With their 3-1 win in Vancouver Tuesday night, the Canadiens road record this season is 8-4-2. At the Bell Centre under the generous NHL point distribution system they are listed as .500 hockey team but in reality have won eight and lost eleven games.
For reasons no-one has an answer for, most of the systems that Claude Julien has set firmly in place fly out the window at the Bell Centre whereas on the road, without the pressures of entertaining the home crowd, the Canadiens are playing what Mario Lemieux called boring hockey.
Boring hockey, yes. But winning hockey none-the-less.
The Canadiens third consecutive road victory has paralleled Carey Price’s December return-to excellence. Price was the difference-maker. Among his 38 saves were some really tough ones including two breakaways separated by two minutes in the game’s critical second period with the game still tied at 1-1. Price lost his last five starts in November and his first in December (at Boston). Since then he’s won four of five, hasn’t given up more than two goals in any of the starts for a goals against average of 1.40 and save percentage at .952. And, we should also mention that when Price is in the zone, his ability to play the puck re-surfaces as well. He had another great night in that department including a couple of time where he didn’t simply move the puck to a teammate along the boards but passed it to a forward at centre ice.
Canadiens special teams get a mixed review. The Canucks scored their lone goal on a power play in the first period. After a stretch when it appeared the Canadiens were overcoming their penalty killing shortcomings, this was the third straight game in which the Canadiens penalty killers had given up a goal including the game winner Saturday night in the 2-1 loss to Detroit. The Canadiens power play made up for the PK when they got their first chance in the third period producing two PPG’s in the span of 1:34; Tomas Tatar and Shea Weber. If you’re counting, over the last six games that’s 5 PPG’s on 12 opportunites – 41.6%.
We’ve been on Max Domi’s case for a couple of weeks now. Not this game. Domi had a good night against the Canucks. His slid a pass through legs to Nick Cousins for the Canadiens first goal and started the play that led to Weber’s clinching goal. I still think he should be shooting the puck more but he made Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia better because of his play
.It’s possible that getting away from the Bell Centre spotlight helped him get his head straight. We’ll see. .
There’s no question who occupies the role as the Canadiens top line these days and once again Danault/Gallagher/Tatar didn’t disappoint. Gallagher posted another five shots on goal, Danault won 67% of his faceoffs and Tatar’s 13th goal of the season was really something. He took a pass from Danault, made a great move to his forehand on Jacob Markstrom and still beat him. Along with all of that, they were successful in shutting down Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson/J.T. Miller/Jake Vertanen line.
Tatar also took two penalties although the first one was really really cheap.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….The Canadiens have now won five of the seven games since their eight game losing streak ended.
….The win leaves the Canadiens in third place in the Atlantic Division but it’s tight. Only two points separate second place Buffalo and sixth place Florida.
….Back-to-back goals disallowed in the second period. Vancouver scored and after review it was canceled because of an off side. Six minutes later Joel Armia’s goal was taken away because of goalmouth interference.
….Despite losing the goal, Armia posted two assists in the game. He has twenty points. He set his career high 29 two years ago in Winnipeg.
….Most noticeable among the rookies was Cale Fleury who inserted himself into the offense successfully three times in the game a sign of growing confidence. Two of the rushes produced shots on goal. He was also strong moving the puck out of his own end. No noticeable issues with the other two rookies, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling. Suzuki post three shots on goal.
….The Canadiens have now beaten the Canucks six consecutive times. The last time the Canadiens lost a game in Vancouver was October, 2015.
The Canadiens will not be forced to play back-to-back games on this trip to Western Canada. They will be Calgary Thursday night, Edmonton on Saturday and Winnipeg Monday before enjoying a four day Christmas break at home. They resume the seven game stretch on the road with two games in Florida and a New Year’s Eve game at Carolina. Next home game – January 2nd versus Tampa Bay.