When you’re in the middle of a five-game losing streak, just fired the head coach and associate coach (then, oddly, the goaltending coach), you need a win of any kind to right a careening ship. It looked like the Montreal Canadiens might win on Saturday, but a poor overtime decision washed that away. On Tuesday Montreal got the victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win.
It was dominant in terms of possession metrics, where Montreal doubled up Ottawa’s scoring chances at five-on-five en route to the 3-1 victory. What stood out the most is that even with a lead, or when the Senators drew back within a goal, the Canadiens never strayed for their new playing style.
Montreal stayed aggressive on pucks, hounding defenders with a relentless forecheck that Ottawa had no answers for. Every time a Hab was on the puck, they were supported by at least one other red sweater, giving the attack ample chances to start out of the defensive zone.
Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi: “I like [the new system] a lot… I think it’s pretty similar to what we did in Laval last year. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with a lot of things already” #GoHabsGo #THW— Ryan Szporer (@rszporer) March 3, 2021
Anyone who has followed the AHL team even in passing should recognize Ducharme’s offensive attack as very similar to that of Joël Bouchard’s in Laval. Jesperi Kotkaniemi spent just a dozen games with Bouchard and thrived, so to see his confidence growing inside a similar system isn’t surprising.
Kotkaniemi finished the night with one assist, a 72% Corsi-for percentage, and saw 10 scoring chances, while allowing just two against in his minutes. He looked easily the best he has all year, and if he’s already adapted to the new system under Ducharme, it’s not hard to believe he’s going to continue to get better. It’s no secret that Kotkaniemi sometimes struggled to adjust to Claude Julien’s defence-first mentality, showing brief glimpses of what his potential can be.
With a few games like this under his belt in the last two weeks, and a crucial swing in Western Canada coming up, the time is right for a Kotkaniemi breakout. He battled hard against a Senators team that doesn’t break against Montreal and came out on top. With more games like the one on Tuesday, he is going to be knocking on the door for a much larger role soon.