How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: Sporstnet East/West, CityTV (English), TVA Sports (French)
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
It wasn’t the same commanding effort on Thursday night as the Canadiens had put forth a few days earlier versus the Winnipeg Jets. Montreal was a bit too eager to get the puck moving up the ice, and the result was several mistakes that led to odd-man rushes, which had been quite rare for the team. Jake Allen was able to turn aside a few breakaways, but he couldn’t bail his teammates out of all their breakdowns, surrendering three goals in three periods.
The good news is the Canadiens put just enough pressure on Connor Hellebuyck to get back whatever they gave up, getting back on even terms following a two-goal deficit in the second period, and adding a late tying marker with Allen on the bench to force overtime.
That second point remains elusive for the Habs, dealt a second consecutive overtime defeat in the season series with the Jets. With the first third of the nine-game head-to-head slate now complete, the Canadiens try to get their first victory versus Winnipeg to wrap up this current homestand.
Tale of the Tape
|55.8% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||48.1% (23th)|
|3.29 (5th)||Goals per game||2.79 (21st)|
|2.71 (11th)||Goals against per game||3.24 (27th)|
|22.7% (15th)||PP%||19.6% (19th)|
|77.5% (18th)||PK%||80.4% (13th)|
The biggest issue with the two overtime periods the Habs have played in Ducharme’s short tenure is an approach that is too conservative, which is a bit bizarre given how aggressive he normally wants the team to play. At the very least, Thursday’s three-on-three period didn’t begin with Phillip Danault and Joel Armia, two players with skill sets more aligned with defence than offence, and at one point we also saw a three-forward formation, matching what the Jets did to grab the win in the previous matchup. But you also can’t say the deployment was as good as it could have been, and Alexander Romanov’s absence is the easiest criticism to make.
In 60 minutes of regulation play, Romanov, Jeff Petry, and Brett Kulak were the three best possession defencemen for Montreal, and really should be the only options in the extra frame. It’s all about keeping tabs on one player on defence and then trying to beat him up the ice to create scoring opportunities, and those are the best options to find success playing that style.
Of course, this discussion wouldn’t be necessary if the Canadiens could finish with more goals after 60 minutes of play. As important as it is to get every point available, preventing a divisional opponent from pulling off a four-point swing in the standings, the Habs should be winning more games than they lose this year, and we’ve seen how regularly they’re able to outplay the opposition.
If you can look past the results — not easy to do when the club has won just once in the last seven games — you can see the play is typically less panicked than it was in the final games of Claude Julien’s tenure, and the offensive-zone movement alone is reason for optimism. If not for Alex Burrows’s work with the power-play units, there may not have been even a point earned on Thursday night, and perhaps the movement isn’t there to set up the tying goal. There’s no longer an on-ice situation where the Canadiens can’t assert themselves, and that was a significant issue in a forgettable month of February.
This process of having to adapt to a new system has come at perhaps the best time for Montreal. They banked enough points in the opening weeks to gain themselves a buffer, and the teams around them are dealing with issues of their own. The Vanocuver Canucks probably have too many holes in their lineup to be competitive this year, and have fewer games than everyone else in the North Division to turn things around. Just a day ago, the Calgary Flames also had to fire their head coach after a disappointing start given the quality of their roster.
At the start of the year, it appeared that both Montreal and Calgary had perhaps the most complete constructions in the division, and therefore it wasn’t too surprising when they were the first ones to make changes at the helm when the ship began to veer off course. A playoff spot could come down to which of those two teams can get things turned around in the final 30-plus games. By acting the soonest, the Habs are in position to be the first out of the gate, and just need some of these close games to begin falling their way to restore faith in their own chances.