If I were picking the three stars, Andrei Kostitsyn would have been one of them.
But no problem with Josh Gorges and Carey Price, whom the fans selected.
But the Number One star for me?
The coach ran a tough practice on Thursday. And his team was ready to play a road game against a divisional opponent.
The Sabres, without Jason Pominville, were brutal for 40 minutes. Ottawa will be tougher at the Bell Centre, and the Nervous Nellies among us can begin worrying about the rock ‘em/sock ‘em line of Mike Fisher, Chris Neil and young Habs-killer Nick Foligno.
We’ll see what Martin can cook up to counter the Senators.
Against Buffalo, everything the coach did came up aces.
And for one night at least, the coach stifled his know-nothing critics who can’t understand why Martin – a year into his four-year contract and coming off a deep playoff run in which he outcoached Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma – wasn’t summarily fired to make room for Guy Boucher.
Let’s run through Martin’s astute moves:
• He put Travis Moen on the Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta line. Moen had a quiet stat sheet: one SoG. But forechecking and puck-chasing presence opened up the ice for his linemates. Good bet the line will be intact against Ottawa.
• Benoit Pouliot handled his demotion by playing 11 hard-working minutes, dishing out three hits and going to the net consistently. Martin had Benny out in the dying minutes of a one-goal game – gotta help his always-fragile confidence.
• To protect the lead, Martin benched Lars Eller, Dustin Boyd and Tom Pyatt (both of whom were soft on Derek Roy’s goal) for the latter part of the third period. Shortening the bench worked brilliantly. The Canadiens werte able to do what they couldn’t against TB: protect the lead and close out the game with authority.
• Martin formed a D pairing of Alexandre Picard and P.K. Subban. Picard opened the scoring and played 15 qualities minutes. P.K.’s 20:26 included deployment with two minutes left. We remember what happened against Tampa Bay in that situation. Again, Martin – who has the rep of being less-than-supportive of young players – really showed confidence in the kid.
• The final-seconds lines: Gomez-Pouliot-Lapierre and Moen-Gionta-Plekanec. Sabres couldn’t get out of their end against these energized trios.
• Martin is using a Scotty Bowman innovation: two centres on D-zone faceoffs. And one of them is usually Jeff Halpern, who is 28-16 on draws this season … including that game-ending scrambled mess in Buffalo.
• The coach preaches team D. After yielding an average of 37 shots against through the first three games, the Canadiens held Buffalo to 23 in their own barn
• Martin also preaches puck support. There were lapses during a late-game Buffalo surge, but through most of the game the Canadiens forwards came back deep to help on zone clearances, which were achieved through short, high-percentage passes to guys in red jerseys waiting for the biscuit and ready to move it.
• Discipline is a coach’s mantra. The Canadiens took only one minor penalty, and that let Martin roll four lines and six D for 60 minutes.
I don’t know if we can credit Martin for the resurgence of AK46. Playing healthy has something to do with it. And he’s in a contract year. But man, the Belarusian Bafflement is playing like his sparse hair is on fire.
P.K. always plays that way. He had three SoG, made a couple mistakes and used his speed to atone for them. This guy is special … and wait until we see him with Markov on the power play.
The PP finally scored – and Josh Gorges getting it was proof there is a God. My man Josh played another superb game, and as I asked in the game blog: Would you trade Gorges even-up for Craig Rivet?
Yeah … if Tyler Myers were a throw-in.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. But an undersized Dman who wasn’t even drafted out of Kelowna has become a pillar (as opposed to Rivet, who’s a pylon) on the Canadiens’ blueline.
In their fourth game last season, the 2-1 Canadiens went into Vancouver.
With his family watching, Carey Price – a stand-on-his head hero in Toronto and Buffalo – faced 32 shots, let in seven of them and watched the last eight minutes from the bench.
Price went on to the worst season his career.
It’s early, but 2010-’11 looks different.
A lot different.
I think we’ll see him again against Ottawa, which will be a tougher challenge, even on home ice, than the Sabres.
The Canadiens are 2-1-1 after four one-goal games.
It’s going to be that kind of year.
• • •
One of my favourite Michael Farber bon mots is the SI writer’s observation that two organizations in this world know how to do ceremonies: the House of Windsor and the Montreal Canadiens.
The Sabres forgot so consult either.
• • •
Man, the reffing has been brutal.
That phantom Too Many Men whistle killed the Sabres.
• • •
Josh Gorges said the ice was bad.
Didn’t hurt him.
• • •
Louis Leblanc scored twice, including the OT winner, as the Juniors edged Chicoutimi 3-2.