The Montreal Canadiens began a road trip after a short hop to take on the Detroit Red Wings. They had already enjoyed some success against the Wings earlier in the season, and were hoping to get off on the right foot before heading to California. The following are the main points that stuck out in the first of the five consecutive games away from the Bell Centre.
Artturi Lehkonen has been much better than his stats indicate
With two goals and one assist in 13 games played, any outside observer looking into Lehkonen’s NHL debut would believe he’s just been a run-of-the-mill player filling out a roster spot.
In actual fact, Lehkonen has been one of the Canadiens’ top forwards at both ends of the ice, and should probably have four or five goals if luck was on his side. He was robbed of a goal last night, as he was in perfect position for a shot but was denied by the glove of Petr Mrazek in one of the saves of the season.
Lehkonen didn’t look like he’d been out of the lineup for nine games, picking up right where he’d left off before being sidelined with an injury. He’s already a great player for the team as a 21-year-old in his rookie season, and could be a key member of the forward corps for many years to come.
Montreal controlled possession in the first, but no goal came of it
Only two players had a negative shot-attempts differential after the first, with the play nearly exclusively in the Detroit end. Despite that, the Canadiens didn’t have the killer instinct to bear down and take advantage with a goal, and it very nearly cost them the game.
The top line is being too fancy
Part of the reason for that was that the top line of Paul Byron, Alex Galchenyuk, and Alexander Radulov is worried too much about setting up a perfect goal instead of taking shots from prime shooting areas.
On several occasions, either Radulov would look for Galchenyuk while gliding through the slot, or Galchenyuk would try to pass the puck across the ice through three defenders looking for one of his wingers. In one of the more egregious instances of a quality scoring chance going by the wayside, Galchenyuk decided his slot position about 20 feet from the net wasn’t a good enough place to take a shot from, and dished it back to Greg Pateryn for an attempt from a wider angle and farther away.
The line is by far the most dynamic the Habs currently have, but the focus needs to shift from looking for the highlight-reel play to just generating scoring chances, and accepting the goals when they come.
Brendan Gallagher is not playing his game
It’s clear at this point that the 2016-17 version of Brendan Gallagher is not the same one we’ve seen in his first four seasons in the league. A net-front scrum at the end of the first made it seem like the old Gallagher was making an appearance, but he’s just not playing the hard-nosed style he’s become famous for.
The question at this point is: why? Is he playing through an injury? Did he overdo his off-season training and is feeling the effects of burnout now that the games have started? Whatever the reason, it’s clear that he’s not playing at his normal level, and the Habs are missing a key ingredient that has allowed them to be one of the league’s top teams in recent years.
He was able to break a month-long goal drought in the third period by getting to his usual position in front of the net, and his celebration was more a massive sigh of relief, so maybe that will be the catalyst that brings about the return of the real Brendan Gallagher.
Detroit responded in the second, ending Montreal’s dominance
They couldn’t score in the first, and that proved to be the Habs’ best chance to establish a lead in regulation. In the second period, it was the Wings who controlled the play, outshooting Montreal 15-5 as the roles were reversed. Montreal became the team that was desperate to get the puck out of its zone, icing it with regularity as wave after wave of offensive attack came their way, with two power plays resulting from all the pressure.
The patient PK setup is back
The Habs penalty kill started off well this season, but then began to falter as players got away from what made them successful. Last night, they were much more disciplined in their positioning, maintaining the box formation while down a man and not letting the Wings create any high-quality chances with passes through the slot or shots from directly in front.
The lineup they faced last night wasn’t exactly made up of the NHL’s best offensive players, and may help partially explain why they were able to be so effective at four-on-five, but it’s a good habit to get back into ahead of the start of a long (usually difficult) Western road trip.
Couldn’t capitalize on a team down to 16 skaters in second half of back-to-back
If coming away from the first period without a goal was an unfortunate result, not taking back control of the game against a fatigued, depleted opponent in the third indicates an inefficient effort all around. The team definitely played better in the third than they did in the second period, but the game should not have been as close as it was given the circumstances heading into the final frame.
The Habs deserved to go down 1-0
By not taking advantage of the great situation they found themselves in, the Canadiens allowed the Wings to hang in the game, and it only took one shot for Detroit to get a lead and a real shot at escaping with two points over a divisional opponent. It forced the team to come from behind in their search of the win.
Carey Price made sure that 1-0 was as bad as it got
Price wasn’t busy in the first, with only five shots coming his way. In the final 44 minutes, however, he faced 28 shots, and several of them forced him to post-to-post as the defensive coverage broke down with players concentrating more on the offence.
“What a goaltender we have here!“ Bob Cole exclaimed after a particularly outstanding cross-crease slide to prevent a goal. If not for Price’s heroics in the latter half of the game, the Habs would never have gotten to OT.
And that would have been a shame, because it would have deprived us of some great open-ice action.
The top line was just fancy enough
After the team killed off a Shea Weber penalty to begin OT, and Weber himself blasted a one-timer off the rush that went off the post once he had served his time, it was time for the creative duo of Galchenyuk and Radulov to go to work.
Getting a two-on-one chance not long after Weber’s attempt, this time the top offensive pair made just one pass of the puck, with Radulov drawing two defenders before sending it over to Galchenyuk. The American sniper sent it short side past Mrazek to cap off the 16th two-point performance for the club through 22 games to begin the season.
That’s the kind of play the two have been finding success with this season, with Radulov among the league leaders in primary assists, and Galchenyuk steadily climbing the goals leaderboard.
That goal occurred on Galchenyuk’s only shot of the game, however, and that’s not good asset management. The trio of Byron, Galchenyuk, and Radulov had just four shots total through almost 64 minutes, while getting shifts almost exclusively in the offensive zone, and that is something that will have to be addressed.