Rabid Habs

3 Reasons Why the Habs Had a Perfect Week

One week ago, it looked like this would be a lost season for the Montreal Canadiens. The fan base was clamouring for coaches and upper management to be fired, and for the team to make significant changes to the roster.

Coming off an impressive victory over the Detroit Red Wings at home Saturday night, the Habs improved their winning streak to five games, outscoring their opponents 24-6 in the process.

What has changed over the past week that moved the Canadiens out of the basement of the Eastern Conference standings and into a playoff spot in a matter of five games?

The Special Teams

The Canadiens were ranked 29th in the NHL on the powerplay at 14.4 percent, and 27th on the Penalty Kill at 75.3 percent before their last loss to the Nashville Predators on November 22nd. Over the last five games, the Habs powerplay has been running at a 38.5 percent clip, moving them up to 19th overall in the NHL, while the penalty kill has been excellent, running at 86.7 percent during this winning streak.

Changes in personnel on the powerplay have been the major key to success for the Canadiens during this winning streak. Claude Julien decided to move Max Pacioretty off the top powerplay unit in favour of Paul Byron, which has given Pacioretty more freedom to work on the half-wall instead of the middle of the ice, where he is most comfortable. The option to have Pacioretty on the second unit has made the Habs powerplay more dangerous as the opposing teams Penalty Kill has to be weary of having Alex Galchenyuk and a healthy Jonathan Drouin on one unit, and Pacioretty with Brendan Gallagher on the second unit.

The structure on the penalty kill is the biggest reason why the Habs are currently on this five game winning streak. The Canadiens have made slight changes in their setup on the penalty kill by having one high forward in constant movement covering the point men on the opposing team’s powerplay. The second forward is in the middle of the defensive zone to cut any cross-ice passes. This change has created more pressure on the opposing teams powerplay as they feel rushed and make quicker passes. This pressure creates more turnovers and opportunities going the other way to score short-handed.

Secondary Support

The Habs secondary scoring has finally arrived and at the right time. The play of Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Charles Hudon, and Tomas Plekanec has relieved some pressure that big-time offensive players like Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, and Drouin have received throughout the season for their lack of goal scoring.

During this five game winning streak, 15 of the 24 goals scored by the Canadiens have come from the bottom 9 forwards, which is impressive considering Jonathan Drouin has missed two games during this sequence.

The chemistry has developed nicely on each line which has contributed to this successful period of the season. Claude Julien has tinkered with the top line while keeping Galchenyuk with Drouin together, which has helped the duo to create more chemistry in the process. Adding Paul Byron to that line has helped immensely, as Byron has the speed to keep up with them and can help dig pucks out of the corners.

The line of Hudon-Plekanec-Gallagher, has provided a spark to the offence with their work ethic and cycle play, which has created more possession in the offensive zone. Gallagher is the engine of the Habs offence right now, leading the team in goals with 13, coupled with his tenacity and hard-work in the corners and in front of the net, is a big reason why the Habs have turned it around lately.

The fourth line has also stepped up recently. Since the Habs called-up Daniel Carr from the Laval Rocket, they have created more chances in the offensive zone and have spent less time in their own zone. The play of Carr, Deslauriers, de la Rose, and Froese has been a lot better lately, and it showed against Detroit as they were involved in 4 of the 10 goals scored on Saturday.

Carey Price is Back

Since returning from injury, Carey Price has a 5-0-0 record with a 1.20 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage, stopping 150 of 156 shots he’s faced during this winning streak. It is safe to say that Price has returned to the form that most Habs fans are used to seeing him in.

Price has looked more poised in his blue crease; he is technically sound in his movements, and he is not over-committing to shooters, which were issues before he was injured. Stephane Waite worked hard with Price in practice to get him back to the elite level we are accustomed to seeing, which has been the case since his first game back against Buffalo.

Not only have his numbers been spectacular since his return to action, Price has helped out by giving this team a much-needed confidence boost, something that has been lacking since the start of the season. When Price is on top of his game, the team seems to feed off of that, evidenced by their structure in their own zone. The Habs have been more organized in their own zone, which has helped Price track pucks cleanly while also creating a more efficient break-out. Organized breakouts lead to less time spent in the defensive zone and more time spent in the offensive zone. That, of course, leads to more goals.

If it wasn’t evident before his injury, the Habs will go only as far as Carey Price will carry them. If the Canadiens do end up making the playoffs when it’s all said and done, they will look back at this week as the turning point for what could have been a disastrous season.