Canadiens vs. Bruins 10 Takeaways: Slowly coming together

The Canadiens’ level of play has been steadily increasing through five games, and they’ve earned their 4-0-1 record.

The Montreal Canadiens improved their record to 4-0-1 on the season, and got their second consecutive win with Carey Price in the net. In their game versus the Boston Bruins last night, a few things stood out.

The penalty kill came up big right off the bat

Brendan Gallagher got called for high-sticking less than two minutes into the game, and was sent to the box for four minutes. The game could have shifted in favour of the home side early, but the penalty kill held strong, preventing shots against and, perhaps more importantly, blocking the passing lanes that could force Price to move around in his crease and open holes in his defence.

The power play was cut short by a Bruins penalty before the four minutes played out, but Boston’s only registered shot was a slow dribbler that was easily contained by Price, and another attempt that glanced off the post.

A bit too defensive in their own end

I mentioned in my previous takeaways article how the Canadiens had done a good job collapsing to the net to cover for Al Montoya’s rebounds versus the Senators last weekend. In the first period versus the Bruins, the strategy was unnecessary with Price in the net, and they ended up unable to gain control of the puck after it was either deflected off a shin pad or missed the net to rim around the boards.

The Habs were essentially forced to wait for a shot or pass to die somewhere in the middle of the ice (something that happened plenty of times when Montoya was giving up short rebounds) and start a breakout from there. They were able to prevent any dangerous shots from the middle of the ice and get in the way of a lot pucks, but the defensive-zone time could be reduced if the players are given a bit more range to work with.

The ineffective breakout

It’s been a plague on the team for over three seasons now, and despite a few pre-season games where it looked like the new plan was to exit the zone with possession, the team was relying on the chip out of the zone to relieve the pressure.

With the closely packed style they were using, there was no other viable option to clear the zone, so the adjustment of the defensive coverage will be more conducive to a more efficient transition game, should the coaching staff choose to re-implement it.

Connecting the defensive style to the offensive attack

Despite using the shutdown style in the defensive zone to limit rebound chances and prevent players from getting to prime scoring areas, the Habs failed to realize that the Bruins weren’t nearly as committed to the same strategy. Anton Khudobin was giving up rebounds in all directions off Canadiens shots, and the Habs were neither adapting to get into position to take advantage of them, nor sending pucks in off the goaltender for the sole purpose of generating second-chance opportunities.

The offence could have been a lot more dangerous had the team recognized what the Bruins were doing on the defensive side of things.

Power-play strategy

Montreal looked decent on the first full attempt at the man advantage, with several shots on goal. That’s when I first noticed that Khudobin’s multiple rebounds weren’t being anticipated by the forwards, and spilled pucks were cleared away by the Bruins defence with little danger.

As for the setup, the Canadiens still have a hard time getting into the 1-3-1 alignment they want, instead usually having two players along the blue line and forwards trying to figure out how to adapt to those positions. At one point Andrei Markov and Alex Galchenyuk were playing about 10 feet apart along the right-side boards, each convinced that he was in the proper spot.

It will take some time to overwrite the old programming of power-play positions, but it’s a bit surprising that it’s taking so long. The Habs are getting good movement even with the confused positioning, and it seems like only a matter a time before things will begin to click. With five power-play attempts, they should have been able to score at least one goal, and prevent the game from getting as close as it did. The good news is they’ve been playing well enough to win without needing the power play, and the man advantage is only going to improve.

Galchenyuk’s increased power-play responsibilities

One major improvement on the power play this season is a more concerted effort to gain the zone with possession. Alexander Radulov hasn’t had to change his thinking from a previous dump-and-chase system and has been carrying the puck over the blue line since his first pre-season game. Now it seems that Galchenyuk has been deployed to the use that tactic, as well.

On a few occasions, he advanced the puck into the zone right through the centre of the ice, with his four teammates fanning out to give him passing options to get the setup going. He showed the poise and patience to scan his options under pressure and made a good pass to send the puck to an area of less immediate defensive pressure. It’s another encouraging sign that the power play is (slowly) moving in the right direction under Kirk Muller’s tutelage.

Radulov looking good

I mentioned in the lineup article earlier in the day how Radulov could take advantage of the Bruins’ defence to use his creativity, and that’s exactly what happened on the Canadiens second goal.

A bobbled puck by a pinching John-Michael Liles created a two-on-one for Montreal. Forward Matt Beleskey wasn’t fast enough to get back into the passing lane, and Radulov sent a pass by Colin Miller to Phillip Danault. Khudobin couldn’t react fast enough, and Danault accepted the perfect pass to put the Habs up 2-0.

A bad sequence from Alexei Emelin

It’s been nice to see Emelin finally back to playing an effective game, even joining the rush several times over the last two seasons, and setting up a few scoring chances so far in this one. However, his decision to attempt to make an offensive play late in the game led to the Bruins’ comeback attempt.

Up 2-0 to start the third, and with the Canadiens in the offensive zone actually pushing the attack rather than just sitting back defending a lead (one of the greatest concerns with the personnel changes in the off-season), Emelin made a poor decision to jump up in an attempt prevent Bruins forward Noel Acciari from clearing the zone.

The puck got by Emelin and created a two-one-one for Tim Schaller and Dominic Moore versus Greg Pateryn, with Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen racing back to help.

It was very similar to what had transpired on the Danault goal earlier in the game, and ended with the exact same result, as Pateryn was unable to prevent Schaller’s pass across, and Moore got the Bruins on the board.

Less than two minutes later, Emelin’s attempted zone clearance went over the glass, sending his team to the penalty kill with a lead of just a single goal.

Paul Byron bails him out in typical fashion

The Bruins power play couldn’t even get set up before Byron raced away short-handed on another breakaway.

He easily got separation from the defenders and had time to make a few moves to throw Khudobin off before restoring the two-goal cushion.

Facing the possibility of going from a 2-0 lead to a tie in just a matter of minutes, Byron’s goal gave the Canadiens a bit of breathing room with just over half a period remaining. He forces opposing teams to be mindful of a counter-attack, even in situations where they’ve just turned momentum in their favour late in a game.

One mistake undoes the penalty kill

Byron’s goal proved to be an important tally when the Bruins scored immediately afterward.

The penalty kill hadn’t allowed much of anything all night long, limiting the Bruins to just three shots on their first three opportunities. A minor positioning error around the goal allowed the Bruins to crack what has been a nearly impervious defence so far this season.

The Bruins redoubled their offensive attack, using two players low to the right side of the net: the area patrolled by Shea Weber. Weber got caught too far afield in an attempt to shut down one of those players, leaving David Backes all alone along the goal line.

Andrei Markov realized the breach in the defences, racing over to cut down the lane that Weber should have been occupying if he were in his normal position, and that left the left side completely undefended. Ryan Spooner saw the opening and got into position to accept Backes’ pass, and reduced the deficit to just one goal once again.

The importance of Weber on the PK

That one play highlighted just how critical the setup is for an effective power play, and Weber has been a key part of the team’s prowess in that situation this season. Had he been in the spot he normally is, using his body as a road block, there would have been no passing lane, and the Canadiens may have emerged with their two-goal lead intact.

Other than that one play, the penalty kill looked its worst on the two occasions that Weber ended up in the box himself. Two of the Bruins’ best flurries of offensive activity came at the end of the second and third periods, with Weber in the box after taking a penalty with about two minutes remaining each time.

Unsurprisingly, the Bruins’ best scoring chances came with passes to the right of Price, getting bodies into places Weber wouldn’t have allowed them to be had he been on the ice.

Advertised as a defender who wouldn’t put the team in as much discipline trouble as the player he was replacing, Weber already has 30% of the penalty minutes (eight) through five games he amassed in 78 games (27) last season.

Weber has consistently earned less than one penalty minute per game played in his NHL career, so it would seem that this recent trend won’t continue. He’s far and away the best, and most important, penalty-killing skater the team has, but he can’t kill his own penalties.

Top of comments section | Top of article | Homepage