Canadiens Showing Better Attitude To Start Season
The Montreal Canadiens open up the Bell Centre for the 2018-2019 season with a bit more of a buzz than expected. A bit more to look forward to than what the Toronto sports media would have had us believe, but to be fair after July 1st they probably haven’t been able to think too clearly.
The Habs are heading into the home opener with a unexpected 1-0-1 record with a victory over the star studded Pittsburgh Penguins and a OT loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game that no one will admit the Leafs deserved to win.
It could be a result of the same old story of the past, Price must be saving the Habs. While Price’s improved level of play and compete are definitely what the most seasoned of Canadiens fans expected it isn’t the sole reason for the new found hope that seems to be building at this early stage of the season.
The Canadiens are playing good hockey, plain and simple. They are embracing the youth movement in their D group and some fantastic drafting and an astute trade have the Habs D looking better than most expected.
Mete and Juulsen are playing very well so far for barely second year players and a player I described last season as possibly the best deadline acquisition (check my archives) is starting to turn heads. That player is Mike Reilly, a unheralded (until now) pick up that is giving the Canadiens a chance to move the puck out of the D Zone with speed and offensive awareness.
The 25 year old defender was a college stand out that simply couldn’t crack the Minnesota Wild line up due to team need and the Wild simply being a D man factory. They just didn’t have a spot for him and mercifully set him free in a trade to Montreal for a 5th round pick in this upcoming draft. Reilly is logging an average of 21:44 a game and has yet to register a point, but that shouldn’t undermine his ability so far to create and move the puck efficiently.
The craziest part about this, for me, is that Reilly is an offensive D man by nature, but he has only averaged 12 SECONDS of PP time this season while averaging 2:40 per game on the PK. Reilly is learning the defensive side of the puck under Julien and Ducharme’s tutelage and I suspect that once they feel he’s earning his rights he will see that coveted PP time shortly thereafter. This is the first time in his NHL career where he has seen this kind of deployment and he is thriving. This player has the potential to be the next Paul Byron-level of theft from a team that simply didn’t have the room or (percieved) role for the player. I hope to see his positive trending continue as that will only mean good things for the Canadiens.
The last game against the Penguins was simply incredible.
It’s clear that the MTL game plan this year Balanced Attack and Quick Movement On D. They executed this very well against the Pens and some may point out that Price made some incredible saves and a post or two was struck, but the same could be said about the other two opponents goalies they have faced as well, regardless of outcome. Also, your goaltender is supposed to make the big saves when the other team executes well… Never understood how having a good goalie was used as a negative against a team but I do know that jealousy is usually ugly and can create illogical responses.
But the truth does remain, when a team receives average or above goaltending they can remain competitive. That doesn’t mean their team is bad, it means their teams management understands the importance of the position. Example, look at the Flyers and Blues. Two teams with high end talent, PPG talent, up front and on D. Every year they do well despite their goaltending only to (maybe) hit the playoffs and be bounced. No one is blaming the Giroux’s, Tarasenko’s, et al. No one is saying the team is only good because of one player…. But many may say the team would be MUCH better if they had ONE better player in goal…. Just sayin’…
With that the Habs will be riding into the Bell Centre with a bit of a spring in their step and hopefully a big chip on their shoulder. Hopefully they can shut out all the noise from both the overly optimistic to the fans still upset over Bergevin, PK, and Halak. The preamble before the game will likely be entertaining and all, but typically when the team has to stand there for 15 minutes for these kinds of ceremonies there is a bit of a slow start. What I think is that the Canadiens running 3 lines as attack and defend lines with fairly equal opportunity there will be a better overall level of compete. A big opening shift by Gallagher and/or Byron's lines could set the example and tempo for the rest that this is what is expected regardless of ceremony or back patting.
But I like that they will have a little tribute to the 1993 Cup Championship Canadiens team. That will be an interesting start to watch for us die hards for sure.
Look, it will take a lot for this team to compete all season. The rumors are true, there isn’t likely to be a 35 goal scorer in the group. If they keep playing like they have been to start the season there should be a solid grouping of 20 goal scorers though. A team mentality with Price playing to his norms will give teams more trouble than they expect. Vegas showed us this last season. When expectations are low but the systems are good and you get solid goaltending, all you need is a ticket to the dance.
I’m not saying the Canadiens are going to put up a division winning, 51 win season like the Golden Knights did. I’m not THAT out of touch, but if the Habs can maintain a 55% win percentage (45 wins) then they will definitely be in the Wild Card mix this season.
That percentage doesn’t seem entirely impossible with Price playing to his high standards and the team showing the character and attitude they have so far does it? I don’t think so but there is a lot of games left to play and the Canadiens aren’t falling completely apart like they did to start last season.
Best approach to almost everything is to take things one day at a time and always look to move forward. Should the Habs win again on Thursday and this weekend (as I mentioned in my last blog) it will be difficult to hide the excitement but it will be very important to take this season one day at a time and never look back…
Go Habs Go and Happy Thanksgiving!