Since this was the last game of 2016, we will focus on last night’s game, but also on the year 2016 as a whole for the Canadiens organization.
1. This may be who Paul Byron is
When it comes to Paul Byron, we always wait for the other shoe to drop. We always ask when will he stop scoring. When will the scoring chances stop coming? Well, at a certain point we may just have to stop doing that. Byron scored his 12th goal last night, a new career high.
Now, the chances may be going in at a higher rate than we should expect going forward, but I don’t see anything to suggest that the chances will stop coming. He was miscast on the first line, but with him in the middle six when this team is healthy, he will be a huge asset going forward.
2. Carey Price is amazing, Part One
The most disheartening thing about last night’s loss was that Price (and the Canadiens) played a great game. The Habs won the even-strength possession battle, and Price made some key, spectacular saves.
The team has been playing well despite Price not being at his best, but last night’s game was a good sign that he may be finding his game again. He did allow four goals, but the team gave up too many scoring chances to great players.
3. The Habs are actually good
I mentioned that Price hadn’t been at his best lately, and the team is still holding top spot in the Atlantic Division. The team is 5-3-3 since their West Coast trip, and the three regulation losses came to Minnesota, Columbus, and San Jose.
Two of those teams are among the hottest teams in NHL history, and San Jose is always a contender.
They have been in every game except for the loss to San Jose. They have held leads in most of the overtime losses. It is disappointing to have lost those leads, but the fact that they have them is good, especially considering that they have been missing two key centres. The losses to Minnesota and Columbus also came without two of their top-four defencemen.
This team will be fine, and if this is their rough stretch, it’s a heck of a lot better than last season’s.
4. The team needs a defenceman
Alexei Emelin has had a good season. He has played top-pairing minutes with Shea Weber, and hasn’t looked out of place.
However, he is out of position a lot in his defensive zone coverage, and when you are being relied on to play big minutes, you need to be reliable. Emelin has re-established himself as the defenceman that earned his current contract, but the Canadiens need to add another top-pairing defender to take some of the burden off of Emelin.
Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu, and Mark Barberio are playing well, but they aren’t necessarily the answer to this problem.
5. Michael McCarron is establishing himself as an NHL player
Last year, Michael McCarron looked overmatched in the NHL. His Corsi-for percentage was under 45 percent. Through eight games this year, that number is over 60. He hasn’t gotten many points, but this is a very encouraging sign for the Habs’ first-round pick.
6. What an up-and-down year for Brendan Gallagher
The year started with a two-goal performance in his return from injury in the Winter Classic, saw him as one of the top performing forwards in the World Championship in May, and ended with a long slump. His game has gotten better lately, and he scored the tying goal against Florida two games ago. His game may be starting to turn around and that will be huge for the Habs.
7. Marc Bergevin had more ups than downs in 2016
It wasn’t a perfect year for Marc Bergevin. He stood behind the team’s epic collapse — the worst in team history. He traded one of the most popular players to ever play for the team.
However, casting Bergevin as a bad general manager is wrong. He has done a lot of good this year. His Byron extension looks like a genius move. The trade to acquire Phillip Danault and a second-round pick for the expiring contracts of Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann was robbery. He signed Charlie Lindgren, who appears to be a great find. He signed Alexander Radulov when many didn’t think it would work out.
He hired Kirk Muller, and even though there aren’t many tangible improvements to the power-play numbers, this looks and plays like a different team, and he stuck with Michel Therrien who deserves credit for taking a new associate coach in and being part of this turnaround.
Bergevin wasn’t perfect, but he did a lot of good things that have the Canadiens at the top of the division.
8. Carey Price is amazing, Part Two
Last season, Carey Price didn’t play a game in 2016 even though he did a lot of skating by himself. This season, he is back and while he is still playing amazing, he isn’t the only player performing on this team.
A lot of people hold it against the Canadiens that they have Price stopping pucks, and in the past, he stole more games than not. But now, he doesn’t have to steal games. The Canadiens are a good team with a great goaltender, and that combination makes them really hard to beat.
9. Artturi Lehkonen has been a true NHL player
If you look among NHL rookie forwards this season, Artturi Lehkonen doesn’t wow you when you look at the scoring numbers, with only seven goals and two assists. However, when you look at the possession numbers, Lehkonen is among the top freshmen.
Lehkonen is older than some of the other rookies, but he is also asked to play a very different role, usually flanking Tomas Plekanec, and getting many of the most difficult matchups.
He won’t be in the Calder conversation, and might not deserve to be, but he is making a positive impact on a surefire playoff team in a very difficult role.
10. Learning from last season
The Montreal Canadiens, despite many cries to the contrary, weren’t playing especially bad at the start of their collapse last year. They were hindered by below-average goaltending and horrible shooting percentages.
What did they do this year? They went out and got a skilled forward in Alexander Radulov. They added Al Montoya after adding Charlie Lindgren late last year. Marc Bergevin knows his team can’t have another collapse, even if injuries hit.
This team has shown its depth, and their play hasn’t relied as much on Carey Price. They are moving forward, and that’s all we can ask for.