The Montreal Canadiens wrapped up the season’s California swing with a win versus the Los Angeles Kings. Some things stood out in the penultimate match of the five-game road trip.
Max Pacioretty led the charge
I don’t know how closely Max Pacioretty paid attention to the speculation the previous night on how his off performance could trigger a trade, but if he did, he responded loud and clear. Not only did he open the scoring just minutes into the game, he also scored the second and assisted on the third.
Not surprisingly, the outburst came while playing with top offensive players, and that’s where his game is at its best.
Alexander Radulov was the team’s best forward
Radulov was the Habs’ best player in yesterday’s game. He was the best player in Friday’s game versus the San Jose Sharks. In fact, he’s been the team’s best player in the vast majority of the 25 games played this season.
He used his skills to score a nice power-play goal in the second period, and played an integral role in helping the Habs keep pace with the Kings with his relentless forecheck throughout the game, and especially in the third period. His shootout goal was a great display of the stick stills he has in his arsenal.
He was also the best power-play defenceman
Between games, the Habs experimented with their man-advantage alignment, and the result was to replace Andrei Markov with Alexander Radulov on the first wave.
On two occasions, Radulov was able to use his speed to get back for short-handed counter-attacks by the Kings, breaking up a two-on-one on his first one. Markov has had difficulty keeping up on the back check, so, oddly enough, the Habs may be better off from a defensive standpoint with Radulov in Markov’s place, though I’m not convinced it’s the optimal solution.
Weber not in prime position to use his shot in current PP setup
Radulov wasn’t always at the point, preferring to control the puck along the half-wall, like Alex Kovalev used to when he was the power-play QB. When Radulov does that, he forces Weber to be the pivot man at the point. That not only forces Weber to use his average passing abilities, but also negates his most dangerous weapon: the one-timer from the left side of the ice.
Any setup that takes away an option that has led to eight power-play goals probably isn’t the right move, but at least the team is showing a willingness to experiment.
On three occasions, one team took a penalty not long after having a power play, and it meant that the teams were alternating special teams units throughout the first two periods.
Both teams were able to take advantage, combining for four power-play goals on the game, before things finally settled down in the third period.
Montreal penalty-killing units were picked apart
The Kings were able to get their two power-play goals, and several more great chances, because Montreal wasn’t playing an effective shutdown style. Players were chasing after the puck, getting out of position trying to play man-to-man defence, and the Kings were finding passing lanes through the most dangerous parts of the ice.
They’ve shown the ability to close off the centre-ice lanes in the early part of the season, and coaching staff will need to remind them of how well that was working.
An injury to Alex Galchenyuk
We don’t yet know how serious Galchenyuk’s injury, sustained after a knee-on-knee collision with Anze Kopitar, will be, but hopefully it doesn’t keep the team’s top scorer out of action for too long.
The team is already thin in top-six calibre centremen, with Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Phillip Danault, and Torrey Mitchell all probably classified as third-line pivots at best at this point, so the loss of the #1 could be a difficult problem to fill with a stopgap.
Fortunately, the team has a lot of two-way wingers, so the centre position isn’t as crucial to the Habs as it is other teams with more specialized players on the flanks.
Carey Price had an off night, and the Habs still won
There wouldn’t have been many times in the past few seasons where Price could allow four goals (albeit with little help from the men in front of him) and still come away with the W.
The Habs have the skill to outscore some of their defensive lapses, and even a rare below-average outing from their goaltender. Despite their rough patch when they couldn’t even get a second goal in a few contests, they’re still in the top six for goals scored, and most of the teams above them have played more games.
Artturi Lehkonen looked good again, especially in overtime
Michel Therrien deserves some credit for his use of his rookie in the extra frame. He could have tried to play it safe and wait for time to expire to pit Price versus Peter Budaj in the shootout, but instead he let Lehkonen get a few shifts in overtime, and he looked very good.
First he protected the puck along the wall before pushing more toward the middle of the ice and launching a shot from the circle. The puck hit either the edge of Budaj’s glove or the post, and was one the team’s best scoring opportunities at three-on-three. As time expired he shoveled a difficult one-time setup on goal that could have been a late game-winner.
A big win
It’s funny how streaks work. Going into the game, the Canadiens had lost two games in California, with a possibility of going 0-3 in what has often been a difficult trip.
Instead, they worked hard to pull out a win, leaving the state on a high, and sporting a 2-2 record through four games of the road trip. If they can get a win in St. Louis on Tuesday night, it will have been a successful excursion, with six of a possible 10 points.
It would be largely seen as a positive stretch in a strong start to the season (one that once again has them in first place in the league), and the talk about the disastrous California trip would be forgotten.
Until they have to do it all again next year.