The Montreal Canadiens are a very different team this season. Different group of players, different coach, different style of play and, it seems, they are a very different team at home than on the road.
In winning four straight on their first homestand, the new-look Habs were fast, skilled and even physical, while out on the road they haven’t looked as quick and in a couple of games - at Pittsburgh and Vancouver - they’ve been a turnover machine.
In their first half dozen games at home, the Canadiens outscored opponents 17-14 while they were outscored 24-13 in their first six on the road.
But for Saturday’s game, they’ll enjoy the comfort of their own barn although it’s hard to know if that’s an advantage given both teams are playing their third game in four days and on back-to-back nights.
Both teams might be tired and loose, so it’s easy to predict a wide-open goal fest because that’s what we usually get. The teams combined to score almost eight goals a game last season and opened this year with seven (4-3 Montreal in OT).
The Leafs have been playing much better over the past week and the lament is that they could have won a couple of games they didn’t, which brings to mind an exchange from that 70s classic, The Bad News Bears.
As he fought through the beer cans trying to turn his motley crew into a team, coach Morris Buttermaker said “C’mon fellas Rome wasn’t built in a day.” To which one of the players replied, “Yeah, but it took several hundred years."
On the hot stove:
Mike Komisarek was drafted by the Canadiens, played 361 games for them, got rich because of them and now plays against them in the Bell Centre for the first time. His debut with the Leafs has been anything but smooth but his game is starting to settle down. (At least as much as it ever does.) There will always be a degree of helter-skelter to Komisarek’s game so he requires a steady partner. In Montreal, that was Andrei Markov and now it’s Tomas Kaberle and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Komisarek has been better since Kaberle finally got his season started.
ISO camera on:
The Canadiens let 10 free agents walk after last season, made a trade for Scott Gomez and signed seven free agents, but the biggest change of all might be behind the bench. Jacques Martin isn’t beloved by the media and has a reputation as a boring coach, but he has an even keel and professionalism that might be perfect for Montreal.
Martin’s teams have excelled in areas directly influenced by coaching. They usually have discipline, good special teams and low goals-against averages. The process will take some time, but I suspect Martin will make the Habs a more responsible and less risky team.
Tomas Plekanec was MIA last season but his return to form gives Montreal a solid second centre to build a line around.
It looked like the Habs had found a suitable top defensive pair in the absence of Markov, until Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek were on the ice for four of the six Penguin goals on Wednesday.
With Phil Kessel set to join the Leafs in days they are short on roster and cap space. So who’s getting hurt or who’s leaving town? Nikolai Kulemin’s recent play muddies the waters even more.
From the stat pack:
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has a 13-7 record with a 2.72 GAA and .919 save percentage on Saturday nights. Best get a win in this one because he’s never won a game in the month of November.
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