The Canadiens – 20 Games into a 48 Game Season-
It’s obvious that opponents haven’t found a way to handle the Canadiens mass attack on opponent puck carriers. Under the Michel Therrien scheme, in any zone there must be at least two players on the puck at all times. The key words are “at least”. Along the boards, more often than not, there will be a gang of four on the puck with one lonely player out there guarding against the a puck popping loose. Therrien’s theory, which so far has proven to be a good one, holds that no puck carrier will be capable of finding an open man while he’s dealing with three or four checkers and, on the rare occasions they do, it still would have to be an awfully good pass to elude the Canadiens safety man. The Canadiens opened the season playing that way, but it took a while for the team to perfect it. Over the last eight games however, it’s been lights’out. Their first period shutdowns have been extraordinary. Going backwards from the 5-2 win in Toronto, opposition first period shots are four,five, six, three, five, five, two and six. That averages out to 4.5 first period shots Carey Price and PeterBudaj have had to deal with a game. The end result is the Canadiens have trailed at the end of the first period only three times in the season’s twenty games. When they’ve led at the end of the first period the Canadiens are 7-0-1.
In The Alley –
It was Conn Smythe who gave us that “If you can’t beat them in the alley, you won’t beat them on the ice” maxim. It might have been valid in the wild west style hockey of the 30’s,40’s, 50’s and 60’s but it doesn’t hold in the post expansion NHL. As we’ve found, almost without exeption since the demise of the Broad Street Bullies, finesse and discipline wins Stanley Cups. Yet, in Toronto, general manager after general manager has tried to build in a significant goon presence into their lineup. Toronto hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 46 years and still nobody has received the message. Wednesday night’s game was an example. Over the first thirty minutes of the game the goon factor on the Leafs tried to provoke the Canadiens into fights five or six times. At the same time, the Canadiens owned the puck. In the end the Leafs’ alley fighters had 40 hits and the Canadiens had 40 shots on goal. And a 5-2 win. One game doesn’t make a season. Problem Randy Carlyle has as he prepares for the rest of the schedule, including two more at home against the Canadiens, his roster includes too many of what Scotty Bowman used to call “seven minute players” and not enough skill and team discipline.
Is there a more cut throat division in the NHL this season than the Northeast? Rhetorial question. There isn’t. While they continue their assault on each other, the Canadiens, Bruins, Senators, Leafs and Buffalo have made a shambles of the rest of the Eastern Conference. Even with Wednesday night’s win over Toronto the Conference-leading Canadiens are still 3-4-2 against the Northeast while 10-0-1 against the other two divisions. The total count for Northeast intradivisional games is a barely .500. The Northeast cumulative record against the Atlantic and Southeast, is 36-16-5. Bruins fans will argue, with some credibility, that they are the Conference’s best team, yet in their five intra divisional games the record is 3-2-0 (both losses against Buffalo). If you want further backing for the argument that the Northeast is the league’s strongest, try this: as of Friday morning the Canadiens, Bruins, Senators and Leafs take up four of the top seven positions in the NHL’s overall standings.
Two weeks ago I took issue with the Canadiens terrible record in the faceoff circle. At the time they were ranked 28th in the league at 45.6 % (only Buffalo and Edmonton were worse). The problem apparently didn’t escape the attention of the coaching staff and over the last seven games there has been a remarkable improvement. Since February 15th, led by Plekanec, Desharnais and Eller, the Canadiens have ranked with the best in the league. The secret? A couple of technical adjustments plus support for the centreman in the faceoff circle from the wingers after the puck is dropped. Leading the improved performance is Plekanec who, over the last seven games is operating at 57.5%. But Desharnais at 56.6 and Eller at 53.9 have also remarkably improved their games. Overall through the recent seven game stretch the Canadiens are successful 52.3% of the time.
Are They For Real?
When they”re playing the way they have the last nine games, the Canadiens with all of their speed have the ability to make their opponents look bad. On the other hand, losing coaches seldom give much credit to the winning team, usually citing his own team’s flat perforance or lack of effort. According to Randy Carlyle, Wednesday night’s loss to the Canadiens was because the Leafs were “flat, flat, flat, flat.” The Canadiens have to feel fortunate that in their 13 wins they were fortunate to be up against teams that happened to be “flat” on the night they played them.
McDonagh Returns –
A lot was made of the Max Pacioretty check on Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh last week. John Tortorella was upset. There were demands from the New York media and fans that Pacioretty be suspended, which he wasn’t. The good news is, McDonagh skated on Wednesday after missing one game and is ready to play. He took 12 stitches just below his nose and a couple inside his lip when his face hit the glass. McDonagh places no blame on Pacioretty for the check. “I don’t feel anything about him. It’s part of the game and whatever happened, happened.” About rumour that he might have suffered a concussion, McDonagh suffered one two years ago on a Matt Cooke forearm to the jaw. He said the recent problem was “not the same feeling at all.”
Danny Kristo Draft Pick Looking Good
Seems like we’ve been hearing Danny Kristo’s name forever. Well, actually since since 2008 when he was a second round choice but the Canadiens first pick in the entry draft. He was a teammate of Louis Leblanc at Omaha of the USHL before joining the University of North Dakota where he is now playing his fourth and final year. Over the last five years he’s been a regular partipant in Canadiens development camps but little is heard between times. It’s time to pay attention. This week, Kristo was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. Kristo registered two goals and two assists in two North Dakota games against Denver University last weekend. One of the goals was shorthanded. He now has 152 points which leads all active NCAA Division I men’s hockey players. Kristo has scored a goal in 14 of the last 17 games for 29 points. His career-high 20 goals are tied for the WCHA lead and rank second nationally. He also ranks third nationally in goals per game (0.67) and points per game (1.43).