That’s all that can be said at this point.
Three straight wins and at least a point in five of six games for a team that most figured would be right up there in the Jack Hughes sweepstakes next May.
They still could be, but game-by-game it’s lookingmore like they’ll be closer to a playoff berth than the cellar by season’s end.
The Canadiens didn’t register their 9th point until their 12th of last year’s season-destroying 4-7-1 start. So life is good. So far.
“Making the puck do the work,” was the way Toe Blake described the Canadiens firewagon hockey of the 50’s and 60’s. His theory was the puck moved faster than any skater therefore the quickest way to get from one end of the ice to the other was a series of quick forward passes. It’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the game over the last 60 years.
This version of the Canadiens has taken it to a new level. It’s catching some very good teams off guard, especially in the neutral zone where that speed has defeated some pretty good defensive systems including the trap.
The St. Louis Blues are one of the NHL’s biggest teams. The Canadiens have had problems with big teams in the recent past including this season’s 3-0 loss to Los Angeles. For half of the St. Louis game the Blues failed to use their size effectively. The Canadiens rang up a 10-3 first period shots on goal advantage and it was 15-6 when Mike Reilly scored that power play goal near the game’s mid point. Two things then happened. The Canadiens seemed to go into some kind of protective shell with a 2-1 lead and the Blues started to win physical battles. Through the second half of the third period the Canadiens were without a shot on goal for nine straight minutes. The Blues outshot the Canadiens 19-8 through the final 33 minutes and but for Carey Price, could easily have won the game.
It looked like the best the Canadiens could hope to salvage out of the night was an overtime win after the Blues scored with 3 ½ minutes left.
Never discount Brendan Gallagher who is one of the league’s best whistle-to-whistle competitors. Julien had him on the ice for in the final 30 seconds of regulation time. Gallagher’s forecheck forced Colton Parayko to throw the puck blindly out from the corner. Gallagher hustled to the side of the net in time to chip Tomas Tatar‘s intercepted shot over Jake Allen for the game winner with 9.7 seconds left. Goals in three straight games for Gallagher. Tatar now has seven points.
Mike Reilly posted his first goal of the season. We’ve seen a lot of skilled things from Reilly since the season started. The goal was a highlight. On the power play he was forced to defend a soft pass from Charles Hudon near the line. He turned Braydon Schenn around with a deft move and was able to move in for the shot with Paul Byron acting as the screen. It was just one of a number of things in this game that made him the game’s first star.
With Victor Mete out with a and injury, Karl Alzner finally cracked the lineup. He stepped right in to the second pairing with Jeff Petry. Nothing spectcular but also nothing wrong with the way he played from my vantage point. That can only be a good thing.
The doubters out there will tell you the Canadiens can’t sustain their early season record with their current level of special teams play.
Yes, they scored an important power play goal but for the most part the power play looked inept. It’s currently ranked 23rd at 15.4%.
Similarly the 24th ranked penalty killers gave up both of the St. Louis goals. The Canadiens seem to use their quickness in every area of the ice except the penalty kill. The Blues were given too much time and space.
Additionally, it’s about the team’s faceoff record which is the league’s worst at 42.7%. The Canadiens are starting play without the puck almost 60% of the time. Good things don’t happen on a regular basis under those circumstances.
….Nice pre-game ceremony honouring Tomas Plekanec for his 100th NHL game. With his mother and two young sons present, Guy Lafleur presented him with the NHL Silver Stick Milestone Award.
….Max Domi used his speed to give himself some space in scoring his first goal as a Canadien 39 seconds into the game. Nice shot on a backhand that caught Jake Allen slightly out of position.
….Artturi Lehkonen had a couple of chances to score in the game but was thwarted by his inability to get his shot off quickly enough. Is this going to be a problem?
….In the dreaded faceoff department only Tomas Plekanec was on the plus side of the ledger winning 6 of 11. Kotkaniemi won 2 of 7.
….Speaking of Kotkaniemi. The 18 year old continues to feel his way. Nothing great in this game but nothing bad either. No reason seen to think the Canadiens aren’t going to keep him around.
….Paul Byron and Tomas Tatar led with 3 shots-on-goal each. Charles Hudon had 3 hits.
….We’ve been noting how well Noah Juulsen has been moving the puck. Not often mentioned is the physical nature of his game. He has 23 hits in six games, which puts him fourth in the league.
Off to Ottawa for Saturday night. The Senators have also had a surprising start to the season. 3-2-1 after six games. The Canadiens then return home for Calgary Tuesday before a two game road trip to Buffalo and then Boston next Thursday and Saturday.