Thank you, Ted Nolan.
The coach of the visiting Buffalo Sabres did your Montreal Canadiens – and hockey in general – an immense favour Saturday night.
Nolan decided not to dress John Scott for the game at the Bell Centre.
With Buffalo’s 6’8″, 260-lb behemoth safely confined to the pressbox, Michel Therrien saw no reason to dress George Parros.
Instead, Ryan White drew in to the lineup.
And the fourth line – White centring Brandon Prust and Travis Moen – was the Canadiens’ best.
Prust has a goal an assist, two hits and was plus-2 and the game’s First Star.
Moen had two assists and three hits. He was plus-2 and the Third Star.
White had an assist and three hits. He was plus-1 and might have been plus-2 had he not completed a second-period shift and given way to Tomas Plekanec, who converted Prust’s pass into the Canadiens’ second goal.
The fourth liners each played 12 minutes and change at even-strength – more 5-on-5 ice time than either Daniel Brière (6:29) or Lars Eller (8:41).
After an opening period that had nine shots on goal and might have been the worst 20 minutes of “hockey” Bell Centre fans have endured this season, Michel Therrien sent a message to his dozy team. The coach started the second period with his fourth line, and they took all of 19 seconds to produce Prust’s goal and goose the game into something resembling a sports event.
Not that the latter 40 minutes merited inclusion in any DVD boxed set … unless they’re going to compete with Don Cherry’s latest Rock ‘Em/Sock ‘Em with a Snooze ‘Em/Lose ‘Em collection.
The objective of a visiting team is to take the home crowd out of the game – especially when the home crowd is 21,273 hockey connoisseurs who have paid major $$$ for their tickets and expect to be entertained.
Clogging the passing lanes, dominating possession for extended periods in the Canadiens’ end, the Sabres saw to it that entertainment was MIA for most of the evening.
The Sabres outhit the Canadiens 46-26. That barrage of bodychecking exceeded the 38-20 hit marging run up by Ottawa on Nov. 7 – a game the Senators won 4-1.
Buffalo also outshot the Canadiens 25-19. The only other time the Canadiens have been held to fewer than 20 shots this season was when the Devils visited last Monday. The Canadiens managed a mere 17 on Cory Schneider … and won 3-2.
Like the win over the Devils, the conquest of the Sabres was not pretty. But a win is a win, and the two points moved the Canadiens into a tie with Pittsburgh at 41.
Boston is just behind at 40 after beating the Penguins in a game marred by Shawn Thornton’s mugging of Brooks Orpik, barbaric even by NHL standards:
Thornton deserves and will get a lengthy suspension. His loss will punch a hole in what’s generally considered the NHL’s best fourth line: Thornton, Gregory Campbell and daniel Paille.
On this saturday night at least, the Canadiens had a Bruins-quality contribution from their fourth line. White, Prust and Moen can all skate, hit and drop ‘em if necessarily – but not necessarily drop ‘em.
I’m sure we’ll see the unit intact when L.A. visits on Tuesday – the Kings’ first Bell Centre appearance since Nov. 24, 2010.
We also are likely to see more of Alex Galchenyuk with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. The revolving door at LW on the line continues. Max Pacioretty, Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, Daniel Brière and Rene Bourque all have seen service with the captain and the team’s best all-around forward.
Plekanec was picked as Second Star of the Buffalo game. In addition to scoring his 11th goal, tying him with Pacioretty for the team lead, Pleks added an assist on Galchenyuk’s goal and played 21 minutes of his customary cerebral and near-error-free hockey.
He’s not flashy. But man, Plekanec is a good hockey player.
Therrien trusts the 31-year-old veteran in all situations, and Plekanec’s latest task might be to bring out the best in Galchenyuk, who had strugled – along with Eller – since Brendan Gallagher was moved off their line.
Therrien tweaks his trios (I love alliteration), and the Canadiens keep winning.
The fourth-line pluggers were the latest in a cavalcade of heroes who led the Canadiens through a very challenging part of their schedule. The constants have been the goaltending of Carey Price and Peter Budaj and the play of the seven-man defence corps.
The most recent sequence was likened to a playoff series – seven games in 11 nights. The Canadiens took 13 of a possible 14 points.
It’s too bad New Jersey and Buffalo weren’t eliminated.
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Credit Shawn Thornton for facing the music: