In his post-game media scrum, Michel Therrien was looking at a glass half-full.
“We have to stay positive,” the coach said. “We won the game.”
Yes indeed, your Montreal Canadiens ended their three-game losing streak.
And if their visit to Tampa had ended after 54 minutes of play, we’d be celebrating a 3-0 win and singing a rousing chorus of Happy Days Are Here Again.
As it was, however, the Canadiens needed three saves from Carey Price in the Shootout to leave Tampa with two points were in the bag until the bag sprung a leak.
As has tended to happen with dismaying frequency lately.
Against Boston at the Bell Centre last week, the Canadiens took a 1-0 lead into the third period and lost 2-1.
The next night in Buffalo, they were leading with 12 minutes left in the third period. The Sabres tied the game with two seconds left and won the Shootout.
In Tampa, a three-goal lead evaporated with six minutes to play.
Do you see a pattern here? After blowing on-, two- and three-goal leads, will the Canadiens be up 4-0 heading into the third period against the Panthers Thursday night?
But Therrien is right: A win is a win, and the Canadiens deserved a W after playing an excellent road game for 54 minutes. And it was their first win in the state of Florida since March 5, 2011, when they beat the Lightning 4-2.
Max Pacioretty, who scored twice in that game, is still looking for his first goal this season. Max-Pac had four of the Canadiens 34 shots on goal Tuesday night; but his new line – with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher – was the Canadiens’ least effective against Tampa Bay.
You raed that right, Habs fans: Max-Pac and the Flying Freshmen were outplayed by Lars Eller and the Lumbering Laggards. The Canadiens’ fourth line had its best game of the season, and Therrien singled out Eller for particular praise, lauding his work ethic and compete level at both ends of the ice.
Eller was on the ice for Tampa Bay’s second and third goals. But don’t let that obscure the fact he’s worked his ass off since being a healthy scratch for the second and third games of the season.
As usual Tomas Plekanec had the most ice time of Canadiens’ centres (21:30) and DD was second at 17:39. But Eller had more ToI, 13:02, than Galchenyuk’s 11:30.
Chucky, who turned 19 on Tuesday, did not have much of a birthday bash. The prize rookie had no shots on goal, looked lost during his 2:46 on the power-play and lost eight of 12 faceoffs.
It’s part of the learning curve for a kid who is going to be a special player. And maybe Galchenyuk and Gallagher, who had one shot on goal but registered three hits, were missing Brandon Prust, their babysitter since the beginning of the season.
Prust played with Desharnais and Erik Cole, both of whom were better than they were against Toronto on Saturday. Of course, they hardly could have been worse.
But Cole looked more interested than he had through the first 11 games. And DD won 11 of his 19 faceoffs.
Draws continue to be a problem for the Canadiens, who are 28th in faceoff efficiency. The ineptitude creates particular problems on special teams. Losing draws costs 10 to 20 seconds on the power-play and lets opponents get right into their set-up when they have the man advantage.
Another problem is penalties. The Canadiens are the most penalized team in the league – by a lot: 22.1 minutes per game to 17.5 minutes for runner-up Philadelphia. And you can bet the Flyers, who visit the Bell Centre this Saturday, aren’t committing a bunch of lazy, pussy-ass obstruction fouls.
Oops! I’ve strayed a bit from Therrien’s positivity message.
Back to the good stuff:
• Price, who struggled in Shootouts last season, was perfect in his first of 2013.
• Andrei Markov played 26:38 and blocked five shots, to match Josh Gorges.
• Raphael Diaz played 24 smart, quality minutes.
• I didn’t notice Alexei Emelin, and that’s a good thing.
• Travis Moen engaged B.J. Crombeen in a hilarious fight that featured Moen throwing body shots.
• The power-play, which has struggled since Boston ran a clinic on how to counter it, needed a 5-on-3 to do it but produced a goal by Brian Gionta.
• Until it was beaten late – and with ace Plekanec in the box – the penalty-kill was highly effective against the second-ranked PP in the league.
So on to the east coast of Florida – where the Panthers blew a 5-3 lead and lost to Washington.