How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Jets region: TSN3
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
It was versus the Jets that Dominique Ducharme saw his first game as an NHL head coach. With little time to make any adjustments, the Canadiens nevertheless looked like a better team at the start. Perhaps the simple act of replacing the man behind the bench was all that was needed? “No,” was the answer over the remaining 40 minutes, as the same Habs we’d watched throughout the month of February returned, and it was clear the new bench boss had some work ahead to get the team playing the style he wanted.
The second game in Winnipeg came with a full 60 minutes of that style. It turned out the Habs needed a few more to get an overtime win, but despite yet another loss there were obvious improvements in the general play of the team, and plenty to be positive about for the first time in a while.
With the Ottawa Senators in town on Tuesday, the win finally came. It may not have been the dominant even-strength showing from the previous game when Montreal out-chanced the Jets 36-14, but it was still a two-to-one edge in scoring opportunities versus a club that is outmatched on paper yet playing a surprisingly solid defensive game in a rebuilding season.
The Habs could have been destined for a second consecutive furstrating loss if the entire game had been played at five-on-five, as they’re still having little luck getting pucks to go in the net. The even-strength effort should be credited to Ducharme, but Alexandre Burrows was more responsible for Tuesday’s win as his reworked power play helped set up the only goals scored with Joey Daccord in the Sens’ net.
Three games into this new era, the Canadiens have seen what can happen if they’re all on the same page — and got reminded of what happens if they don’t. Those are all lessons to take into tonight as they go for back-to-back wins for the first time in a month.
Tale of the Tape
|55.9% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||48.4% (23rd)|
|3.24 (7th)||Goals per game||3.36 (3rd)|
|2.81 (14th)||Goals against per game||2.64 (7th)|
|21.0% (17th)||PP%||23.5% (14th)|
|76.8% (20th)||PK%||78.0% (18th)|
It’s now a matter of getting all of the elements working together. Just having the players adjust to incoming passes is one of the challenges. For much of the season, the plan had been to drive to the net for rebounds after a shot from the point, and we’ve seen several passes head toward completely oblivious teammates in the past couple of games. It will take a bit of time for them to adapt to the new free-range environment.
Ideally that would look more like the power plays Montreal had on Tuesday, when the great deal of work spent on the man advantage in practices paid off in a big way. It hasn’t always looked like the Habs expect to score a goal when they get set up in the zone versus one less defender, but there was more of a killer instinct two days ago.
No one was kicking up his heels more in the open space than Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who took on a a qaurterbacking role along the half-wall on the power play. With some cross-ice passes (another new development) and shots on goal himself, he had every lane open to him and left the penalty-killers’ heads spinning.
Now that the Danault line has started to get its own cycling brand of hockey back, which should free up more opportunities for Kotkaniemi’s and Nick Suzuki’s line as well, it may not be long until the offence starts flowing.
The Jets are also capable of a better effort than Saturday’s, and we saw that in their 6-3 win the previous game. With Pierre-Luc Dubois in the fold, the Jets have a top-six group that may be second only to that of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the division. Four of them are point-per-game players through two-fifths of the season, with top-line cente Mark Scheifele leading the way with 31; 11 more than Montreal’s top point-producer, Jeff Petry.
There’s an argument that the best of them all is Nikolaj Ehlers. Even though, for whatever reason, he’s relatively low in the order in terms of ice time per game, he leads the club with three game-winning goals, and also factored into both tallies in the most recent 2-1 win while his peers were completely neutralized. He’s running away from his teammates with nearly 12 scoring chances per 60 minutes of even-strength play, or one every five minutes.
Despite Nate Thompson, the player Montreal ate alive in the playoff series versus Philadelphia a year ago, scoring a goal late in Ducharme’s first assignment, the quality of the bottom six falls off significantly. No one was spared the onslaught in regulation in the last meeting, but it was these players who came out the worst at the end of the night. If the Canadiens can play half as well at five-on-five as they did that game, and build further on the momentum with the revamped power play, it should be a fun night.