1. Jordie Benn is proving to be a great acquisition
It was a foregone conclusion that the Habs needed to improve their defensive unit to make a deep run this season. Since being acquired Jordie Benn has been nearly flawless for Montreal, and is playing a major role in the team’s turnaround. Not only is he providing stability on the bottom pairing with Nathan Beaulieu and Brandon Davidson, he’s taking over Andrei Markov’s time on the penalty kill. Markov is no spring chicken, so giving him time off from killing penalties is allowing Claude Julien to lean on him for more offensive situations and have him be more fresh as the season wears on.
2. Three mistakes, three goals
There hasn’t been a ton to nitpick since Claude Julien took over behind the Habs bench, even in the losses. However, the one thing that continues to be an issue, is Alexei Emelin. Emelin’s brain farts led directly to three Blackhawks goals. It’s almost crippling to a team to dominate on the possession side of things, then have one mistake undo all of the work that was done. Brandon Davidson should be playing, same with Nathan Beaulieu, and of course Benn. At the moment the Habs simply can’t afford to compensate for the constant basic errors.
3. God bless you, Jeff Petry
It’s not easy to play defence in the NHL, it’s infinitely more difficult when your partner goes on an adventure like he’s Bilbo Baggins. His play isn’t what it was at the start of the year when he played alongside Markov, but Petry is doing his best to keep his pairing afloat these days while Emelin attempts to figure out which side of the ice he’s supposed to play on.
4. Closing in on 20 goals
Seriously, is Paul Byron the best waiver wire pickup of all time? Ok, maybe the best waiver wire pickup of all time not named Martin St. Louis. The former fourth liner is closing in on the twenty goal mark for the season, and is providing a spark while the Habs offence struggles to get in gear. At less than two million dollars per year, Byron is proving to be one of the best, cost-effective scoring options in the NHL this year, and the Habs are getting to reap the benefits of a smart waiver claim as they prepare for the playoffs.
5. Weber should always shoot
Early in the game Shea Weber made the confusing decision to pass up on an open shot, which when you possess a legit howitzer of a shot is something you shouldn’t do. However, when Weber did decide to uncork his famous blast from the blueline, he first brained Corey Crawford, then later scored his 16th goal of the year. I understand he probably doesn’t want to injure anymore teammates, but Shea, please shoot the puck more, the offence needs all the help it can get.
6. Trust the Process
The biggest thing with bringing in a new coach is that it takes time to implement their system and break old habits from the previous regime. In the past two games, against powerhouse Western Conference teams, they posted 42 and 39 shots respectively. While limiting both the Oilers and Blackhawks to 25 shots or less in each game. The current issue is that the process is working, the team has fixed a lot of it’s major flaws and is generating shots on net, it’s just that the luck isn’t there. It’s not often you fire that much rubber at the net and only score two goals. It’ll even out soon enough, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time.
7. What Concussion Protocol?
Corey Crawford took a Shea Weber blast to the face, fell over like he’d be shot by a sniper, and was only given a brief visit from the training staff? I’ve been hit in the head by baseball, footballs, dodgeballs etc, taking a puck at that velocity to the face and not being thoroughly checked for a concussion seems to be a gross oversight by the NHL and its teams.
8. Artturi Lehkonen looks playoff ready
The young Finn continues to be an absolute beast this season for the Canadiens, even if the point totals aren’t all there. Against the Blackhawks he was 76.92 CF%, which is incredible, even more is the fact this had him only sixth on the team in terms of possession. He was hard on the forecheck and creating chances down low around the net. When it comes down to getting ugly goals in the post season, this is one rookie people won’t have to worry about.
9. Rotating the defensive core
Claude Julien scratched Beaulieu, with the full intention of wanting to keep his players fresh, and that meant Brandon Davidson had to play again. Davidson and Benn as a pairing posted an 84% CF, which I guess means Julien’s thoughts were correct. With a big series against Ottawa looming and a division lead hanging in the balance now might be the time to sit Emelin, and let Beaulieu get a run in and see how the team performs.
10. Ottawa Awaits
The two rivals haven’t met since November of 2016, when the Senators claimed a 4-3 victory over Montreal.
Since then things have changed quite a bit: Michel Therrien was fired, Mike Condon became a serviceable NHL goalie again, and both Ottawa and Montreal made their lineups far more irritating. Steve Ott joined the Habs at the deadline, while Alex Burrows joined the Senators. As if these match ups weren’t already hotly contested, the two teams have essentially loaded up on gasoline, and plan to throw it straight on the burning fire. Expect mean, nasty, “old school” hockey this weekend, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen when the Atlantic division rivals square off.