The Christmas break is one of those watershed moments in the NHL season. By then teams are within three or four games of reaching the season mid-point and rosters are becoming set for the long haul. In other words, what you see is, with a few injury exceptions, what you’re going to get for the rest of the schedule.
And that begs some historical perspective.
After winning three of four to start their annual seven game year end road trip, the Canadiens enter the break with a record of 18-13-6 and a total of 42 points. Last season at the break they had 43 points on a record of 19-13-5.
Beyond that, team production is pretty much the same. With the six scored in Winnipeg the Canadiens have scored 121 goals compared with 115 after 37 games last season. The often maligned defense has allowed 117. Last year, also 117.
There are inherent dangers in comparing one season to the next. Things change. In last season’s 37th game the Canadiens roster included Jordie Benn, Nicolas Deslauriers, Michael Chaput, Kenny Agostino, Andrew Shaw plus Antti Niemi. all of them gone. Last season the Canadiens had one rookie on the team. This year, three of them are seeing regular ice – not counting the backup goaltender.
Last season at the holiday break they were fifth in the Atlantic Division. The Winnipeg win moved them up from fifth to a tenuous third.
All of this is to say, statistically the Canadiens face the same uphill challenge they faced through the final 45 games of last year where despite a strong finish they missed the playoffs by three points.
In the historical bad news department: only once over the last eleven years have the Canadiens managed to improve on their Christmas day standing in the season’s second half. The good news is they’ll start out the second half in a playoff spot.
Another thing that hasn’t changed from last season is the quality of the Canadiens top line. Phillip Danault/Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar are among the elite five-on-five lines in the entire league. As a line they have forty goals. What’s remarkable is they’re producing offense while paying close attention to defending against the top lines they’re habitually lined up against night-in, night-out.
Not only did Danault score twice. He had, for him, a remarkable seven shots on goal. He won 72% of his faceoffs and finished plus-3. Danault’s best goalscoring season is 13. That was two years ago. He has ten already. Danault apparently likes that holiday feeling. Last season in the final game before the Christmas break he recorded his only career hat trick in Vegas.
Like every game on this road trip, things didn’t start well. By the time the game hit the twelve minute mark, the Jets had scored one goal, had another taken away on an off-side challenge and seven of their fifteen shots on goal were graded as high-danger. And then the Canadiens found their rhythm. Tomas Tatar scored his two goals before the period ended to give the Canadiens a lead they never relinquished. From the 1l:30 mark of the first period when the Jets scored the game’s first goal until game-end the Canadiens outshot Winnipeg 40-14.
I guess there will always be issues surrounding the defensive part of Max Domi’s game but when he’s producing offense the way he has during the last three weeks, a lot of that can be forgotten. Domi scored a goal and an assist and if he made mistakes they weren’t noticable. His goal was OK. The assist was brilliant as he worked his way around the defense and then set up Artturi Lehkonen. He led the Canadiens with six high-danger scoring chances. Ending his 12 game scoring drought in Vancouver he has six points including three goals in the four games of the road trip.
Last year at this point in the season the Canadiens were carrying one rookie; Jesperi Kotkaniemi. This season there are three (plus the backup goaltender and the unused centre Lukas Vejdemo). The three regulars are looking good.
In the case of Nick Suzuki the best description is ‘very good‘. If we hadn’t seen it so many times before we’d be raving about his pass to Tatar for the Canadiens power goal. Suzuki put up two points in the game and has four points his last three and a total of 19 so far this season. He also won 69% of his faceoffs which is a really good sign. And, early in the third period while killing a penalty he got loose on a two-on-one breakaway. At his side on the break was Ryan Poehling. The fact that he had Poehling out there will Suzuki speaks volumes about the way Claude Julien views on his contribution.
….After losing their first December game which was their eighth loss in a row, the Canadien have won seven of ten picking up 14 of a possible 20 points.
…..After failing to register a point in Edmonton, Shea Weber registered as assist against the Jets, giving him nine points (3g, 6a) his last ten games.
….Weber’s partner Ben Chiarot led the Canadiens in ice time at 26:06. Weber came in second at 25:44.
….This road trip hasn’t only shaken Domi out of a prolonged slump. It’s probably no coincidence that linemate Artturi Lehkonen posted a goal and assist and has five points his last four games.
….In the second period Joel Armia suffered what appeared to be a wrist or arm injury when he tangled with Jets defenseman Nathan Beaulieu. He failed to finish the game.
….Victor Mete returned to the lineup after missing ten games with an ankle injury. He was paired with Cale Fleury and was 13:20 ice time with no dramatic issues.
….The Canadiens enter the break with four still on injury reserve; Jonathan Drouin (wrist), Paul Byron (knee); Jesperi Kotkaniemi (concussion); Michael Peca (knee). The Canadiens have lost 71 man-games to injury so far this season. At this point last season, with long absences from Weber (24 games), Joel Armia (22 games) and Byron (14), the Canadiens had lost 121 man-games.
….Under threat of a minor penalty if unsuccessful, Claude Julien has challenged goals four times this season. Thanks to the eagle eye of Canadiens video guru Mario Leblanc they have won three of the four.
….The Canadiens finish pre-Christmas trip 3-1-0 and since the 2012 lockout they are 14-8-1 in Western Canada.
….From the scoresheet, the Canadiens equaled a season high with 48 shots. Danault had seven, Domi and Tatar six apiece. The Canadiens directed 81 shots at the Jets goal, compared to only 49 by Winnipeg. Of their 48 shots, 20 were five-on-five high danger chances. (Four of the seven high-danger Winnipeg chances came in the game’s first twelve minutes).
The Canadiens get four days off for the holidays. Next game will be Saturday in Tampa Bay followed by Florida Sunday. Then New Year’s Eve at Carolina to close out the seven consecutive road games. The next home game January 2nd against Tampa.