This one here could be a very interesting game.
Montreal returns to action tonight against a very resurgent Ottawa team that has surprised many (including themselves maybe?) as they have jumped out to a 5th place tie after 13 games. How have they done it? Their 42 goals puts them just behind Philadelphia and Toronto for most in the NHL. They’ve found ways to come back in games when they’ve been down – and they’ve made the most of their opportunities when a game has gone to over-time and shootouts.
So far it has been an exciting ride for a very young team. There is a notion out there however, that this bubble is about to burst. As a team Ottawa is a +/- -8. They’ve given up 50 goals so far. Philadelphia sits just 2 points ahead of Ottawa and through 13 games has a +/- differential of +5 – scoring 47 and giving only 42 to the opposition. That kind of porous defence is bound to catch up with a team over the course of an 82 game season.
So how does Montreal capitalize (sorry for the pun) on Ottawa’s weaknesses in their own zone?
It starts in the Montreal end.
One of the biggest differences in Montreal’s game during their three game win streak has been the ability of Montreal’s centres to get back deep in the defensive zone to force turnovers and receive short outlet passes from Montreal defenders. The result has been a lot of blocked shots, turnovers, and a very efficient break out game leading to odd-man rushes and scoring opportunities. The fact the Montreal’s wingers possess very quick team speed, and solid passing abilities means that often, the Habs have exposed slower defenders with this transition game. Eric Cole alone has had uncountable scoring chances due to this change in Montreal’s offensive system.
As has been true in the past – Montreal is far better when they are playing with the lead. While Ottawa can score in bunches, Montreal would be served well to stick to Jacques Martin’s system tonight – as boring as that can be – because the Sens are far more vulnerable to defensive lapses than the Canadiens (as young as our blueline is). I expect that Montreal’s plan will be to play a tight defensive system that looks to exploit an overly aggressive Ottawa offense. The key to accomplishing Montreal’s goal – of course, will depend on not taking penalties. If they do – Ottawa has a dangerous powerplay which has been clicking at a league best 28.9% clip. There is no way you can expect to beat them if you get sucked into a game of trying to play silly-bugger with Chris Neil or Zenon Kanopka.
Big game tonight! Its been too long! Go Habs Go!!!