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Canadiens vs. Oilers 5 Takeaways: An interesting week ahead

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The Habs have four days to reflect on a poor start to the season.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Shots from in close

While Carey Price was criticized for having a poor outing, the fact is that many of the shots he faced were coming from right in front of the net. He may deserve some of the blame for the second goal against after misplaying the puck behind the net, but even in that case the two defenders he had as passing options were closely marked by Oilers forwards.

Image credit: Natural Stat Trick

The whole point of the switch to zone defence was to prevent high-danger shots from in close and reduce the workload on Price, but that clearly wasn’t executed last night. Instead, the decision to move away from puck-moving defenders to what was thought to be more reliable defence-first blue-liners has backfired for the team, with a defence corps that isn’t adept at either.

Fourth line putting in work

The players on the bottom trio have been taking advantage of their time in the NHL.

Daniel Carr is looking even better than the player he was in his first NHL season back in the 2015-16.

Nicolas Deslauriers, a surprising call-up choice over Carr earlier in the season, has been very effective in his role, and is offering what Marc Bergevin has spent trade deadline after trade deadline trying to acquire — without success — in a fourth-line energy player.

They can control possession and put a team on its heels, as they did toward the end of the first period last night, and Carr’s offensive ability has been ensuring that their tenacity gets rewarded on the scoreboard on occasion.

Praising grit, criticizing skill

The fact that the fourth line is often the team’s best lately correlates well with the player evaluations being made. Deslauriers and Carr — rightfully so — have been lauded for their cycling play in the offensive zone and are used to keep momentum going in the Habs’ favour.

They’ve also been just as likely to get a shift in the offensive zone as the more offensively inclined players. Since Deslauriers’ recall on November 15, all of he, Jacob de la Rose, and Byron Froese have a ratio of offensive-to-defensive zone starts slightly higher than Alex Galchenyuk, while posting about the same scoring-chances-for percentage.

Over that same span, Galchenyuk is tied for the team lead with six five-on-five points and has more even-strength goals than those three players listed combined, though Carr does have five points in just five games.

Perhaps it would make more sense to move Carr to Galchenyuk’s line and give them a boost in offensive zone time, and let the relentless effort of the fourth-liners work to get the puck out of the defensive zone.

Time to trade the stick for the carrot

Eric Engels wrote an article on changing the approach to handling Galchenyuk, but the tough-love mentality extends to more than just the Habs’ young sniper.

The season began with constant public criticism of the defencemen on the team, with the coach expressing his disappointment with those battling for spots. The tactic didn’t work as the Habs still went into the season with a 19-year-old rookie on the back end and proceeded to be one of the worst teams in terms of goals allowed.

A more encouraging approach may yield better results for the coach. With 51 games to go in a season that’s slipping away, it can’t hurt to try something new.

The week ahead

Contemplating a change in the player motivation strategy is just one of the things the team’s management staff will have time for with four days off between games.

It provides the first real chance for some introspection on what has happened through the first third of the year, and evaluate the team’s chances going forward.

There’s little debate to be had that the team needs to address a few different areas, on the ice and off, and look into ways to put all the cap space they’ve been hoarding to use — hopefully with the team’s long-term fortunes in mind, and not a desperate attempt to make this flawed construction work.