So far, so good.
Like Red Fisher, I was – and remain – skeptical about the trade that sent Cristobal Huet to Washington.
Fisher and I have as much playoff goaltending experience as Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. The road to the postseason includes 18 tough games, and down the stretch there will be enormous pressure on two young guys.
Price was very good last night. Not great, because Atlanta didn’t force him to be great, but Price was cool, steady, confident – all the attributes that will make him a star in this league.
The team played well in front of him. Atlanta was held to fewer than 30 shots. There weren’t many odd-man rushes, and the PK killed four of five penalties.
Canadiens played a dominant third period: four unanswered goals, a 15-6 advantage in shots.
The team wanted this one as an affirmation of their ability to win without a new "impact player". And they did it.
In his late afternoon press conference, a weary-looking Bob Gainey
said he was happy with his team, despite his inability to get help.
Canadiens played like they were happy the roster will remain intact.
• They ended the night pointless, but the Tomas Plekanec line had 12 shots on goal, six by Alex Kovalev. They buzzed around the Atlanta end on several shifts, and the crowd loved it.
• On an emotional day when a popular teammate gets traded, a captain is supposed to take charge and elevate his game. Saku Koivu was great last night. He’s been good-to-great for several games now, and the timing of the Captain’s revival couldn’t be better.
• Happy to remain a Hab, Christopher Higgins played his best game of the year. He’s got 21 goals, and if last night was a harbinger, Higgins has a shot at 30.
• The defence played big to protect Price. Mike Komisarek had seven hits. Ryan O’Byrne had four of the team’s 22 blocked shots. Josh Gorges continues to impress: he was plus-3 on the game.
• Maxim Lapierre had a goal and skated miles. He and Steve Bégin bring huge energy to the third line.
• Mikhail Grabovski played 12 exciting minutes. He was brutal on faceoffs (5-9), but Grabovski looked more at ease than he did at the beginning of the season. His speed terrifies defencemen. Guy Carbonneau gave him a couple shifts with the Brothers K,; I tried to think of a cool name for the line, but nothing alliterates with "Belarussian".
So an emotional day ended on a very high note.
Had Price faltered and the team played poorly, the boo birds would have chirped all night. As it was, the early chants of "HU-ET! HU-ET!" turned to "CA-REY! CA-REY!" by game’s end.
Canadiens play five of their next six games on the road. It will give them a chance to get their After Huet act together away from the critical scrutiny of Montreal fans.
Pittsburgh may have become a stronger team yesterday, but no one else in the Eastern Conference made significant upgrades.
Ottawa continues to falter. Canadiens are in Buffalo to face the deCampbelled Sabres on Friday night and then back here for what should be a great game against New Jersey on Saturday.
Who would have predicted a March 1 matchup between Carey Price and Martin Brodeur?