The last time Max Pacioretty scored at even-strength in regulation time, Nelson Mandela and Daniel Brière were still alive.
I’m exaggerating for the sake of a cheap joke.
The great leader of his South African people died on Dec. 5, a few hours before Pacioretty’s 11th goal of the season beat Boston at the Bell Centre.
And Brière, the great déception of his people – not to mention the Canadiens marketing department – is still alive … albeit not in any way that might justify his two-year, $8 million contract.
Pacioretty’s power-play goal was the winner against Phoenix at the Bell Centre Tuesday night. He added an empty-netter.
Pacioretty has 14 goals in 27 games this season. He makes $500,000 less than Brière, who has scored five times in 25 games.
Why this carping after the Canadiens won their last home game of 2013?
Because the W was curiously unsatisfying. The stick-waving celebration that has become traditional after home-ice wins did not erase memories of the way the game started.
What’s with this team and the first 20 minutes of hockey games?
Nelson Mandela was definitely alive the last time the Canadiens scored a first-period goal – Dec. 4 in New Jersey.
On Sunday, against Florida at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens – playing their third game in four nights – were outshot 14-8 in the first period. In the wake of the Panthers’ 2-1 win, Michel Therrien cited a brutal schedule and said his players were out of gas.
But Monday was a day off, except for the Canadiens’ traditional holiday-season visits to the Sainte Justine and Montreal Children’s hospitals. The team should have been rested and stoked to come out strong against Phoenix.
The Coyotes outskated, outbattled and outshot the home team 15-3. They also had 12 shots blocked and missed the net six times. That’s 33 pucks aimed at Carey Price, who was customarily brilliant and had no chance on Mikkel Boedker’s goal.
The home team managed three shots at Mike Smith. The Coyotes blocked four, and three shots missed the net.
That’s a 33-10 advantage over 20 minutes. Oh, and Phoenix won 12 of 16 faceoffs. Martin Hanzal went 6-0, Tomas Plekanec 0-6.
Brière played four shifts, 2:13 of ice time. He took a holding penalty in the offensive zone.
The Canadiens were better in the second period. They killed a double minor to Brandon Prust and outshot the visitors 10-7, setting the stage for a dominant third period that included 14 shots and three goals.
There were positives in the Canadiens’ performance.
• Price improved his record to 16-10-2. His GAA is 1.96, with a save percentage of .936.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story on Price. As is frequently the case lately, the goaltender kept it close while his teammates struggled to find their game.
• Brendan Gallagher didn’t make the scoresheet, but he was in Mike Smith’s face on the power-play goals by Andrei Markov and Pacioretty. I still worry about whether that body can withstand 82 games plus, inshallah, playoffs. But Gallagher has the heart of a lion.
• I thought his erstwhile linemates, Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller, played decent games. Both excelled during the third-period surge that produced a win.
• Galchenyuk is finding a groove with Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Eller had some good puck possession shifts with Travis Moen and Brandon Prust.
• The penalty-kill pitched another shutout, including the four minutes to Prust, one of its key members.
• P.K. and Markov are back in a groove on the Canadiens’ power play, which has struggled lately but popped two against Phoenix.
• Josh Gorges deserves mention for singlehanded foiling an odd-man rush that included four Coyotes. It came at a crucial time in the third period. Gorges also blocked four shots, as did Raphael Diaz. Canadiens skaters faced as much rubber as Price and racked up 27 blocks.
• The PP ranks sixth in the league, while the PK is third. Your Montreal Canadiens have great special teams. Even strength? Not so much.
Brière began the game on a line with Eller and Michaël Bournival. He ended up with Bournival and Rene Bourque, and his ToI was 4:27 – low on the team.
Will Brière be in the lineup Thursday night in St. Louis?
Not if your Montreal Canadiens are a meritocracy.
• Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown) for Grantland: The Venn Diagram of Hockey Hate