1. Karl Alzner, Offensive Juggernaut?
In a sentence I never thought I’d type, Karl Alzner was one of the most important Canadiens players on the ice against the Canucks. He notched his first goal in a Montreal uniform, which according to the broadcast was his first in 95 games (including the playoffs). Then, his point shot created a rebound that allowed Brendan Gallagher to slam home his 16th goal of the year, which was also the game-winner. It’s fairly unreasonable to expect this to turn into a trend, but after a rough start to the year Alzner has been playing much better of late. And despite brutal zone deployment (just 22% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone) Alzner posted a 56.1% Corsi For (shot attempts) at even strength. The Canadiens don’t need him to be Shea Weber, they just need more steady performances like he’s had in the past few games.
2. Charles in Charge
Charles Hudon is in the midst of a fantastic rookie season, even if the point totals aren’t as impressive as someone like Brock Boeser. Hudon played on a line with Max Pacioretty and Phillip Danault on Sunday and every time they got the puck, good things happened. Danault and Pacioretty led the team in possession metrics, while Hudon wasn’t far behind them. Not only that, but both of Pacioretty and Danault looked like new players since Hudon joined them. Danault nearly finished a beautiful solo rush to the net late, while the Habs captain was involved in a handful of scoring chances early in the game, before getting an empty net goal that was much deserved. He isn’t going to be hyped like the other rookies around the league, but it’s extremely important to recognize that Charles Hudon is a driving force on this Canadiens team this year.
3. A full team effort on Sunday night
The Habs gave up a 3-on-1 almost immediately into this game, and then followed that up by utterly, and relentlessly pounding the Canucks for the majority of the game. They finished with 45 shots on net and 79 total attempts by the end of the game, earning the much deserved victory.
Looking at the above chart, the Canadiens not only dominated the Canucks in the high danger areas, they also kept Vancouver out of theirs, making life fairly easy on Carey Price. The Canadiens rolled over the Canucks, with a deep four line effort, and solid defensive play over three periods. They are still a long-shot for the playoffs, but more efforts like the one tonight can set the table for upcoming seasons.
4. A bye week high
Believe it or not, the Canadiens are going into their bye week riding a pretty good wave of momentum. A win over the NHL’s current juggernaut the Tampa Lightning was great, closing the week out with a dominant win over Vancouver is even better. It’s a tumultuous time in Montreal. Rumours of trades or firings have been lingering around since the start of the year, and it’s hard to imagine that going into the week off with a loss would do much to quell them. Going into it with two wins in their back pocket, and the team as a whole playing much better allows Marc Bergevin to better reflect on where the team is at. That hopefully means there won’t be a panic move to try and salvage a season, or that could harm the team in the long run.
In short, it was a good time for the Canadiens to start playing for their lives.
5. A glimpse at what could be
As stated above, the Canadiens have played two very good games in a row, with the offence rolling with ease, and the defence doing what it should. It’s likely Montreal won’t make the playoffs, but this team is showing exactly what it can do when all the pieces are moving in unison. Adding Victor Mete and Shea Weber back into the lineup, plus the potential emergence of Noah Juulsen and Nikita Scherbak will only serve to make this team better down the road.
This season hasn’t been great, but there’s a lot to like about what Claude Julien has done to get the team playing like they are now. A heavy possession team, with a mix of relentless net front presence, skilled snipers, and a blue line that when called upon can get the puck on net. There are still flaws to be corrected and spots to be filled, but if the team can keep up this effort level, they have the talent to overcome those issues, and win plenty of hockey games.