Dominated at the Bell Centre by a team fighting for a wild-card playoff spot, lucky to salvage a point, your Montreal Canadiens took to the ice 24 hours later against a team that sits atop the Eastern Conference standings.
With Carey Price nursing a mysterious lower-body injury – groin? knee? – Peter Budaj had to play both ends of a back-to-back.
And when the back-up goaltender let in two soft, short-side goals in Pittsburgh, how many fans looked at the upcoming California trip and pondered the possibility of our heroes tumbling out of a playoff spot by mid-March?
Oh we of little faith!
In their first two games coming out of the Olympic break, the Canadiens took three of a possible four points.
It wasn’t pretty.
At times, the games against Detroit and Pittsburgh were downright ugly.
But they found a way. And when the dust had settled, the Canadiens were in second place in the Atlantic Division.
This should be cause for celebration in Montreal and among the Canadiens’ far-flung community of fans.
Yes, the Canadiens beat the Penguins in their own barn.
No, the win did not soothe fan anxieties. And the game raised more questions than it answered.
The most ominous: What the heck is going on with P.K. Subban?
The reigning Norris Trophy laureate came back all smiles from Sochi. He played limited minutes in only one game for Team Canada, but P.K. assured everyone – including RDS’s Pierre Houde, in an interview telecast before the Thursday night game – that it was a great learning experience and he was just glad his team won.
Maybe P.K. was trumpeting that party line in Pittsburgh after he spent Overtime nailed to the bench, watching Douglas Murray and Jarred Tinordi.
During regulation time, P.K. was on for three Pittsburgh goals – including the Brandon Sutter shorty that was a direct consequence of Subban coughing the puck up at the Pittsburgh blueline and making hardly any effort to get back and correct his error.
Subban had six minutes less ice time than Andrei Markov in Pittsburgh. He also played less than Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin.
Among the Canadiens’ defence corps, only Murray and Tinordi had fewer minutes.
When asked about Subban during his postgame press conference, Michel Therrien said: “Il n’est pas dans son match.”
Roughly translated: “He wasn’t on his game.”
Wednesday wasn’t his night either. Subban’s penalty for embellishment deprived the Canadiens of a power-play in OT against Detroit.
With his hometown team coming to the Bell Centre Saturday night, P.K. will be looking for redemption. In a game almost as crazy as the one in Pittsburgh, the Leafs lost in Overtime on Long Island. But they’re only two points behind the Canadiens, and the Saturday game will be huge.
The Canadiens’ most gifted skater will have to bring his A-game against Toronto – especially if Price is still nursing whatever ails him.
Let’s hope the coach steps it up a notch as well.
Subban had company on the bench for the Overtime in Pittsburgh.
Therrien didn’t use Daniel Brière, whose nine minutes of ice time in regulation produced two goals an an assist.
And as was the case against Detroit, Alex Galchenyuk – a key element of the team’s future – spent the OT on the bench … while Brian Gionta and Lars Eller each got two shifts.
Eller was in the penalty box when Olli Maatta gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead that lasted 57 seconds. Held off the scoresheet again, Eller has four points in 31 games and, as a punishment for his penalty, found himself on the fourth line centring Travis Moen and George Parros as Brière moved up between Rene Borque and Dale Weise.
In Game 61 of the schedule, Therrien is still looking for line combinations that deliver with some minimal consistency.
DD’s linemates, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, had 11 of the Canadiens’ 29 shots on Marc-André Fleury. And Galchenyuk had some decent chemistry with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta – although the kid played less than 12 minutes.
With Ryan White and Brandon Prust out of the lineup, the bottom six forwards were a grab bag that delivered neither scoring chances nor physical play.
Bottom line, though: Three of four points – without Carey Price.