The Montreal Canadiens were reeling to start the night in Winnipeg, giving the Jets the kind of opportunities that could have effectively ended the game before 10 minutes were even played.
But Canadiens coach Claude Julien challenged a Patrik Laine goal for offside and chastised his team while the play was being reviewed. The goal was reversed, but the Jets scored shortly thereafter on the power play.
The thing is, the complexion of the game had already changed dramatically.
Before it had, Carey Price turned miracles in Montreal’s net. He stopped Winnipeg’s franchise leader in points, Blake Wheeler, on consecutive shots in Seconds 16 and 19 of the first period.
Saves that followed on Mason Appleton, on Laine and on Nikolaj Ehlers were otherworldly.
Julien had seen enough, and he went off while Laine’s goal was in the process of being overturned. The Canadiens then shook off Kyle Connor’s power-play goal, and they went on to dominate the Jets—outshooting them 39-14 and outscoring them 5-1 for a 6-2 win.
Big win? They are all in this insane race taking shape in the Atlantic Division.
The Canadiens sit in third place. Earlier in the day, the Toronto Maple Leafs secured their hold on second with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Florida Panthers in regulation while the Buffalo Sabres were losing to the Ottawa Senators to stay within one point of both the Panthers and the Sabres, who rank just behind the Canadiens.
If this was supposed to be the most crucial trip of Montreal’s season—a four-game jaunt through Western Canada—a 3-1 record on it, with wins over Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg, could have serious implications when all is said and done. In the short term, that success has allowed the Canadiens to keep pace in a race that can shift a team from second place in the division to sixth on any given night.
And there’s no chance, absolutely no chance at all, that the Canadiens could have done that without what Price offered in these four games before the Christmas break.
A power play that can win the Canadiens games
Price and Julien were instrumental in the way this game got turned around early, but a power-play goal for Canadiens leading scorer Tomas Tatar in the 16th minute of the first period put a strong wind into Montreal’s sails.
It was the team’s first power play of the game and, after nearly a minute and a half of excellent puck movement and sustained pressure in the offensive zone, they capitalized on it with a perfect play between Tatar, Nick Suzuki and Jeff Petry.
One chance, one goal. Think about that.
This team, with much of the same personnel as it had a season ago, missed on its only other opportunity of the game, but has now scored on seven of its last 17 power plays over the last 10 contests. This team, which ran one of the worst power plays (13.2 per cent) since power-play statistics started being recorded by the NHL, is winning games thanks to its power play.
The Canadiens are doing this in spite of the fact that they’ve been given the 30th-most power-play opportunities in the NHL. They’re doing it without one of their most potent offensive weapons in Jonathan Drouin, who’s been out with a wrist injury since Nov. 15.
Impressive, no doubt.
Truly impressive? On the road, the Canadiens have managed to operate at 28.2 per cent, which is better than 29 other teams in the league.
This was all so unforeseeable when the season began close to three months ago, but here we are.
• We’re here because the chemistry the Canadiens have developed on the power play is undeniable. And that chemistry was typified by the play between Tatar, Suzuki and Petry.
Watch it first, then allow me to explain:
No one on the Winnipeg side knew Suzuki was making that pass.
But, you know who did know? Tatar.
As soon as Petry gets the puck back to Suzuki, Tatar steps into the seam. He does it because he knows if there’s one player who might fake a shot and pull off a perfect bullet pass through a stream of sticks and legs, it’s Suzuki.
That is chemistry.
• Phillip Danault, with two goals in the game, pulled to within three goals of his career high of 13. There are 45 games left to play.
At five-on-five, the Canadiens controlled 75.61 per cent of the shot attempts in the game with Danault on the ice.
Why? To start with, Danault won 13 of the 18 faceoffs he took in the game.
Then he, Tatar and Brendan Gallagher just dominated—whether they had to face Mark Scheifele’s line with Connor and Laine or Wheeler’s with Ehlers and Jack Roslovic.
Danault also led the Canadiens with seven shots on net.
The Victoriaville, Que., native is on pace for 65 points, and he’s picking up support (outside of Montreal) in the mid-season conversation about the Selke Trophy.
• Here’s what Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said about Max Domi in Vancouver, just hours before the team started this road trip: “What he did last year, we saw what he was capable of offering, so I don’t know why he wouldn’t be able to do it again. Sometimes a player thinks too much. It’s hard to get into a player’s head, but I’m not here to go after Max. I think he’s still a useful player to the organization and I’m sure he’ll come out of it.”
When Bergevin said this, Domi was stuck on six goals, 14 assists and 20 points through 33 games.
Since then? Domi notched two assists in the win over the Canucks, scored the overtime winner in Calgary, scored a beautiful goal in the 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, and scored a goal and added an assist in Winnipeg.
Suddenly, the plucky 25-year-old is on pace for 20 goals and 58 points.
That’s good news for Domi, given that he had 28 goals and 72 points in a breakout campaign last season and that he’s playing for a new contract right now. But it’s better news for the Canadiens, who need the Domi they saw in Winnipeg from here to the end of the season—and hopefully beyond.
• Victor Mete, back from an ankle injury that kept him out of 10 Canadiens games, played 13:04 and finished plus-1 against the Jets.
• Former Jet Joel Armia left the game with an upper-body injury. His last shift came in the eighth minute of the second period, and there was no update on his status afterwards.
Armia is one goal from his career high (he scored 13 last season) and he’s been one of Montreal’s most consistent and best players. The team and its fans will be hoping his injury isn’t too severe.
The Canadiens will resume play in Florida on Dec. 28. From there, they’ll play the Lighting on the 29th and the Hurricanes on the 31st to finish off this season-long road trip.