1. Beaulieu and Petry struggled.
The usually sublime Jeff Petry and his partner Nathan Beaulieu had a very rough first period. They were on the ice for the first two goals and looked very bad on both plays That said, they bounced back beautifully in the second period. They lost coverage on the goals against, and they were all over the place with the Jets forecheck causing them all sorts of issues. They made some adjustments during the intermission and seemed to come back with a plan to counteract that forecheck for the rest of the game.
2. Fast starts changed the complexion of the game.
The Habs started off the first and second period by scoring goals in the first minute of play, and Winnipeg was forced to play catch up. The Jets have had shaky goaltending and defence for a while now, and the Habs pounced on that weakness. They were fast on the puck, taking shots to create rebounds and mass confusion around the Jets net. The Habs used their strengths to prey on the Jets’ confusion in their own zone.
3. Aggressive forecheck caused all sorts of problems for the Jets.
One key for the Habs that was pointed out by the broadcast was the fact that the Habs were aggressive on the forecheck, and made it very hard for the Jets to advance the puck up the ice.
While the Canadiens are not the most organized defensive team in the league, they disrupt play in the offensive zone and through the neutral zone, effectively mitigating controlled exits from their opponents. The only way that the Jets were able to disrupt the forecheck was to have a player carry the puck with speed. This didn’t happen very often, and when it did the Habs had regrouped quickly enough to force the play into a less dangerous area on the ice.
4. The ice in Winnipeg was surprisingly bad.
The ice was oddly sub par on Wednesday night. The puck was bouncing like crazy and players seemed to be falling down at alarming rates. Winnipeg is not a warm climate in the winter; in fact the city was under a cold weather advisory because, well, it is January after all. The bad ice affected the quality of play, making some promising plays die with a bad bounce or a player just seemingly hitting a rut. While the ice affects both teams, it also affects the quality of game and player safety. No one got hurt, but there is always that chance when the ice seems bad. Fortunately, the bad ice did lead to a few entertaining bounces, and may have helped both teams score 11 combined goals.
5. Phillip Danault is cementing his spot in the top six
At this point last season Dale Weise and Tomas Fleishmann were still Habs and there were fears that Weise would be re-signed at an inflated contract instead of being traded at the deadline for a good return. Marc Bergevin had other plans and traded the pair for Phillip Danault and a second-round pick. That trade has proven to be a grand slam, as Danault has been surprisingly effective as the first line centre in Alex Galchenyuk’s absence. He scored two goals last night, his first one by taking advantage of a loose puck at the side of the net and his second one was a beauty that featured him skating through all the Jets on his way to a highlight-reel goal.
When Galchenyuk returns he's destined for first line duties, but it's comforting to know a player like Danault can comfortably slot onto the second line and provide valuable contributions.
6. A new and improved zone exit strategy.
One change from last season that is incredibly refreshing, is how the Habs exit their zone. Often times they are opting to pass multiple times to exit the zone instead of automatically icing the puck. While they still ice the puck regularly, they are now able to generate attack based on their zone exit strategy, which leads to a plethora of goals off the rush. It was pleasing to watch on Wednesday night, and might have been even more effective if it was not for the poor quality of the ice.
7. The Winnipeg Jets are not good.
This information is not new, but it is always surprising at how bad they can look when they play against a good team. While it's true that star rookie Patrik Laine was out with a concussion, the Habs had seven regulars out of the lineup themselves, and they still looked like the vastly superior team in every way.
8. Artturi Lehkonen is the player we hoped for
Even though he's only 21, this is Lehkonen's sixth season playing professional hockey, and it shows in his game. Despite having only played in 33 games because due to an injury, he's tied for 5th in rookie goal scoring, alongside players like Mitch Marner and Sebastian Aho. After a rough start to the year, which is understandable considering he was adapting to a new team, coach, country, and league, Lehkonen has been a boon to Montreal's shot control while he's on the ice.
His two goals on Wednesday were both scored because of excellent hand-eye coordination skills. He received some powerplay time, taking over the Brendan Gallagher role of playing in front of the net. His first goal was a perfect tip on a Shea Weber shot and the second one was a beautiful rebound retrieval which saw him bat the puck out of mid-air.
9. Passive penalty kill needs a lot of work.
Although the Habs managed to kill off a lengthy five-on-three disadvantage, the penalty kill is struggling in part due to the passive strategy. Unlike their five on five play, their PK play allows for the other team to dictate the pace, by controlling the offensive zone due to an endless stream of east-west passing. There is too much waiting and not enough initiation of puck battles and forcing players into making decisions. There's definitely still work to be done on special teams.
10. This feels good. Enjoy it.
There are injuries. There are many people waiting for the other shoe to drop. There are people wondering what has happened to this team. There are so many people thinking this is all Carey Price. It is not. This is a team that looks like a contender, is winning with many AHL players, and is playing a system that is a lot more entertaining to watch than previous seasons. Enjoy it.