Considering the way they lost their first game of the season — allowing two power play goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs, you wouldn’t have expected this type of turnaround against last year’s best power play.
That’s exactly what the Canadiens did, going 3/3 on the kill on Saturday, and an extraordinary 7/7 on Monday. To top it all off, they scored two shorthanded goals making the penalty kill a remarkable +2.
Claude Julien said that he wants the penalty kill to play aggressive. When he explained this before the season, he wanted his players to attack loose pucks and not sit back and allow teams to collect the puck and regroup. Forcing opponents into mistakes invariably has the benefit of creating counter attacks as well.
The penalty kill can afford to play this kind of style because players are not being overworked. Despite being penalized seven times, no Canadiens forward played over 4:30. By contrast, four out of the five players on the Oilers top unit played over seven minutes with the advantage.
“Having more bodies helps us play a little more aggressive,” Canadiens captain Shea Weber said after Monday’s game. “Our forwards are trying to use their speed and disrupt the other teams and that allows us to be a little more aggressive as well.”
“That’s what we liked when we acquired certain players, I was happy with the number of players I could use shorthanded,” Julien said. “First of all we’re more fresh, secondly we’re more aggressive.”
Of the Canadiens’ 12 forwards, Julien trusts eight to play on the penalty kill, although Josh Anderson didn’t get much time on Monday. Only Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi don’t play regular shifts shorthanded. On defence, Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson both played over six minutes, but Weber, Ben Chiarot, and Alexander Romanov all got extended minutes as well.
The team seems to be settling into a groove, and with every subsequent kill, the confidence grows as well.
“We’re more active in the defensive zone and that puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team and we have a lot of confidence,” Julien said.
The goaltender is important as well, and after Carey Price on Saturday, it was Jake Allen’s turn to take a leading role. It should be said that the team cleared a lot of the second chance opportunities as well.
The ability for Julien to trust not only Allen, but forwards up and down the lineup allows him to split up minutes, keep everyone fresh not only as the game goes on, but as the season goes on as well.
It allows everyone to be at their best, and as a result the entire unit improves.
“[The team] improved our structure and dictating where the puck needs to go,” Allen said about the adjustments he has noticed in the team’s penalty kill. “Once we have our structure... you know what the next play is going to be... I thought it was a real solid job overall.”
“Jake made the first save and we were able to clear rebounds,” Weber said.
Ideally, the Canadiens would not take as many penalties, but having the confidence that they can kill off the penalties — and not rely on the same players to kill them — mitigates some of that risk.
After the first game of the season, all the talk was about the penalty kill. Two games later, it’s still a talking point but for a completely different reason.