Takeaways: Canadiens’ confidence continues to swell under Julien

Paul Byron scored the overtime winner to get the Canadiens a 2-1 win over the Canucks.

The gestation period is over.

When Claude Julien took over from Michel Therrien as Montreal Canadiens coach on Feb. 14, he knew it was just a matter of time before the system he was implementing would become second nature for his players.

After notching their sixth straight win — this one by a score of 2-1 over the Vancouver Canucks — it’s clear that the Canadiens have finally hit their stride under Julien. As a result, the team’s confidence, which was all but broken over the first three weeks of February, is now swelling in early March.

It’s been a slow build to this point, but here’s a look at how the Canadiens got here and what they did in Vancouver to show how far they’ve come.


From the top down…

It was on Saturday when the Canadiens had their most dominant performance under Julien, recording a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers.

But one player was off the mark.

Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin made some curious decisions with the puck, was often caught out of position, and he struggled to keep pace.

As a result, Emelin was made a healthy scratch for the first time this season in Vancouver.

There aren’t too many coaches who will change a winning lineup, especially not to scratch a player who had played on the top defence pairing for the entire season prior to the coach’s arrival. But Julien sent a message to his entire team that performance will dictate opportunity.

It was Brandon Davidson—who was traded from Edmonton to Montreal for David Desharnais last week—playing in Emelin’s place next to Jeff Petry on Tuesday. He fared decently in just under 15 minutes of ice time, recording two shots on net and showing his ability to move the puck efficiently in all three zones.

Secondary scoring has been revived

Canadiens forward Torrey Mitchell snapped a 39-game goal drought to open the scoring in the first period of Tuesday’s game and forward Paul Byron found the back of the net in overtime for his second goal in his last three games.

That made it three straight wins for the Canadiens without having to depend on leading goal-scorer Max Pacioretty (31).

It was also a second consecutive victory for Montreal in the absence of star winger Alexander Radulov, who’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

The breakout is working

If you’re looking for the main reason the Canadiens recorded 37 shots on Ryan Miller Tuesday, look no further than the clean breakouts they executed.

Julien explained last week that the first tactical adjustment he made was to change the way the Canadiens approached loose-puck recoveries in their own zone.

“The biggest thing is we call it a bit of a swarm, which all teams do,” He said. “When the puck’s in the corner we’re trying to outnumber teams. If there’s two in there, we’re three. But we’re tight. We’re not giving them an opportunity to make plays. I think we’re closing the play a little quicker, so instead of being passive to give you some second layers and third layers. That’s what we’ve done. I think we’ve closed the play a little quicker.”

The challenge then became altering the way the Canadiens move the puck once they recover it.

Julien said he was looking for the puck-carrier to take a few strides and for the players who had swarmed the puck to spread out and offer pass options.

The Canadiens were automatic in their execution of this strategy on Tuesday, and it gave them control of the puck for the majority of the game.


Carey Price offers another strong performance

The Canadiens’ goaltender had a save percentage south of .900 over the five games leading up to Therrien’s dismissal. But five days off from Feb. 13-17, which coincided with Julien’s arrival, completely rejuvenated him.

In the eight starts Price has had since the bye week, he’s gone 6-2-0, recording a .951 save percentage and one shutout.

He was spectacular against Vancouver, playing in his home province in front of family and friends. Saves on Markus Granlund, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Brandon Sutter were his best of the night.

Alex Galchenyuk has caught fire

It was Galchenyuk’s innocuous shot in overtime that caught Paul Byron’s skate and trickled by Miller. That made it his ninth point in his last nine games.

Galchenyuk admitted last week that the eight weeks he spent on the sidelines in December and January due to a knee injury had been a physical obstacle for him as he attempted to regain his stride in February games.

But Galchenyuk’s stride has returned and his confidence has come with it, allowing him to register at least one point in each of Montreal’s six consecutive wins.

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