Canadiens vs. Blue Jackets 5 Takeaways: Steady improvements backstop a Habs victory

Two more points in the bank, and another night of vintage Carey Price.

1. Coming out strong

The Montreal Canadiens were flying high after a win in Carey Price’s return against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. Last night, however, they faced a far better team in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are among the Eastern Conference’s best clubs.

Not only did the Habs come out strong, they did so in such a way that they looked like an entirely different team than the one that played Columbus a few short weeks ago.

Price made a 10-bell save on Nick Foligno early on, much like he did against Buffalo in his last game. From there the offence kicked in and put the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. Brendan Gallagher flew down the ice and beat the reigning Vezina winner cleanly to open the scoring. Then it would be a  screen from Andrew Shaw that allowed Jonathan Drouin to uncork a laser beam of a shot to double the lead.

Jumping out to starts like this is a great sign that the Canadiens confidence (and goal-scoring) issues might be coming to an end. Taking that early lead, and then keeping the pressure on is going to bring this team a lot of success if it can become a regular occurrence.

2. Carey-ing the weight

Price is an amazing goalie, and despite his rough start to this year and subsequent injury, he has been that stalwart between the pipes in the two games he’s played since returning.

While the Habs have been better in many ways, adding a rejuvenated Price is seemingly getting them over the hump in closely contested games. The Canadiens shouldn’t have to apologize for having an elite goaltender to help them win games, and given how they sat back late in the game after the good start last night, Price is a big reason why they were able to claim the two points in the standings.

TSN pointed out how poor Price’s high-danger save percentage was during the broadcast, but it’s clear after two games that those struggles are likely a thing of the past.

Under Claude Julien the Habs’ possession numbers are among the best in the league, and putting a healthy Price with that could be all the Canadiens need to get their season turned around.

3. Killing the penalty kill woes

Besides poor goaltending, the biggest issue facing Montreal in the first quarter was an inability to kill penalties with any sort of regularity. Last night the Canadiens were flirting with disaster by taking a multitude of penalties in the second and third periods, while clinging to a two-, then a one-goal lead.

The Columbus power-play hasn’t been good, but the team has the offensive weapons to turn the game on its head in the blink of an eye. Instead of collapsing and giving up rebound goals in close, the Habs defence cleared the puck away from the net, and did well to limit chances against on the five power plays the Blue Jackets had.

Much like Carey Price returning to his best form, the penalty kill becoming at least semi-respectable this year would be a massive boon for the Canadiens, and one more small step towards climbing out of their early season hole.

4. Charles Hudon is due, and Brendan Gallagher deserves some praise

I know it’s shocking that I’m going to praise Charles Hudon, but he’s more than earned it with his play. He has only two goals on the year, but every single time he steps on the ice the offence is being pushed in the right direction for the Habs. Playing on a line with Brendan Gallagher has brought out the best in both players; they’re both hard on the puck and have the skill to beat goalies one-on-one, or in close around the net.

Gallagher is in the midst of his best season in over two years, and sooner or later the puck is going to start piling into the net for Hudon as well. The best thing Claude Julien can do right now is leave this line alone, and let the luck regulate itself out.

As for Gallagher, while much has been made about Max Pacioretty or Jonathan Drouin struggling at various parts of the season, the winger’s strong season has slid under the radar. With 10 goals, Gallagher leads the team, and he’s looking like the player he was before breaking his hand on two separate occasions. Whichever line he’s been put on, players have seen an uptick in their on-ice play, and pairing him with Hudon has been a stroke of genius by Julien.

5. It’s not over yet folks

The Canadiens were declared DOA by many pundits after their horrid start to the season, feeling there was no way they could ever overcome such a bad run of form.

Well, I’ll let Han Solo play the role of the Habs after last night’s game:

The Canadiens are just two points out of the third and final Atlantic Division playoff spot, trailing the Detroit Red Wings. They now lead the Ottawa Senators by a point as well, and the Habs play both teams a total of the three times to finish off this week. That means by the end of Saturday night’s game, the Canadiens could be in third place, and possibly even breathing down the necks of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The NHL is a crazy league. If the Senators can ride an unknown AHL goalie to a 20-game winning streak and a playoff berth, there’s no reason Carey Price can’t drag this squad into the post-season as well.

Anything can happen between now and the end of the season, so buckle up Habs fans, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

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