When a team hires a new coach, especially for the reasons that the Montreal Canadiens did, there’s usually no choice but to take the long view. The Habs are a talented group but were faced with serious systemic flaws and a star goalie who didn’t look like himself. Claude Julien had a lot to sort out, and without much time to do it, the veteran coach would be asked to strike a precarious balance between process and results.
For two games, the Habs have managed just that. On Saturday at Toronto, the Habs showed resilience, mostly controlling the game and waiting for their chance to take advantage of Frederik Andersen. At the other end, Carey Price made sure that the Leafs would have no opportunity to stretch their early lead. No dominant performance, but a confident stride in the right direction.
Last night in New Jersey, the Habs were listless through two periods, and found themselves facing two separate two-goal deficits in the third period. Fortunately, their best players woke up just in time, and the four goals scored by Alexander Radulov, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Galchenyuk in the game’s final 23 minutes were enough to earn their team some breathing room over the Ottawa Senators in the standings. The effort, on the whole, probably wasn’t one for the season scrapbook, but the Habs again showed their resilience and got the job done.
Of course, it’s one thing to string together wins against one playoff bubble team weakened by injuries and another not far removed from the draft lottery. It’s something else to stare down a Stanley Cup contender and win.
Tonight, the Habs will face something a little closer to the latter challenge.
How to Watch
|52.75||Score-adjusted Corsi %||51.58|
|1.17||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.30|
Statistics do not include Monday’s games.
The Columbus Blue Jackets tore off an exceptional win streak through December, putting up sixteen straight victories including a hard-fought 2-1 decision over the Canadiens. Before that, as no one has forgotten, Columbus absolutely castigated the Habs to the tune of a ten-goal margin of victory.
After the streak, things seemed to be cooling off in Ohio. Columbus skated into their bye week with a 4-4-1 record in February, and with plenty of competition in the Metropolitan division, it was easy for doubters to suggest that the Blue Jackets were running out of juice.
But with consecutive dominant wins over the two New York teams, won by a combined scored of 12-2, John Tortorella’s crew remains neck-and-neck with the Pittsburgh Penguins in what looks like a battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Price, who’s been rock-solid since the Habs’ bye and looked especially good on Saturday, will look to slow down that prolific offence. Columbus has been relentless on O, spreading their production between their top-3 even strength offence (in terms of xGF) and their top-5 powerplay. The Blue Jackets’ forward corps includes four lines of capable scorers, which may create an interesting environment in which to test newcomer Jordie Benn, should Julien choose to do so.
Ultimately, though, it may be the Canadiens’ depth that decides the outcome of this contest. The Habs have just the one goal in their two contests against Columbus this season, and while it’s refreshing to see them have scored three goals in back-to-back games, it’s imperative that the Tricolore find a way to test Sergei Bobrovsky. Players like Pacioretty, Radulov, and Galchenyuk belong on the scoresheet, but if the Habs are to realize that long-term success, they need their Lehkonens, Shaws, and Byrons to chip in, too.
With two wins in a row for the first time in forever and a star goalie who’s again playing like a star, the Habs might be getting ready to turn another corner in their tumultuous season. If the Habs continue to attend to their process, they may just be able to stay on track in the win column, too.