The Montreal Canadiens proved something on Thursday. Not only can they play with the best in the NHL, they can dominate them, and do it by playing close to their system. The Habs are a hard-working team that wins by wanting it more than the opposition.
The recipe is simple: pressure the puck-carriers from the breakout through the neutral zone, cut passing lanes, create turnovers, and use those to generate offence. Quick changes of possession create a lot of space for the fast forwards, and turns the opposing defence into chaos which leads to the best scoring chances.
But this is only the theory behind the Habs’ strategy. In practice, taking away time and space like this consistently is very hard to do. It requires total commitment from everyone in the lineup.
The Habs definitely had it against the Jets. In a way, it was a statement game.
Marc Bergevin, most likely still pondering his options with the trade deadline fast approaching, was watching from above. He saw Claude Julien’s team play to their best, working together to overcome the tough challenge that was in front of them. And it surely helped the general manager see that his group can do it.
The team he has built during the summer can manufacture a run. Staying the course, with no major adds through trades, is a perfectly viable solution not just thinking of the future, but also considering the Habs’ hopes for success in the upcoming post-season.
We have also seen Bergevin alter the face of his team at the trade deadline with depth players, tailoring it to fit the idea of what a successful one is in the playoffs by adding leadership or a more physical presence. The acquisitions weren’t impact players, but were brought in to fill perceived holes; players like Dwight King or Andreas Martinsen.
This current edition of the Canadiens has proved that it doesn’t need a change of identity. They believe in themselves, support each other, and have embraced the underdog mentality. What we see on the ice is a reflection of great chemistry between the players who have completely bought into the plan that was presented to them at the beginning of the year.
This season, there is a case to be made for simply leaving the extended core of the team as is. Not only to preserve the future that has been carefully planned, but giving the players what they have earned: the chance to take their story as far they can.
The Habs management need to be aware of what they have. Realistically, this is not a Cup run year (even it's possible to be more and more hopeful) but it is clear it is a very solid team. So why tinker with it at the risk of breaking it?