The Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets played one of the most bizzare hockey games of this NHL season on Tuesday night. Winnipeg jumped out to a 4-0 lead on just six shots on goal inside the first period. Montreal then stormed back to score three before the intermission, then fully erased the four-goal deficit early in the second period thanks to Josh Anderson completing a hat trick.
Given a chance to take the lead with a short-handed penalty shot on the stick on Rem Pitlick, the shot was saved, and then the Jets cashed in on the remaining man advantage time. In what then became a trend: softer penalty calls led to real power-play goals for the Jets as they buried four straight to claim an 8-4 win over Montreal.
Inside this game there were two main thoughts I had as the final horn sounded: (1) the Montreal Canadiens are vastly improved offensively and even defensively under Martin St. Louis, and at even strength pummeled the Jets, and; (2) special teams, a lack of discipline, and an off night from the starting goalie showed that this team has plenty of work left to do.
Unpacking the first point a bit, the Habs got another huge night from their top line, led by Anderson’s first three-goal game. Across the board at five-on-five, the Canadiens bested the Jets who had no answers for Montreal’s pressure in the offensive zone. By the end of the night, Montreal had more high-danger chances created, more expected goals, and more actual goals scored when the teams were at full strength.
Montreal’s special teams were the complete opposite. With the game back on the line, the Canadiens’ goaltending and penalty-killing vanished into thin air as they continued to take penalties. According to MoneyPuck.com, Samuel Montembeault had an expected goals against (xGA) count of 1.91 on the night. Montembeault actually allowed seven, including three straight on the power play before being pulled in favour of Andrew Hammond.
There is a silver lining to this game, which feels odd given the scoreline. The process under St. Louis seems sound, and the offensive side of the game is developing well. At even strength, the defence has improved and was overall solid against Winnipeg, the team just needs to focus on keeping themselves out of the box as best they can, and perhaps they could use more structure while down a man.
Tuesday’s loss to the Jets shows there’s plenty of room for improvement for St. Louis to focus on. The best news, however, is that the direction is much clearer now than it was a month ago.