1. Charlie Lindgren shines bright
Coming into this season one of the last thing anyone was worried about in Montreal was their goaltending. Unfortunately early season struggles at every level from the NHL down to the ECHL have put a bit of worry in the air. Tonight, however, those doubts about Charlie Lindgren’s early AHL struggles evaporated by the end of the first period.
Less than five minutes into the game Patrick Kane got off a pair of dangerous chances, and the young netminder handled both with ease and allowed Habs fans to breathe a sigh of relief. It wouldn’t be his only test of the opening 20 minutes as he had to sprawl across late to rob Jonathan Toews of a prime scoring chance. Even against a major onslaught at the start of the second period, Lindgren stood tall in net and reminded Habs fans just how good he is capable of being.
Part of it could be a slightly more organized defensive group in front of him, and his team not taking a massive amount of penalties in this game, but regardless Lindgren stepped up into his role tonight with absolute aplomb. With his shutout he runs his NHL record to 4-0-0 with a 1.24 GAA and .960 SV%. His continued improvement is something to keep an eye on, and he’s arguably one of the Canadiens most valuable assets going forward.
2. 62-92-27: The Many-Head Monster
Keep this line together at all costs right now. They’re a tough task for opposing teams to try and contain right now. Jonathan Drouin is a menace enough to try and reign in, and if you give space to Alex Galchenyuk he’s going to burn you just as badly.
Look at the Habs’ opening goal of the night, Galchenyuk got the puck, drew in defenders and opened up a mile of space for Drouin. He responded by burning through the defence, and scoring a gorgeous goal for the Canadiens.
(And then he took his pants off)
This is also to not diminish the efforts of Artturi Lehkonen, who has been an absolute machine on the puck for Montreal this year. Lehkonen’s relentless forechecking ability alongside the absurd skill level of Drouin and Galchenyuk creates the best line the Canadiens have. And then if you do stop them, then you have to contain two other lines who can score.
It might have taken Claude Julien awhile to figure it out, but now that it’s in place the team is reaping the benefits.
3. 120ish complete minutes
The Canadiens had a brutal game against Minnesota where they didn’t show up until it was too late to secure a win. The past two games, even with adversity against them, the Habs played a full 60 minute effort in both their victories. Against Winnipeg they overcame a poor start in the third period, scored twice and then won in overtime. Tonight in Chicago they had a tentative start, but backed by a strong presence in net the Habs turned it on when it counted.
Drouin scored less than two minutes into the third period to give the Habs the lead, and then they didn’t sit back at all. They added another goal just before the mid-way point of the period to double their lead. Even sitting back with the Blackhawks net empty, they did well to keep chances to the outside, making life much easier on Lindgren in net, and in the end they conquered one of their boogeymen. It was the Canadiens first win in Chicago since 2002.
They have several opponents coming off of back to back situations in the coming week, the Canadiens can continue to do some serious moving up the standings if they continue to have efforts like they did tonight.
4. The Rise Continues
There’s no real way around it, the Habs start was awful, almost to the point of being indefensible on multiple levels. Since then the Canadiens have had one major stumble against the Wild, but have otherwise looked more and more like the finished product.
Multiple lines are contributing, including a resurgence from Andrew Shaw in the past few games. When he’s at his best Shaw is a a nuisance in front of the net, creating havoc and screens for his teammates to take advantage of. He did that masterfully against Winnipeg, and was a major cog in Joe Morrow’s goal tonight.
A major step forward from both Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry has been instrumental in the recent uptick and play. While Petry has been very good to start the year, Alzer picking up his form is a huge boost to a defence that had struggled.
5. Winning is fun
Perhaps the worst part of the Habs rough start is how awful it was to enjoy from both an analytical viewpoint, and from a results standpoint. They were losing games they should have won and the overall feeling was that of general misery. This recent run of form is showing us all just what the team can be capable of going forward this year.
Of course there’s always something to be broken down, or a system to be improved on in hockey, but right now in the moment this is fun hockey to watch. Even in a low scoring game like Sunday’s there was outstanding goaltending on both sides, big skill plays, and no dumb shenanigans after the whistles.
It was a perfect hockey game to watch. If you needed another reason to just enjoy the wins, note that as of right now the Canadiens sit just three points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs and four off the Senators pace to launch into the top three of the Atlantic Division. It’s an extremely long season and given the flaws of both the Leafs and Sens, the Habs are in a prime spot to get back to where they should be this year.