Here’s my theory: Glen Sather felt guilty.
When Brandon Prust became an unrestricted free agent last summer, the Rangers general manager could have re-signed his rugged winger.
Instead, Sather let Prust walk. And the Canadiens signed him to a four-year, $10 million deal.
Most of the punditocracy thought GM Marc Bergevin had overpaid for a role player.
But with half the season completed, Prust is one of the main reasons your astonishing Montreal Canadiens are in first place in the Eastern Conference.
Where does the guilt come in?
The well-traveled Sather played the 1974-’75 season in Montreal. He became a good friend of the legendary Red Fisher; and in subsequent seasons, as an NHL executive, Sather has savoured the delights of our beautiful city, including the great steaks at Moishe’s.
So perhaps it weighed on Sather’s conscience after he unloaded Scott Gomez’s toxic contract on Bob Gainey. Maybe he figured he owed us one and made good by letting Prust leave the Rangers.
OK, that’s a totally idiotic idea, even by my standards.
But Prust has been the revelation of the season to date. And this franchise was WAY overdue for a pleasant surprise.
In the 4-2 win over Carolina Thursday night, Prust had the first three-point game of his career. The goal he potted to open the scoring was Prust’s fourth. In 82 games with the Rangers last season, he had five.
Prust never takes a shift off. He kills penalties. He’s fit in seamlessly with a variety of linemates – including rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. He leads the team at plus-13.
And he’s not afraid of Milan Lucic.
At this point, $2.5 million – prorated for a 48-game sked – makes Brandon Prust a bargain.
And value for money is something else we’re not used to in Montreal.
Prust’s line was the Canadiens’ best in Carolina.
I don’t know what team psychologist Sylvain Guimond told Lars Eller, but for the last week the Dane has been great. Eller had a goal and two assists against the ‘Canes. He was part of a penalty-kill that pitched a shutout. Eller went 13-9 on faceoffs and had a couple hits. Possibly emboldened by the proximity of Prust, Eller is using his size effectively.
Galchenyuk did not show up on the scoresheet, but the kid’s game is coming along and he fits in nicely with Eller and Prust. I liked Galchenyuk’s intensity on the puck during some third-period shifts when the line kept Carolina bottled up in their end.
The Canadiens got two points for 40 minutes of hockey thanks in no small part to their goaltender. During a second-period onslaught that was the team’s worst 20 minutes of the season, Price made 19 saves and foiled Eric Staal on a penalty shot.
But this being Montreal, someone will phone TSN 690 Friday morning to criticize Price’s glove hand on the Drayson Bowman goal.
Give it a rest, peeps. Price made a season-high 42 saves in Carolina. He is one of the main reasons this team has not lost consecutive games in regulation time this season.
And with the exception of the woeful second period, Price got help from his teammates. An injury to Yannick Weber forced Michel Therrien to go with five defencemen, and everyone stepped up.
Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban each played in excess of 27 minutes. That’s still a tad high for Markov; but Subban, who had a goal and an assist, continues to play some of the best – and, this season, most disciplined – hockey of his career.
On L’Antichambre, Michel Bergeron praised Subban effusively.
“You can’t coach a P.K. Subban like a Gorges or Bouillon,” Bergeron said, pleased that Michel Therrien seems to have loosened the reins on his flamboyant young defenceman.
“P.K. is a thoroughbred,” Bergeron added, and extravagantly talented players screw up once in a while. “Larry Robinson made big mistakes … after he made 100 great plays.”
Josh Gorges, of all people, had a goal and a assist. Scoring to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead in the first period, Gorges converted a perfect pass that Prust gleefully described as “backhand sauce – my specialty.”
Alexei Emelin executed a Savardian Spinorama at the Carolina blueline before firing a shot that Justin Peters could handle cleanly, with Prust burying the rebound. Emelin also dished out eight hits.
Some Canadiens had off-nights in Carolina.
The David Desharnais line was invisible. Michael Ryder was benched for the third period, ceding his spot on the Tomas Plekanec-Brian Gionta line to Travis Moen. Ryder, Ryan White and Colby Armstrong played single-digit minutes.
But the Canadiens survived 20 minutes of horror to bag two more points.
They head south to Tampa Bay with two wins in three games on the longest road trip of the season.
Carey Price has his mojo back. And Brandon Prust might make us forget the last former Ranger to pass through these parts.