Stu Cowan: New players, run-and-gun system breathe life into Canadiens

They aren’t the Flying Frenchmen from the glory years — and they probably never will be — but this Canadiens team sure has been fun to watch through the first half of the NHL season.

The reason is simple: they can score.

Heading into Thursday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, which marked the midway point of the season, the Canadiens were ranked 11th in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.15 goals per game. It’s a dramatic improvement from last season, when the Canadiens ranked 29th with an average of 2.52 goals per game en route to finishing 28th in the overall NHL standings and missing the playoffs.

Last season, the Canadiens scored five or more goals 11 times. This season, they had already done it 12 times before facing the Canucks. Last season, the Canadiens were shut out a franchise-record 12 times. This season, they have only been blanked twice.

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien knew they had to make changes after last season and they did. Bergevin brought in new players and Julien implemented a fast-paced system with some help from new assistant coaches Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson.

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The results speak for themselves with the Canadiens fighting for a playoff spot.
“I think some of it has to do with our system, the way we’re playing,” Julien said after Thursday’s morning skate in Brossard. “We’re trying to play faster, but there’s also a change in personnel … lots of it when you look back. The guys that are coming up big, (Tomas) Tatar wasn’t here, neither was (Max) Domi and some of those guys … (Jesperi) Kotkaniemi, (Joel) Armia, who’s coming back (from an injury).

“We’ve got a lot of different personnel, too, that are having good years. (Brendan Gallagher’s) continuing on his role from last year, Wholesale nhl jerseys so we’re doing OK that way. I think there’s personnel, there’s the way we’re playing. And like I said, we decided to play that way because we felt we had the soldiers that were good skaters and that we were able to play a little faster. So all that put together has given us some offence. We had to find a way to get some offence. I think we went and got some players that are giving us some and as a coaching staff we were able to put something together that’s given them a chance to score more.”

One of the players who has benefitted the most from Julien’s new system is Jeff Petry, who ranked ninth among NHL defencemen in scoring heading into Thursday’s game with 8-21-29 totals.

“I think the system definitely has something to do with it … the speed and the pace of play that we’re hoping to get every night is generating more offence,” Petry said. “Being harder on the pucks and hounding other teams and forcing them to make mistakes.”

All the defencemen are pinching more this season at the offensive blue line to keep pucks in the zone and also at the red line, making it more difficult for the opposition on breakouts. Petry said one of the keys to being able to do that is having forwards who can skate fast on the backcheck.

“When we’re playing like that it gives us the freedom to be there for pinches, but we’ve got to always check to make sure that third man’s high because not every play’s ideal,” Petry said. “So it’s got to be a read, but knowing that the forwards are going to work hard to get back helps us with our decisions.”

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