The Montreal Canadiens played their best game of the year last night, and came out with a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings without needing to rely on their goaltender to bail them out. If they can keep it up, things will be looking up.
1. Where has this start been for the last five games?
The Canadiens have been playing uninspired hockey for the last couple of weeks. We all know this — we’ve harped about it at length. Whether it was yesterday’s grueling practice, or the unanticipated scratching of David Desharnais, or perhaps they finally stopped hitting the snooze button on their wakeup call, the fact is that the Habs put together the kind of first period we’ve been craving over these last few games.
Though they were unable to score on an early powerplay, lots of puck movement and good skating created them momentum they needed to get the early goal a few minutes later — and they would continue to press. The Habs carried the play of the first frame having outshot (outshot!) Los Angeles, forcing 6 turnovers. The result? A legitimately deserved 2-0 lead heading into the second period. It was one of the best periods they’ve played since back to back contests against the Islanders and the Lightning in late October.
Controlled breakouts! Smart puck movement! Not giving the opposing team a chance to catch their breath!
Welcome back, fellas.
2. 41-27-47 is working for right now
For right now. With Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov’s absurd stick handling abilities and overall strength on the puck partnered with Byron’s rockets for skates, the first line was largely responsible for the momentum buildup in the first period.
For a few seconds as this trio held the pressure in the offensive zone in the first, I watched in awe as Radulov held off LA backcheckers with one hand and maintained puck possession with the other, as he’s done in so many games before. But when he turned and flashed his numbers to the camera, I was surprised to see 41 sprawled across his jersey instead of 47. Seconds later, those same numbers were burying a Radulov rebound for the Habs’ first of the evening.
If Paul Byron can be (albeit momentarily) mistaken for Radu, I say play on. Byron has remained true to his game through his promotion while adding to it with positive influences from his top six line mates, and it’s paying off. Whether or not that continues is a different story for a different 10 Takeaways, but for right now, what can we complain about?
3. Radulov won’t quit
Watching this guy with the puck and fending off his opponents who attempt to check him to no avail, you can only assume that there’s some kind of force field around Montreal’s new fan favorite. As I watch Radulov night after night, I can only compare him to one of those scam carnival games where you have to knock down the superglued-to-the-pedestal glass bottles that won’t flinch no matter how hard you try, no matter how many hard balls you throw. Game over. Next in line, please!
4. You know what they say about winning the middle
“Win the game.” What a concept! Though Galchenyuk and Mitchell did struggle to win faceoff battles, the Canadiens still managed a 60% or greater faceoff percentage for the first two periods. Draws won in their own end allowed them to get the puck up and out of their zone swiftly (and what puck clearing they did last night!), and those won in the offensive zone gave them the opportunity to get set up right off the draw and keep their feet on the gas pedal (e.g. Carr’s first period goal). The faceoff dot is one of the notable areas of concern over the Tricolore’s last few games, but definite improvements were seen in the circle last night.
5. Start the Carr
It wasn’t his first shot on his first shift, but Daniel Carr finally got his first goal on a tip-in off a Markov shot and proved to us that you can never have enough Brendan Gallaghers.
Carr co-owns Gally’s office in front of the net, where he’s found most of his success in the past. It’s going to be an absolute joy watching them give goaltenders hell shift after shift.
6. Sven Andrighetto was quiet, but effective
My fondest memories of Andrighetto featured him with his red mouth guard hanging between his teeth and his arms raised in victory after banking one in the net. I was hoping to see much of the same in the matchup versus the Kings, but I was happy to see him back in the lineup once again. His 2016-17 NHL debut was a quiet one, but quiet doesn’t always have to mean ineffective.
The recent AHL call-up put up two shots, threw a pair of hits and even blocked a shot, which is more than can be said for a player like Brian Flynn, who was nowhere to be seen. Last year, Andrighetto proved that he has what it takes to not only play at the highest level, but also play with the team’s best as he found success skating next to 30-goal scorers Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. With his fruitful stint in the AHL in the early season (11 points in 10 games) and a good showing in last night’s debut, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out onto the scoresheet once again, as long as he can hold onto his roster spot.
7. Brian Flynn was quiet, but ineffective
Flynn has been riding the coattails of the fourth line’s success for a good chunk of the early season, and while I don’t necessarily expect massive offensive production from #32, it’s been pretty apparent that’s he’s been carried by his line mates for the last while. In watching Danault, Byron and Mitchell and the tremendous success those three have had in 14 games (13 goals, 22 points), Flynn seems more and more like the middle child who can’t quite get it together.
Brian Flynn is not a bad player. He’s a defence-first fourth liner, but the problem is that Montreal’s fourth line has redefined itself for the time being, and he lacks the finish that has been gifted to numbers 17, 24 and 41. It will be intriguing to see how he fits into the lineup if the promotions of Paul Byron and Phillip Danault remain constant over the next few games.
8. Pacioretty played a different game and led by example
It’s no secret that he’s struggled to find the back of the net lately, but tonight we saw something a little different from the Canadiens’ captain.
For one, Pacioretty spent a lot of time (in a non-negative fashion) in the defensive zone and on the PK and looked fantastic. He was finishing his checks, guarding his man and doing a great job of clearing the puck up and out of the zone. He was passing first instead of taking the obvious shot and was rewarded for his efforts with two assists on the night. He played responsibly, he played like a captain, and his team played their best game of the year.
It’s a bit of a change up from his usual play, but maybe a different perspective will lend a hand in unblocking his offensive drought.
9. David Desharnais was a healthy scratch
…and his team played their best game of the year.
In all seriousness, I didn’t miss Desharnais from the lineup. I doubt he’ll sit for long, but for the sake of others who might sit in his place, I’d rather see #51 on the bench.
Desharnais can be a great player when deployed correctly, but Andrighetto deserves a good look from the brass before going anywhere, bench or otherwise.
10. Danault about you, but I think #24 is killing it out there
When the season first started, all we could talk about was “Radu! Radu! Radu!” When Price made his return, we followed those chants with, “Carey! Carey! Carey!” Fourteen games in, and we may change that chant yet again.
After an okay showing in the tail end of last season following his trade from Chicago, Phillip Danault came into this season looking like a brand new guy. His speed is tremendous, his confidence with the puck is through the roof and he’s putting up points as a result.
What’s even better is that he’s improving every single game. Not to mention the fact that he can shut down with the best of them.
When you look at what we left behind in Weise and Fleischmann, Danault will prove to be 10 times their worth. And he’s 23 years old.
Oh, the Chicago Blackhawks are going to miss this kid.