The Montreal Canadiens played their final game before a brief holiday break last night. These are the main points to take away from their road loss versus the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Return to the scene of the crime
The Canadiens returned to Nationwide Arena for the first time since the infamous 10-0 debacle on November 4. Despite the 10 goals allowed in that one game, they are still one of the best teams in goals against this year (Columbus is at the top of the list, with only 65 goals allowed), so there’s little doubt that that game was just an anomaly and not a sign that the team was about to collapse like they did last season.
Montreal came out hitting in the first period, but it was mostly Hab-on-Hab violence. After a collision between two players in white sweaters early in the contest, Alexander Radulov went for the Subban Reverse on Phillip Danualt.
It seems the Canadiens waited until game time to air their grievances on Festivus, and took care of business in the opening minutes.
Radulov’s off game
It hadn’t been the case in any of the previous 33 games, but it just wasn’t Radulov’s night. On top of the hit on Danault, he was also called for a slashing penalty midway through the first. He wasn’t his usual relentless self in his puck battles, losing out to opponents several times, and not being much of a factor on offence.
After the incredible start to the season, you can’t criticize him for one poor outing, and his play in the first third of the year far outweighs the negatives from last night. The fact that him not being the best player on the ice was a deviation from the norm is a credit to just how well his return to the NHL has gone.
The Blue Jackets’ active defence
Columbus ended the night in first place in the NHL’s overall standing, and a big reason for that is a strong defence corps. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are great talents, and have the ability to lead the charge from the blue line. While none of the defenders registered a point, they were actively jumping up into rushes and pinching in to keep possession going in the offensive zone.
The defence mostly consists of young players who will only improve over the next few seasons, setting the Blue Jackets up to be one of the league’s top teams not just this year, but for the foreseeable future.
Montreal no slouch in that department, either
Montreal isn’t far behind Columbus in the standings despite the two defeats at their hands so far, and the defence needs a lot of credit for that as well. Despite missing two of their veterans, the Canadiens were still able to transition the puck up the ice to the forwards and keep the offence rolling.
Nathan Beaulieu responding
When P.K. Subban was traded in the off-season for Shea Weber, it made Beaulieu a de facto top-pairing defender. Unfortunately, he didn’t seize the opportunity out of the gate, and gradually slipped down to the third duo as he struggled to get things going.
An injury to Andrei Markov and a short paternity leave for Alexei Emelin forced him into that role over the previous two games, and this time he seemed ready for the responsibility.
Paired with Weber, Beaulieu averaged about 28 minutes of ice time in the back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday. He had three shots of goal in last night’s contest, and allowed Michel Therrien to insulate his inexperienced defencemen from one of the league’s best offences. This was a good test for Beaulieu, one he passed very well, and hopefully this time he can keep his level of play at top-two calibre for a lengthy stretch.
Jeff Petry becoming a star
Those who were responsible for personnel decisions within the Edmonton Oilers organization during the 2014-15 season should be absolutely embarrassed by the performance of Petry in his time with the Canadiens. He’s gone from being a healthy scratch with that team to arguably the most steady two-way defenceman the Habs have.
He scored yet again in Friday’s game, and now has five goals and 10 points in his last seven contests. A career-high eight goals tie him with Shea Weber on the team, and have him third overall in defenceman scoring in the league.
The defence from the defence however...
Columbus was able to take advantage of some poor defensive-zone coverage by the Habs, scoring their two goals into wide-open nets as they were left unchecked in tight to the net.
The Canadiens could make life a lot easier on themselves with a calmer defensive game, and that has to be the top priority for the coaching staff as they prepare the team for the second half of the season.
Al Montoya’s game
Other than those two empty-net goals, Montoya was able to keep the Blue Jackets off the scoreboard and give his team a chance to win. He played well enough to get his team a win last night.
Unfortunately, Sergei Bobrovsky was even better at the opposite end, stopping all but one of Montreal’s 37 shots (albeit with a lot of low-danger perimeter shots coming his way).
A revitalizing holiday break
The Canadiens now get four full days off to spend with family before the annual late-December Florida trip. The players will get a chance to rest any ailments, and Alex Galchenyuk will be about one week closer to a return from his knee injury when things start back up again.
The Canadiens can feel good about their position as one of the East’s top teams, especially given how they’ve been decimated by injury over the past few weeks. The team has responded quite well after forcing depth players to play above their station, and that should be an encouraging sign for the team’s eventual playoff run.