1. Let’s start with Shea Weber
No matter where we are in the season, no matter where we are in the decade, all eyes will be on Shea Weber.
People expect fireworks from a player like Weber because of his superstar reputation and tonight he provided that. He scored his first goal as a Hab like many people expected him to: a slap shot on the power play. He also had a few big hits in the first period that set the tone.
In all, Weber had four shots, six more attempts that missed the net or were blocked, three hits, four blocked shots and two points. He was also a +3 in over 25 minutes of work. He was the game’s first star.
But the Canadiens had a better shot differential when he was off the ice than when he was on. He had a good, not great, game. The fact is, he is getting used to a system and adjusting to a new team. He and his partner, Nathan Beaulieu, had trouble against the best Coyotes forwards.
People are expecting Weber to be great every night and have highlights every game, and the reality is he’s not that kind of player. His better games will sometimes be the ones where he doesn’t even have a highlight. And that’s fine, too.
2. All part of a balanced offence
For the first time in a long time, I haven’t really paid attention to who is on the ice for the Canadiens. I know, that sounds crazy, but the reality is, every line has a chance to do something special. And tonight, they did.
When Nathan Beaulieu made his cross-ice pass to a guy one-timing a beautiful shot in the net, I legitimately didn’t know who it was at first. When I saw it was Torrey Mitchell, I was surprised.
Every line (Andrew Shaw’s screen was instrumental in Alexei Emelin’s goal) contributed a goal tonight, and every defence pairing had at least one point. That is huge for a team that has its heart set on being a contender.
Last year’s streak to start the season was led by a third line running with an insane streak of luck. This year, every line is creating chances and for the first time, the Canadiens have two legitimate lines that should strike fear in opponents.
The breakdown for Habs goals by line this season (forwards only): Alex Galchenyuk, four; Tomas Plekanec, three; David Desharnais, three; Torrey Mitchell, two. That’s a nice spread.
3. Don’t count out the first line
It was in the first period when I said to myself that the team was playing well without the line of Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, and Brendan Gallagher, and that they had been getting goals but doing so relatively quietly.
And then they made a lot of noise.
Through the first three games, I found myself more excited watching Alexander Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen. In this game, both lines looked incredible.
Let’s put it this way. Over the last five years (if not more), the line of David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw and Paul Byron (or Daniel Carr) could have been a second line in Montreal. Now it’s a very good third line instead of a bad second. And it makes this team so much better.
I should have known better than to sleep on Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, and Gallagher.
4. Nathan Beaulieu made a mistake - and didn’t miss a shift
On Arizona’s second goal, Nathan Beaulieu lost the puck at the tail end of a power play which led directly to Laurent Dauphin’s goal.
Talking amongst ourselves, we were joking whether Beaulieu would play be benched. Joking, and hoping it wouldn’t actually happen. In the past we’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. And you know what happened? To Michel Therrien’s credit, Beaulieu didn’t miss a shift.
That is how you build confidence in a player. That’s how you coach players up. That’s something we haven’t seen enough of from Therrien. It was really encouraging.
5. Carey Price is back
This probably should be higher up. Price finally made his return to a regular season NHL game, and he looked like a guy who hasn’t played in two weeks. He was good, but not to the standard we are used to seeing from Price, but he left the game healthy and with a win. That’s all that matters to me.
He would be higher up normally, but for once, he didn’t have to be the best player on the ice.
6. I’m obsessed with Alexander Radulov
Quite honestly, Alexander Radulov is the best on-the-puck forward the Canadiens have had in a long time. He is ferocious and he creates plays from nothing. He’s like the good parts of Thomas Vanek, but even better. What a find by Marc Bergevin, and let’s hope he can keep it up, and then find a home long term with this team.
7. Mikhail Sergachev had his best game
I noticed the rookie defenceman more in this game than in any of his previous two, and that’s a good thing because I noticed good plays. I noticed him jumping into the play, skating into the zone and opening up his offensive game. He had a giveaway, but like Beaulieu, wasn’t glued to the bench afterwards.
He played 11 minutes, had four hits and two shots.
It’s almost like he’s more willing to drive forward than he was in his first two games, and it’s genuinely weird to say that about an 18-year-old defenceman playing under Michel Therrien.
I’m not saying Kirk Muller changed Michel Therrien, but I’m also not saying that it’s Kirk Muller alone. Therrien is showing a lot of positive signs through four games.
8. The team is showing improvement in important areas
The first two games weren’t pretty. The third was prettier but still not great.
In the game vs Pittsburgh the team won the scoring chance battle, and it was a sign things were changing. Last night, they won it in a landslide.
The scoring chances were 23-14, and this was simply a dominant win for the Canadiens. If they can keep improving bit by bit as the season goes on, it will be a lot of fun.
Carey Price wasn’t at his best today and didn’t have to be. When he will be at his best, if the team can keep this up, they will be hard to beat.
Former Hab Ryan White was doing whatever he could to bait the Canadiens into playing a game that would get them in trouble either with discipline, injuries, or losing their head.
The Canadiens didn’t bite. He was pushing, and pushing, and the Habs, for the most part, skated away.
A lot of toughness was added to this team during the off-season, and sometimes guys like Andrew Shaw stepped over the line. Tonight, they showed that you can have team toughness and they didn’t feel the need to flaunt it unnecessarily. That is huge going forward.
It proved this team doesn’t feel like it needs to answer every call, and that will help this team going forward. When you show you can’t be goaded into things, eventually opposing players will stop trying, and you get to play your game.
10. The Bell Centre was fun again
Last season sucked. This summer wasn’t much better. But you know what didn’t suck? Hearing an “Olé Olé” chant in the third period. Hearing the crowd legitimately roar on Weber’s goal. Hearing chants for Carey Price before the anthems even started.
The Bell Centre is one of the best places to watch a hockey game, but last year it wasn’t. Usually mid-week games against Western Conference teams are dull. This one wasn’t. The energy is back, and quite honestly I missed it. I wasn’t even there tonight, but hearing it on TV was great.
The atmosphere makes this city, and makes this team great. Winning helps too, I guess.