of his strengths. Barberio's emergence gives his boss's boss some options and makes at least one defenseman expendable. Of course there is the "showcase" notion to all of this but you don't generally play to be showcased in midst of a season-defining nosedive. Apparently Barberio declined to stay in a hotel and is living in the house he grew up in with his parents. I can imagine he used to dream about being a Hab in his childhood bed. Now he's back, his dream realized.
It's worth noting that Barberio's CF% last season through 52 games with the Lightning last season was an impressive 52.8%
2. Therrien should consider swapping Lars Eller and David Desharnais.
It's time to move Desharnais to the wing and Eller to the middle. Therrien isn't exactly the most creative coach out there but we've seen him experiment with different combos over the pas few weeks. The Habs are in need of an internal shakeup so why not see how this would play out? I wouldn't call either of their seasons highly impressive at the halfway mark so this experiment could be exactly what they need. There are a few options to consider:
We've seen Desharnais thrive in a 3rd line exploitation role, I don't doubt that Eller could as well.
Where does this leave Desharnais? We don't know what type of winger Desharnais can be, so it would be fun to see him slot in to a scoring role alongside Galchenyuk or more likely in that 3rd line exploitation role next to Eller. They looked good together tonight.
3.The New Jersey Devils are painful to watch.
I feel bad for their fans who have to watch 82 games of that nonsense.
4. PK Subban is a frustrated individual.
Let me start this off by saying that PK at half-speed is still better than most of the league at full-speed. Whatever speed we're seeing now isn't full-speed PK. He's bobbling pucks, taking weak penalties and just isn't playing with the dominating confidence that we are used to. You can tell from his body language that he is frustrated and that's a good thing. You want PK to be frustrated with his individual performance (the fact that he only has 1 goal throughout the half-season). You want him to be frustrated with team performance (no stat necessary). You want him to bark at Nathan Beaulieu for looking him off a one-timer off the rush.
It's that passion that will get him out of this funk and when it happens it will push the Habs even closer to the dominance we saw earlier in the year.
5. Montreal's defensive zone coverage was a roller coaster.
While the Habs dominated play (more on that later) there were gaps in the game where the Habs seemed content to box out and let the Devils work their way around the offensive zone. I don't necessarily have a problem with that but against better teams it will bite them. The Habs are at their best when they are aggressive on the puck and using their speed to create quick transitions out of their own zone. Waiting for an opponent to make a mistake while cycling is part of that strategy but a more effective way to do that is to force the mistake. The Habs constantly force the issue in their own zone but there were a few occasions last night when they were just watching the Devils. It's something that is an easy fix and nothing a video session can't correct.
6. Paul Byron is a gem.
When Byron was claimed off waivers before the season began the move was initially met with chagrin from the Habs faithful. "Who is this guy?" "He's only 5'7?"
I had little knowledge of Byron and immediately sought the opinion of Flames fans to see what the Habs were getting. Let me tell you, Flames fans were pissed off...heck they still are. They knew what they were losing for nothing: A speed demon who never takes a shift off and can kill penalties better than most in the league. That's exactly what the Habs got and exactly what fans figured out almost immediately when Byron made his mark in his first game. Last night was no exception; Byron was everywhere. First on the puck, zipping through the neutral zone and fantastic on the PK. His assist last night was spectacular. Instant recognition of a loose puck, aggressively used his speed to gain offensive positioning to force the D back and a slick finish to a crashing Torrey Mitchell. His 5 shorthanded points lead the NHL.
7. Mike Condon is starting to show consistency.
Everything was wrong with the Habs during the plummet to, and past, the mean and Condon was no exception. Recently he has been silencing his critics with his return to the play that earned him his sport with the Habs out of camp. He has won his last 3 starts and has given up just 2 goals in his past 2 games combined. Stability in net will surely lead to more wins.
8. The Canadiens controlled the game from start to finish.
The scoring levees kept Montreal from blowing the Devils out but the Habs controlled the pace of play for the entire game which is more than encouraging. The game ended with a 57-48 shot attempt advantage for the good guys in all situations with a 46-40 line at even strength. That may not be that huge of a difference but when you factor in scoring chances into the equation it was a lopsided affair; Montreal had a 17-10 advantage in all situations and a 12-7 line at evens. (Stats courtesy of hockeystas.ca)
9. Even when the Devils got on the board the Habs kept pressing.
The notion that Therrien shells with a lead is commonplace among Habs fans these days but a closer look at the stats from last night indicates that the Habs didn't sit back and wait for New Jersey to tie the game.When the Habs were up by a goal they still drove possession with a 46-38 Corsi differential. A good sign if there ever was one. You wouldn't think a team up by a goal would sit back and defend, but we've seen it too many times with this Canadiens team to expect anything else.
10. Pacioretty, Plekanec and Gallagher were excellent.
The Habs' number 1 line showed why they have that title again tonight. Posting a +11, +11 and +10 Corsi differential respectively in all situations. If the Habs are truly going to break out of their slump and play up to their fans' expectations then it starts with them.