We’ve mentioned it before. The Canadiens need to have a good November in order to cushion themselves for the difficult December the NHL schedule maker has presented them with.

So far so good. With their impressive 5-2 win over the league-leading Capitals in Washington, the Canadiens are now on a 7-1-1 roll. Not only have the Canadiens been beating the league’s have-nots, they have also taken on some of the elite. During the nine game stretch, along with Washington they have also beaten Boston, Vegas and Toronto. They now have an 11-5-3 record which has propelled them into fourth place in the Eastern Conference and second place in the Atlantic Division just three points behind the Bruins.

They are going to need whatever November brings them because in December the schedule calls for ten of thirteen games on the road including the last seven over that Christmas Bell Centre holiday ice-show break.

GAME CHANGER

In the first forty-two seconds of the game Carey Price was forced to make two spectacular stops on Alex Ovechkin and then another a few seconds later by Jakub Vrana. How would this game have gone if Price wasn’t more ready to play than his teammates. To their credit, the Canadiens got their act together and outplayed the Capitals for most of the next forty minutes. Overall, Price has had more difficult nights, but once again he was ultimately important.

REACTION

It was still a scoreless hockey game early in the second period when Alex Ovechkin steamrollered Jonathan Drouin. It was a hard, legal open ice check and it sent Drouin to the dressing room. A check like that often changes game momentum. This time it was the Canadiens who re-acted. Two minutes after the hit Tomas Tatar who was on his first shift after replacing Drouin sent a pass to Phillip Danault for the game’s first goal. The Canadiens scored three goals in a 5:19 span and four in 8:22 to carry a 4-0 lead into the third period.

GETTING IT TOGETHER

Tomas Tatar’s early season sins got him planted in Claude Julien’s doghouse. I didn’t he was particularly dominant against Washington but it’s hard to ignore the point production.  Not only did he make a big play on the Canadiens first goal, he also drew second assists on the Canadiens third and fourth goals and then scored the empty net goal to nail down the win. With his first career four point night Tatar now has a team-leading 19 points in 19 games. We’ll see how Julien views his game. We should note that when Drouin returned in the third period, Tatar was back operating on the Suzuki line.

EXECUTION

This was one of those games where the Canadiens game plan played out exactly how the coaching staff drew it up. When they are playing well the Canadiens own the neutral zone. But they were playing the Washington Capitals who have been absolute beasts in the neutral zone so far this season.  A combination of the Canadiens speed and their defense which stood up at the blue line to prevent the Capitals from getting clear entries into the Canadiens end.  When they did penetrate, for the most part it was one-and-done.

THE CAPTAIN

Shea Weber may not be as quick as he once was but he is still playing some awfully good hockey. After one game back with Victor Mete, Julien once again paired him with Ben Chiarot. They were solid against the big Washington forwards. On offence, Weber let one of his blasts go that completely shocked and maybe even scared rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov with it’s velocity and location. Weber has now scored a point in 5 straight games and has points in 10 of his last 13 (6 goals, 8 assists).

THE ROOKIE WATCH

Nick Suzuki may be a rookie but he certainly isn’t behaving like one.  His fourth goal of the season came when he was in the process of sending another of his seemingly endless supply of perfect passes, this time to Brendan Gallagher.    It hit a Capitals defender and wound up in the net.  But it’s all the other stuff he’s doing that makes his play so remarkable for a 20-year-old.  At this stage Suzuki is a much better centre than Jesperi Kotkaniemi which is going to make for an interesting decision for the coaching staff when he comes off the injury list, perhaps as early as Saturday night against New Jersey.

Cale Fleury was very good through the first two periods. In the third period he seemed to lose his way.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….Carrying their 4-0 lead into the third period the Canadiens sagged somewhat. Jeff Petry took a bad interference penalty which led to Ovechkin’s power play goal (who else?). And then there were back to back Washington breakaways the second of which became a Evgeny Kuznetsov goal to make it 4-2. The Tatar empty net goal stopped any thoughts of a Capitals comeback..

….The Capitals came into the game having picked up at least a point in 13 straight games (11-0-2) dating back to mid October.

….Carey Price is the first NHL goaltender to reach ten wins.

….The most telling statistic of the game were in the giveaway column. The Canadiens speed and forechecking forced Washington to give the puck away 13 times through the first two periods.  The Canadiens also were credited with six takeaways.

….According to naturalstattrick.com through those dominant first two periods the Canadiens led in high danger scoring chances 8-3.  Washington had the Canadiens 4-2 in that department in the third period.

….Once again the Canadiens faced an opponents’ backup goaltender in Samsonov.  (Braden Holtby was being saved for Boston Saturday night). It’s the 9th time in the season’s 19th game this season.  They are 7-2-0 in those games.

….Phillip Danault won 60% of his faceoff attempts (12 of 20). Nate Thompson won 46% of his attempts but it was his win in the defensive zone that led to the Tatar empty net goal that clinched the win.

….Danault’s line had the job of checking the Backstrom/Ovechkin/Oshie line.  They won the night hands down.  With Drouin out after the Ovechkin hit Danault and Gallagher were on the ice for three of the four second period goals and each finished the night plus-three.   Backstrom and Oshie were minus-3 and Ovechkin minus-2.

….Along with Tatar’s four points, Danault had three and defense partners Weber and Chiarot had two points each.

….Weber’s goal was the 209th of his career which passed Larry Robinson for 19th place on the NHL’s all-time list among defensemen.

….Jordon Weal returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous four games.  He scored the Canadiens third goal, had three shots on goal and was 3-0 on faceoffs.  Off his early season play I was surprised that Julien left him out of the lineup.  Either I overestimated his contribution or he’s a victim of the numbers game.

MOVING ON

The Canadiens will play the second of the back-to-back weekend against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night at the Bell Centre. Will it be Keith Kinkaid in goal or will Julien ride Price’s hot hand for a second time in 24 hours? The Canadiens November schedule continues with a game at Columbus Tuesday and home games against Ottawa and the Rangers Wednesday and Saturday.