Did your Montreal Canadiens win one for Eddy Palchak?
Or maybe they wanted to impress 130 HIO Summiteers.
Whatever the motivation – beyond gaining two points in an insanely competitive NHL – the team played one of their best games of the season in cooling off the red-hot Rangers.
So at the quarter-pole of the long race, what have we got here?
Who are the real Montreal Canadiens?
The team that was masterful in all aspects of the game – from goaltending through D to forward play and special teams – against the erstwhile high-flying Rangers?
Or the Canadiens who were awful every which way against that other, not-so-high-flying New York team?
Maybe we should postpone this assessment until about 10:30 Monday night, after the Canadiens have played host to the Stanley Cup champions at the Bell Centre.
Jacques Martin has indicated already neither Hal Gill nor Jaroslav Spacek will be available for the game.
That means the Canadiens will face the big, bad Bruins with a defence the inexperience of which was highlighted in a graphic on Hab-hating Hockey Night in Canada. So green are the Bottom Four – Yannick Weber, Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz and Frédéric St. Denis – that someone on Twitter saw the HNIC report and compared the Canadiens’ blueline corps to an expansion team.
The callow gossoons of this 102-year-old expansion team held the New York Rangers, winners of seven straight, to 17 shots on goal – 10 through the first 40 minutes.
And here’s the stat my friend and colleague Patrick V. Hickey was citing to anyone who would listen after the game: Canadiens skaters blocked as many shots as Carey Price saved (including four by Emelin, who was woeful on Long Island).
This is not to minimize the performance of Price, who hasn’t given up a goal in 132:30. And if Price doesn’t rob Marian Gaborik in the first period, who knows how the game might have unfolded.
In addition to his rock-solid even-strength play, Price is the key element of a penalty-killing unit that has not surrendered a goal since the first period of the Canadiens’ visit to Madison Square Garden, two weeks ago.
Josh Gorges said Price was “like a third defenceman” on the PK. His stickhandling ability is producing rink-long clears, killing “another 30 seconds every time”, according to Gorges.
The power-play scored twice against the Rangers, including a point blast by much-maligned Tomas Plekanec.
The Rangers have the ninth-ranked PK in the league – the Canadiens are third – but the PP was able to maintain puck possession and set up great scoring opportunities during its six man advantages.
Erik Cole scored the game-winner less than four minutes in on the Canadiens’ first power-play. It was Cole’s third PP goal so far – matching his total in Carolina last season.
“I’m maxed out,” Cole joked. “Might as well shut her down for the year.”
Cole was a PP workhorse, along with his linemates, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, and point men Plekanec and Yannick Weber. Watching them move the puck around with Detroit-like precision makes you drool at the prospect of adding Andrei Markov to the power-play mix.
The goaltender and special teams are hot, fulfilling Jacques Martin’s three main criteria for success.
The two top lines, centred by Plekanec and DD, were superb against the Rangers. So was the third line, deprived of Andrei Kostitsyn but featuring a very energetic and hard-working Scott Gomez.
Martin Biron saved his best stops for poor old Gomez, who hasn’t scored since Feb. 5. But the veteran made things happen on every shift and collected assists on both goals by former New Jersey teammate Brian Gionta.
Has Gomez crawled out of his crypt to rejoin the living?
Have the Canadiens shaken off their early-season cobwebs to become an Eastern Conference player?
Since firing an assistant coach who had a goatee and beginning their Movember ‘stashes shortly thereafter, the Canadiens are 8-3-1
Before Perry Pearn walked the plank, the team was 1-5-2.
The trend line is definitely headed on an upward trajectory.
Bring on the Bs.
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Stuff I forgot to write last night because it was late:
• Solid minutes from the fourth line. Aaron Palushaj has great wheels, and bravo to Mathieu Darche and Petteri Nokelaien for going right after Rangers thug André Devaux.
• More than a few people are looking at Frédéric St. Denis and thinking “Josh Gorges Lite”.
• The Rangers outhit the Canadiens 28-15. It won’t do to let Boston have that margin Monday night.
• Sean Avery doesn’t chirp anymore.
• Neither does P.K.
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Ron Reusch, who took in the Hamilton Bulldogs game at the Bell Centrre Friday night, was impressed by Louis Leblanc and, in particular, by Alexander Avtsin.
My friend Ron, who knows hockey, says the Russian was overmatched playing in the AHL as a 19-year-old last season.
Avtsin is a year older and has added some muscle to his 6’3″ frame.
Reusch thinks the kid is going to play for the Canadiens.