Shall we bask in the warm afterglow of an important and impressive win?
Or should we plunge right into the $8 million question.
What will your suddenly successful Montreal Canadiens do when Scott Gomez is ready to return?
Or does Jacques Martin make the team’s highest-salaried Canadien a healthy (and wealthy) scratch?
And farther down the road, what happens when Andrei Markov is ready?
The decision does not have to be made immediately. Gomez still isn’t skating with his teammates, and a lot can happen before he’s cleared to play.
Like some more losses … possibly starting as soon as Saturday night against Sean Avery, Ryan McDonagh and the current version of team that signed Gomez to that ridiculous contract.
For now, however, the Canadiens have fashioned a winning streak on the basis of four stable forward lines and three highly capable defence pairings.
Oh, also a goaltender who made 33 saves in Ottawa.
Jacques Martin had hinted Peter Budaj, who has a winning lifetime record against the Rangers, might get the start in New York.
But Carey Price has been lights-out since the winning streak began, with a lot of help from his teammates.
The Canadiens blocked 19 shots – 10 more than the Senators. Hal Gill and P.K. Subban blocked three each, and 11 other Canadiens got into the self-sacrificial act.
And which pairing was on the ice with Josh Gorges in the penalty box and six Senators pressing for the equalizer?
Jaro Spacek and Yannick Weber. They have emerged as a dependable pairing, with Spatcho playing the left side he favours and Weber confounding the pundits – myself included – who thought he was too small and soft to play D in the NHL.
Weber is a team-best plus-7. He’s on the power-play, he’s killing penalties and he’s making fewer mistakes than P.K. Subban.
He’s also part of a team defence system that is allowing very few odd-man rushes. That’s because the D is making few dangerous forays into the offensive zone. Raphael Diaz was caught on the Ottawa goal, but that was mainly because Mike Cammalleri’s pass led him astray.
The D can hang back because the Canadiens are getting offensive-zone pressure from all four forward lines. And that’s what threatens to create a Gomez problem.
Right now, the $8-million man sits fifth on the depth chart of Canadiens centres.
Tomas Plekanec is number one and Lars Eller is number two with a bullet. David Desharnais is a close third, and Petteri Nokelainen is contributing double-digit minutes and killing penalties.
What’s particularly impressive is how well the centres, particularly the top three, are meshing with their wingers.
Eller is a revelation (who the hell needs training camp?) who excels in all three zones. Travis Moen does the digging, and Andrei Kostitsyn while feeding sweet passes to Andrei Kostitsyn is off to an excellent season start. AK46 has scored two of the Canadiens’ five game-winning goals, and his total of four doubles Brian Gionta.
On L’Antichambre, Gaston Therrien’s chalk talk showed the line’s forechecking prowess. Moen and Eller harassed the Ottawa D, which finally managed to get the puck up the boards to where AK46 laid a lick on the Senator at the blueline. Lovely stuff.
Ottawa coughed the puck up 14 times to only five giveaways by the Canadiens. That speaks to the kind of energy, aggressiveness and compete level we’ve seen during the winning streak.
The Canadiens’ solid effort is also a tribute to the prep work Martin and the two Randys were able to accomplish during three days of practice preceding the trip to Ottawa. The Canadiens did things correctly, minimized mistakes, benefited from sound execution and positioning and put together the kind of game they needed to win on the road.
Back to depth at centre:
DD benefits from playing with a sniper like Cammalleri and the team’s hottest forward, Erik Cole. In only 13 minutes of ice time, Cole had a goal, three SoG and three hits.
The Plekanec line is getting chances. I thought Max Pacioretty played his best game in a while. But Gionta is snakebit.
With Gomez goal-less since Feb. 5 and Martin Brodeur struggling, maybe we should be feeling sympathy for the Devils.
In the captain’s defence, however, he is still skating, working hard and getting shots. The goals will come.
On to the Apple.