By Bob Trask – A glance at the scoreboard after Montreal’s 5-2 loss to Dallas last night would seem to indicate a blowout. The last place team from last season had finally come crashing back to earth after a solid start to the season. But game scores don’t always paint a true picture of the game.
Slow Start – Strong Finish
After spending a lot of time in their own end early in the first period, the Canadiens continued their never-give-up attitude that has been a trademark of the team since Marty St. Louis arrived as head coach. While Dallas undoubtedly led the game in high danger scoring chances, Montreal had their fair share of puck possession and shots on goal.
The silver lining is that the team continues to play 60 minute hockey; their effort only ends at the final buzzer.
Follow the Bouncing Puck
My biased eye came to the conclusion that if a puck was going to bounce in favour of one team, that team would be Dallas. More than once, Montreal players could not seem to get a handle on the puck as in bounced around in the proximity of goaltender Jake Allen. It often seemed to find its way onto the stick of a Dallas forward and nowhere was that more evident than on the last goal by Joe Pavelski. At the other end of the ice, the Canadiens were a split-second late or slightly out of position to take advantage of the bounces. Give Dallas credit though, they made the bounces happen.
The silver lining is that not every bounce will go to the opposition in the future. I am sure the coaching staff will study all of these plays and help the players, particularly the young defenseman, how to improve their odds of making the safest play when the bounces go against them.
There was more than one rookie mistake on Saturday night and the one that stands out for many was the incident where Arber Xhekaj tried to engage Jamie Benn behind the Montreal net. It left Montreal at a disadvantage in front of Jake Allen and was one of the reasons Dallas scored on the play.
The silver lining to this is that the coaching staff uses these situations as teaching moments rather than benching moments. Xhekaj will either learn to play with a little more discipline or he will see reduced ice time if the trend continues. This is not picking on Xhekaj, who brings a lot of intangible to the Habs; the same applies to every player on the team when poor decisions are identified by the coaching staff.
There is more than one way to win or lose a hockey game. One team can completely dominate another team, leaving the coaching staff (and the fans) wondering where to begin in an effort to become more competitive. Think of where the Montreal Canadiens were last year at this time, a team in total disarray. Teams can also lose by giving up a handful of scoring opportunities due to occasional poor decisions and/or unlucky breaks even though territorial play is somewhat even. In this case the breakdowns, where players strayed from their responsibilities, can be more easily identified and corrected. To me, that is what happened against the Dallas Stars.
The silver lining here is that, except for occasional lapses in play, the Canadiens held their own. For a team that did not have a lot of playing time together from previous seasons, a lot of good things happened and, for the most part, they played as cohesive units. It is now up to the coaches to identify the problem situations and help the players make the necessary corrections.
Still Some Tarnish
As much as I like to be optimistic, the silver lining still has some tarnish. The power play has been a non-factor and the penalty kill was exposed after Jake Allen couldn’t bail them out against the Stars. The young defense has had difficulties against a heavy hard forecheck and scoring remains a problem whether it is on the PP or at 5v5.
These are all things to work on as the team continues to develop and the coaching staff evaluates what they have to work with. Behind the scenes, Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes and company are undoubtedly scouring the hockey world for talent and trade possibilities. On the ice, Martin St-Louis and his staff are working with the players to develop their individual and team skills while trying to build their confidence.
Going forward there will have to be some lineup changes as players begin to come off the injury list. As that happens the direction that Kent Hughes takes may help to remove some of the tarnish and allow the silver linings to shine through.