As March continues onward, one of the storylines will be how Montreal responds to the bubble position they are in. They fired the coach and goalie coach, hired a “Director of Goaltending” and interim coach, and still, there are plenty of concerns. After the Monday night shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal finds themselves with a record of 11-6-7. While that entrenches them into fourth place in the North Division, the alarm bells are still going off.
This was a Vancouver team that Montreal dominated in three previous meetings. That would not be the case on Monday night as Thatcher Demko stood toe to toe with Carey Price. The game turned into a goalie duel of sorts as shots were even. However, a pattern has emerged again and it does not matter who is coaching this team. Montreal controls possession and play but has a tendency to give up goals against the flow of play. It occurred again in the final minute against Vancouver and nearly a few times in that third period and especially in overtime. The Canucks had the only high-danger chance in overtime and four of the five scoring chances. Games like this tilt on one play too much for Montreal.
Let’s get into some of the positives though.
Carey Price Played Like Carey Price
Especially as the game Monday night went on, it was clear that Price was well adjusted. He made several quality stops. It almost does not matter that he lost in the shootout. His play in overtime late in the third period and overtime kept Montreal in a game it had no business being in. The Brock Boeser stop in overtime where Price sticks the pad out stood out in this contest.
He stopped all but one shot out of 29. The goal allowed was during an empty-net scenario. Price was also Montreal’s best penalty killer and helped stopped a few opportunities during a Vancouver 5-on-3. Also, Price went toe to toe and save for save against Thatcher Demko. Demko was named the second star of the week by the NHL earlier on Monday.
The impression from the coaching staff is that Price is gradually getting back to basics. That becomes the most important thing for the Montreal goaltender. Price has yielded just three goals on his last 85 shots (2-0-1 in that span). The one thing noticed was that Price is not out of position quite as often recently. This is not about how much money the goaltender makes. However, he must continue to be Montreal’s best player. Otherwise, Montreal does not make the playoffs.
That Montreal Canadiens Power Play
Montreal needs the man advantage to work better and on Monday, Corey Perry was that net-front presence needed going forward. Jeff Petry was credited with the goal but it was that effective screen near Demko that yielded fruit err the goal. Again, the puck must keep moving to set up opportunities. Slow or stagnant (predictable) passing cannot be acceptable. When the Canadiens move, move, and move, things happen.
The only regret is that Montreal only drew two man-advantage situations. Dominique Ducharme and the coaching staff are on to something overall as Montreal does move and look faster in all situations — but especially on the power play.
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Montreal At Even Strength
Again, this will be brief. Montreal controlled play at 5-on-5 for long stretches in this game but particularly in the second and later in the third period as well. Tyler Toffoli had several chances on Demko but could not covert two that maybe changed the complexion of the game. Demko does not make those saves and it would have been a 2-0 game which had a lot of the feel of the first few meetings. Overall, Montreal did quite a few things right but their quality at times was lacking. If that felt like a familiar theme, it is because, under Claude Julien, that became too commonplace.
The difference with Dominque Ducharme in charge is that Montreal operates a bit differently now. Will it take time for the Canadiens to fully adjust? Yes. Do they have the personnel to completely integrate Ducharme’s systems? In time, they might. The impression from players is that this style is a little more conducive to their talents. The top-six can create like the top-six. Also, it gradually allows the defense and Carey Price to play like Carey Price.
Some Final Thoughts
As we continue to dive into the nuts and bolts of the Montreal Canadiens, I wanted to just say, Bienvenue et allo! For those that do not know, I have an extensive hockey background. Also, I may or may not speak a little French err a lot. All kidding aside, watching Montreal now is like watching some New Jersey Devils teams from the not-so-distant past. Taking a fresh look, even in a condensed season, offers so many challenges but a lot of learning experiences.
C’est un processus permanent, il faut apprendre encore et encore. Au revoir!