1. What a difference a year makes
Last December, a 19-4-3 Montreal Canadiens team played the Washington Capitals. They would out shoot and out play them, but ultimately lose 3-2. It was also, unbeknownst to everyone at the time, the beginning of the end. The game would start a streak that would see the Canadiens lose 10 of their next 11 games.
This year, a 19-7-4 team went to Washington after an embarrassing game at home, and on the second half of back-to-back games beat the Capitals. It wasn’t a dominant win, but it also wasn’t an undeserved win. It was a solid game against a solid team and despite missing several top forwards, the Canadiens came out on top.
2. Phillip Danault isn’t a #1 centre but he’s the best the Habs have
People scoffed when Marc Bergevin said that Phillip Danault could replace Lars Eller after he was traded to Washington, but Danault has proven to be a very solid member of this Canadiens team.
On a team that has Tomas Plekanec, Danault may seem like an odd choice to put with the team’s two best wingers but he played well there last night and let’s be real, has had a better season than Eller has in Washington.
Danault has speed and underrated offensive skill that makes him an intriguing option with skilled players. With the Habs lacking alternatives he fits in well there, and while he may not play the defensive role as well as Eller, he is a big contributor to this team. Danault alone doesn’t replace Eller. Andrew Shaw alone won’t replace him either, especially defensively. But the combination of several players to play Eller’s role provides the team with options, especially with so many players out.
3. Artturi Lehkonen is trusted by his coach - with good reason
Lehkonen scored a goal, but what stands out with this game is how much Michel Therrien trusts him. He played on a line with Plekanec and Brian Flynn, two guys who we know Therrien trusts, and with a minute left in the game Lehkonen was out there protecting the lead.
Now, Therrien doesn’t have many options, but to see him trust a rookie so much is encouraging, especially since Lehkonen may very well be the smartest player on the roster.
4. Carey Price can play back-to-back games
Carey Price was not supposed to play in both games over this back-to-back situation, and the Canadiens aren’t desperate for points. However, once Friday’s game looked out of hand Therrien decided that he could save Price for Saturday, and one thing you can count on is that Price will not have bad games back-to-back.
The team also wanted to bounce back for their goaltender, and the result was a win against last year’s top team in the NHL.
5. More injuries because of course
Andrei Markov left Saturday’s game with an injury and didn’t return. There are few details about his injury, but the Habs could ill afford to lose a big contributor to their top-four.
Nathan Beaulieu, Mark Barberio and Zach Redmond would be expected to pick up the slack from any Markov absence, and I think the Habs would be OK short-term because...
6. Jeff Petry is playing like a top defenceman
Petry scored a goal and when he was on the ice, the Canadiens controlled 60% of shot attempts, the top of any defenceman on the team. All season Petry has brought stability to the Canadiens top four, and he may currently be the most important defenceman on this team.
Shea Weber and Alexei Emelin have taken the toughest minutes but without Petry and Markov, this team wouldn’t be sitting atop of the division standings.
7. We need to start talking about the power play
When Shea Weber was shooting and not missing, the Canadiens power play was rolling. But now, with teams focusing on Weber and the Canadiens missing a key piece in Alex Galchenyuk, the power play is not working.
Kirk Muller was brought in to help this unit, and right now the team needs to have more creativity. They need more players in shooting positions and to create scoring chances on the power play. They can’t just settle for outside shots and hope they go in.
The team is still winning, which means the issue isn’t coming to the surface much, but eventually the Habs will need to capitalize on opportunities other teams give them.
8. The lineup is not optimized
I understand that without Alex Galchenyuk, Andrew Shaw, and David Desharnais that Michel Therrien is trying to balance the offence, but at a certain point, you need to put your skilled players with skilled players.
Daniel Carr, and Michael McCarron getting fourth line minutes instead of Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell isn’t too ideal. Mitchell getting more ice time than Plekanec at even strength is not ideal.
The secondary scoring just isn’t there, and the urgency is starting because...
9. This team needs to get Brendan Gallagher going
Gallagher is kind of the forgotten man on this Habs team. He hasn’t been scoring, and there isn’t really a solution in place. They don’t want to put him with Tomas Plekanec and when they were together, they weren’t necessarily figuring it out, and you can’t split up Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov.
But I’m not sure putting Gallagher with Torrey Mitchell and Paul Byron is the solution either. Gallagher did get a great scoring chance on a pass from Mitchell, and that is good, but this team needs some secondary scoring and they need to find a combination that gets that done. Gallagher is the key guy in that mix.
10. The Habs can beat the Metropolitan division
If the Canadiens are leading the Atlantic, a lot of people are dismissing it by saying that the class of the conference is in the Metropolitan. Well, guess what? The Habs are 7-2-0 against the division.
They haven’t played the Rangers yet, but they have beaten every other team in the division except the Columbus Blue Jackets and are 4-0-0 against the Flyers, Penguins and Capitals. Now, a lot of those games were before those teams started winning, but you can only win the game in front of you, and so far the Habs have done that more often than not.