Despite giving up ten goals in the last two games the Canadiens have taken three of four points thanks to their forwards.
The transition game has been the watchword for the Canadiens since training camp. When the defence isn’t moving the puck, disaster ensues. The defence execution failures allowed Vegas to outshoot the Canadiens 15-4 in the first period. They wasn’t much better in the second and third periods. Fortunately the Canadiens have been able to outscore their opponents on some nights. This was one of them.
THE JUGGLING ACT
After giving up six goals Thursday against Buffalo Claude Julien decided to sit out Noah Juulsen and Xavier Ouellet for this one. David Schlemko and Karl Alzner were in. It left Jeff Petry as the only right shot among the game’s six defencemen leaving Mike Reilly and Victor Mete in the difficult role of playing on their off side. We knew at the beginning of the season the lack of defensive depth and balance would create problems. This week they’ve come home to roost.
RATING THE TRADE
Although there were more components to the trade, the only players on-ice were Max Pacioretty and Tomas Tatar. Pacioretty seemed to be on a mission, piling up a season high nine shots on goal. But Tatar scored the game-winning goal, his seventh of the season. So far Pacioretty has two. The consistency of Tatar is arguably the Canadiens biggest early-season surprise.
Andrew Shaw got a late start to his season. He missed training camp and was a half step behind his teammates and the opposition through his first seven games. Those struggles led to Julien making a healty scratch out of him in Boston last month. The night in the TD Garden press box turned things around. In the seven games since Shaw has been terrific. As a result Julien has moved him up on the depth chart right onto the line with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin for the last two games Two goals and a rightful first star selection vs. Vegas.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi wasn’t particularly good in the 6-5 overtime loss to Buffalo on Thursday. He bounced back big time against Vegas. He made a slick play to set up Charles Hudon for the Canadiens first goal. And then the NHL’s youngest player scored his third goal to give the Canadiens a brief lead midway through the second period. 3 goals, 6 assists in 17 games isn’t a bad career start for someone who’s barely 18 years old.
With Carey Price struggling to get his act together Antti Niemi got an unscheduled start. He let in four goals, two of them on Vegas power plays. His penchant for allowing juicy rebounts makes life an adventure around him. Still he got it done and Niemi’s now won four of his five starts.
The Canadiens always do the right thing when it comes to ceremony. Pacioretty got a nice ovation from the fans during a pre-game scoreboard highlight montage. And then a little later in the period the fans got a chance to say ‘thanks’ to Tomas Plekanec who was shown in the Canadiens executive box alongside Marc Bergevin. Nice touch.
….You get the sense that Artturi Lehkonen is never going to score another goal. But he is doing a lot of good things for the team on the defensive side of the puck. And it was his hard work that produced the Kotkaniemi goal. No goals since opening night, but the assist was his 8th.
….Domi continues to pile up the points. Two more assists Saturday night. Twenty-one points in 17 games which, as of the end of Saturday night puts him seventh in the league, three points behind the league leaders.
….The Canadiens have been very good five-on-five this season. They’ve had to be because their power play has been horrid. 0-for-2 in this game and over the last nine games they have 2 PPG’s in 32 opportunities. Vegas scored on two of their three power plays making it another rough night for the Montreal special teams.
….In the continuing faceoff drama, the Canadiens were 39 percent. Shaw won 4 of 7. Everyone else was in the red. Danault finished at 42%.
….The newcomer Kenny Agostino led the Canadiens with six hits and also earned his first assist working on the line with Kotkaniemi and Lehkonen.
….This is going to go on all year (or at the very least until Shea Weber returns). The Canadiens now are scoring 3.29 goals per game while giving up 3.24 (58 GF vs. 55GA). Fifth in the league in goalscoring. 25th in goals-against. Based on the best we can say is a .500 hockey team and maybe wild card contender. It must be said – they ain’t dull.
On the road again. The Western Canadian swing has become an annual graveyard. They’ll be in Edmonton Tuesday followed by Calgary Thursday and Vancouver on Saturday. Five of the next six games will be on the road.