A nice win, and it gives the Canadiens some Mo heading into an interesting week.
All four opponents – Calgary, Buffalo, Ottawa and Anaheim – have fewer points than the Canadiens. But that doesn’t guarantee anything.
The games are two sets of back-to-backs – and the Canadiens haven’t swept a pair since Oct. 15-16 (at Buffalo, home to Ottawa).
Speaking about the Rangers’ comeback last night, Jacques Martin said “you got to respect the opposition”.
Indeed you do.
There are no gimmes on the Canadiens’ schedule … but nor are they anyone else’s easy W.
Parity means Boston has not pulled away with first-place in the Northeast Division. And the Canadiens are within two points of fifth place (and three points of ninth).
If someone told you, before the season the began, that mid-January would find the Canadiens – minus two of their best defencemen – with one more win than the Washington Capitals, you’d be happy, right?
So be of good cheer and enjoy some football today.
The Canadiens beat a quality opponent last night.
They beat a red-hot – in every sense of the word – goaltender.
And Carey Price stopped almost everything that was thrown at him during that furious third-period rally by the visitors.
The power-play looked great and produced two goals. There was one sequence, in the second period, when the Canadiens maintained control in the Rangers’ end for 1:50. It had the Bell Centre crowd in a frenzy.
The first-wave point men – James Wisniewski and P.K. Subban – are deft puckhandlers who make smart passes (P.K.’s diagonal feed to Tomas Plekanec for the second goal was a honey) and fire the puck with accuracy.
The PP, which languished at the bottom of the league when the season began, is 11th, with an efficiency of 19.4 per cent.
The penalty-kill – perfect last night, including that frantic final 1:05, when ace PK guy Hal Gill was in the box – is at 86.3 per cent, second only to Pittsburgh.
They say a combined percentage of 100 is the benchmark of good special teams. At 105.7, the Canadiens are better than Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia; and second only to Vancouver’s 109.4.
Martin’s mantra is goaltending and special teams win hockey games.
The Canadiens seem to have both covered, with Price having leapfrogged Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller to become the league’s top statistical goaltender. He’s leading the league in Minutes, and it will be interesting to see if Alex Auld gets a couple starts in the back-to-back sets this week.
The team still has trouble scoring. They are seventh in the league in shots-per-game at 32.5, but 27th in goals-per-game at 2.47.
Cammalleri and Brian Gionta each had six SoG last night. P.K. and Mathieu Darche had five. Those 22 shots produced a grand total of zero goals.
But Andrei Kostitsyn finally popped one. His heart-to-heart discussion with Jacques Martin on Friday seemed to energize the big guy, who flew on a line with two pluggers, Jeff Halpern and Travis Moen.
Has AK46 turned the corner in his contract year?
The jury is still out on that one … and they’ve ordered dinner and hotel reservations.
There’s less doubt about the play of the Kiddie Corps.
Paired with Hal Gill, P.K. has emerged as a Top Four Dman who merits serious minutes on both special teams. Max Pacioretty, who managed to make a Swede behave like a Celt, and Lars Eller both played strong games, as did David Desharnais (who got in some PK time).
Everyone except Desharnais played double-digit minutes, and DD had 9:13.
I liked the four lines. Tom Pyatt was not missed on the PK and could be keeping Alexandre Picard company in the pressbox for a while.
I also like the top two D pairings. Roman Hamrlik was quietly excellent last night, and his stay-at-home skills complement the Wiz. P.K., as mentioned, is attending the Gill graduate seminar in Advanced D Technique.
The third pairing, Yannick Weber and Jaro Spacek, had all kinds of grief with the Rangers’ aggressive forecheck. Martin was obliged to play his Top Four D for the last five minutes of the game – and let’s hope that doesn’t happen in the back-to-backs.
After 45 games last year, the Canadiens were 21-21-03.