-Drouin may have won more puck battles last night than he did the entire second half of last season. He worked hard on the backcheck, he drove to the net, he sat back on the power play and thwarted what could have been an Aho breakaway. He even had a shift in OT. Julien took notice – He was rewarded with the fifth most ES ice time among forwards. Last year in the last 30 games, Drouin and Kotkaniemi ended up playing together fairly often, but they never really found any chemistry. Kotkaniemi had run out of steam, and Drouin was clearly struggling with his confidence. It is a line that has the potential to really shine and demand more and more ice time as the season goes along, especially with a big body like Armia on the other side providing solid defence and board work. Kotkaniemi and Drouin both see the ice very well and have elite puck skills. The key may be in getting them to shoot more as both have a tendency to pass first..almost to a fault.
-Jordan Weal was the Habs player who had the least amount of ice time last night, playing 11:36. A solid indication that the coaching staff trusts everyone in the lineup. Last year in the club’s first 20 games, there was only one time that every player on the Canadiens got more than 11:36 of ice time. Julien has a fourth line he can rely on, thanks in large part to having a reliable, veteran center who is solid on faceoffs in Nate Thompson, and a 20-goal scorer in Byron. That could be the best fourth line the club has had in many moons.
-When a young defenceman makes his NHL debut, it is often prudent to keep an eye on his play away from the puck. How good is his gap control, does he play with confidence and step up in the play when it’s required? Fleury passed the test with flying colours. He got walked one time by Aho…and it did not affect his confidence in any regard; he kept playing the same way – throwing hits when the opportunity arose, keeping his gaps tight, and joining the rush for a breakaway opportunity when he realized that Carolina had a delayed penalty. The 20-year-old rookie looked more poised than six defencemen the Canadiens employed last season at one point or another – Reilly, Schlemko, Folin, Benn, Alzner, and Ouellet. When Noah Juulsen is ready to play again, he is going to have his hands full trying to beat out Fleury for the third spot on right defence. A pleasant problem for the team.
-The defence pairing that struggled the most last night was Weber-Mete. Caught flatfooted on three occasions, two turnovers each…the club will be hoping for better games ahead. Julien took notice….Chiarot/Petry had seven more minutes of even strength ice time than the de facto top pairing. The club may very well have a 1a/1b scenario this season if Petry keeps playing so well. Chiarot is an obvious upgrade on Benn…he skates better, and as a result is less prone to turnovers. That looks like it could well be a solid pairing.
-When Nate Thompson lost a draw in the first period that helped lead to a goal against, my good friend Brian Wilde was quick to tweet out that this wasn’t supposed to happen. In a perfect world…he is correct. Thompson would never lose a draw or be on the ice for a goal against. This world is far from perfect, however, and that especially goes for hockey players. Even Bobby Orr was imperfect. Thompson is going to lose at least 40 per cent of his draws, and he will make mistakes in covering guys that will lead to scoring chances and goals against.
Would Poehling have won that draw that led to a goal? Maybe…will never know. What I do know is that Thompson ended the game winning nine of the 12 draws he took, including several key ones in the defensive zone with Montreal nursing a lead. Poehling would have difficulty winning 40 per cent of his draws at the NHL level at this point in his career. As I’ve observed and mentioned quite often in the past 10 months, Poehling has struggled mightily in the faceoff circle over that period. If he can’t win 50 per cent of his faceoffs versus juniors and college players…who could expect it to be easier versus NHLers? Anyway; its all good. Brian and I rarely have disagreements in regards to the Canadiens’ lineup; our two biggest debates following training camp the past three seasons has been in regards to who should center the fourth line (he thought Peter Holland should have won the job in 2017-18) – that’s a strong indication that we are usually on the same page. Keep up the great work Brian, and I look forward to reading your Calls of the Wilde throughout the season.
Key Stat Takeaways:
Thompson 75% 9-3 on draws
Danault 39% (7-11)
Drouin with 16:39 TOI
Kotkaniemi with 12:54
Weal led all Habs fwds with 4 shots in 11:36 TOI, least on the team
Petry with 4:45 more ES ice time than Weber, had 5 shots,
Chiarot with 8 hits. Fleury and Petry four each, Weber 3.