Pacioretty’s goal-scoring run
With the goal that opened the scoring in yesterday’s game, Max Pacioretty now has seven goals in his last seven games, and that number may actually be eight because the puck was very close to hitting him on the way into the net in the one during the streak that he didn’t get credited with a goal.
During this run, it hasn’t been being paired with one particular player that has led to his turnaround. Nine different players have registered assists on those seven goals (10 if you count Mikhail Sergachev’s giveaway that started it all off on January 4).
In Pacioretty’s mid-season review, we touched on the fact that the departure of skilled blue-liners in the off-season was likely playing a role in the reduced offensive output, and it’s no coincidence that Jeff Petry (2 assists), Victor Mete (1), and Jakub Jerabek (1) have been the defencemen contributing on this streak. That marker that may or may not have hit Pacioretty ended up being Jerabek’s first NHL goal.
Byron’s quick adaptation
On Pacioretty’s last two goals, Paul Byron has recorded assists. The decision to try him out at centre is proving to be an inspired one.
The opening goal last night highlights just what Byron can bring in that role. After spending some time in the offensive zone, he used his speed to track down the Bruins’ puck-carrier, and once he had regained possession he used that speed once again to launch the counter-attack. Pacioretty simply had to present himself as a passing option to score after Byron had created the opportunity.
Byron has now played four games in his new role, recording at least a point in every one. In that time he’s leading the team with a scoring-chances-for percentage of 58.5% while all members of his line (with Pacioretty and Charles Hudon on the wings) have had over 80% of the high-danger shot attempts while they’ve been on the ice. And that’s with games against the powerhouse Bruins and Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals in the sample.
He’s quickly become an effective player in the centre role, and has done it in only a handful of games.
The Canadiens’ aggressive defensive game
The Canadiens attempted to counter the Bruins’ transition game by attacking puck-carriers head-on in the neutral zone. It was proving to be a fairly effective strategy, as the teams traded possession fairly evenly through the first half of the game.
That style is precisely what the Canadiens should be able to play with Carey Price in net, with him able to not only stop the majority of chances that are created by a player missing his check, but also acting as another defender to replace the one on the wrong side of the puck should an attempt to steal it not work.
If the team can ever adopt the five-man defensive system that sees players rotating into coverages and working together as a unit, having that option to incorporate their speed in an attempt to turn the tides quickly in their favour should become a feature of their game.
The Bruins’ relentless defensive game
With the Bruins having one of those five-man systems, they were able to swallow up many of the Habs’ attempts through the neutral zone, converging on the puck-carrier and either forcing the Canadiens to regroup or creating a one- or two-on-one puck battle when a player got trapped.
Every player knows where he’s supposed to be, and more importantly, players can reliably predict where their teammates are and how they will react to a play. It’s a similar cohesion to what is seen whenever the San Jose Sharks play the Habs, looking like they know what the Canadiens are going to do before they even attempt it.
It’s a team game that is hard to beat, and, in fact, hasn’t been on the losing end in regulation for 16 games in a row.
A full effort from a high-flying team
The Bruins beat the Habs three times in eight days, and deserved to win all three. They are currently the hottest team in the league, and for good reason. If you had to pick a Stanley Cup favourite right now, it would be hard to come up with a reason for the Bruins not to be it.
They have a fully healthy team and the best top line in the NHL. They showed the Habs no mercy last night, with their top players getting significant time to come away with another victory.
While the Habs do have enough talent to keep them honest, it’s clear that there’s work to be done for them to rise to that level, and the evaluations of where the Canadiens stand in relation to the other teams in the league will need to begin in earnest.