Getting ahead of yourself is the easiest way to fall behind.
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the best first-period teams in the league this year, but recently that trend has taken a sharp downturn.
In their past three games, the Canadiens have been outscored 7-0 over the initial 20 minutes and, if not for the biggest comeback in franchise history, all those games would have been losses.
Fans may love the never-say-die attitude of a team that storms back from a daunting deficit for a rousing win, but coaches would far rather guide a squad that understands the value of not falling behind to begin with. Playing from a hole is like trying to attack your enemy from the bottom of the mountain; sooner or later, you’ve got to do things that leave you exposed and vulnerable.
It’s worth noting all three games in which the Habs spotted opponents a lead occurred at home. Montreal’s struggles at the Bell Centre are well documented this year and whether it’s a case of nerves, or just simply not being prepared to go from the puck drop, something has got to change.
A good place to start would be in net. One of goaltending’s golden rules is: it’s not necessarily how many stops you make, but when you make them. Hall of Fame Hab Ken Dryden understood that, perhaps better than any stopper in league history. Since Montreal has been stumbling out of the gate, it’s up to the goalies to cover their teammates’ tracks early on until they find some traction and settle into a rhythm.
At this point, any goal that squeezes through in the beginning of the game is going to have an incredibly deflating effect on the Canadiens, as the “here we go again” thoughts spring to life.
Of course, the responsibility for strong starts lies with every player. Keep it simple; chip pucks deep and establish a good forecheck to remind the opposing defense it’s going to be a long, uncomfortable night.
Just do what it takes to ensure the first goal of the game – whether it’s for or against – is always earned.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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