To understand how good the Canadiens were in beating Carolina – and how important it was for them to be that good in the front end of a back-to-back – check the ice times for the roster’s two best defencemen.
• Josh Gorges (shown fielding a pop-up in John Kenney‘s Gazette photo) played 9:58 in the first period. Had the game been tight, he may reached Prongeresque ToI. But as it was, Gorges finished at 24:30 and will be good to go less than 24 hours later on Long Island.
• P.K. Subban played 8:47 in the first en route to 24:49.
If you were reading this last season, I’d be lamenting the amount of ice time Jacques Martin was obliged to use his old geezers.
But Hal Gill and Jaro Spacek didn’t dress against Carolina. And Roman Hamrlik is in Washington.
So Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz – two slick-passing, light-hitting Swiss defencemen – each played 18 minutes and change.
Frédéric St. Denis, an emergency Hamilton call-up making his NHL debut at the age of 25 – played 2:57 in the first period but a shade under six minutes in the second period and finished the night at 13:42.
The most pleasant surprise, however, was Alexei Emelin: 18 minutes, including 2:37 on the Canadiens perfect penalty-kill; seven hits and seven blocked shots – leading both teams in those two crucial categories.
Making only his 10th start in the 19 games the Canadiens have played, Emelin is showing flashes of being the player the team has waited for. And just wait until Andrei Markov is in the lineup to help his fellow Russian.
That’s assuming Emelin will be among the Top Six D when Markov returns. Things could get complicated on the blue line when Markov, Gill, Spacek and Chris Campoli are available. But for the game on Long Island, at least, the Canadiens will go with the young, inexperienced defence corps that helped Carey Price record his first shutout of the season.
The Islanders surely will present a sterner test than Carolina. The Hurricanes were outshot 32-12 through the game’s first 40 minutes. By the time they mustered 13 shots in the third (to four for the Habs), the game was no longer in doubt.
I was surprised by Carolina’s feeble start. If I’m Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, I’m looking over the Canadiens depleted roster and telling my guys to mount a ferocious check, forcing turnovers and sowing chaos among the Canadiens’ undersized and green Dmen.
Carolina’s failure to exert any pressure was a reflection of thier ineptitude – not much talent on that roster once you get past Staal, Skinner and Sutter – and the back-pressure commitment of Canadiens’ forwards.
When the puck was in the Canadiens’ end, there were many red jerseys in proximity. Cognizant of all the missing regulars, the Canadiens focused on simple plays – chipping the puck out, making short, high-percentage passes – and using their speed in transition.
I thought Martin got excellent performances, in all three zones, from his three top forward lines.
Through the team’s current 7-2-1 run, we’ve come to expect good things from David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty. There was nice stuff from Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta. The revelation, however, was the play of the third line:
Lars Eller was plus-2. Travis Moen blocked four shots, hustled and scored his sixth goal, matching last season’s total. And Scott Gomez skated miles and had four shots on goal, plus another three that were blocked.
Gomez has now gone 38 regular-season and seven playoff goals without scoring. He has had 100 SoG since the last one that went in, on Feb. 5 against the Rangers.
A European friend, who’s in Canada this week for the Hall of Fame ceremony and a visit to the Bell Centre to see his favourite team, said the problem with Gomez is he confuses everyone he plays with. There is no rhyme or reason to the play of someone who marches to his own drummer (and this rich buddy’ss drummer ain’t Gene Krupa).
Look, Gomez is what he is: a good teammate, respected and well-liked in the room (though young teammates like DD can’t believe he scored 33 goals during a season with the Devils); a hard worker who has given it his all on he fourth and third lines since returning from an injury.
The team is winning.
The goaltender is in his zone.
The penalty-kill is fifth best in the league.
And Northeast Division-leading Buffalo is only three points ahead of the Canadiens – and struggling, as are the Leafs.
Let’s just enjoy the win.