Nine attempts, nine losses. That was the Montreal Canadiens overtime and shootout record heading into Saturday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. They had just lost the previous game to the Canucks in overtime. Now, heading into overtime again while wearing the reverse retro jerseys which the Canadiens have yet to win in had all superstitious fans facing a nightmare. However, the Canadiens were able to get the proverbial monkey off their back following a beautiful shootout goal by Tomas Tatar and solid play by Carey Price in the extra frame and shootout. However, it was the coaching adjustments that were made by Dominique Ducharme that the team can thank for overcoming their slump.
Adjustments Made by Dominique Ducharme Help End Montreal Canadiens Overtime Skid
Deploying the Correct Players
One of the biggest reasons the Canadiens were losing so many games in the extra frame was strictly due to player deployment. It seemed as though the Canadiens were always looking to defend rather than try to score. This was proven by the use of Ben Chiarot constantly in overtime before his injury. He was the third most used player in the extra session behind Jeff Petry and Nick Suzuki. Chiarot essentially brings no value to the Canadiens in overtime. He is not mobile. Nor does he provide the puck-moving ability or vision needed to have success with so much open ice. Chiarot is a solid defender, but when it comes to overtime, you need to look for offence.
Phillip Danault is another player that is heavily used. And sure, Danault is strong on the faceoff. Puck possession is key. However, to start the overtime frame, it is not the end of the world to lose a faceoff in the neutral zone. While putting Danault out there for a key defensive zone faceoff would be a smart move, playing him to start overtime is not, and it has shown. While Danault might win the draw, the offensive ability just isn’t there. Playing him and Byron to start overtime just wasn’t working. Ducharme made the adjustment in last night’s win, starting the game with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jonathan Drouin and Jeff Petry. Kotkaniemi was able to win the draw, and the Canadiens began to cycle the puck and keep puck possession which was key to their success.
The only defenceman who was used in the win over the Canucks was Petry. Ducharme took a page out of Paul Maurice’s book and elected to go with three forwards multiple times in the extra frame. We saw Tatar, Danault and Brendan Gallagher out there for a shift as well as Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Paul Byron. This is just another adjustment for Ducharme. He is proving that he has the ability to adapt to the situation and make the necessary moves to help his team get the win. He’s not going to continue to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. He’s learning, and it shows.
Puck Possession is Key
Puck possession is key when it comes to three on three. With so much open space and so many odd-man rushes, the game changes in transition so quickly. You could go from controlling the puck in the offensive zone to chasing down a player on a breakaway in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful with the puck. However, if you have the puck, you can’t get scored on. This is another thing the Canadiens did well last night. And instead of forcing plays as they did against the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday, March 17th, the Canadiens would take their time and if they didn’t see a play, they’d take it out of the zone or pass it back to Price. This small little change makes such a difference in terms of team success.
As you can see in the video below, Jeff Petry was one on three against the Jets in the offensive zone. His best option was to send the puck back to Tyler Toffoli and reset. However, he elected to try to make an offensive play and was easily stripped of the puck and the Jets went on an odd-man rush where Nikolaj Ehlers finished the Canadiens.
This was avoided against the Canucks, however, on Saturday. When the team got into trouble, they would instantly reset. Whether that meant leaving the offensive zone to take a better look or move the puck all the way back to Price, the Canadiens played the simple game rather than panic. Which was a nice development, considering their overtime struggles.
Utilizing Carey Price
This might have been the biggest key to the Canadiens win. As already mentioned, if the Habs were in trouble, they would pass the puck the length of the ice to Carey Price. This would give the line a chance to change up, or reset and let Price have a better look at what was going on.
As everyone knows, having Carey Price between the pipes is just like having an extra defenceman. His ability to handle and move the puck is arguably the best by any goaltender in the league. So Price is able to hit his teammates with a stretch pass if he sees it available. This play, while very underrated, is such a massive step in the right direction for the Canadiens. And something we will certainly see them do in future overtime games. First, get possession, then keep it even if it means giving the puck to Price. Take your shot when it presents itself rather than forcing it.
Securing The Win
With all this in mind, the Montreal Canadiens were able to get a couple of quality chances in overtime. One by Phillip Danault and another off a beautiful dangle by Jonathan Drouin. They ended up needing a shootout, however, to finally get a win outside of regulation. This was a huge game in terms of the playoff standings. It’s a big win for the Canadiens to keep hold of their fourth-place position. However, a big loss for the Canucks, who are pushing for a playoff position but with the loss are two points back of the Canadiens. The Habs also have four games in hand. They could pull away from the Canucks pretty quickly. Especially if they can tie a streak together here starting with last night’s win. With this the Canucks find themselves in a tough situation ahead of the trade deadline.
Regardless, the slump is officially over. The Montreal Canadiens were finally able to overcome the largest obstacle of their season thus far, which has been overtime. Now, that they’ve found the key to success, they will ride that momentum and apply the same strategy the next time they head into overtime. Hopefully to come out with the same results as they did on Saturday night.
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