A quarter into the season, Montreal Canadiens management have reasons to be pleased with where the pro and farm team are positioned.
The Canadiens are leading the Atlantic division, placing second in the conference and fifth overall. The Laval Rocket are leading the North division by six points and are in first place in the conference as well as overall too. Still GM Lennart Westman think things could improve.
After the hectic pre season with a large amount of trades and movement of players within the lines, things have settled down in Montreal. There are still minor tactical changes made from game to game with a player or two being assigned a different mission, but overall lines and tacticts are pretty much set with Jack Eichel, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Evgeni Malkin, Joonas Donskoi and Jordan Eberle on the two first lines.
But while the position in the standings is pleasing, there certainly are things that many think aren’t to the same extent. The scoring, for instance.
After 21 games the number of goals scored is only 60, with Rantanen being the top scorer (tied with Tyler Ennis!) with merely eight goals. Only eight teams have scored fewer goals and that just has to be disappointing to Westman.
”Some people think the way to win hockey games is to score a lot of goals. It isn’t. The way to win hockey games is to score more goals than your opponent. So as long as we do just that I cannot say I’m disappointed with the way we play.
”On the contrary I find it somewhat surprising that teams that allow 3.25 or even 3.95 goals/game think their main problem is that they aren’t scoring enough goals. But it’s a matter of different philosophies I guess.”
But still, as the question was asked, 2.86 scored goals/game can’t be what you were expecting? ”I am not the kind of person that gets disappointed in others," said Westman. "I’m sure that if you asked Jack (Eichel) or Mikko (Rantanen) they would tell you they expect more of themselves. But then again that’s what makes a player, in fact an entire team, good; always striving to perform even better. My job is to give them the best conditions to succeed, not to be disappointed."
While some still may think the offense, or lack thereof, is an issue, there’s no doubt that the defensive side of the play has been excellent. No other team has allowed fewer goals against (2.05/game), only three teams allows fewer shots against (30.29), and no team has a better penalty kill (92.68%!). On top of that, Andrei Vasilevsky has been an absolute wall, stopping 93.5 % of all the shots.
”There’s no doubt Vasi’s play has been a key factor in our success, but the whole blue line and even back up Nilsson should be very pleased with their performance," continued Westman. "While our defenders do not necessarily take a huge amount of hits, they are fast and strong enough to be in the line of fire so many times that the shots don’t even reach Vasi.
"Our top four defenders blocked 109 shots so far. That sure helps.”
So, what is then to be expected for the next quarter of the season when it comes to trades or players being moved up or down?
”There are players in the AHL doing really well, but while (Nick) Shore and (Tage) Thompson have deserved a chance in pro, they are also of great importance for the Laval Rocket success. We’ll see what happens later in the season.”
”When it comes to trading I don’t really see the need for any major changes. We have all the pieces we need to keep performing well and as long I see the will to improve, to go from good to great, to excellent, I see no need to take action.
"Should that change, or we are presented with an opportunity too good to resist I’m not saying that couldn’t change. But we wont give up the main idea that games are won by scoring more goals than the opposition, even if that is only one goal/game.”