You don’t have to be a professional hockey scout to realize a basic truth about the Montreal Canadiens:
They win on the strength (and lose on the weakness) of goaltending and special teams.
Against San Jose, Carey Price was flustered by constant jostling and gave up six goals on 39 shots, including a couple softies. The Sharks’ power play scored twice in five opportunities, while the Canadiens’ PP – statistically the league’s best – went 0-for-7.
Against Phoenix, Price was back to his cucumber-cool self. He made 37 saves and stopped his cousin, Shane Doan, on a breakaway. The PK killed five of six Coyotes advantages, and Canadiens power play scored twice in five chances.
Result: Win … despite being outplayed for the first 40 minutes of the game.
There hasn’t been a game this season – not even against Detroit or Dallas – in which Canadiens were dominated as thoroughly as they were by the Coyotes through the first two periods.
Phoenix had the first eight shots of the game. Canadiens didn’t get one until the first period was more than five minutes old.
Phoenix outshot Canadiens 14-5 in the first period, 16-8 in the second. And the shots told only part of the story.
The surprisingly fast (they’d played the night before) and unsurprisingly physical home team was consistently first on the puck. Coyotes won all the one-on-one battles – when Canadiens managed to battle at all. Pressured into fast and almost invariably bad decisions, Canadiens couldn’t complete passes or get out of their end. Coyotes were in possession of the puck for long stretches.
But the Coyotes aren’t the Red Wings or Stars. For all their domination, the home team couldn’t beat Price. And after Tomas Plekanec opened the scoring, Canadiens began to find their game to some degree.
But Doan tied it on a PP. And after Zbynek Michalek whipped one over Price’s shoulder to make it 2-1, I thought that was the balllgame.
Give our guys credit for character. Led by Alex Kovalev, who never quits, Canadiens got the power play in gear as Phoenix – with fatigue becoming a third-period factor – took some dumb penalties.
The PP. The PK. The goaltender.
• If the Hart Trophy defines MVP as a player without whom a team would be up the creek, Kovalev is in a battle with that other Russian guy in Washington.
• An idea whose time has come: Kovy and Koivu together on the first wave of the power play.
• Playing in front of their Dads: Mike Komisarek, 8 hits, 7 blocked shots, plus-2; Christopher Higgins, 2 assists (including that honey on Sergei’s goal), seven hits; Ryan O’Byrne, 4 hits, still not a minus game since his injury; Maxim Lapierre, eight minutes in penalties but more smart puck possession with a late-game lead.
• Mugged by Derek Morris, who was penalized for it, Andrei Markov scored on the subsequent PP and was as happy as we’ve seen in his career.
• Roman Hamrlik, five hits and steadfast refusal to be intimidated by the Coyotes. Hammer played in the Western Conference. He knows what to expect out there.
• In the final seconds, I was kind of sorry Canadiens don’t have aa goon.
• Carey Price is hot again. Start him in L.A., then Jaroslav Halak in Anaheim.
It’s a long season. Teams lose some games they should win and win some they should lose.
Penguins, Bruins and Senators lost last night.
Your first-place Montreal Canadiens won.
On to Tinseltown.