Hockey Inside/Out dispatched one of our crackerjack undercover agents to take a few photographs at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night.
He came up with a good one, eh?
The statement on the jersey rather overstates the ineptitude of the home team.
But your Montreal Canadiens, who have become Kings of the Road this season, were full value for their 5-2 win.
The rock ‘em/sock ‘em home team tried to run the Canadiens out of the ACC with the physical approach they used to score that 6-0 stomping at the Bell Centre.
This time it didn’t work.
The Leafs had 40 hits to 27 for the Canadiens.
But the Canadiens had 40 shots. The home team had 23 – a mere four in the first period, when Randy Carlyle had his bruisers trying to cripple everyone in a white sweater.
They play by that hoary Conn Smythe maxim: If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice.
But the game wasn’t played in an alley. And despite the Leafs best efforts to turn it into a street fight – Colton Orr had as much ice time as Toronto’s leading scorer, James Van Riemsdyk – the Canadiens stuck to the system that has produced 13 wins and only four regulation-time losses in their 20 games this season.
“It’s encouraging for a coach,” Michel Therrien said in his postgame scrum, “when the players believe in what you’re trying to do.”
Gaston Therrien keeps offering examples of the Canadiens’ winning ways during his whiteboard segments on L’Antichambre. Therrien has his players in constant movement, with unremitting pressure on the puck. It forces opposing defencemen – especially lumbering oafs like the ones who patrol the Toronto blueline – into mistakes. It prevents the other team from gaining any speed through the neutral zone. And it cuts down on shots and scoring chances allowed.
Sometimes there are mistakes, as was the case on both Toronto goals. But for most of this season, the Canadiens have spared Carey Price exposure to odd-man rushes and extended periods of pressure in the defensive zone.
Price hasn’t stolen a game this season. You wonder how the game might have gone had Price not stoned Mikhail Grabovski on that penalty shot; but generally speaking, the Canadiens are playing so well they don’t need their goaltender to be perfect in every game.
The Canadiens are allowing an average of 25.8 shots per game. That’s third best in the league, behind St. Louis and L.A. And that stat doesn’t gauge the low quality of shots the Canadiens have allowed this season.
At the other end of the ice, the Canadiens are less efficient. Given the number of rebounds Ben Scrivens was coughing up, the game should have been done and dusted by the end of the second period, at which point the Canadiens had outshot the Leafs 28-12.
The most encouraging sign was the excellent play of the reconstituted David Desharnais line. Brendan Gallagher – who took the first steps toward restoring the glory of jersey number 11 – had five shots, scored the winning goal and drove Dion Phaneuf nuts. Gallagher has been a sparkplug since returning to action after his concussion and replacing Erik Cole on the DD line.
The main beneficiary has been Pacioretty, who had his second two-goal game in a week. But Gallagher’s energy and relentless net-crashing – hey, will someone remind this kid he’s 5’8″? – is opening up ice for DD. Desharnais was excellent again and won 7 of 12 faceoffs, including the one that Tyler Bozak will be crying about in the Toronto papers.
(I know his size works against him, but how the heck did Gallagher last until the fifth round of the draft after leading the Vancouver Giants in goals with 41, adding 40 assists and racking up 111 minutes in penalties? You gonna tell me there were 146 better draft-eligible juniors in 2010?)
The subtraction of Cole and addition of Michael Ryder didn’t do much for Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk. They were on the ice for the Clarke MacArthur goal that tied the game at 2-2, and Therrien benched Galchenyuk for several shifts at the end of the second period.
The gang on L’Antichambre suggested Therrien might want to bump Ryder up to the Thomas Plekanec line, replacing Brian Gionta. I’d be hesitant to demote the captain … especially with the Canadiens winning. The hero on that line in Toronto was Brandon Prust, whose eight hits were high for both teams.
Man, was Prust a great signing or what? The Leafs laid some hellacious hits on him – and on P.K. Subban – but Prust has that non-stop motor that takes a licking, keeps on ticking and administers a few licks of his own.
Therrien had some kind words for Tomas Kaberle, who was pressed into service, for the first time since Feb. 2, by Raphael Diaz’s concussion. Kaberle played almost 15 minutes, blocked a couple shots and was praised, by his coach, for his professionalism and dedication to keeping in shape throgh weeks of no game action.
As has been the pattern lately, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges (who blocked four shots) had more ice time than P.K., who was brutal on the Frazer McLaren goal that opened the scoring.
We’re not seeing the Subban we loved last season.
But nor are we watching a last-place hockey team.
• • •
Mike Milbury, the worst general manager in the history of the NHL, goes nuts on Alex Ovechkin:
I love this: