So what, Perry Pearn was the problem?
That’s a tough one to figure … and, as is his wont, the general manager wasn’t much help.
Pierre Gauthier talks to his hockey team less often than he talks to the media.
But for the first time since New Year’s Day, when he went into the room to tell the players Maxim Lapierre had been traded, Gauthier addressed the Canadiens before the game against Philadelphia, delivering the news that Pearn had been relieved of his duties.
Was it motivation for the Canadiens’ solid effort?
Tough to say … but it worked better than Gauthier’s last speech. On Jan. 2, the Canadiens lost 4-3 to Atlanta in OT.
Gauthier’s rationale for the move was unenlightening corporate bafflegab that had reporters scratching their heads and wondering whether they’d just heard about a coach sacking or the launch of a new deodorant.
What changed behind the bench was a more assertive role for Randy Ladouceur. He ran the defencemen, and they responded with probably the best zone play we’ve seen from the Canadiens this season.
Carey Price, who made some game-changing stops in finally securing his 100th win, described the D as “excellent”, and that’s a fair assessment of what has been the Canadiens’ major weakness.
The forwards have been fine.
Erik Cole is rounding into excellent form. He, Max Pacioretty (more about that Bionic Man below), Andrei Kostitsyn, Travis Moen and Michael Blunden give the Canadiens size that outhit the Prongerless Flyers 24-16 (Blunden led with five).
There are three lines that can score. The win over Philadelphia was the third time the Canadiens have put a “5” on the scoreboard in nine games. Last season, the third five-or-more effort was Game 26 on Dec. 2 in New Jersey.
And you have to like dirty goals off second and third chances – a consequence of Cole et al driving to the net.
With all this firepower – and depth at centre – I’ll cover my ears and invite the Commentariat to speculate on Scott Gomez’s role when he returns.
But the key is D, and the indicator is minutes.
P.K. Subban led the team with 23:41 ToI, but Yannick Weber was right up there at 21:39.
Their ice time meant more reasonable loads for Josh Gorges, who played 20:38, and Hal Gill, whose 17:48 included three minutes on a much-improved PK.
I love Gorges and I have since he made the team. But keeping an undersized Dman (who was an undrafted free agent out of junior) under 22 minutes helps get the best out of Gorges when he’s on the ice.
Likewise for Gill, only more so. He and fellow geezer Jaroslav Spacek had the kind of ToI that befits their advanced years, and it paid off in getting quality minutes – Spatcho blocked five shots – when they were on.
Raphael Diaz, who did not look good on Philadelphia’s goal, played only 15:54. The Swiss defenceman’s NHL acclimatisation will be a project for Ladouceur, and Diaz is going to be a good one.
For now, however, he has slipped behind his countryman.
Weber is playing his best hockey since joining the big club. And, as Jacques Martin pointed out, Weber has scored the key goals in both of the team’s wins: a 4-on-3 power-play blast to make it 3-1 in Winnipeg and snuff the Jets’ hopes of making a game of it, and another PP laser that drew the Canadiens even with Philadelphia with three seconds left in the first period.
How often have we seen the Canadiens victimized by dagger-to-the-heart last-seconds goals?
It was nice to see them get one for a change.
And it will be nice to see Max Pacioretty in action home-and-home against Boston – two fraught encounters that were jeopardized by his wrist injury.
Max-Pac said he had to compensate by using his legs and size more, which he feels is the key to his game. He had two goals, an assist and finished at plus-3.
He’s ready for Chara.
And the Canadiens appear to be ready for the Bruins, with whom they are tied at six points and outside looking in, if the playoffs started tomorrow.
But there’s a lot of hockey to be played between now and the postseason.
And your Montreal Canadiens took longer to win a home ice game than any team in 102 years of history.
They’re not out of the woods.
But there’s a glimmer of sunlight in the distance.
Two losses to Boston, however, and Gauthier might have to fire another assistant coach.
For now, let’s enjoy the light …