After a tough loss the night before and then travelling home until the wee hours, the Habs had all the excuses (*ahem*) to come out a little flat and lackluster last night. Instead they came out flying to start the game, looking eager to put their mini skid to bed. They struggled through the third period as they tried to sit on a one goal lead, but still managed to eek out a win against a fast, rested team.
Alexander Radulov returned to the lineup after a two game absence and his presence was palpable. Radulov's energy and enthusiasm seems to elevate the play not only of his linemates but of the rest of the team as well. His passion for every aspect of the game has been duly noted in post-games from Michel Therrien and Shea Weber among others. Couple that with his relentlessness on the puck in both ends and that's a hell of a recipe for success. His skill on the top line allows the rest of the lines to shake out a little more appropriately as well.
3. Speaking of lines...
A lot has been made of Paul Byron being on the top line alongside Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk and, for his part, Byron has been doing his best to lay those fears to rest, Weising his way through the first part of this season. Nineteen games in and Byron is just four goals away from matching his career high.
It's clear that Radulov and Galchenyuk bring the high level skill to this line, the vision to set up plays and the hands to make things happen. Byron's speed allows him to stick with them, while he also acts as the perfect foil to them by making the dirty plays in front of the net, scooping up rebounds and generally wreaking havoc for goaltenders and opposing defensemen. Opposing teams are forced to defend against every type of threat from this line.
4. Power? Play!
The Canadiens went one for five with the man advantage vs the Leafs, their lone goal coming four seconds into the power play off a faceoff win. The other four attempts all looked quite similar: Habs get turned away at the blue line over and over until they're forced to dump the puck in and have to fight for it at the boards.
Still, a power play clicking at 20% (and 22.8% for the season) is a marked improvement from the last few seasons and one imagines, with Kirk Muller now at the helm, we’ve only just begun to see the possible improvements.
5. Jekyll and Beaulieu
Nathan Beaulieu started this year by flying through the preseason as the top pairing defenceman we all knew he could be. The start of the regular season looked promising too. Since then, though, a different Beaulieu has emerged. This Beaulieu is hesitant with the puck, getting hemmed in his own end, and rarely getting in on the offence.
So far Beaulieu has struggled with Weber, with Greg Pateryn, and with Joel Hanley. He has shown us he can be better than this, so why isn't he? If someone could figure it out and tell me, and then probably tell him...
6. Sharing is Caring
Brendan Gallagher is an exemplary role model for children who are learning to share. No matter which rink he's in, he's always willing to share the crease with any goalie in the league.
Gallagher's having a rough season, currently mired in the longest scoring drought of his career. We've seen this, time and time again, cause players to grip their sticks too tight and overthink plays and generally make things harder for themselves (see: Beaulieu, above). When he's scoring, when he's not scoring, Gallagher is the model of consistency, going hard to the net, hard on the puck, and generally buzzing around like a busy little bee. The goals will come and they will be plentiful and Gallagher will keep on playing like Gallagher.
7. New and Improved Danault
When Marc Bergevin traded Lars Eller in the off-season, he said it was because the acquisition of Phillip Danault made Eller expendable. That seemed extremely debatable at the time, given what we'd seen of Danault in the waning hours of a lost season.
Danault, however, benefitted from the long off-season this year, with time to train properly, regaining the strength he'd lost due to injury and surgery the off-season prior. This year, he's strong on the puck and doesn't give it up easily. He hustles each shift and now has a speed that wasn't evident last season. He's shown an ability to handle some tough match-ups and can ease the defensive load placed on Tomas Plekanec, maybe freeing up the latter to create some offence against some easier opponents.
Bergevin has touted the importance of depth since he first took over the unenviable position of General Manager in Montreal. It's a difficult thing to find and one the Habs seem to be inching every closer to. Recent call-ups Chris Terry and Charles Hudon have stepped into NHL roles with relative ease. Both have shown an ability to adapt to the speed and skill of this higher level play, making big plays in both ends.
Overall, the depth of this team has been key to their hot start this season, with the third and fourth lines chipping in much of the offence. The Canadiens are 14-2-1 and first overall in the league with vets like Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, and even Gallagher struggling to put the puck in the net. That's a pretty thing.
9. Shea “Man Mountain” Weber
The buzz word around Weber this season has been "presence." We've heard about it, we've seen it on the power play, and last night, William Nylander got a personal lesson all about it.
When you drive into a mountain bad things happen. pic.twitter.com/kg5Cqxz9l1— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) November 20, 2016
Therrien favoured matching his seasoned veteran against the Leafs' speedy young whippersnapper, probably much to Nylander's chagrin. For all the purported concern about Weber keeping up with the speed needed, he seemed to have no trouble teeing up Nylander among others on several occasions. Weber's presence was duly noted as it introduced Nylander to the Bell Centre boards and maybe made him think twice before attempting to best a Man Mountain a second time.
10. Rivalry Renewed
The long heralded rivalry between the Habs and the Leafs has fallen flat in recent years. A run of ineffective teams on both sides and a 37 year drought in playoff meetings will do that. But now...
The Leafs are fun again. So are the Habs. Last night, the Habs managed to play a very nearly complete game again and a fast-paced one at that. They really didn't have much of a choice against a young Leafs team that flies. The Canadiens managed to match the pace set by Toronto and both teams managed to up the intensity, making this faded rivalry start to shine once again.
11. Carey Price
Price could be a takeaway in every single game he starts. He changes everything about the way both teams in front of him play. He makes the difficult look easy and the impossible possible. We're watching magic, friends. Make sure you count your blessings that as Habs fans we have the privilege of watching Carey Price backstop the team on a regular basis.