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The Habs Recent Surge

The Montreal Canadiens have been on a surge recently, going 6-1 in their last seven games, including a six-game winning streak that was snapped by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In their first thirteen games, the Habs were not playing good hockey, going a deceptive 8-4-1. They were severely out-scored in the first period, getting out-shot throughout the games, and were continuously playing catch-up to win. They got themselves a nickname of sorts through those games, the “Comeback Kids”. Carey Price was the Habs best player night in and night out, but the team was just not playing the full sixty minutes needed to win. The forwards weren’t shooting enough, they were causing too many turnovers, and just looked like they were hung-over for every game. The defense was constantly out of position and leaving Price out to dry, despite him being his usual “stand on his head” self.

The Habs Recent Surge

After their disastrous 5-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, it seemed as though the Habs were not going to duplicate their success from last season, when they finished fourth overall in the Eastern Conference and reached the Eastern Conference Final versus the New York Rangers, which ultimately ended in a heart breaking 1-0 loss in game six.

However, this didn’t seem to be the case. The Montreal Canadiens played the Buffalo Sabres the following night, and while they played the same lackluster style, they ground out a 2-1 shootout win. Then came the November 8th game against the Minnesota Wild, and the subsequent roster changes.

The Habs dominated the Wild on their way to a convincing 4-1 win, looking like the same team that beat the Boston Bruins ten games ago, and the same team that got their revenge against the Rangers two games after the Bruins win. After Minnesota’s win, GM Marc Bergevin pulled off two moves in a matter of 48 hours. First, he sent down the vastly disappointing Rene Bourque to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Then, Travis Moen was shipped out to the Dallas Stars in exchange for veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar. Just like that, two players who were more or less anchors on the team were gone. Fans everywhere cheered and rejoiced. Granted, Bourque is still in the organization but unless there are numerous injuries, don’t expect to see him recalled. Sven Andrighetto should have priority on next injury call up.

Since these two moves, the Bleu Blanc et Rouge have been a whole new team, playing the full sixty minutes, getting more shots on net (save for the Detroit win where the Habs got 19 SOG and the Wings got 29, although even that was deceptive, as the Wings put up many shots in the third period after the Habs had opened up a three-goal lead), and have been playing good hockey overall.

But the biggest, most noticeable change is that they have been scoring. Bourque hasn’t suited up since the Hawks’ loss and Moen’s last Habs game was the Wild win. The Habs have scored 24 goals in seven games, Pittsburgh included, and have been scored on 11 times. Their shots on goal have been near equal in those seven games, which was previously problematic.

Jiri Sekac has benefited the most from these two moves, giving him a full-time spot on the Habs roster. He was having trouble gaining a spot, with either Bourque or Moen getting the nod over Sekac, but now he is playing, and he has been making quite the impression. In the last 7 games, Sekac has registered 4 points, although 2 of them came in the Wild game. Despite that, he has still been very noticeable on the team, making strong plays with the puck, getting in the dirty areas on the boards, gelling with Lars Eller and Brandon Prust, and has even gotten some limited power play time. If an injury occurs within the top six, expect Sekac to make the jump.

Max Pacioretty has also been hot through this streak, putting up 3 goals and 7 points in as many games, with two multi-point nights. David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau each have 4 points through the last 7 games, with Parenteau scoring twice in the Philadelphia win. The most point productive line, however, has been Alex GalchenyukTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher. Plekanec has 6 points while Galchenyuk and Gallagher each have 5 points. The bottom six has also been productive with Eller, Weise, and Sekac leading the way, but they have also been great defensively. Manny Maholtra continues to be a huge help in the faceoff circle, consistently posting above 50% in face off wins, save for a couple off games.  Overall Malholtra is around 60% on the dot, and amongst the league leaders.

The defense has been strong through these seven games, but have had some struggles. Bringing in Gonchar has been a good move so far,as he has played in 4 games and notched 2 points, while playing second pairing minutes. P.K. Subban has also been performing well. Andrei Markov has struggled at times this season, as his knee injuries seem to be catching up to him, and he’s lost a step.  While he does make some good plays, the bad outweighed the good earlier in the year. With the Habs now going with seven defencemen since the introduction of Gonchar, a reduced workload could allow Markov to play better, and he may yet come around.  Tom Gilbert, Mike Weaver, Alexei Emelin, and Nathan Beaulieu have all had varying degrees of success lately, but Beaulieu seems to be the one struggling the most. His two blatant defensive screw ups versus the Penguins accounted for two goals against, and he might need to switch places with Jarred Tinordi and get some more minutes in Hamilton.

The Montreal Canadiens have five games in the next ten days, playing the St. Louis Blues on Thursday November 20th, then head on the road to meet Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres, respectively, and back home for the second game against Buffalo on the 29th, then off for a four game road trip.

With the Habs starting to finally figure out their identity, and the chemistry of the team beginning to show, they should be able to grab more points to secure their spot atop the league standings where they currently sit, just one point ahead of second place Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can continue to play well, and not leave Price out to dry, they will be one of the dominant teams in the East.

The next challenge? Performing against other top teams, as they have taken big losses to the likes of the Lightning, Blackhawks, and Penguins this season.

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