The best way to savor that win is to consider the impact of a loss:
The Canadiens would have been bumped off their lofty perch into the second tier of the Eastern Conference playoff pool.
They’d have been riding a four-game losing streak into a tough travel swing: Colorado on Sunday, then Dallas and Carolina (on Dec. 23, the day when Ws are rare for this franchise).
But they beat the Bruins. The Canadiens are perfect against the Bs this season and have hung Ls on Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas.
Big and bad?
Not the Boston team we saw last night. The Canadiens outhit them 25-22, and 13 guys in red jerseys got licks in.
None was bigger than P.K. rendering Brad Marchand woozy. The most encouraging physical presence, however, was Max Pacioretty.
This is our Christmas gift: the 2007 first-round draft choice looks very much like he’s finally ready.
And the Canadiens head west with what seems to be a solid Top Six.
Mike Cammalleri is so happy to be back with Tomas Plekanec he’s scoring and fighting. (The penalty shot and scrap with David Krejci were both career firsts.)
Andrei Kostitsyn is similarly energized. AK46 did not make the scoresheet last night, but he three shots, a couple hits and looked interested.
Pleks was, as usual, Pleks: five SoG, almost five minutes on the PK, shift after shift in which his breakout speed terrified opposing defencemen and inhibited their offensive sorties.
Speed is the most noticeable difference between the Northeast rivals. The Canadiens have burners on all four lines, and the Bruins lookplodding by comparison. And if the Bs can’t exert their physical game, it’s tough for them to beat this team … although they came close enough to create a nervous third period.
Back to Max-Pac:
Brian Gionta laughed when I asked him if Pacioretty’s game was improved by getting American linemates. But I think there’s something to it. Apart from brining a big body that complement the skill sets of Gionta and Scott Gomez, Pacioretty is a Connecticut Yankee Doodle Dandy whom an Alaskan and upstate New Yorker are going to take under their wings.
Gionta and Gomez are great team guys who came up in a Devils organization that’s good at nurturing talent. I think they’re going to take care of their homeboy, and Pacioretty – whom the Canadiens preferred to David Perron (with the San Jose first-round pick they’d obtained, along with Josh Gorges, for Craig Rivet – is finally going to blossom.
I like this team’s nucleus of young talent. P.K. is the most exciting rookie in living memory, Lars Eller has immense potential and Carey Price is, if not the NHL’s best goaltender then certainly part of the discussion.
Benny, AK46, Pleks, Cammalleri, Gorges and Lapierre … the under-30 cupboard is no longer bare.
The loss of Andrei Markov has hurt. As I said on the late-night Puckcast, the team might consider a move to bolster the D.
Roman Hamrlik and, espeially, Jaro Spacek were excellent against the Bruins. But their ToI, about 24 minutes, makes me nervous looking ahead to the stretch run.
P.K. played 14 minutes last night, but his flamboyance made it seem like more. Subban played 25 in the game before he was banished, and maybe he can work his way back up to that level with more solid work in his own end.
Alexandre Picard shares the team lead, with Jeff Halpern, at plus-10 on the season. I’ve liked Picard’s smart, conservative style; but being a nervous sort, I’m not convinced a guy playing for his fifth NHL team is going to hold up at crunch time.
My esteemed colleague, Patrick V. Hickey, can’t see Pierre Gauthier making a move before the February trade deadline.
He’s probably right (Hick is, almost all the time). And there’s no urgency, not with a first-place team.
That rosy perspective could change during the road trip.
Ryan O’Byrne and Mike Ribeiro await.
But for now, Montreal stores will be abuzz with frantic Christmas shopping, as opposed to gloomy musings on what ails the hockey club.