TORONTO, ON — The Montreal Canadiens have started off their 2015-’16 season undefeated and are setting new franchise marks in the process. The Habs established the best start to a season by winning their 5th straight game to open the season vs the New York Rangers and have continued to win since then now holding a perfect record of 7-0-0. Michel Therrien’s troops have scored 23 goals and only conceded seven goals over that stretch.
In my opinion, here are the top-5 reasons why the Canadiens are off to such a hot start:
5. March 2015 trade deadline acquisitions
At last season’s trade deadline, Marc Bergevin was off to early work as he traded a second and 4th round pick to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for right-handed rearguard Jeff Petry. Later that day the Canadiens general manager made two separate trades with the Buffalo Sabres when he acquired versatile forward Brian Flynn in exchange for a 5th round pick and center Torrey Mitchell for a 7th round pick and Jack Nevins.
Those three acquisitions are looking like a strike of brilliance from Bergevin as they are all playing in big roles. Petry is the Canadiens No. 3 defenseman where he forms a pretty solid pairing with Alexei Emelin.
Brian Flynn was the first star in game 1 of the first round of the playoffs vs the Senators. He can play at both ends of the ice showing some offensive flashes and good defensive awareness. Flynn was a very under-the-radar trade target and summer re-signing by Bergevin.
Torrey Mitchell is a perfect fourth-line center doing a bit of everything with two goals in seven games this season. He’s been fantastic defensively however, he is only at 43.9 per cent in the face-off circle. Mitchell also provides grit, toughness and a willingness to stand up for his teammates. These three players have really looked good and are key in the teams perfect start.
4. Low risk – high reward offseason signings
Marc Bergevin did a little bit of bargain hunting over the summer and it’s clear through seven games that he did the right thing considering some of the contracts offered elsewhere. Bergevin signed former 40-goal scorer Alexander Semin to a one-year $1.1 million contract. Considering Semin was bought-out after his awful season last year and Bergevin needed a right-winger who could score, it wasn’t really a deal that was second-guessed.
So far, Semin has shown some good things in his play. He hasn’t been a liability defensively. Semin scored his first goal against the Blues and has two assists for three points in seven games.
Tomas Fleischmann was one of the biggest surprises of the pre-season. He accepted a professional try-out with the Canadiens having a strong training camp which led to a one-year $750,000 deal. “Flash” has three points so far on the season with two goals, both game-winners. With his stellar 200-foot play, Fleischmann forms a very solid third line with David Desharnais and Dale Weise.
To put things into prospective, the Canadiens are paying Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin the combined total of what the Dallas Stars are currently paying former Montreal Canadien forward Travis Moen. Not bad, not bad at all.
3. Carey Price and Mike Condon
Both of the Canadiens goalies have been very good early in the season, Mike Condon has played just once against the Ottawa Senators allowing one goal enroute to a 2-1 win. Condon was very solid in that game, making key saves and keeping the team in it at times.
Carey Price is simply Carey Price. He has been relied on less by the Canadiens but when he was needed (for example the first period vs St.Louis) he was there. Price has 2 shutouts (against the Rangers and Blues) already in six games.
Something that is impressive is the fact that the Canadiens netminders have only allowed a combined seven goals in seven games. Montreal’s goal differential is plus-16 through seven games. Goaltending coach Stephane Waite has had a influence on Price working with him for a few years now. This is Condon’s first season working with Waite. The Canadiens have a very good backup and the best goalie in the world. When they’re playing as they are now, it instills confidence in the skaters. That looks like a huge factor so far.
2. Rolling four lines / Galchenyuk at centre
At training camp, it was announced that Alex Galchenyuk would play center full-time this season. This move caused a ripple effect among the team’s centres. Lars Eller was moved to the left wing to form a second line with Galchenyuk and Alex Semin. David Desharnais was moved to the third line centre position and Tomas Plekanec was given the first line centre duties.
The switch of Galchenyuk to centre looks to be paying off. It gave the Canadiens a very good first line of Max Pacioretty – Tomas Plekanec -Brendan Gallagher. Desharnais’ move to the third line to exploit weaker forward matchups and defense pairings. This switch has helped the Canadiens scoring depth through seven games.
Michel Therrien does not hesitate to use all four of his lines at any point in the game or in any zone. Rolling four lines constantly makes the game much tougher for opposing defenders as it’s line a never ending attack. Short shifts also help keep the Canadiens key players fresh for later, more crucial points in the game.
1. Michel Therrien’s Adjustments
Coming into the season, the biggest concerns around the Canadiens were their reliance on Carey Price, their possession numbers, the special teams and the lack of scoring.
So far this season, the Canadiens have passed the eye-test. They’re doing things differently through controlled zone entries and puck possession. The Canadiens aren’t relying on “flip it out at all costs” and “bang it off the glass” nearly as much as they did last year. Montreal is focusing on short, quick, breakout passes to control the puck through the neutral zone and force the opposing defenders to back pedal. They are attacking the middle of the ice a lot more forcing opposing defenders to retreat.
More then a few times this season, the Canadiens players and coach have mentioned the importance of puck possession. That’s huge! Carrying the puck into the zone often leads to the players getting creative off the rush to generate scoring chances. This has been the case.
Montreal has not been spending 75 per cent of the game chasing the puck while exhausting themselves. They have carried the puck a lot so far this year helping to get more shots off particularly more high-quality scoring chances. The Canadiens’ Corsi for percentage (CF%) is 52.8, a full 4.3 per cent higher then it was last season.
The one thing that needs to be better is the Habs power-play. It was a weak power-play which sunk the Canadiens last season. This season, puck movement with the man advantage is leading to better chances however Montreal needs to be able to produce at a better rate as the season moves along.
In Michel Therrien’s first year back with the Canadiens, he preached needing three goals to win a game. So far this season, the Canadiens are on track scoring at least three goals in each game.
The Canadiens also look like they’re having a lot of fun playing, something that is key. If the Canadiens continue scoring at least three goals a game, opponents will have a very hard time scoring four on Carey Price. The reigning Vezina, Jennings, Lindsay and Hart trophy winner may have gotten even tougher to score on, something many thought was impossible.
The Canadiens so far look fantastic. It is yet to be seen if they will continue to play well however everything so far is very positive. It’s a long season and a long grind. Anything can happen from now until the playoffs but these Canadiens look like the beasts of the East and the NHL.
Right now, enjoy it Habs fans!