Matthew Peca

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Canadiens using speed to overwhelm opponents

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Heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, the expectations weren’t very high for the Montreal Canadiens. After all, a team that has struggled to score goals five-on-five traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. But thanks to their newfound identity, they’ve managed to exceed all expectations  and boast a 5-2-2 through nine games.

The Canadiens don’t have a superstar up front or an elite player on defense (Shea Weber is still injured), and Carey Price hasn’t even been dominant yet, but they’ve managed to remain competitive thanks to their ability to move the puck quickly. Also, newcomers like Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Xavier Ouellet have fit in really nicely, and they’ve all contributed to the speed the team is playing with.

Not every player on the roster is fast, but Claude Julien and his staff have found a way to change their approach after a horrendous year in 2017-18. Coaching additions like Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have also helped with that change.

When things are going well for the Canadiens, you can tell by the little time they spend in their own end. Last season, it seemed like they would get hemmed in the defensive zone all the time. Now, their defenders have found a way to move the puck quicker. The fact that the forwards have made themselves more available to receive those quick passes has helped the team get out of their own end with relative ease. Moving the puck allows the Canadiens to play a quick transition game, which eventually leads to some offensive output.

That’s why a veteran like Karl Alzner hasn’t been able to get into the lineup consistently. The Habs have favored skating defensemen like Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Ouellet, and it’s made all the difference.

The other interesting thing about Montreal, is that they can come at you with four lines. Some nights, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tatar will lead the way. Other times, it will be Jonathan Drouin, Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. The team has also used Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Paul Byron together, and they have fourth-line options that include Andrew Shaw, Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re superstars, but everybody is working hard,” Tatar said. “That’s the key. Without that, you’re not able to win a game. We have four lines rolling and everyone is chipping in. That’s a strength for sure.”

Even though they’re coming off a loss in Buffalo last night, no one predicted that they’d have just two regulation defeats in their first nine games, especially because they went up against Toronto and Pittsburgh (twice).

The biggest question mark surrounding the Canadiens is whether or not they can keep this up. Playing fast and being aggressive on the forecheck every night takes its toll on a team. Keeping that in mind, they’re not an overly big team, either, so they might wear down a little quicker, too.

When they hit the dog days of the season, they’ll need Price to be stellar. For now, they just have to find a way to keep this going for as long as they can.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Killorn lives, McDavid magic, Vegas records

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Players of the Night: Alex Killorn takes the cake as the most prolific part of the Lightning storming back against the Flames and beating them.

Calgary was up 4-2 at one point and 4-3 heading into the third, then Tampa Bay scored four unanswered goals to win 7-4.

Killorn ended up with two goals and two assists with a +4 rating in the game. He helped Tampa Bay put together a blistering fourth line: Matthew Peca scored one goal and two assists while Cory Conacher collected two goals. Peca is now on a three-game point streak (two goals, three assists) to give him five points in as many contests this season. Imagine how exasperated the NHL would be if the Bolts unearthed another steal in Peca, even if he just occasionally pitches in?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s two goals weren’t enough for the Oilers, as they lost 4-3 in OT to the Colorado Avalanche. One of his goals showed enough speed and tremendous hand-eye coordination to earn the highlight of the night, though:

Factoids:

Not good Flames. Not good.

Quite good, Connor. Quite good.

The Vegas Golden Knights set a new record for wins in an inaugural season for expansion team. Check out the full rundown here.

Scores

Bruins 3, Blues 1
Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Devils 4, Flyers 3
Maple Leafs 4, Rangers 0
Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 0
Senators 2, Ducks 1 (OT)
Golden Knights 3, Jets 2 (OT)
Predators 5, Kings 0
Lightning 7, Flames 4
Avalanche 4, Oilers 3 (OT)
Stars 4, Coyotes 1
Canucks 4, Blackhawks 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning could have yet another player make his NHL debut tomorrow

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Injuries to several key players have helped make the Tampa Bay Lightning almost unrecognizable at times this season as they have to keep inserting new players into the lineup.

Over the past three weeks alone they have already had two players — Tanner Richard and Matthew Peca — make their NHL debut.

Now they could have a third new player make his debut on Tuesday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets.

With Brian Boyle (lower body) injured in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on New Years Eve, the team had to call up forward Adam Erne from the American Hockey League on Monday. Coach Jon Cooper said there is “a good chance” that Erne will be in the lineup on Tuesday against Winnipeg, via the Tampa Bay Times. Erne practice with the team on Monday on a line with Michael Bournival and J.T. Brown, according to the Times.

The Lightning selected Erne in the second round (No. 33 overall) of the 2013 NHL draft. He scored 14 goals and added 15 assists in 59 games for the Syracuse Crunch during the 2015-16 season, his first year of pro hockey. So far this season he has eight goals and 10 assists in 31 games for the Crunch.

Along with Boyle the Lightning are also without Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette, and starting goaltender Ben Bishop. Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin have also all missed at least six games this season.

As of Monday evening the Lightning are two points out of a playoff spot, trailing the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division with what will be two games in hand entering play on Tuesday.