I want Michel Therrien to start picking my lottery numbers.
And while he’s at it, the man who coaches your Montreal Canadiens can make my annoying neighbours disappear.
On the evidence of the season so far, Therrien is a magician with a golden touch.
His sorcery was in evidence even before the puck dropped Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
And after the final siren sounded, Therrien’s trickery had produced the Three Stars of the Canadiens’ 3-0 win.
Therrien had to do some personnel juggling. Brendan Gallagher was ready to return to the lineup, and the coach decided to play the rookie with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Erik Cole was dropped down to the third line, with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk.
Brandon Prust was banged up during the loss to the Islanders and missed practice on Friday and the optional morning skate on Saturday. Prust was doubtful for the visit of his former team.
But when Rene Bourque was felled by the flu, Prust was pressed into service. He took Bourque’s spot on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
So what did the juggling produce?
Prust played a valiant 18:23 – more ice time than any Canadiens forward except Gionta, who played 18:32.
Cole opened the scoring with his first goal since Feb. 3 – a drought of nine games. Cole added an assist and blocked three shots, part of a defensive effort that saw Canadiens not named Carey Price block more shot than the goaltender stopped in recording his shutout.
Eller’s power-play goal, late in the second period, pretty much quashed all chances of a Rangers rally. Eller who hadn’t scored since Feb. 2, had three hits, was part of a perfect 2-for-2 penalty-killing unit and played, in all three zones, like his hair was on fire – as has been the case for weeks.
Galchenyuk had a goal, an assist and was voted the game’s First Star despite playing only a shade over 13 minutes. This was reminiscent of the Canadiens’ second game of the season, a 4-1 drubbing of the Florida Panthers in which Galchenyuk’s 11 minutes of action won him First Star honours.
That was when the extravagantly talented rookie, who hadn’t turned 19 yet, was still playing his natural position.
Noting Galchenyuk’s difficulties in the faceoff circle (49-63 to date) and trying to reduce the his defensive responsibilities, which is wise in developing a kid (see SEGUIN, Tyler), Therrien has moved Galchenyuk to the wing, with Eller (who was 6-8 on draws against the Rangers) at centre. Like almost everything else the coach has tried, it seems to be working.
Their eighth win on home ice – best in the league, along with Ottawa – kept the Canadiens atop the Eastern Conference standings. And it came two weeks to the day after the team’s worst loss of the season.
Since being embarrassed 6-0 by Toronto in front of Bell Centre fans, a national television audience and the giddy Leaf-blowers employed by Hockey Night in Canada, the Canadiens have beaten Tampa Bay, Florida, Philadelphia, Carolina and, twice this week, the Rangers. And up 3-1, they should have beaten the Islanders.
In three of their last five games, the Canadiens have held opponents to fewer than 20 shots on goal.
The lineup includes seven players with at least 10 points. Eller has nine; Gallagher, Gionta and P.K. Subban have eight.
Every player in the lineup played double-digit minutes against the Rangers. As a reward for their hard work, Therrien had Ryan White, Colby Armstrong and Travis Moen out on a late-game 5-on-3 PP. That kind of thing is appreciated in the room.
There are still concerns.
Brian Gionta’s scoring slump continues. But the recent revival of Cole, the captain’s fellow upstate New York native, offers hope.
Andrei Markov played 23:27 against the Rangers, and that’s probably too much. But his defence partner, Alexei Emelin, blocked three shots and looked more confident than he has in a while.
Leading the blocked shot parade was Raphael Diaz with four. P.K. Subban was up to 21:40 of ice time and offered the Rangers and adoring Bell Centre fans a few flashes of his surreal talent.
Can we acknowledge the obvious: No disrespect to Markov, but P.K. Subban is the best defenceman on the Montreal Canadiens. And Diaz may be number 2.
The number 1 goaltender racked up his league-leading tenth win and lowered his GAA to 1.97. Price actually looked a bit shaky in the first period, but it might have been boredom. For the first 20 minutes, the Canadiens played a cautious road game in their own building, managing a measly three shots on Martin Biron.
It was good practice for the upcoming schedule: the Canadiens play seven of their next eight on the road, starting Monday night in Ottawa and continuing Wednesday with a very rare weeknight visit to Toronto – where Therrien will try to conjure up a lineup that can finally beat the Leafs.