For a team that went into their bye week in the gutter, the Montreal Canadiens came out of it with some pretty impressive expectations. A coach can’t be expected to change a team’s culture, let alone its performance, after a single practice, but the glow of Claude Julien’s hiring pushed objectivity aside and made it easier to believe that the Habs’ results were about to change.
Now that Julien has run his first practices and coached his first game, it’s should be clear to the fan base that even if the process behind the bench is improving, it will take time for the results on the ice to follow. Unfortunately for the new bench boss, with the Ottawa Senators hot on his team’s tail, the Canadiens can afford only so much patience.
The Sens, with 25 games left to play, have cut Montreal’s lead in the division down to just two points. The Habs, with just 23 to go, can’t afford to waste another one.
How to Watch
Tale Of The Tape
|52.74||Score-adjusted Corsi %||51.37|
|1.19||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.09|
While the Canadiens are in the midst of trying to find themselves, the Rangers are firing on all cylinders. The Blueshirts won their first six games in February, took a brief detour into the loss column on Thursday night against the Islanders, and then promptly won again against the class of the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals, on Sunday afternoon. After a stretch in which the Metropolitan’s top three teams appeared to be set, the Rangers are again threatening to relegate the Blue Jackets or Penguins to a wildcard position.
Alain Vigneault’s squad is poor in terms of possession, but they’ve adapted a number of effective coping mechanisms. After finding himself replaced by Antti Raanta for much of December and bottoming-out statistically in mid-January, Henrik Lundqvist has looked more like his old self of late. His stellar play has helped to compensate for a Rangers defense that gives up more shot attempts per sixty than all but the Pens among the currently playoff-bound teams.
The Rangers also have an opportunistic offense, never hesitating to attempt to spring forwards like Michael Grabner or Chris Kreider with stretch passes. The threat of the quick-up could test the Habs’ defensive speed and positioning in transition, but Julien may be even more concerned about his team’s awareness in their own zone. Players like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes do some of their best work by getting open in close and letting teammates like Mats Zuccarello find them, and the Habs have made a bad habit of losing track of their opponents near Carey Price’s crease.
If four days of the new coach’s teachings aren’t enough to tighten things up a bit for Montreal, it’s easy to imagine another four-goal night for the Rangers, like the one they put up when these two teams last met. The Habs need to kick-start their offence eventually, and they need their goalie to play clutch down the stretch, but holding out for an offensive explosion or a dominant goalkeeping performance is exactly the sort of strategy Julien is being paid not to undertake. Assuming no miracles have been worked since Saturday, however, the Habs may need to rely on the talent and instinct that Julien referred to be successful tonight.
Things are going to be different in Montreal going forward. The myriad changes on display during Saturday’s game, result aside, demonstrated that. Tonight, with the Tricolore on the road against one of the East’s best, we’ll get a better idea of just how quickly we should expect things to turn around.