1 - As I mentioned immediately after the conclusion of last night's game, the Habs win, their 4th in 5 starts this season, was an uneven victory. What I meant exactly by that was this. Once again, the Canadiens found a way of claiming victory in spite of the underlaying numbers favouring the opponent. The Habs were soundly outplayed in the first period, barely registering a CF% over 41, although the final shot totals in the period were 13-6 in favour of the Habs. Yet, somehow they were able to hold the line, and find their way to victory. It's been like that since game one - and beyond the fact that the Habs are consistently losing the battle for puck possession, the Canadiens are winning because of two basic reasons: Exceptional goaltending (Al Montoya was outstanding backing up Price for the first 3 games), and puck luck. The Canadiens currently hold the League's largest PDO (108.0), with the Detroit Red Wings ranked 2nd - at 104.2. It's not only goaltending that has helped the Habs to find ways of winning games - their shooting percentage is a sky-high 12.7%, 3rd highest in the League. A typical average NHL Sh% over a 82 stretch is usually between 7-8%. Bottom line here - the Habs have been beating the averages, enjoying the benefits of good bounces. But they never last. They won't last. When the Canadiens revert to the average, this team, unless it starts changing its puck possession approach, will start losing.
2 - One area that did show improvement for the Habs were their faceoff percentages. Entering the game, the Canadiens were ranked 26th overall, but that number improved last night with the Canadiens winning 57% of the drops. Perhaps most critically, the Habs won nearly 60% of the faceoffs in their zone, which certainly helped them to mitigate the puck possession advantages the Bruins enjoyed through most of the 1st period, and at certain points in the 3rd.
3 - Another solid game for Carey Price - not sparkling - but solid. He wasn't overtly busy last night, in part because the Habs were doing a better job winning faceoffs, in part because the Habs defence was doing a reasonable job at shot blocking, in part because the Bruins' powerplay was exceptionally inept. But Price did make key saves at key times scattered throughout the evening, which is all you can really ask and hope for from your number one goaltender.
4 - The Habs powerplay continues to underwhelm, as indicated by a couple of graphics. Here is the Habs high danger scoring chances last night (5v5):
So 14 chances there - a pretty ordinary chart for any given night. Now let's look at the Habs high danger scoring chances with the powerplay included:
5 - I've seen praise heaped on Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu for their work clearing the puck, but the bottom line stats bear out that the Habs best defenseman last night was Greg Pateryn. In addition to doing a fine job feeding the puck to his forwards from his own zone, Pateryn posted the best shot attempt difference last night - a plus 5.
- Keep an eye on Habs faceoff performance tonight - it's been kind of not good this season, just 45%.
- Gallagher gets 4 minutes for careless use of his stick - Habs PK has been very good so far this year - it'll need to be to handle the Bruins powerplay, which hasn't been particularly effective this year (just 7.1%), but with guys like Bergeron and Marchand and Krejci, watch out.
- Pretty much all Bruins so far, Julien doing some apt line matching, putting his big guns out against the Mitchell line - which has been overwhelmed by Boston's forecheck and speed.
- Carey Price looks pretty sharp, but even he can't sustain the one-sidedness of this game and keep his team's head above water. Bruins gaining Habs zone with ease. That's a huge problem.
- With 7 minutes left, shots are 4-4, but brother, no way it's even out there. Habs have been wretched, the Bruins seemingly unstoppable. Carey Price remains their biggest obstacle.
- Just no way this game is sustainable for the Habs. The Bruins have to score eventually.
- Habs zone starts this season are just over 56% their side of centre, which is the 5th worst in the NHL. It's a big issue for any team when they start most of the play in their own zone. Puts a lot of tough pressure on their defence, even more on goaltending. You cannot hope to win regularly with that kind of weight around your neck.
- Habs 2nd powerplay, good puck movement and passing, but most of it perimeter, and all shots coming off tries from the line. Looks great, but effectively - I'm not convinced this will provide the positive man advantage results the Habs are hoping for.
- If Marc Bergevin wants to win with grit, his players need to start demonstrating grit - including on their powerplay. Greasy goals are still goals. Won't happen if nobody is willing to crash the crease.
- Habs got a couple of decent scoring chances late in the period, but it was still grotesquely one-sided period in favour of Boston. Carey Price will have to pull more than a couple of tricks out of his bag tonight, otherwise, this could be an ugly result.
- Habs somehow outshot the Bruins 13-6 in the first period, even though their CF was barely over 41%. What a weird 20 minutes:
- Habs powerplay goes pretty much nowhere - adjustments made emphasizing dump and chase approach to gaining the zone. Predictably, they fail to register a shot on goal.
- Khudobin has been very solid tonight for the Bruins, but he is giving up some pretty choice rebounds. Problem is, Habs have been so tentative in crashing the slot, that few, if any rebound chances are being taken advantage of.
- Gallagher does a nice job keeping the puck in the Bruins zone, and snaps a shot blocker side past Khudobin to give the Habs a 1-0 lead. The Canadiens being rewarded here by a pretty strong period of hockey - doing a decent forechecking job in the neutral zone, and the Bruins zone entries, where were unchallenged in the 1st period, have hit a roadblock in the 2nd.
- Bruins haven't scored first in a game this season, which always puts you an inherent disadvantage. Boston really outplayed Montreal in the first period, but couldn't finish their chances. Of course, there's the Carey Price factor to consider ...
- Greg Pateryn doesn't get nearly enough credit for his transition game. He's one of the few Habs defensemen that does a half decent job feeding the puck forward. It's played a role this period in helping the Habs to find their game, and mitigate the Bruins' momentum.
- Shea Weber is getting a honeymoon treatment in Montreal, which is to be expected. But unless and until he's actually able to put his powerplay shots on goal, it matters not whether that puck travels at 95 mph, or 495 mph. The results are going to be the same.
- Although, a 495 mph slapshot would be terrifying, as the NHL notes the uptake of on-ice fatalities.
- Bruins taking a few chances here to try and get their offence moving again, get caught up ice surrendering a 2-on-1, with Radulov feeding Danault, who's had an excellent game tonight, to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead.
- Weber gets nabbed for a clunky trip. It would be nice if he took "good" penalties once in awhile.
- Quite the turnaround in fortunes that period, the Habs deftly outplayed the Bruins, really shutting down the Bergeron line as the Habs 4th line finally found a groove. Carey Price hasn't been tested hard, but he has made more than a couple tough saves to keep the Bruins scoreless. I'm expecting the Bruins to come out hard to start the 3rd - Habs need to maintain their discipline and solid forecheck, maintaining good play in the neutral zone, to increase their chances of winning this game.
- Habs and Bruins after two periods, Montreal nearly 60% CF (5v5) in that second period:
- Remember the days when Zdeno Chara used to dominate this game on the blue line, striking fear into the eyes of his opponents? Man, those were the days. Long past. -5 on SF even strength tonight, he looks old and slow, most likely because he's old and slow.
- Big factor tonight is improvement by Habs in the faeeoff circle. Entering tonight's game with one of the worst percentages in the League, they've won 67.5% tonight. Significant improvement.
- Emelin with a very dumb pinch at the Bruins line to serve up a 2-on-1 break for Boston, Schaller to Moore to put the Bruins on the board. It's foolish plays like Emelin just made that quickly turn wins into losses.
- And now Emelin follows up that bonehead play on his next shift by taking a bonehead delay of game penalty. Stupefying stupid.
- Bryon to the rescue, blocking a point shot, and scoring on the break. 3-1 Habs. Emelin breaths a sight of relief.
- Oops, maybe not. Spooned cashes home a nice cross ice feed from Krug, assist to Markov and Weber for some pretty awful coverage, and it's 3-2. Back to the bench for you, Alexei. Just. Stay. There.
- Weber really struggling with Bruins rushes into the Habs zone, getting beat wide badly, having trouble adjusting to forwards coming hard towards the net. He and Emelin aren't doing Carey Price many favours this period.
- Chara and Markov. Personification of hockey from another time that's long passed them.
- Great forechecking effort by Torrey Mitchell in the Bruins zone, battling for the puck and backhanding the puck past Khudobin. Morrow, meanwhile, gives Mitchell a high stick to the face, a 4 minute minor that gives the Habs a bonus 2 minute powerplay.
- Weber takes a late interference call, again because he's caught flat-footed trying to react to the speed of an opposition rush. Get used to it Habs fans, you'll be seeing much more of this.
- Another delay of game penalty. And now Boston goes on a 6-on-3 powerplay. Yeeeps.
- Horribly executed powerplay. Just. Horrible.
- An untidy win, but a win nonetheless. Habs played poorly in the 1st, very well in the 2nd, and more more less hung on in the 3rd. This team's powerplay continues to look inept, so all the hopes and dreams that Weber was going to turn this unit around don't seem to be panning out - at least so far. Yes, again, it's too early to draw firm conclusions, but the signs aren't looking good that this Habs team isn't anything different than it was last year, except that it has Carey Price in goal. Not exactly reassuring.
GAMEDAY GAME PREVIEW:
Hey, it's the weekend! And it's the first game of the year against the Bruins! What more could anyone possibly want? HOW ABOUT BEARS IN A POOL??!?
A few notes, in point form:
- The Bruins are off to a pretty decent start to their season, winning 3 of their first 4 games. Brad Marchand, who had a tremendous World Cup, has continued his scoring ways early into the season, scoring 9 points in those first four games. While Marchand has been racking up the points, the Bruins have also received excellent support from their so-called 2nd line, Heinen/Krejci/Backes. After so many up-and-down hears, Krejci finally seems to be getting his form together, which could give the Habs defence plenty of headaches tonight.
- While the Habs do have 7 out of a possible 8 points to start the season, there are worrying signs about whether this team has overachieved. In the four games played, the Habs have a League-leading 108.8 PDO, largely because of Al Montoya's insane .962 SV%. We've noted since the start of the season how much this team looks like the 2014-15 edition of the Montreal Canadiens - one that not so much thrived, but was reliant on goaltending in order to put together a winning record. Maybe that will change as the season progresses, but so far, early signs are reassuring.
- The Bruins winning record has come from the fine performance of their top two lines, centred by the always excellent Patrice Bergeron, and Krecji. There are ongoing concerns about the health of starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, who's dealing with, to use the words of head coach Claude Julien, "general soreness". So, with all that soreness going on, Rask won't start tonight. Anton Khudobin will start for Boston.
- Habs-related lineup decisions, Mikhail Sergachev and Daniel Carr will be healthy scratches tonight - Brian Flynn and Greg Pateryn will draw in for the Canadiens.
- Puck drops at 7:10 EST.