In the second game, the line of Max Domi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin dominated regardless of how strong the opposition they faced. Instead of becoming a weak spot that the Philadelphia Flyers exploited with their latest substitute ability, the line ended up causing game problems for the opposition.
This is great news for the Montreal Canadiens. They may have discovered a weapon that could give them the edge in their streak over orangeshirts. Still, the line’s absolute success remains a bit unexpected, at least for me. I always thought that combination would lead to a ton of quick attacking for the Habs – and it does – but I also anticipated a type of home and away game, one the team could easily lose. .
What I hadn’t anticipated was the intensity with which the three offensive players would decide to play, especially away from the puck. The motor in this line allowed them to control the flow of play.
The clip above is taken a few minutes in-game. After a roll, Kotkaniemi and Domi put pressure on the Flyers’ defenders. They force an indirect passage on the boards, then reload above the puck to reform a neutral zone wall. Sensing the opportunity to use his throttle, and being in a safe position to do so, Drouin pinches the puck carrier tight and creates a roll. Domi also turns on the jets and wins a loose puck race, which allows him to create a two-on-one with Kotkaniemi almost turning into a goal.
The new line conformed to the team’s identity. The players put pressure on the opposition and made the transition quickly. If they keep filling their gaps quickly up the ice like that, it doesn’t matter if they’re not very effective defending in the area; they won’t have to play it at all.
In Game 2, I only cut one extended defensive presence for them. There was another that quickly moved south, but Carey Price fixed the mistakes. Overall, the trio have spent a lot of their time on the ice doing checks, counterattacks and counterattacks – exactly what their game plan should be.
But, even given their already solid performance on Friday, there is still room for growth for this Habs third row, and that can only be seen as an advantage for the coaching staff.
Drouin, Domi and Kotkaniemi struggled to set up their urgent attacks. They weren’t supporting each other very well (they mostly passed the Flyers in the offensive zone) and they didn’t handle the puck effectively either, sometimes by overdriving (like Drouin in the video above) or timing. badly their flows (like Domi a little later). With better communication and better reading, the trio could have realistically scored a few more goals.
As this was their first full game together, I think these issues will improve vastly with time and familiarity. If there’s one thing I would emphasize in the video room, it’s the need to appropriate the inner part of the mirror.
Kotkaniemi attacks the middle at every opportunity. It’s not just because he’s a center player (although that might help a bit) it’s just a habit of his. Drouin and Domi, even though they are wingers, can also add this same habit to the benefit of the whole unit. They sometimes choose the wide corridor by default, preferring to set up or support the games from the walls.
On two occasions in the following streak, Domi could have cut down the middle to create more dangerous scoring chances.
He had a first chance just after entering the attacking zone. His teammates were skating towards the net and they gave him space to cut to the center line. Such a maneuver would have forced at least one defender to turn around to follow him, and it would likely have caught the attention of another, freeing one of her teammates around the blue paint for a pass.
Right after, as Drouin and Kotkaniemi engaged in a battle against the back wall, Domi could have moved to the slot machine in one go. Drouin sent a pass into the zone, expecting Domi to be on the receiving side, but his opposing winger couldn’t catch it as he was instead standing in the corner. He redeems himself by skating hard like F1 on the backcheck.
By working on the details, like attacking the middle more often, the trio would make it more difficult for the defense. It would help them stay dangerous in what could turn into a long series.