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The Montreal Canadiens needed a better start on Sunday afternoon versus the New York Rangers to make up for the opening minutes of the game the night before. They got much better than just a good start, putting in one of their most complete 60-minute efforts of the entire season.
Improvement was obvious at the end of a scoreless first period, the result of Samuel Montembeault playing very well in his crease and the skaters holding the Rangers largely to the perimeter of the zone. That pattern continued until the final whistle of a 2-1 road win for Montreal.
Cole Caufield had another five-on-five goal in the contest, bringing his total of such markers to 17 and tying for fourth in the league in that category with the likes of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Caufield’s 26th goal of the season was the difference in the Habs’ third win in five games, all coming by one goal. Now there’s a tough opponent standing in the way of them making that four wins in six matches: the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets.
Tale of the Tape
|44.4% (28th)||Scoring-chances-for %||51.3% (13th)|
|2.55 (29th)||Goals per game||3.34 (9th)|
|3.68 (27th)||Goals against per game||2.59 (2nd)|
|16.3% (29th)||PP%||24.2% (10th)|
|75.2% (22nd)||PK%||83.9% (2nd)|
Not a lot has changed with the Jets’ roster since they finished sixth in their section last year. It’s been one of the most stable pools of players in the league, with plenty of forwards who’ve been together for several seasons. They still have Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler contributing offensively as they often have, and Nikolaj Ehlers who can outproduce them all when he’s healthy. Their underlying numbers are fairly static as well, from 2.69 expected goals for and 2.68 expected goals against in 2021-22 to identical marks of 2.62 for each this year.
The significant changes have come in the performances of players who experienced last year’s failed season. That slight drop in expected goals against has been paired with a rebound for Connor Hellebuyck, from a .910 save percentage to .926, which would be a new career high for the 2020 Vezina Trophy winner.
Two players are unlocking their games offensively. Pierre-Luc Dubois hadn’t lived up to his billing in his first two years in Winnipeg, but is currently just 11 points below his 2021-22 point total, contributing 49 in 44 games and on pace to eclipse the point-per-game mark for the first time.
Even with Dubois’s rise, it’s Josh Morrissey who is the team’s most improved player. He’s one point back of Dubois for second on the team scoring list, having eight goals and 40 assists. The defenceman had shown glimpses of becoming an elite player in his first seasons in Winnipeg, but had prolonged periods of struggles that prevented him from fully realizing his potential. This year, he could very well be the next member of the organization to claim an individual award at season’s end as he’ll be a front-runner for the Norris Trophy if he can maintain this level.
At all three positions, the Jets have the advantage over the Canadiens in this matchup. If both teams play at their average ability, it’s likely going to be a win for the Jets to maintain their playoff seeding. The Canadiens brought more than their standard performance to Broadway to earn a win on Sunday, and leading man Caufield and his supporting cast will need another such showing to pull this one off.