A more active defense is helping the Montreal Canadiens become less reliant on Carey Price.
That’s the gist of an article by NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, who notes that the Habs’ 4-0-0 start has seen them take “54.34 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5, ninth in the NHL prior to games Wednesday.”
Puck possession was not a strength last year for the Canadiens. In fact, if not for their netminder’s Hart Trophy season, it’s not outlandish to suggest they could’ve missed the playoffs, as opposed to winning their division with 110 points.
“We’re working a lot more on puck possession,” said coach Michel Therrien. “It’s not that we didn’t want to last season, but we hadn’t reached that step yet as a team.”
As for that active defense, it’s helped the Habs enter the attacking zone with control of the puck, which is preferable to dumping and chasing. Captain Max Pacioretty thinks the performance of the guys on the back end is the “main reason we’ve played so well so far in the first four games.”
Montreal, by the way, has a chance to start 5-0-0 for the first time in franchise history tonight at home versus the Rangers.
The Detroit Red Wings could have a couple of injury returnees Saturday in Montreal.
Coach Jeff Blashill told reporters today that d-man Danny DeKeyser “looks real good” in practice and could possibly play against the Habs. DeKeyser has been out with a foot injury. His return could mean Alexey Marchenko is assigned to AHL Grand Rapids.
Meanwhile, forward Darren Helm (concussion, shoulder) is also getting closer to making his season debut.
“Close,” Blashill said. “I’d say we’re shooting probably Helmer for Saturday as well in Montreal. But still day-to-day and that could change.”
So far, the undefeated Wings (3-0-0) have fared just fine without DeKeyser and Helm. They host winless Carolina on Friday before hitting the road in Canada to play Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
The Boston Bruins are expected to have three new faces on the ice when they try to get their first win of the season tonight in Denver against the Avalanche.
Most notably, Jonas Gustavsson appears to be the starting goalie. No huge surprise there after Tuukka Rask allowed 14 goals in Boston’s first three games, all losses. Gustavsson signed a one-way contract with the B’s earlier this month. He had a .933 save percentage in two preseason appearances, but only got into seven contests last year for Detroit (.911).
The two other new faces are forward Tyler Randell and d-man Tommy Cross, both of whom will be making their NHL debuts, according to Bruins radio announcer Dave Goucher. Veteran Max Talbot will be scratched for Randell. Cross was called up yesterday after Joe Morrow was put on IR.
His team just swept the Ducks and Kings in back-to-back road games — which is a pretty decent accomplishment — but Canucks coach Willie Desjardins chose to play it cool.
“We could’ve lost both games as well,” Desjardins said after Vancouver’s 3-0 shutout of the Kings last night at Staples Center.
“It’s not like we dominated.”
No, they didn’t.
In fact, the Canucks (3-0-1) have only “dominated” one game so far: their season-opener in Calgary, where they beat the Flames, 5-1, and impressed with their speed. In the rematch Saturday at Rogers Arena, it was the Flames who carried the play, eventually winning 3-2 in overtime.
Still, considering three of their first four were on the road, the Canucks couldn’t really have asked for a better start. And with five straight home games coming up, there’s the potential to build on it.
Certainly, one of the early surprises has been the play of veteran goalie Ryan Miller. The 35-year-old — the same one that many Vancouver fans would’ve preferred to see traded over the summer — has allowed just three five-on-five goals in four starts. Overall, his save percentage sits at .955.
Though Miller only had to stop 15 shots to shut out the lackluster Kings, Desjardins didn’t look at it that way
“If he was giving up rebounds, it would be a lot busier,” said the coach. “He’s just handling everything so clean. That makes a difference.”
Related: Benning doesn’t think Ryan Miller is too old
Even Alex Ovechkin can’t get away with oversleeping.
The Washington Capitals’ captain revealed this morning that he was held out of the lineup last night versus San Jose after he failed to wake up in time for yesterday’s morning skate.
The Capitals lost badly to the Sharks, 5-0.
This isn’t the first time an NHL star has been disciplined for a similar offense. Just last April, Tyler Seguin was late for practice and made a healthy scratch for the Dallas Stars’ season finale.
Still, it didn’t take long for Caps fans to shift into damage-control mode:
Washington hosts Chicago tomorrow. And yes, Ovechkin is expected to be back in the lineup.
CSN Mid-Atlantic has more.