Ask any NHL coach what the secret is to winning on the road, the first thing he will mention is ‘discipline’. There are other factors but without discipline almost every other contribution more often than not becomes incidental.
The Canadiens played an outstanding road game Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night in Pittsburgh they outdid themselves.
The underlying statistics tell the story of the 4-1 Canadiens win.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com the Penguins took 60.4% of the game’s shooting attempts but the Canadiens dominated high danger scoring chances 11-5 including 10-1 through the first two periods as the Canadiens were mounting a 3-1 lead.
This game was all about prevention. Carey Price was named a star in this game but through the first two periods the only tough shot he faced resulted in the Jake Guentzel breakaway goal that gave Pittsburgh their 1-0 lead. After that the Canadiens kept the area in front of Price almost completely free. The game wasn’t perfect, especially in the first period but it was still an impressive all-out defensive effort.
No game is error free. In the third minute of the game with nobody covering the point after Shea Weber had pinched in to the top of the left faceoff circle, Ben Chiarot was left naked at the point dealing with a bouncing puck he couldn’t handle. Jake Guentzel broke away to score on the breakaway. It would be easy to blame Chiarot but a forward should have been covering the other point, probably Tomas Tatar. Other than that, the biggest problem the Canadiens had in the first period was connecting on their transition passes. Obviously they made some adjustments before the second period started.
There are many nuances to Carey Price’s game beyond simply stopping the puck. What stood out to me beyond the fact that he stopped 33 of 34 shots was his well-know ability to handle the puck. The Penguins were having enough trouble penetrating the Canadiens zone and when they did manage to get the puck deep it came to Price who acted as a third defenseman. His playmaking started the Canadiens back the other way.
OUT OF CHARACTER
Who can say they predicted the kind of out-of-character seasons Joel Armia and Shea Weber are having.
We had Armia penciled in his usual defensive-specialist role. When Armia muscled his way past Penguins defenseman Kris Letang to score what became the game-winning goal it was his eleventh of the season, two short of his career high thirteen with fifty-one games remaining in the season.
And Weber was healthy and expected to resume his role as a pillar on defence and power play specialist. What we witnessed against Pittsburgh was Weber doing his best Bobby Orr/Paul Coffey imitation as he not only found an extra gear to rush the puck deep and then around the Pittsburgh net to tuck in the Canadiens third goal. Weber may not be what he used to be on defence. He has compensated that by upping his offensive game. He has ten goals and with an assist on the empty net goal, a total of 25 points, just two points behind Tomas Tatar’s team lead.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….After a horrible month of November, Price has won three of his four December starts with 1.75GAA and .942 save%.
….Both of the Canadiens special teams had a good night. Tomas Tatar’s goal came on their only power play. They killed off the only Pittsburgh power play. The Canadiens have killed off 16 of 17 advantages over their last seven games.
….For the fourth time in the last five games Ben Chiarot was the Canadiens busiest defenseman logging 25:42.
….Weber, Tatar, Armia and Gallagher each had two point nights.
….Gallagher’s diving effort to score into the empty net gave him a goal in each of his last four games and a team-leading 14 this season. If he keeps it up he could finish with close to 40 this season.
….Like the rest of his teammates, Max Domi put in a decent effort defensively. He’s still struggling to get his offensive game out of the ditch. And he took an awful ‘faceoff violation’ penalty in the first period with the Canadiens already trailing 1-0 in the game. He finished with only one shot on goal which was his only shooting attempt.
….Michael Peca left the game with what appeared to be damaged right knee (lower body injury) after being ridden to the ice in the third period by Evgeni Malkin. It didn’t look good. Watch for another recall from Laval before Wednesday night’s game.
….Riley Barber played his first NHL game February 28 2017 with Washington. Playing in his home town, he logged 12:00 minutes and had two shots on goal, neither of which was dangerous.
….Thanks in large part to the playmaking ability of Nick Suzuki, Nick Cousins had three of the nine high danger scoring chances the Canadiens posted in the second period.
….At times official scorekeeping in the NHL is a fantasy world. The final scoresheet showed a ridiculous total of 120 hits in the game including 67 by the Canadiens.
The Canadiens will look to make it two in a row Wednesday night against Ottawa at the Bell Centre. The finish off the week with Detroit Saturday which will be their final home game of the month of December.