Hands way up in the air, everyone who thought in September that the Montreal Canadiens would be tied for the Eastern Conference points lead in February.
And what’s even better is the way they’re winning hockey games.
I loved the third period last night. Leading 4-2, Canadiens ran a clinic on on smart, shutdown hockey:
Chip the puck out, move it efficiently through the neutral zone, pound it deep and paste Philadelphia defenders as the minutes tick down and the Flyers struggle to gain possession, with Carey Price waiting for them 200 feet away.
Maxim Lapierre and his linemates were particularly proficient, and
it was poetic justice that Max wheeled away to score the clinching goal
into an empty net.
If the Canadiens continue to play this way, we’re in for some very happy weeks as the season winds down.
And if Bob Gainey makes a trade, it will be fine-tuning, rather than remedial.
The Canadiens have two solid goaltenders. Their six-man defence corps is as good as any in the East.
So throw a lasso on the Hossa talk. This team is is good. As the young talent gains experience, Canadiens will get better.
Radical roster surgery is not required. And mortgaging the future is not necessary.
Play of the Game was the Francis Bouillon goal. Guy Carbonneau was to mention that the sequence was "typical Philadelphia Flyers, allowing a 3-on-1 break while trying to start a fight." As Jim Vandermeer challenged Josh Gorges, Carey Price saw what was developing and yelled "Wait!" to his embattled defenceman.
I loved Gorges pointing up the ice at Jim Vandermeer, like "hey a-hole, pick up your gloves … we just scored."
So much to like last night:
• Price: not spectacular but good as he had to be and, once again, cool as a cuke through a 17-shot barrage in the second period and six shorthanded situations. 104 saves in his three straight wins.
• The PK, in all its permutations and combinations, killed 11 penalties in the home-and-home series.
• The defencemen were brilliant. Andrei Markov played 28 superlative minutes. Is there a better tape-to-tape passer anywhere? Roman Hamrlik has come back strong from his illness. Mike Komisarek has eight blocked shots and leads the league. Francis Bouillon is playing as well as he did before his knee injury; he and Josh Gorges are rounding into a Top Four level pairing. And Ryan O’Byrne is getting great on-the-job training.
• Canadiens outhit the Flyers 19-17 last night. They refused to be intimidated. Guy Carbonneau has preached team toughness since training camp, and we saw his philosophy in action against an allegedly fearsome Philadelphia team. Steve Bégin set the tone by running Denis Tolpeko. The supposedly soft Canadiens won all four games against Philly this season.
• The Tomas Plekanec line continues to terrify opponents. On Saturday it was Andrei Kostitsyn’s Ovechkinian goal. Last night, it was Pleks’s pass to Alex Kovalev, who is playing hurt and having a career season.
• Another good game for Saku Koivu. That line is working very hard, Sergei K. is a positive addition and the goals are bound to come.
• I felt good for Michael Ryder. The guy has handled a nightmare season with dignity and class.
• One negative: Faceoffs. Canadiens were 24-41. Koivu 7-14, Pleks 9-12, Max 5-9. That they still won easily is a tribute to how well all other aspects of Canadiens’ game worked.
And so the stage is set for an interesting week at the Bell Centre: Rangers Tuesday night, Evgeni Malkin (and maybe Sidney Crosby) and the Penguins on Thursday and Bob Gainey Night on Saturday, with Columbus in town.