We’re halfway through November, and the Canadiens’ only wins this month have come against teams that are in the bottom tier of NHL standings: the New York Islanders and, in a Friday night Shootout, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Beginning Saturday with a visit to the Bell Centre by the New York Rangers, the Canadiens face a succession of opponents only one of which – the Buffalo Sabres – can be considered a weak sister.
So what did we see in Columbus that might inspire hope for wings against the Rangers, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Washington and the Leafs?
Well, Peter Budaj was good again.
After spotting the Blue Jackets an early lead – on two shots he had little chance of stopping, particularly the second – Budaj slammed the door throught wo periods plus five minutes of Overtime. And then Budaj stopped all three BJs in the Shootout.
(I know: that sounds raunchy. Sometimes I can’t help myself.)
Not that Budaj faced the kind of bombardment Carey Price saw on Tuesday. Columbus managed 25 shots – 20 fewer than the Lightning fired at Price. But Budaj had to be sharp, particularly in OT, when the home team had four shots.
Although the Canadiens didn’t manage a SoG during the extra time, their 40 shots through 60 minutes were a season high. Curtis McElhinney made 38 saves, but many came from the periphery. And therein lies a problem that might give fans pause as they savour a win that moved the Canadiens within a point of the Leafs in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings.
Before I start spewing negativity, however, let’s pause to celebrate the resurrection – for at least one night – of David Desharnais.
In addition to shoving a Shootout winner up the ample posterior of His Worship, Mayor Denis Coderre, DD played well enough to be elevated from the fourth to the third line, early in the second period.
Thus promoted, Desharnais enjoyed the dubious privilege of centring two players who wingers who are alleged to be power forwards: Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque.
Max-Pac had eight shots on goal, tied with Lars Eller for game high. He had no hits.
Bourque had five shot and one hit.
If either Pacioretty or Bourque discomfited a Columbus defender at any point in the proceedings, I missed it. And contrast their lack of physicality with R.J. Umberger and the other blue-jerseyed hulks crowding the crease of Peter Budaj.
Look, I know Milan Lucic is a rare bird and not everyone packs that combination of size and ferocity. But is it too much to ask Pacioretty and/or Bourque to play a bit more like Umberger or David Clarkson … or their own teammates, Brandon Prust and Brendan Gallagher.
Oh well, Michael McCarron is only two or three years away.
Here’s what I liked about the game:
• If the Canadiens make the playoffs by one point, Alex Galchneyuk’s goal may come to be regarded as one of the biggest of the season. With the Canadiens trailing 2-0 and looking sluggish, the kid embarrassed a veteran defenceman, Fedor Tyutin, and put a sick move on a pretty good goaltender. Galchenyuk also had almost four productive, non-nervous minutes on the power play.
• Andrei Markov picked up his ninth assist and played the game with Lidstromian savvy and finesse. He’s had a terrific season.
• Lars Eller had a goal and went 15-4 on faceoffs – the only Canadiens centre better than .500 on draws.
• I thought P.K. committed a few gaffes – including a brain-dead penalty – but then I looked at the stat sheet and he played 29 minutes with two hits and three blocked shots.
• Brandon Prust gutted it out for 10:48 and had a couple hits and a fight. Too bad Prust has only the one heart and two stones to supply transplants for Bourque and Pacioretty.
• Michaël Bournival had four hits to tie hulking Brian Gionta for the team lead.
• Daniel Brière was good on the power play.
• Raphael Diaz blocked six shots. I’ve knocked the guy for lack of physicality, but you know what? Diaz understands hockey and makes smart plays.
So the rested Rangers are in Montreal and the schedule starts to get interesting.
Whom would you sit to make room for Alexei Emelin?
If I’m the coach – and I don’t have either the hair or the wardrobe – it’s Francis Bouillon. Douglas Murray is a statue, but he clears the crease and he’s good on the PK.
And if Brendan Gallagher is over his flu bug Saturday night?
That’s a tough call. I’m tempted to suggest an evening of hot dogs and stimulating pressbox conversation for Rene Bourque, just to wake him up. But it will probably be Ryan White.