Tomas Tatar – Phillip Danault – Brendan Gallagher
Artturi Lehkonen – Max Domi – Nick Suzuki
Jonathan Drouin – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Joel Armia
Paul Byron – Nate Thompson – Jordan Weal
Victor Mete – Shea Weber
Ben Chiarot – Jeff Petry
Mike Reilly – Christian Folin
Carey Price – Keith Kinkaid
Nick Cousins, Brett Kulak, Cale Fleury
Noah Juulsen (headaches), Joel Teasdale (knee)
For the first time in the lengthy history of the Montreal Canadiens, they have started the season with each of their first three games going into overtime.
With that, there is both bad and good news to explore.
From their three-game road trip the Canadiens have earned four of a possible six points.
Sophomore centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi has scored two goals on the road after going the entire last season without one. Kotkaniemi and linemate Joel Armia are tied for the team lead in goals with two each. The third member of that line, Jonathan Drouin, has shown up for two of the three games.
Armia, Drouin, Artturi Lehkonen and Brendan Gallagher are tied with the team lead in points with three each. Lehkonen has been outstanding on the Habs second line perfectly complementing centre Max Domi, retrieving pucks, creating scoring chances and playing excellent defensive hockey.
So far the Canadiens are scoring at a four goals per game clip, that’s a full goal better than where they finished last season. With the increased scoring, Montreal has been adept at coming back in games after falling behind. As Claude Julien terms it “digging ourselves out” of a hole.
But here’s where we have to look at the flip side of the coin.
Coach Julien correctly explains that it is the Canadiens who have been quite good at digging their own hole the first three games of the season.
Let’s start with the defence who have struggled greatly out of the blocks. Ben Chiarot and Victor Mete can succeed as third-pairing defencemen but both are looking lost and overwhelmed at times playing in roles beyond their abilities. Christian Folin, playing in his first game of the year against the Sabres, was not an upgrade over Cale Fleury.
Struggles on defence have spilled over to the penalty kill. The Canadiens have given up four goals in 13 times shorthanded for a weak penalty kill rate of 69.2 per cent. In reality, the rate flatters Montreal as two additional goals were allowed just seconds after the penalty expired, which would have brought the efficiency near 50 percent.
Discipline has been part of the issue with the Habs tied for the third most times short-handed so far this season. Perhaps surprisingly, Tomas Tatar is tied for the NHL lead in minor penalties with four.
Post-game, Julien clearly said that the Canadiens must be better on the penalty-kill. The coach counted four or five times where his team failed to clear the puck when they had a chance. As Julien said, the team can be happy with the points but not with their performance.
Lastly if this type of performance is what we can expect from Keith Kinkaid this season, he won’t be making 25-30 starts as advertised. As identified in the pre-season, Kinkaid is surrendering rebounds, is not positionally sound and is scrambling around his crease.
As Kinkaid admitted post-game, “I was playing a little shaky at the start. They had some big bodies in front and they were getting shots through. It’s been a while since I played and I need to be better.”
The Canadiens head back to Montreal for their home opener on Thursday against the Detroit Red WIngs.
Plus / Minus
▲ Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi
▼ Tomas Tatar, Christian Folin, Phillip Danault, Victor Mete