The winning streak for the Habs is up to three games and more striking than the wins (though they are what are most important) is the way they are doing it. Going into the 2010-11 season their defence was supposed to be the weak link of the team with an unproven number one goaltender, their number one man (Andrei Markov) out with an injury and a couple a guys long in the tooth (Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek). But somehow the defence has managed to play remarkably well despite the question marks.
The Canadiens went deep into the playoffs last year with a couple of impressive victories over the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Though they were victorious in those series the fact that they were able to win had a lot (or maybe everything) to do with the fact that their goaltender Jaroslav Halak was playing out of his head.
Halak was traded away over the summer and the grumbling about making Carey Price the number one started loud and often. Price, who has started all nine games for the team, has been remarkable. By remarkable I mean in his steady play, allowing very few "weak" goals and coming up with the big save when his team needs it.
But what has really been the number one reason that the Canadiens have started off the season strong has been their commitment to team defence. In many games the Habs have held their opponents to 25 shots or under and besides the low shot totals they have limited the opposition to fewer quality scoring chances than the previous season.
This buying in to the puck control system of Jacques Martin has been a slow process, but it seems as if the guys have adopted it wholeheartedly this season. It was quite apparent during the game last night against the surprising New York Islanders.
The Islanders have gotten off to a strong start this season and sit in 2nd place overall in the Eastern Conference. Not a team to be taken lightly despite the fact that they are missing defenceman Mark Streit, forward Kyle Okposo, and defenceman Rob Schremp, who were all out with injuries. That plus back up veteran goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, was making the start in nets.
Only allowing the opposition to get 21 shots on Price and keeping the puck in the Islanders end meant that the Habs pretty much controlled this one from the get go until the final siren. The score was flattering to the Islanders because they were able to score on two of their four powerplay opportunities. This was a little surprising as the Canadiens have been one of the better penalty killing teams so far this season. Of the three goals that went by Price he saw maybe one of them. The other two he was screened and/or the puck was deflected. Despite some periods of inactivity, Price was forced to make at least four great saves over the course of the game.
The Canadiens got off to a 2-0 lead in the first period courtesy of some secondary scoring by Mathieu Darche (his first of the season) and a shorthanded goal by Travis Moen (his first of the season) off a great feed from Tomas Plekanec. Unfortunately on the same powerplay that Moen scored his shorthanded goal defenceman James Wisniewski scored on a slap shot from the right point at 19:16 that Price never saw.
Giving up a late goal can often demoralize a team, but the Habs stayed the course and continued their strong play. They outshot the Islanders 9-8 in the middle frame and also notched another goal. It was a beauty by Plekanec on a wicked snap shot in the top corner that Roloson had no chance on after Kostitsyn caused a turnover in the Islanders end and fed him in the slot.
Another power play goal scored only 0:13 into the 3rd by John Tavares again brought the Islanders to within one goal. Secondary scoring has been a problem for the Habs so far this season, but another plumber, Jeff Halpern, scored what turned out to be the winning goal on a weak backhand that somehow eluded Roloson. To be fair to the Islanders' netminder, he must have been distracted by an onrushing Darche who was coming full steam ahead to the front of the net with an Islander defender draped over him.
Once again the Islanders managed to make it tighter than it should have been when Doug Weight scored their third of the game. Kostitisyn calmed the fans nerves and iced the victory when, after the Islanders had pulled Roloson with 1:30 left in the game, he once again forced a turnover in the Islanders' end and scored an empty net goal to make it a 5-3 victory for the home side.
The winning streak is now up to 3 games and the team is playing solidly. Nothing really to criticize. Price played well, Spacek played a stronger game, the Plekanec-Kostitsyn-Cammalleri line continued to score goals, and the team got some secondary scoring.
The Habs play the Islanders once again this time in Long Island on Friday night before returning home to play the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. It is thought that backup goalie Alex Auld will get his first start of the season in one of these games and that Andrei Markov might be back for the Florida game.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Eric Furlatt and Francis Charron
Linesmen: Scott Cherrey and Scott Driscoll
-Goals: 1st Period:
13:19 – Montreal – Mathieu Darche assisted by Jeff Halpern and PK Subban
17:54 – Montreal – (sh) Travis Moen assisted by Tomas Plekanec
19:16 – New York – (pp) James Wisniewski assisted by Matt Moulson and Doug Weight
7:33 – Montreal – Tomas Plekanec assisted by Andrei Kostitsyn and Roman Hamrlik
0:13 – New York – (pp) John Tavares assisted by James Wisniewski
6:56 – Montreal – Jeff Halpern assisted by Carey Price and Benoit Pouliot
12:56 – New York – Doug Weight assisted by James Wisniewski and Jack Hillen
18:58 – Montreal – (en) Andrei Kostitsyn unassisted
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 35
New York: 21
-Three Stars: 1) Tomas Plekanec – Montreal
2) PK Subban – Montreal
3) Carey Price – Montreal
-Assistance: 21, 273
-Final Score: Montreal: 5
New York: 3