If there is one team that’s always underestimated, it’s the Montréal Canadians. The Canadians are a team that’s booed by the home crowd, has missed out on playoffs a number of times even though they have a Hall of Fame goalie locked in for another 7 seasons. No one expected the powerful start the “Habs”, a nickname for the Montréal Canadians, would break into the 2018-2019 season with.
Currently, the Montréal Canadians are sitting in the 2nd in the Eastern Wild Card with 39 points. With a record of 17-12-5 in the first 34 games this season, the Habs are showing more promise than anyone originally thought. At this time last season, the Habs were 25th in the entire league with a record of 14-15-4 in 33 games, squeaking by with 32 points. But they’ve seemed to flip the script early on but the rise of each team has both positives and negatives.
This off-season the Canadians grew their offense, which already included Brendan Gallagher (a scrappy 5’9″ right-winger who isn’t afraid of anybody) and Jonathan Drouin (a 6’0″ Centre who is a natural play maker on the ice), by trading a few memorable players. The first trade was Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi, which we wrote a blog about that you can read here. At the time it seemed like one mediocre centre for another but Domi really found his rhythm in Montréal, delivering 14 goals so far this season where as last season he had 9 in total.
The next monumental trade of the season was when then-captain Max Pacioretty was sent to Las Vegas for Thomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki, and a 2019 second-round pick. So far this season, Pacioretty has 10 goals and 9 assists in 30 games. On the flip side, Tomas Tatar has 12 goals and 12 assists in 34 games. So far trades have really been on the upside for the Habs. Not to mention with the new fire power of Domi, Tatar, rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi (we’ll get to him in a moment), and the return on now-captain Shea Weber, the Canadians have increased their Goals For to 106 so far compared to just 86 from this point last season.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a 6’2″, 18 year-old from Pori, Finland. Kotkaniemi was drafted in the 2018 Entry Draft (so literally this summer) at 3rd overall. One of the best parts of Kotkaniemi’s play is his emotion. He gives 110% on the ice and it shows. His style of play resembles Toronto Maple Leaf’s Mitch Marner, who is known for his Energizer Bunny persona. An energetic player and person both on and off the ice. When Kotkaniemi is on the ice, there’s energy that surges through the whole team while he is making plays and forcing turnovers. At 18, he is out there out-smarting defensemen twice his age with years of NHL experience, not to mention laying them into the boards. Kotkaniemi is going to be the driving force for this team moving forward. Not to mention that 34 games into his NHL career, he already has 4 goals and 13 assists.
As much as I’d love to say that this team is flawless, I’d be a filthy liar. The Habs fatal flaw so far has been their power play.
First the power play. At this time last season, the Canadians power play was 23rd in the league and the team was scoring 17.1% of the time. So far this season, the Habs are at 30th, above Chicago’s, only snagging a goal 12.3% of the time. As a matter of face, the Habs have missed out on the last 25 man-advantages they’ve had. The effort isn’t there, the team looks tired and drawn out every time. This leads to turnovers, another problem the Habs have even at even strength, and more time chasing the puck out of their defensive zone rather than setting up plays and scoring. The key to solving their problems would be to reinvigorate the power play units.
Everyone has been talking about Carey Price being at 299 wins and he isn’t going to get it if the defense doesn’t step up. This season the Habs have already allowed 111 goals against the, were as last season they were at 102. Sure it’s only a 9 goal difference, but 4 of those 9 goals were scored in the Canadian’s game against Boston just last night (December 17th). Price can’t be the sole one keeping puck our of the net, no matter how hard he glares at everyone after a goal. Slowing the rapidly rising Goals Against starts with the defense stepping up as well as over all puck management. The game against Boston (a 4-0 loss for Montréal) was a prime example of how not to keep puck possession.
Overall, the Habs are doing amazing with what they’ve been given to work with. Of course there’s been a recent decline of a team that started out on fire but we’re nearing the half way mark of the season and there is still time to turn the tides. The Canadians game against Boston will be for sure reviewed by the tam on aspects of what not to do and how to improve from here. The Habs rest up for a day before flying out to Colorado to take on the Smoking Hot Avalanche.
Featured Image: Sportsnet.ca