The Montreal Canadiens continued their ridiculous start to the 2016-17 season on Thursday night with an impressive 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
The win improved their record to a league-best 12-1-1 on the season, and extended their home ice winning streak to nine consecutive games.
It also featured another great performance in net from goaltender Carey Price as he continues to assert himself as one of the most dominant players in hockey.
His 23-save night improved his record to 9-0-0 on the season, continuing what has been a three-year run of brilliance in the crease. If you go back to the start of the 2014-15 season, the Canadiens are now 69-18-6 in the 93 games started by Price (compared to just 37-43-11 in the 91 games he has not started) while he carries around a save percentage north of .930, better than every other player in the league at the position.
He is playing at an incredible, all-time great level and has been a huge part of the team’s success. At times, he has been the biggest (and sometimes only) part of the success. Because of that, his teammates seem to know they have to be better and can not always rely on their goalie to win the game for them.
On Thursday, we finally saw them give their goalie some help. Given the opponent, it was more than a little surprising.
Thursday’s game against the Kings seemed like an obvious matchup that could exploit the flaws this Canadiens team still has lurking under its great record.
They still give up a ton of shots, get out shot on most nights, and were facing a team that feasts on shot volume and has been the most dominant possession team in hockey for five years. Heading into Thursday the Canadiens were outshot 123-61 in Price’s previous three starts — all games they won. That did not seem like a trend that could continue, especially against a team like Los Angeles that was just coming off one of the most dominant single game performances in the NHL this season.
Instead of getting run over and only getting by because their goaltender saved them, the Canadiens ended up beating Los Angeles at its own game.
They won the shot battle, they won the possession game, and they continued to win it even as they built a bigger lead on the scoreboard.
Here is what Kings coach Darryl Sutter had to say about the Canadiens’ performance after the game.
“I think they got us from behind quite a bit turning pucks over. Some of our faster players weren’t on their game tonight. That’s a really good hockey club, That’s a four-line-deep team. It’s pretty obvious why they’re now 9-0 at home. The combined score going into tonight’s game was 28-11, which meant every game was 4-1. That’s what tonight’s score was, too. So we’re probably saying the same thing that eight other teams said, unless they beat somebody twice already.”
Six of their nine wins on home ice this season have been by a multiple goal margin, and while there is an element of some luck to that (whether it’s on the offensive end or because of the Price factor at the other end of the rink), Sutter is right that it has been a pretty deep team and received contributions from the entire lineup. There are a handful of players that are probably playing above their heads at the moment and will soon regress (Paul Byron and Torrey Mitchell combining to score on nine of their 25 total shots on goal comes to mind), but there are others that are still probably playing below their normal level.
Still, the encouraging development for Montreal on Thursday was that they went into a game that could have exposed them a little bit, and they ended up playing what might have been their best game of the season and showing that they can be more than just an all-world goaltender.
If they want to avoid another second-half meltdown like the one we saw a year ago and establish themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders on the level of Pittsburgh, Washington and Tampa Bay, they will probably need to make sure games like Thursday become a more regular occurrence and are not just a random outlier.