The Montreal Canadiens Promising Western Swing Gives Hope For Upcoming Trip

MONTREAL, CANADA - NOVEMBER 15: Evgenii Dadonov #63 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his goal with teammates Sean Monahan #91, Kaiden Guhle #21 and Josh Anderson #17 during the second period of the game against the New Jersey Devils at Centre Bell on November 15, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, CANADA - NOVEMBER 15: Evgenii Dadonov #63 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his goal with teammates Sean Monahan #91, Kaiden Guhle #21 and Josh Anderson #17 during the second period of the game against the New Jersey Devils at Centre Bell on November 15, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Given the many stunningly disappointing moments in the Montreal Canadiens most recent road trip, it may be surprising to suggest their western jaunt was actually a success, and that they are more than on the right track.

When the dust settled after a dynamic series of games against Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Seattle, what remained was a 2-1-1 record, five points in four games, or 100+ points if extrapolated over a season.

Problematic for fans, and fodder for critics, was the way points were abandoned during a roller coaster ride that dipped as low as dominating the Edmonton Oilers, but losing the game, followed by dropping a four-goal lead to Vancouver to garner only a single point.

However, from a constructive perspective, those same occasions are rife with potential and positivity, quintessential ‘teachable moments’.

The trip began with a 2-1 victory over Calgary during which the Canadiens were completely overwhelmed and outshot 46-19. That they were so out played is, in itself, not good news, but the flip side was the outstanding performance of goaltender Jake Allen.

The importance of Allen’s effort cannot be overstated, for while the Habs have committed to Allen as their number one netminder, his play has been underwhelming (his .895 save percentage is below his career .910 mark) and fans have been waiting anxiously for him to star, and not just start, in games.

The victory over the Flames belonged primarily to Allen, and motivated renewed support and hope for him among the fan base.

The poor play among the skaters would definitely have been a concern had it carried over into the next game, so it came as a great relief when the Canadiens seized the role of dominator versus Edmonton and took an early 1-0 lead in what appeared to be a carefully construed and perfectly executed game plan.

The highlight, for me, was Kaiden Guhle’s shutting down Connor McDavid’s one-on-one challenge partway through the first period. Guhle, in lieu of being mesmerized by McDavid’s footwork and stickhandling, focused solely on his midsection, blocking his progress mid-flight.

It was one example of the Canadiens excellent technical preparation, whose broader approach included a much more confident and organized attack than the game previous. Technically and strategically, the Habs were on point.

But, unfortunately, the same could not be said for their mental preparation.

In a mind-numbing sequence that began with Arber Xhekaj’s trip of McDavid with under a minute remaining in period one, the Canadiens sabotaged the game’s outcome.

The Oilers were thus gifted a powerplay to begin period two, and a number thereafter, thanks to Joel Edmundson’s vicious attack on Zach Hyman (five minutes) and Nick Suzuki’s grabbing of the puck while already shorthanded. The shocking lack of discipline against the highly skilled Oilers set the Canadiens behind on the scoreboard.

So how is any of that positive?

Well, one thing was that the only time the Oilers controlled the play for any significant duration was during man advantages. The Canadiens did not lose momentum after killing penalties, and immediately reverted back to outplaying the Oilers.

That is not to say that the Oilers were not the better team, they were, of course, as they won the game, but we can say the Canadiens enabled them by continually setting the table along the way, a prime example of how to hand an opponent a victory.

More positively, however, is that the baffling sequence of bad judgements – tripping for no reason, a brutal assault, and grasping a puck while already shorthanded – will (should) never happen again, mental preparedness surely becoming more of a priority going forward.

Then came the collapse against Vancouver.

Not to take anything away from the Canucks, as great skill is required to score seven goals in thirty minutes of hockey, but that can’t be done without a lot of help from your opponent, and the Habs were more than generous in that respect.

An embarrassing series of mental and physical errors featuring players slipping and falling, goalie indecisiveness while handling the puck, a collapse in goaltending altogether, plus a bevy of missed defensive assignments, allowed for Vancouver to come back from a four to nothing deficit and eventually score seven.

Again, that breakdown and sequence, if reviewed and learned from, is not likely to be repeated, so however repulsive it was it should serve to help the team grow and to reinforce the theory that the Habs, themselves, are their own worst enemy.

The road trip finished with a nice win against Seattle, actually the best of all their opponents, which alone proves the Club can stand with anyone (or most).

Other good news the Canadiens can take away from those few matches is that they can withstand  a certain number injuries due to their depth. The absences of Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman, and Sean Monahan were, to an extant, overcome, as a winning record was posted in this brief stretch.

Also, due to the injuries, we got to see what Juraj Slafkovsky can do given slightly increased ice time and more offensive responsibility, not a trivial concern as his development and readiness for the NHL has been very difficult, if not impossible, to assess given his fourth-line assignments and limited participation thus far.

Slafkovsky’s promotion to the second line alongside Monahan, Josh Anderson, or Christian Dvorak (depending on the injury situations) produced several points for him, and provided the Canadiens with much information as to Slafkovsky’s abilities and progress, not to mention some blessed relief to fans  concerned about their crucial number one pick.

So, the Montreal Canadiens were very close to a sweeping Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Seattle and returning home 15-10-1, which would have positioned them as one of the better teams in their division and the league. Some simple tying up of loose ends is what remains to be done. All the material is there, they just need to stop tripping over it.

With another lengthy road trip on the horizon, there remain reasons for optimism with this team. Of course, they were not at their best in losses to the Ottawa Senators and lowly Anaheim Ducks last week, but they showed enough promise on a tough four game trip out west that they can handle the rigours of the road in the NHL.

A six game swing through Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Tampa Bay Florida and Washington begins tonight. This will see them face off against teams on both ends of the NHL spectrum, but aside from Arizona, they will face teams that were in the playoffs last season and have high hopes for this season as well.

Reducing self-inflicted mistakes, eliminating parades to the penalty box and avoiding mental lapses in goal will go a long way to once again returning home with a positive road record once again.

They had success on their last road trip against tough competition and can do it again in the coming weeks, as long as they don’t become their own worst enemy.

A Winning Habit
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