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Expectations were rightly low for the Montreal Canadiens this season given that they finished last in the league a season ago, their franchise goaltender is unable to play, and the lineup consists of rookies and players acquired in cap dumps. Yet the team is outperforming those expectations with its .500 points percentage through 11 games, and a 2-1-1 road trip is the latest chapter of the surprisingly competitive season.
The four-game excursion began with a late winner versus the much-improved Buffalo Sabres, followed by an incredible comeback effort in St. Louis that saw a multi-goal deficit turn into a three-goal margin of victory. The one regulation loss was another difficult game versus the Minnesota Wild, but the Habs followed that up by taking a point from the Winnipeg Jets in their return north of the border.
Now the Habs head back to the Bell Centre for a single game. It won’t be a welcome homecoming as the opponent is the league-leading Vegas Golden Knights.
Tale of the Tape
|43.9% (27th)||Scoring-chances-for %||53.7% (8th)|
|2.73 (28th)||Goals per game||3.33 (12th)|
|3.09 (14th)||Goals against per game||1.92 (1st)|
|12.9% (29th)||PP%||21.1% (17th)|
|80.6% (13th)||PK%||78.6% (16th)|
|0-1-1||H2H Record ('21-'22)||2-0-0|
Once again the Canadiens find themselves playing a team that doesn’t surrender many goals. They’ve already faced a number of the current top-10 defensive teams — the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars, and most recently the Jets — and now it’s the only club in the league that still has a goals-against average under 2.00 a month into the campaign.
It’s Logan Thompson turning heads with his play between the pipes for Las Vegas. The rookie already has eight wins, earned via a .934 save percentage. The defence in front of him isn’t forcing him to make a great deal of tough saves either, with the fifth-best expected-goals-against rate in the NHL (the Wild rank fourth, so we can add them to the list of stingy teams as well).
Despite quite literally giving Max Pacioretty away in the off-season, Vegas is still an offensive force. Jack Eichel is finally healthy and back to scoring at a point-per-game pace after a couple of seasons dealing with a disc issue. The Golden Knights’ offence is coming from various sources to begin the year, making it difficult to key on any one line, as it currently is versus Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki in Montreal.
Following weeks of alternating the options at every other foward position, Martin St-Louis seems to have whittled down the options he’s willing to use. The first major decision has been to make Evgenii Dadonov virtually a permanent scratch (a perfectly timed placement on the IR certainly aids the optics of that move), and Mike Hoffman hasn’t played for a couple of games now. Given how Joel Armia has been standing out for his errors in his brief time back in the lineup, the head coach may decide to make another such decision on a veteran player.
The recent moves are all made with the goal of dressing the best lineup regardless of NHL experience, which suggests St-Louis is looking ahead to the playoffs rather than the trade deadline and the draft. It seems an unlikely goal given the projection for the club at the start of the year, and as we get late into the season the added pressure may start to get to all the young players playing critical roles. But at the moment, with about one-seventh of the season in the books, they’re one win away from a post-season position, and we’ve already seen how tough their opening schedule has been.
That standing is tenuous, and mostly thanks to Caufield and Suzuki, as well as some quality goaltending, especially from Samuel Montembeault of late. It’s also very unlikely that their current projection of 82 points will be enough to keep them in the race. If the team is as interested in making some noise in the Eastern Conference as St-Louis appears to be, the remaining cast will need to reward the coach’s faith with supporting performances.