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It seemed like things were finally starting to turn a corner. The Canadiens had spent the first five games playing the puck around the perimeter of the ice, and had the only four goals they deserved for playing that way. But on Saturday night, with the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre, everyone was attacking through the middle, shots were coming from dangerous areas, and they put six goals on the board to earn their first win.
Montreal should have had that style of play reinforced by the big win, but they went into their first ever meeting with the Seattle Kraken with the passive style from the opening handful of matches. They had a grand total of two high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five on Tuesday night, after amassing 14 in the final game of their homestand versus Detroit. There can be no clearer lesson: being more assertive in their approach is the only winning strategy.
The Habs were presented with a great opportunity to build some momentum to start their road trip. Instead, they now head off to California with the same questions about their roster and tactics from the start of the year, and will need to break a winless streak that dates back nearly 22 years to get back in the win column.
Tale of the Tape
|48.9% (20th)||Scoring-chances-for %||45.3% (26th)|
|1.57 (32nd)||Goals per game||3.33 (10th)|
|3.57 (27th)||Goals against per game||2.33 (5th)|
|8.0% (31st)||PP%||25.0% (12th)|
|64.0% (29th)||PK%||85.7% (11th)|
The Y2K bug was was the biggest threat the last time Montreal earned a victory in the San Jose Sharks’ home arena. It was a two-point night for Sergei Zholtok, Trevor Linden set up Martin Rucinsky for the tying goal, and Craig Rivet won it after the team killed off a Dainius Zubrus penalty in overtime. Nick Suzuki’s parents were developing the film from his “three months old” photo shoot, and Cole Caufield hadn’t even been conceived.
Neither of those current players has actually experienced this trip to their team’s Bermuda Triangle, but they just had first-hand experience of what the matchup typically looks like. The Sharks came into the Bell Centre nine days ago and walked away with a 5-0 win.
San Jose has played with great structure for much of the past two decades, being a Stanley Cup contender for a significant portion of that period. Even with roster turnover and coaching changes over the years, the organization has maintained that element, with players always in the proper spots on the ice. The Canadiens, who have usually preferred to find holes in the opposition defences to rush through, have never figured out the solution to that style. In addition to it being 22 years since their last road win, the Canadiens haven’t beat San Jose in any building in their last 10 attempts, dating back to 2015. They haven’t scored more than two goals in the matchup since 2011.
Even if Montreal stood at 7-0-0 right now, this would be regarded as a tough game to win. It’s the one contest from the opening eight that looks like a guaranteed loss. To overcome those daunting odds, there will have a be a complete effort from everyone on the ice, from Jake Allen, who didn’t help his team out much at all on Tuesday night, to a defence that has been chasing the puck around its own zone on many shifts this season, to the forward corps that has defaulted to the outside on too many occasions so far. And they all need to come together as a unit.
Again, you only need to look back as far as that Detroit game to see how that comes together. The puck support they showed with a tight formation to allow short breakout passes from defenceman to forward is the way to move the puck past the close-checking defenders they will be facing. They’ll then need to challenge the Sharks’ defence with lateral passes and drives to the net instead of letting plays be snuffed out along the boards where their opponent wants them to play.
Given the current state of the Canadiens, it would be a shocking result if they actually snapped their various streaks, but stranger results have occurred in the NHL than an expected loss becoming a win instead.