Two games, four points.
A critical week for your Montreal Canadiens has produced two excellent wins over Minnesota and Washington.
These were the warm-up acts.
Now we get the main attraction.
And if the Canadiens play as well as they did against the Wild and Capitals, Pittsburgh’s saturday visit to the Bell Centre could be the Game of the Season … so far.
The Canadiens survived Alex Ovechkin in D.C.
The Great 8 scored both Washington goals – albeit neither a virtuoso effort. But Ovechkin sure put a lot of mustard on that ridiculously angled shot that got in between Peter Budaj’s legs. And when the final siren sounded, his stat line read five shots on goal, plus three that were blocked and four missing the net. That’s a lot of lumber on rubber – plus three hits … and a dumb penalty.
I’m betting Sidney Crosby won’t go to the box for roughing up Brian Gionta. The best player in the world will stay on the ice Saturday, as will Evgeni Malkin, who’s in the planet’s Top 10.
So no rest for the weary. The Canadiens are within a point of catching Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division, and the Leafs will play host to Ovechkin & Co. Saturday night. Maybe the Caps can come up with a decent road game, after losing to Pittsburgh and the Canadiens at home while surrendering seven unanswered goals over 79 minutes and 37 seconds.
It was at 19:37 of the first period that Ovechkin scored that ridiculous goal after the Canadiens played what TSN analyst Ray Ferraro called “19 1/2 perfect minutes.”
You would have expected it to inspire the Caps, who would then come out and dominate the second period, their fans in a frenzy.
It didn’t happen.
Playing textbook road-game hockey, the Canadiens outshot the home 14-3 in the second period. They took no penalties over the last 40 minutes of the game.
Discipline, balanced scoring from three lines and another superlative performance from Budaj – Those breakaway stops! Oh my!! – ensured that the early lead would stand up – despite a late-game push by the home team.
The commitment to team defence was exemplified by Michaël Bournival blocking John Carlson’s rockey with his right foot. Te rookie had to be helped to the room, and Bournival’s status is uncertain for the game against the Penguins.
George Parros is the only spare forward. But the Hamilton Bulldogs played in Montreal Friday night – and won 4-1 – so an emergency call-up is no problem. Gabriel Dumont, Patrick Holland, Mike Blunden … I bet Crosby is nervous already.
The win in Washington was a team effort, but some individuals merit mention:
• Budaj, of course. Is there a better backup goaltender in the league? And it’s a great situation, because no matter what Budaj does, Carey Price is indisputably Numero Uno.
• Josh Gorges led all Canadiens Dmen in time on ice, at 24:32. The future captain had had a night of 2s: two assists, plus-2, two hits, two blocked shots.
• Max Pacioretty had five shots on goal. As Arpon Basu of NHL.com tweeted, Max-Pac has 24 SoG in his last four games, 26 in his previous eight.
• David Desharnais continues his ascent from the depths of Montreal Hockey Hell. DD’s goal was his first in 26 games. He’s playing with confidence and making plays for linemates Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. They are the current iteration of the team’s Number 1 line.
• P.K. Subban went right after Troy Brouwer when the rugged Caps forward took a run at Andrei Markov. I would have liked to hear more praise for that from P.K.’s coach.
• Alexei Emelin led the Canadiens with four hits. With Russia’s national team brass watching, Emelin bolstered his case to join Markov and that guy who plays for washington in Sochi.
• The old pros – Markov, Plekanec, Gionta and Moen – played smart, low-risk hockey against an explosive team that never could get fully untracked because the Canadiens all worked hard.
• The fourth line chipped in with quality minutes. That will be very important against Pittsburgh.
Fearless prediction: the Bell Centre will be rockin’.
• • •
For the first time in many seasons, I watched an English-language telecast of a Canadiens game.
I pick my spots: TSN, with Gord Miller on play-by-play and the incomparable Ray Ferraro offering analysis. Plus James Duthie and a good studio crew: Panger, Darren Dreger and Paul Maurice.
From beginning to end, when I switched over to RDS for L’Antichambre, the production was informative and entertaining.
Could be habit-forming.