Phoenix Coyotes on a Monday night.
Not the recipe for a classic.
But guess what?
The Canadiens and the once-a-year visitors hooked up for a great, crowd-pleasing hockey game.
The pace and intensity, Jacques Martin said, were “unusual for the month of October.”
Skating, hitting, superb goaltending and spectacular scoring were more typical of late April and May.
When it was over and the Canadiens had moved into first-place in the Northeast Division, one of the officials told Alexandre Picard that was the fastest game he’d worked this season.
The Coyotes can fly (there’s an image for the Discovery Channel), and they came hard all night.
This was a quality W, and credit the Canadiens for matching the gut level of a tough Western Conference team.
Martin accurately described the visitors as a “fast team that had 100 points last season.”
A fast team missing its best player.
Shane Doan was serving the last of his three-game suspension. On the way to the elevator from the pressbox, Doan mentioned how frustrating it was to watch a loss – especially an L in a game that could have gone either way.The three stars were the Canadiens top line.
Correction: the three stars were the Canadiens only forward line.
Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn, in OT, scored the team’s three goals.
The Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta line – completed, at various times, by Tom Pyatt, Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche – was blanked … again.
I think G&G need a scorer who will go to the net, like AK46 is doing for Pleks and Cammalleri. Benny should fit the bill, and there have been flashes. But the line is not generating the consistent pressure we’re seeing from Pleks and his wingers.
Is this excessive nit-picking?
The Canadiens are 5-2-1.
They’re getting very good goaltending from Carey Price. He was slow popping out of his butterfly on Derek Morris’s high shot to the glove side. But as has been the case all season, Price did not let a soft goal get him off his game.
Someone in the pressbox wondered how the Canadiens survived a game played at that pace with a D that includes Hal Gill, Jaro Spacek and Roman Hamrlik, aka the Slow Three.
Once again, P.K. Subban contributed a yeoman effort, skating the puck out to safety against ferocious forechecking. And credit his D partner, Picard, with another solid effort. The journey,man is not going to thump anyone, but Picard is smart with the puck and good in the O-zone. He started the sequence that led to AK46′s winning goal.
And another rookie, Lars Eller, finally got his first point as a Canadien.
I love this kid. I’m 100 per cent convinced he’s going to be special.
In addition to his obvious gifts in the O-zone, Eller is playing a conscientious defensive game that is going to please his D-minded coach and win more ice time.
Through the first two periods, Eller played 5:20. He ended at 10:02 and was one for key moments late in the game – including the OT 4-on-4 that produced his assist and the winning goal.
“No matter how much time (Eller) gets, he plays hard,” Martin said. “I like his talent.”
Martin also liked the power-play, which produced its second goal of the season. Thje coach feels the PP is creating more chances, but I think there’s still too much action on the perimeter and not enough in the dirty zones.
When he’s on the first wave with Plekanec and Cammalleri, AK46 goes to the net.
The Gomez wave, however, has Gionta parked in the crease – and the captain is just too small to do a credible Johan Franzen impression.
Again, too much nitp[icking.
The Canadiens will have their team photo taken Tuesday morning, and there should be smiles all around.
They have survived the absence of their best player, and every indication points to Andrei Markov’s return against Florida on Saturday.
The goaltender who’s under more pressure than any other player in the NHL has been a solid contributor to the team’s success. And every W boosts his confidence.
Price’s five Ws tie him for the league lead with Keri Lehtonen and Michal Neuvirth. His GAA is 2.23 with save percentage of 91.8.
Price needed a good start, and he’s got one.
Tomas Plekanec continues to prove he’s worth every penny of his contract. I still say it was impossible for the Canadiens to re-sign both Pleks and Jaro Halak. Plekanec’s play is making his general manager look good.
The PK gave up a goal, but it’s still one of the league’s best. The addition of Jeff Halpern helped, and his penalty-killing wizardry is part of the total package Plekanec is delivering every night.
The PP is, as Martin often says, a work in progress. The Canadiens are winning without it, but that’s not a full-season strategy.
A big week has started well.
• • •
After AK46 soared through the air on his winning goal, one of the reporters told him it was reminiscent of Bobby Orr.
Number 4 wasn’t big in Belarus.
• • •
Roman Hamrlik blocked five shots and cleaned up several of his D partner’s messes.
It will be interesting to see what the D pairings are after Markov comes back.
Beyond Gill and Gorges …