The Montreal Canadiens played their best game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings was a close second.
Thing got off a little slowly in the opening minutes, with the play relegated to the neutral zone. Neither side could get anything going, and the crowd silently waited for something to happen. The Canadiens were the ones getting the short stints of zone time, with almost none for the visitors.
The Red Wings were the first to get a chance on a counter-attack, but Carey Price was able to make a big save to keep the Wings off the board.
Moments later, his other elite skills were put on display, when he started a breakout in his own zone. The puck went to Andrew Shaw, who carried it over the offensive blue line and worked hard to get the puck to the front of the net. It got behind Detroit’s starter, Jimmy Howard, and Phillip Danault was there to tap in his fifth goal of the season.
Price was awarded an assist on the play.
Another player who had been recently promoted from a bottom-six position also scored his fifth goal soon afterward. Paul Byron forced a turnover in his own end, and raced onto the loose puck to get another breakaway. He deked a few times in front of Howard, and gave the Habs a comfortable 2-0 lead just eight minutes into the game.
Later in the frame, Andrew Shaw attempted to pinch off Justin Abdelkader’s rush near the players’ benches, but Abdelkader turned back at the last second, with an already committed Shaw catching him in the numbers. Fortunately, the officials had a similar view of the situation, giving Shaw a two-minute sentence rather than that major that could have easily been assessed given Shaw’s recent disciplinary history.
On the penalty kill, the Canadiens played their typical box defence, clogging the slot with bodies and shutting down the passing lanes. The Red Wings countered that strategy by placing a forward directly in front of Price. The defenders weren’t in a position to clear him from there — especially while Shea Weber wasn’t on the ice — and the Wings got some good looks with the screen set in front. One chance went off the post, but that was as close as they came to scoring while Shaw was in the penalty box.
With his minor served, Montreal got a power play of their own immediately afterward when Luke Glendening slashed the Habs’ MVP while hoping for a rebound. The Canadiens were able to get set up in the zone fairly easily, but the first wave wasn’t able to effect anything of note. The second wave brought a lot more energy, and Shaw was able to make up for the minor he’d taken a few minutes earlier by drawing a holding infraction from Steve Ott.
The five-on-three unit wasted no time. Alex Galchenyuk won the faceoff right back to Alexander Radulov, and he sent it over to Weber. Weber blasted the one-timer to the near-side top corner to give Montreal a 3-0 margin just three seconds into the two-man advantage.
The remainder of the power play was cut short when Galchenyuk took a slashing penalty at the start of the second period, sending the Habs back to penalty kill. Again the Red Wings were able to get behind the coverage, and they almost scored on one play when Alexei Emelin and Tomas Plekanec got caught improvising the strategy to attempt to neutralize the net-front attacker. Price was there to bail them out, as he usually is.
The team got its biggest test of the night when recent call-up Joel Hanley was dismissed for four minutes after a high-sticking call. The Red Wings power play looked a lot like what we saw from the Habs in the first few games of the season; playing with little urgency, struggling to get possession in the zone, and killing most of the time off themselves.
On the rare occasions when they did get set up, Price was there to effortlessly shut down their most dangerous looks, freezing the puck, slowing the game to a crawl, and not allowing Detroit to get any momentum whatsoever.
Just after the four-minutes were up, Price came up with a spectacular glove save to consolidate the penalty kill.
That save seemed to demoralize the Red Wings, as the Canadiens came at them in waves for the rest of the period.
One such chance ended up in the net after Radulov recovered the puck off a faceoff loss and sent it toward Howard from behind the goal line. Byron jabbed at his pad and jammed it in, but after a lengthy review it was determined that Howard had the puck frozen between his glove and his pad beforehand, and therefore it was waved off.
They didn’t let up after that close call, and Detroit had no response to the relentless pressure. Radulov’s first shift after the disallowed goal picked up where his previous one had left off, as he walked out from behind the net to get a point-blank chance on Howard, but he was unable to put it in.
Andrew Shaw got in on the action with a good screen in front of the net soon afterward, getting his stick on a shot from Galchenyuk to make it 4-0.
About 90 seconds later, Max Pacioretty made it 5-0 with a bank shot off Darren Helm. The Habs took that lead into the second intermission.
The third period started out much the same way the game began, with a lethargic pace and no dangerous chances of any kind for either side, and that suited the Habs just fine.
The period got to the eight-minute mark before the Red Wings started to mount a bit of pressure. That just resulted in the Canadiens turning up their level of play, and the momentum was short-lived as Montreal once again regained control.
Things got a little panicky as the players tried to preserve the shutout in the final minutes, but one final shift from Plekanec and Daniel Carr kept the puck in the Wings’ end, the final whistle sounding with the puck deep in Detroit’s zone. The shutout was added to the books and the Habs emerged with a well-earned 5-0 victory.
- The Canadiens were piling up wins while not playing well in the early part of the season, and now they’re beginning to put in 60-minute efforts. If they can string a few more games like these most recent two together, they could extend this win streak into an historic run.
- An encouraging sign from this season is the number of players contributing on a nighlty basis, with goal-scoring coming from all directions. A more encouraging sign is the number of players who aren’t yet contributing at their normal levels.
- The power play was off to a slow start while trying to change things up this season. With two goals on the man advantage last night, they’re now up to 21.7%, and ninth in the NHL in that category. The effect is twofold on the 2016-17 Canadiens compared to last year: not only are they able to boost their offensive totals in a less-demanding situation than the grind of five-on-five, they’re not exerting all their energy at even strength to draw a penalty, only to have momentum shift in their opponent’s favour with poor execution. The power play is now something to be feared (especially with Weber lurking near the top of the circle), and that forces teams to change the way they approach the Habs.
The Canadiens are in Chicago now, awaiting their matchup of conference leaders when they take on the Blackhawks at 7:00 PM EST.