Hockey coaches have been saying it for years: Take care of the defense and the rest will take care of itself.

Five games into their eight game losing streak the Canadiens were a confused mess, prone to bleeding goals at a record rate; at one point fourteen in a two game span.   It wasn’t just a goaltending and defense problem, it was a team problem.  The Canadiens had become a disorganized mess.

They finally showed signs of snapping out of it in Philadelphia last week. They were better against Boston Saturday and Tuesday night they put it all together in a 4-2 win over what has been a very good New York Islanders team this season.

The issue moving forward will be to sustain what was a strong top-to-bottom effort highlighted by a pivotal second period in which the Islanders were held to only two shots through the first 17 minutes before a couple of penalties upset the Canadiens flow. The final scoresheet saw the Canadiens outshooting the Islanders 40-23. Feeding off their solid checking, the high danger scoring chances favoured the Canadiens 16-4.  It was the defense that generated the offense. That’s the way it’s supposed to go when a team is playing well.

PART OF THE RECOVERY

It’s hard to be critical of them but I’ve thought both Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher were off their respective games in November.  Although their work ethic was never questioned, like most of the rest of the team, they simply weren’t in synch.  Danault, Gallagher and to some extent Tomas Tatar had it together against the Islanders.

Gallagher was in Islander goaltender Thomas Greiss face all night.  He set up Danault for the game’s first goal with 1/10th of a second remaining in the first period.  In the second period he started and then finished the play to make it 2-0, his tenth goal of the season. At the end of the night naturalstattrick.com credited Gallagher with six high danger scoring chances and Danault with four.  Tatar was merely along for the ride.

THE KID

We’ve often mentioned Nick Suzuki’s playmaking skills recently.  In this game, which might have been his best yet as a pro, it was Suzuki the goalscoring threat.  He was credited with four high danger scoring chances against one of the NHL’s best defensive teams. In the first period he rang a shot off the Islanders crossbar. In the second period while lying flate on the ice he nearly hooked the puck into the net. And in the third period there was that move he put on the defense before getting a shot away and then taking the rebound for another shot. And, not to mention it was his clean faceoff win that led to the Jeff Petry goal to make it 2-0.  And we see yet another dimension to what may be a developing star.

WHO PREDICTED THIS?

There were times this year when the critics, myself included, were pillorying Marc Bergevin for wasting free agent money on yet another fringe defenseman.  It seem clear to most of us that Ben Chiarot was going to become another Karl Alzner.  We are all being forced to change out tune.  With Victor Mete out of the lineup for a couple of weeks, Chiarot has turned out to be a saviour. . After setting a career ice time high 27:11 against the Flyers, he followed 29:26 against Boston and against the Islanders he played 30:47. Beside the physical part of his game, what’s noticeable recently is his participation in the offense. Over his last five games Chiarot has posted a total of 19 shots on goal.

BUILDING ON A SINGLE WIN

After eight losses in a row, everything is going to be uphill the rest of the season. There are 54 games remaining on the Canadiens schedule; a total of 108 available points. In order to reach last season’s 96 points they would have to take 66 of those 108 points. In other words they’ll to go 33-21-0 or some combination thereof, which is .633 percentage hockey. Possible?  The St. Louis Blues would say yes.  Likely?  No.  But hope is an eternal thing.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….Shea Weber was named game’s first star. He drew an assist on the Gallagher goal and scored from 200 feet into the empty net to clinch the victory. He continues to lead the Canadiens with 23 points (9g, 14a) which is 6th among league defensemen.

….Along with having lost only five games in regulation time this season, the Islanders came to Montreal sporting an 8-0-0 record against teams in the Atlantic Division.

….His teammates gave Carey Price a pretty easy night. Through the first two periods Price had to deal with only 13 shots, none of which caused him any difficulty. The two goals he gave up in the third period were off screen shots.

….One of the reasons for Chiarot’s extraordinary ice time was the ineffectiveness of recent Laval call up Gustav Olafsson. In the game’s final two periods Olafsson was on the ice only three times. In his only third period appearance the Islanders scored their first goal. A trip back to Laval might be inevitable but the talent pool on left shot defensemen in Laval is thin.  Is it possible we see Karl Alzner’s return to the NHL?

….Matthew Peca played his first Canadiens game since last March replacing Charles Hudon on the fourth line. His ice time was 9:08. No matter who plays on the left side of the fourth line, it continues to struggle.

….With the marked improvement in Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s play, the Finn Line was reunited. Kotkaniemi/Armia/Lehkonen produced seven shots on goal. Kotkaniemi’s physical presence continues to be felt. He led the Canadiens with six hits.

….On the down side the Canadiens won only 38% of the faceoffs. No one was over 50%.  Nate Thompson was at 45% (5/6) but he cleanly won the face-off that led to Weber’s empty net goal.

….We’re still waiting for Max Domi to snap out of it.  Fortunately Suzuki is carrying a lot of water on his line.  Domi’s five shots on goal in the game were deceptive.  None was particularly dangerous.

MOVING ON

The Canadiens will be in back-to-back situations their next four games. They’ll play Colorado Thursday night followed by the Rangers in New York on Friday. After three days off it will be a game in Pittsburgh Tuesday followed by Ottawa at the Bell Centre Wednesday. We’ll get a chance to see rookie Cayden Primeau in one or two of those games.  The following Saturday December 14th the Canadiens will host Detroit and that will be their final home game of the month. The next seven are on the road over Christmas.