Canadiens vs. Senators 10 Takeaways: Adapting to new systems

The Habs looked off at times, but it seems to mostly be from trying to change a lot of things at once.

The Montreal Canadiens started their season off with a win on Thursday night, and got a reinforcement for their second contest of the season with the return of Jeff Petry. His return forced rookie Mikhail Sergachev out of the lineup, and shook up the defence pairings.

Panicked play in the defensive zone

Petry’s arrival didn’t seem to do much to settle the defence corps down, as the majority of the first period appeared to be played in the Canadiens zone, or with the Senators regrouping with the puck after a Habs dump-out.

The Canadiens have the personnel to play at least a semi-controlled possession game, and it’s frustrating to watch their puck-moving defenders and skilled forwards performing the most basic, low-percentage play in the game of hockey.

Andrei Markov & Shea Weber on the power play

All through pre-season, the Canadiens used the 1-3-1 setup on the power play, and generated some good chances with the new alignment. Weber and Markov did not get much practice with that system while off with their World Cup of Hockey teams, and it showed in the opening period of last night’s game.

After very little playing time together in any situation, Markov and Weber were paired together for the first power-play wave, and they had a difficult time having any impact.

They struggled to gain the zone, moving slowly through the neutral zone and attempting telegraphed drop passes that weren’t fooling any of Ottawa’s penalty killers. When they did get into the zone, the two set up along the blue line, and weren’t able pressure Ottawa’s defensive structure from those positions.

Once they did rotate a few feet into their proper positions for the 1-3-1 alignment, the lanes opened up immediately, and the power play had several chances in the limited time it had remaining to operate. Weber had four shots toward the net in a matter of seconds once he got situated at the top of the circle.

They weren’t able to create any offence, but it seems their struggles were more from positioning errors than a poor power-play design.

Jeff Petry returns in style

In his first game back from injury, Petry was effective in the offensive zone. He got the Habs on the board just as one of their four power plays on the night was coming to an end in the second period, firing a shot past the screen of Artturi Lehkonen and beyond Senators goalie Craig Anderson.

Nine minutes into the third, he gave the Canadiens their first lead of the game just seconds after another power play expired, with a rocket of a shot from the centre of the blue line.

Petry annouced himself as a dangerous offensive threat, already at about 30% of his career-high goal production, and may give the team another option shooting option in the construction of power-play units.

Alexander Radulov was the best forward on the ice

While the rest of the players were playing hot potato with the puck, Radulov was the only one composed enough to make plays with possession. He was fully engaged all night long, highlighted on one good shift from the second line that started with Lehkonen getting physical along the side boards to dislodge the puck. Eventually that led to Radulov not only trying to play the puck without a stick, but looking to the front of the net to create a scoring chance with his feet.

For his efforts he got promoted to the top line with Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty with about eight minutes remaining in the second.

The Blender

At least it appeared to be a promotion. A few shifts later, the lineup was nearly completely turned over. The third line centred by David Desharnais was left intact while Galchenyuk was taken off the top line in favour of Tomas Plekanec.

Oddly, given the shift he had just had with Radulov and his good work on the power-play goal minutes earlier, Lehkonen was removed from the second line and placed on the fourth with Torrey Mitchell and Phillip Danault.

Lehkonen scores his first goal as a Hab

The move somehow panned out, as Lehkonen was able to get on the board for the first time in NHL career about three minutes into the third.

Despite starting just 10% of his end-zone shifts in the Senators zone, Lehkonen finished the game with a 55% shot-attempts-for percentage and two shots on goal. Those stats make his removal from a top-six position all the more baffling. It will be interesting to see if Therrien reflects on his decision and reverts to the original plan that had lasted from the second game of the pre-season, or if he now regards Lehkonen as a fourth-line contributor.

Al Montoya providing quality goaltending

Before Petry emerged as an offensive force in the game, it was Montoya who held his team close enough for those goals to have an effect on the outcome. He was nearly always in great position to stop incoming shots, and was beaten by an unstoppable deflection off a cross-ice pass for the 2-0 goal.

He allows too many rebounds, letting the opposition get looks at second-chance opportunities, but he is very good and stopping the first shot that comes his way.

Defence doing a good job of collapsing to the goal

The Senators rarely got a chance to take advantage of those rebounds, as Montreal’s defencemen were usually in perfect position to either clear the puck or check their man before he could get his stick to it.

Often times last season, players would be left open for easy tap-in goals after the goaltender made a save. So far, it seems like there’s a greater commitment to helping out their last line of defence when the opposition in pressing.

Andrei Markov & Shea Weber on the penalty kill

They weren’t particularly good when they were up a man, but when the Canadiens were down a player — or two, as was the case early in the third after Karlsson drew consecutive minors — Markov and Weber played and efficient defensive style.

Not straying far from their goal, they were always in position to knock down attempted cross-crease plays from the Senators and prevent attackers from getting point-blank chances on their backup goaltender.

On that lengthy two-man disadvantage, the tactic was to focus solely on removing any passes from the boards to the low slot, and they prevented Ottawa from getting chances of any real quality on an almost two-minute 5-on-3.

At times basically laying on the ice to cover as much of the area as possible, they not only occupied passing lanes, but gave Montoya an unobstructed view of the entire zone. He was able to easily turn aside any of the shots that the Senators launched his way, and the Canadiens emerged from the situation without surrendering a goal.

That style of play is not conducive to clearing the puck out the zone, as the players are tethered to a spot in the middle of the ice. Instead, the strategy is just to survive for the two minutes. If it can be as effective as it was last night, that won’t be an issue, especially when Montreal gets its starting netminder back.

Surviving without Carey Price

In two games versus divisional opponents, the Canadiens took three of a possible four points with a backup goaltender between the pipes. To expect anything more would be completely unreasonable, especially given the number of players still getting used to playing with one another.

Price won’t allow rebounds of nearly as high a frequency as Montoya has, which should both reduce the number of shots faced, as well as allow the defencemen to play a bit farther from the net. That may allow them to shift away from the puck-clearance style that had them trapped in their own end for much of Saturday’s game and back to the puck-carrying style that we saw through the more relaxed pre-season contests.

It’s possible that that return will come in the home opener versus the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, but for now, fans should expect another defensively skewed contest with the second-string goaltender and his supporting cast attempting to shut down the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

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