Montréal Canadiens: Low Expectations At First, But Playing Great Hockey

Montreal Canadiens

Prior to the regular season, many Montréal Canadiens fans (including myself) didn’t have high expectations.

But, they’ve looked outstanding so far. At this moment, they are in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division. The bigger question is what is the reason for this surprising success?

What Is The Reason For Their Success?

For one, their play on the ice. Last season, the Montréal Canadiens were giving up the first goal of a game multiple times and had a hard time coming back in games. It was almost as if they didn’t have any fight left in them to mount a comeback. We can say they didn’t have Shea Weber or Carey Price (due to injuries) to bail them out but that would not have been an excuse. The last time that I checked, hockey is a team sport.

This season, they are much more fun to watch. The major difference between last season and now is that they’re scoring the first goal of the game more times than I can count. In addition, the Canadiens offseason acquisitions of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar have helped pave the way for success.

Bienvenue à Montréal!

As it pertains to Tatar, he was coming off probably one of his worst offensive campaigns. He recorded 34 points with Detroit and Las Vegas last season, but couldn’t crack the Golden Knights roster as the team was on their magical playoff run to the Stanley Cup final.  With a fresh start in Montreal, he has fit in nicely on a line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. He currently sits second in team scoring with 38 points (16G, 22A) in 51 games (NHL.com).

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When it comes to Domi, he has injected new life into the team. He plays with energy and heart every night. He may not be an offensive juggernaut, but he has provided the club with something they haven’t had in a while and that’s having a number one centre. He leads the team in scoring at the break with 44 points (16G, 28A) (NHL.com)

Healthy Carey & Shea

Another reason is the play of Carey Price. Earlier this season, he stated that he had been playing injured for a significant amount of time. It was a lower body irritation. So, Antti Niemi had to shoulder the load while Price sat out for a few games. Upon his return to action, Price has looked more and more like the goalie who won the Vezina trophy in 2015.

Since November 26, Price has posted a 12-7-0 record with a .930 SV% and a 2.10 GAA in 19 games (Arpon Basu of The Athletic Montreal).

In addition to Price playing well since his return, Shea Weber has looked phenomenal since his return on November 27th. With Price and Weber in fine form, the Habs have been playing great hockey.

Kotkaniemi

Probably the most surprising revelation this season has been the play of Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Picked 3rd overall in the 2018 draft, he was touted as one of the top players according to NHL Central Scouting. He has lived up to the billing, making some great plays including scoring a highlight reel goal against the Florida Panthers last week. Even if makes a mistake, he still manages to crack a smile that has become infectious. Thru 51 games, he’s recorded 6 goals and added 17 assists for 23 points with a +/- of +3.

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The Habs Power-Play

The power-play continues to be a sore spot for the Habs. Unfortunately, Canadiens head coach Claude Julien isn’t having much magic as his club ranks last out of 31 teams. Only the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators have slightly better power plays (29th and 30th place respectively). No one seems to know how to solve the problem.

According to Pierre McGuire of NBC Sports during one of his weekday afternoon hits on TSN 690 in Montreal, he’s stated that the Habs don’t have a power-play quarterback. They don’t have that one player that can get the right set up to score a goal with the man advantage. Perhaps, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin will acquire a power-play quarterback prior to the deadline.

What’s Next?

How will the last 31 games go? We’ll have to tune in starting next week to see if the Habs recent play will continue after some well-deserved time off.

stats from NHL.com, The Athletic Montreal, hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

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Author: Angelo Kontogonis