Every now and then, the old P.K. comes out to play.
And this is not an unalloyed blessing.
Look, let’s agree the greatest thing the general managers’ meeting can accomplish is the implementation of a coach’s challenge in the NHL.
If there were one, Michel Therrien could have tossed the flag or whatever in Overtime and a video review would have absolved P.K. Subban of making contact with his stick against the noggin of Buffalo’s ever-dangerous Mark Pysyk.
The high-sticking call would have been rescinded, the teams would continue their 4-on-4 battle and who knows how the game might have ended?
As it was, however, Subban was in the box watching his teammates heroically kill 1:59 of his penalty before pesky Steve Ott buried a rebound to secure two points for the Sabres, who probably won’t need them.
The Canadiens needed the point they earned.
It kept them atop the Northeast Division ahead of Boston, which lost 3-1 in Winnipeg. The Bruins still hold a game in hand, but they are two points behind the Canadiens.
Both teams play on Thursday: Boston at Ottawa, the Canadiens on Long Island. Until then – and perhaps beyond – Montreal has a first-place hockey team … albeit one that didn’t look it for long stretches of the game on Tuesday night.
Postgame attention was focused on Subban and the penalty that wasn’t really a penalty. But should the Canadiens’ most valuable skater have been going for a kill shot on an inoffensive Sabre (Pysyk had a shot on goal during the first period and was invisible thereafter) in an OT situation?
Of course not. But that’s what you get with P.K.: occasional, though increasingly rare, examples of the youthful and not entirely prudent exuberance that made the flamboyant defenceman a darling of the Bell Centre through his first two seasons.
P.K. was not the reason Buffalo won the game. The Sabres got two points because Jhonas Enroth made some big saves – particularly on a Brian Gionta shot that would have won it for the Canadiens in regulation – and because the home team played a sloppy game.
Woeful defensive zone coverage by the David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty-Brendan Gallagher line gave the Sabres their early two-goal lead. And the Canadiens’ attack couldn’t get into gear until the furious third-period rally that included 15 shots and goals by Pacioretty and Colby Armstrong.
The Canadiens had 34 shots on Enroth through 60 minutes (they had none in OT). But the significant numbers, for me, were the 23 shots the Sabres blocked (Mike Weber had six) and the 24 times Canadiens’ shots missed the net.
That’s a season high, and the number of misses indicates lack of patience and poor execution among Canadiens shooters.
Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrei Markov each missed the net four times. The general air of ineptitude in the offensive zone was frustrating to watch in a game that drew murmurs of discontent from the usual sellout crowd … although the sound might have been snoring, because long stretches of the game were dull.
Excitement, when it finally came, was generated by the DD line – seeking and nearly achieving redemption for its defensive errors – and by the new Lars Eller-Galchenyuk-Armstrong trio.
Gallagher was brilliant in beating Cody Hodgson and Tyler Myers behind the Buffalo net to set up the Pacioretty goal and nearly won it with his own unlikely shot off the crossbar.
Eller continues to use his size effectively in the offensive zone, and Galchenyuk picked up his first point in six games with a nifty pass to that sniper Armstrong.
The imminent return of Rene Bourque and, let us hope, Brandon Prust will confront Therrien with some interesting personnel choices. Although he did not juggle his lines in-game against Buffalo, the coach must have been tempted to do something to bring the Canadiens’ attack to life. Bourque and Prust would have helped.
The player whose return would be of greatest benefit has not been cleared to start skating. The Canadiens’ power play went 0-for-2 against the Sabres, and Raphael Diaz would really help. As it was, Josh Gorges was used on the second wave, and he’s just not enough of a point presence to be useful.
Jarred Tinordi played 11:13 in his Bell Centre debut. The rookie took a penalty for firing the puck over the glass but looked generally competent, as did his confrères on the Canadiens defence corps.
Markov topped the ToI list with 26:10. Markov is averaging 24:39 a game – almost two minutes more than P.K., who is 11 years younger (and whose knees are healthier). This is a concern as the playoffs approach.
But by then Diaz should be back.
And the snow that buried Montreal on the last day of winter will have given way to crocuses and Cup dreams.