Two keys to the success of the Montreal Canadiens this season lie in the hands of Alexander Radulov and Nathan Beaulieu. If their first game of the 2016-17 pre-season is any indication, it should be a fun year.
But while Radulov shone in his debut, it was not the case for Andrew Shaw. But more on that in a bit.
The Power Play
The biggest takeaway, and I didn’t notice it much on Monday, was that the Canadiens seem to be going with a 1-3-1 power play. It worked great and they got a lot of chances and a couple of goals despite the personnel not being at full strength.
This is Kirk Muller’s stamp on the team and I can’t wait to see what he does with his full arsenal of weapons.
The one thing I noticed the most, besides the alignment, was the defence looking for the back door pass. This is something we saw Andrei Markov do tons when Muller ran the power play and I saw Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Ryan Johnston all try that at various points.
Alexander Radulov will be great...
I know it’s only pre-season. I know it’s only one game. But Radulov has been great in the three scrimmages. He was great yesterday. He is playing motivated and I think that fans will fall in love with him if they weren’t already.
There were a lot of people not understanding the move the Canadiens were making in signing him to a contract, but he is putting those concerns to rest. He showed up ready and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lock up a contract extension before the end of the season.
His pass to Nathan Beaulieu was all about what the Canadiens were missing. A fourth bonafide skilled forward to go with Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Having two lines with that kind of talent will open up so many chances.
In a tumultuous off-season for Marc Bergevin, this should go down as a huge win.
...so will Nathan Beaulieu
There is more pressure on Nathan Beaulieu to do well than any defenceman this side of Shea Weber. Beaulieu will need to step up his game as he is the best puck mover along the left side of the defence. And he was outstanding tonight. One goal, three assists against Washington and he was named the game’s first star.
Now, Washington wasn’t playing a very good lineup, let’s be clear, but Beaulieu’s decision making was just as good as the results. The pinch on his goal was masterful, as was the pass by Radulov. It may not happen overnight, but he may overtake Markov on the Habs first power play wave.
My favourite part of Beaulieu’s game was after dishing out a hard, clean check in the third period he was approached by Liam O’Brien who was looking for a fight. He just skated away. That kind of thing will be huge for Beaulieu going forward.
He played like a first pairing defenceman last night.
The third pairing battle
Yesterday I said that Zach Redmond was ahead of Greg Pateryn in my eyes. Well, Pateryn responded. Playing with Beaulieu, he may have had one of the best games I have ever seen him play. He was good with the puck, he made good decisions, and he was able to unleash his shot which is something we don’t see him use often.
This will be the battle to watch as camp continues and if both perform as well as they have been, it will be a good problem for the Canadiens to have.
The fourth line
Aside from Radulov and Beaulieu, the players who impressed me the most were Torrey Mitchell, Paul Byron and Phillip Danault. They were fast, they created scoring chances and they finished. The line combined for three goals and were above 70 percent Corsi For at even strength.
Torrey Mitchell’s first goal shows all of that in action.
This is likely going to be the Canadiens fourth line and it will be a very good fourth line. They are responsible defensively and have speed and awareness when they are in the opposing end. A huge ace in the hole for Montreal.
Andrew Shaw needs to be better - and smarter
In his first game with the Canadiens, Shaw struggled to make an impression. However, he did end up making one. After receiving a trip or slew foot from Jay Beagle, Shaw was visibly upset and slashed Nathan Walker before driving Connor Hobbs into the boards from behind.
He then fought Walker who came to the aid of his teammate.
The hit was dirty, and Shaw’s antics during the fight were juvenile.
Yes, his physical play is an asset. Yes, this style of play may have been something that has been missing from the Canadiens for a while. Yes, his teammates - like Beaulieu - praised what he did.
The fact remains that Shaw is making $4 million with the Canadiens. He is being asked to take on a role in the top six. Shaw has to make sure he does not cross the line with his actions. It’s a difficult line to toe, but he needs to do it.
Shaw can definitely be an asset to the Canadiens or any other NHL team. However, until he realizes that he helps this team more on the ice than he does in the penalty box, in the dressing room after a game misconduct or the press box serving a suspension, he serves little purpose.
He needs to realize that when you are entrusted with a salary and role like he is on this team, he cannot hurt the team by taking major penalties and getting thrown out. He’s not in Chicago anymore.
Yes, displaying strength and toughness is something he is here to do, but he needs to do it while respecting the rules. Then, and only then, will he be an asset to this team.
This was a chance for Michael McCarron and Charles Hudon to make an impression on the Canadiens brass. They were already in tough to make a spot out of camp, and they did nothing to really adjust that mindset.
McCarron was active and physical but didn’t put the type of performance that he needed to change some minds.
As for Hudon, he started slow but did end up creating opportunities. His pass to set up Mitchell’s second goal was a glimpse into what he can do.
Another player who impressed me with his puck skills (even though his line struggled) was Mark MacMillan. He may never make it to the NHL but I was impressed with what I saw.
The goaltenders were fine, and neither stood out. Zach Fucale seems to be in the right position more often than not but a lot of the time it seems like he doesn’t know where the puck is even when he does make the save.
The Canadiens now have an off day tomorrow and get back to action on Thursday, again at the Bell Centre, this time against the Ottawa Senators. It is expected Max Pacioretty will make his pre-season debut.