Welcome to the second edition of our’ 3 Up, 3 Down’ column for the 2022-23 Montreal Canadiens. This series will be published weekly, reflecting on the highs and lows from the previous seven days.
The Canadiens have found a way to be consistently inconsistent, winning one big game and then losing another. Still, they have played like they don’t belong in the bottom five of the league, and they have at least two players who could score more points than any Hab player has in a long time.
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With that in mind, here are three positive and three adverse developments from the week for Montreal and its fans.
Plus 1: Canadiens Power Play Is Finally Clicking
The Canadiens started the season with one power play (PP) goal in their first eight games, which came in overtime (OT). The goal was scored in the fourth game of the season and broke an 0-12 slump on the man advantage. After they scored, there were hopes the PP would start clicking for the team. After all, the offence had scored only eight goals in its first four games, with half of those coming in game one against the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the PP didn’t start scoring, and the team fell into another slump, going 0-11 in the next four games, splitting those.
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How can this be a plus, you ask? Well, in the last two games, the Canadiens finally found their groove on the man advantage. In their big win against the St. Louis Blues, they managed to go 2-3 on the PP. Scoring more goals on the PP in that one game than they have all season, from Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield, and Montreal looked good on the man advantage all night. The next game was a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, but the Habs went 1-2 on the PP, with Nick Suzuki scoring. After going 1-24 in the first eight games of the season, the team has now gone 3-5, and it looks like they may have an answer for their struggling PP unit; they are currently 26th in the league with a 13.8 percent success rate.
Minus 1: Penalty Kill Has Suffered
With the Canadiens’ PP issues seemingly being resolved, their penalty kill (PK), which was stellar in the first six games of the season, killing 14-15 chances, has taken a hit as of late. In the last four games, the PK has killed only 11-16 chances and has seen the team’s overall PK fall from second to 13th at 80.6 percent. This isn’t terrible, but it shows that the Habs may not be able to sustain a good PK for the remainder of the season — if the PP doesn’t stay improved and the PK falters even further, it could spell disaster for the team.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think the Canadiens will lead the league in any category, but you can’t deny the team is not as bad as many fans believe they are. The excellent results on the PK to start the season indicate that the team has some fundamental system and development, allowing for early success, even if it’s moderate. If the team can remain in the top 20 on the PK, that is a huge win for such a young defensive core and gives a very positive outlook to next season, where the hope is they make the step forward toward the playoffs. If, however, the PK keeps dropping, there are some more things the coaches and management need to look at before moving forward, significantly if the PP doesn’t improve.
Plus 2: Edmundson Close to Returning
The Canadiens started the season with several critical injuries, like Carey Price and Paul Byron, who are both on long-term injury reserve (LTIR) and not expected back any time soon, with Price possibly never returning. Other injured players were Joel Armia, who has returned and started playing this week, and Mike Matheson, who is out for eight weeks with an upper-body injury (UBI). One of the most prominent players not played yet is defenceman Joel Edmundson, who is practicing but not cleared by doctors to play yet. With Matheson and Edmundson out, the Habs have to rely heavily on four young defencemen: Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj and Jonathan Kovacevic.
With Edmundson soon returning, the Canadiens can now have three veterans dressed nightly instead of two and maybe put more stability on the back end. Edmundson is also a great leader in the dressing room and works well with the younger defenders; his presence on the ice could help improve the young guys who are already playing well above expected. With the young defence playing well, the addition of Edmundson will only make the blue line that much stronger, increasing the team’s chances of winning more games.
Minus 2: Edmundson Returning
Yes, Edmundson returning is a plus and minus; you are reading this right. His return will create a log jam on the left side of the defence, where Harris, Xhekaj and Guhle all play. When Edmundson returns, the Canadiens will have to make room for him. The logical move would be to send one of the young defenders to the Laval Rocket, but who? All three are playing well above expected and have solidified their team position. Guhle has played on the top pair and has excelled at his position; Harris leads all rookies in plus/minus with a plus-5, and Xhekaj brings that toughness and meanness that this team hasn’t seen in decades, not to mention he has a goal and three points and is second on the team in defensive scoring.
The Canadiens are also carrying 15 forwards now that Armia is back from his injury, which is more than usual for teams, who typically have 13 forwards. There is some speculation that one of the forwards will get placed on waivers, leaving room to keep the young players on the team, which seems like something management would prefer, especially considering their play.
On an expiring contract, Evgeni Dadonov has yet to score a point in eight games with the team. He could be put on waivers and sent to the Rocket with teams passing on him because of his $5 million cap hit. This would make room to keep the young guns when Edmundson returns; then they need to hope they can make a trade before Matheson is healthy, or they are back to square one on the blue line.
Plus 3: Reverse Retro Jerseys
The league again decided to introduce a third jersey for all 32 teams. The new reverse retro jersey will be making a comeback, and the Canadiens have gone to the city’s baseball roots to create theirs. In 2020-21, the retro-reverse jersey was introduced, and the Habs went with a dark blue jersey and a red stripe, pretty much an actual reverse of their colours. This season, they decided to use the now-defunct Montreal Expos colours.
The jersey’s primary colour is powder blue, with the center strip dark blue; the only red in the jersey is the logo. This season’s jersey is a nice throwback to a time when sports thrived in Montreal. The Expos have not been in Major league Baseball (MLB) since 2005, when they were relocated to Washington and became the Nationals. The Canadiens will wear these jerseys eight times, and let’s hope they have better luck in these than the old ones, where they only won one game while wearing the reverse retro jerseys.
Tuesday, November 15, vs. New Jersey Devils
Saturday, December 10, vs. Los Angeles Kings
Thursday, December 15, vs. Anaheim Ducks
Monday, January 9, vs. Seattle Kraken
Thursday, January 19, vs. Florida Panthers
Thursday, January 26, vs. Detroit Red Wings
Tuesday, January 31, vs. Ottawa Senators
Saturday, February 11, vs. NY Islanders
Minus 3: Scoring Is Down
Although Suzuki and Caufield are scoring at a point-per-game pace (PPG) or higher, the Canadiens are only averaging 2.8 goals per game, which puts them at 25th in the league. Adding on to that, the pairing of Suzuki and Caufield has scored 12 of those goals, almost half — 43 percent to be exact — while the rest of the team seems to be still trying to find their scoring touch. Montreal has been held to two goals or less in half of their games but has had two games where they scored six and seven goals, respectively.
This should be expected with the PP being so dreadful to start the season, but unless scoring picks up, the .500 season that they are enjoying right now will soon be a thing of the past, and the team could spiral to the bottom of the standings. That is great for fans wanting the team to tank for Connor Bedard, who would improve the scoring almost immediately if he turns out to be everything he is supposed to be in the NHL. Scoring is getting better, and so is the PP, so it can improve. Look on the bright side: the Leafs have scored one less goal than the Habs over their first ten games.
That’s it for the second edition of Canadiens’ 3 Up, 3 Down of the season. How are you feeling for November, with the team sitting at the .500 mark? Dip into the replies to join the conversation.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com. Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on CTV news and ESPN Radio; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.