A win in San Jose Saturday will give the Canadiens four of a possible eight points on their most gruelling road trip of the season.
The Sharks are 23-4-4 at the HP Pavillion, where they got four third-period goals to beat Pittsburgh Thursday night..
But hey, Anaheim were 24-5-2 on home ice until your Montreal Canadiens came to the Honda Center.
The Wednesday win in Anaheim, however, may have left the victors without a whole lot left in the tank.
By the time they got to Phoenix, it was a 3 o’clock hotel check-in Thursday morning. The road-weary Canadiens – playing their third game in four nights – were on the ice at the Jobing.com Arena 16 hours later.
Tomas Plekanec played almost 26 minutes in Anaheim. That’s a lot for a smallish 32-year-old who captained his national team in Sochi.
Plekanec went 5-10 in the faceoff circle against Phoenix. He didn’t register a shot on goal.
Pleks’s new linemate, Thomas Vanek, had one shot – as did his old linemate, Brian Gionta. The newly configured line did not unduly trouble the Coyotes’ defence or goaltender Mike Smith.
But let’s cut them some slack. The Canadiens were playing their third game in four nights. They will have Friday to recharge before venturing into the Shark tank.
Despite new forward lines, new defence pairings and a dreadful first period in which they were outshot 15-7 and fell behind 3-1, the Canadiens briefly made a game of it against the Coyotes.
Alex Galchenyuk’s goal, toward the end of a 5-on-3 power play, made it 3-2 after 40 minutes. Mike Smith was heroic during the second period, as the Canadiens outshot the home team by an astounding 12-1 margin and had a goal disallowed..
And it was still a one-goal game almost 12 minutes into the third before Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan scored to seal the deal.
Peter Budaj was beaten twice on seven shots in the third period, five times on 23 shots in the game.
Budaj wasn’t awful. Phoenix skates well, moves the puck efficiently and, on too many occasions, had the Canadiens running around their zone in confusion, allowing the home team great looks at the Canadiens’ goaltender.
But with Mike Smith standing (literally) tall in the Phoenix net, the Canadiens needed great goaltending. And they didn’t get it from Budaj.
Let’s hope Carey Price, who hasn’t played since Sochi, is ready to go in San Jose. If, asis likely, Price can’t play, I’d be tempted to give Dustin Tokarski another shot.
The Plekanec line, bolstered by Vanek, will be better Saturday night. And if the David Desharnais & Co. are as good as they were against the Coyotes – five SoG for Max Pacioretty, another Energizer Bunny night from Brendan Gallagher, 10-5 on faceoffs for DD – the Canadiens will present the Sharks with some challenges.
The third line got better after Michel Therrien put Lars Eller between Alex Galchenyuk and Rene Bourque. Eller’s first-period penalty could not have pleased his coach. But to his credit, MT kept playing Eller and bumped him up a spot, ahead of Daniel Brière, who was ineffective against the team with whom he broke into the NHL.
Brière’s linemates, Ryan White and Travis Moen, played 6:31 and 8:32, respectively. They were not on for any of Phoenix’s five goals.
Jarred Tinordi was caught at the Phoenix blueline on the third-period Radim Vrbata goal that gave the home team a cushion. The kid looked awful on the play, but that will happen with a young defenceman. Despite some physical similarity, the kid is not Larry Robinson … and probably never will be.
I’d settle for the second coming of Craig Ludwig.
If Therrien duplicates the sentimentality that had George Parros in the starting lineup against Anaheim, we’ll see Douglas Murray out for the national anthems in San Jose. Murray and new partner Mike Weaver were on for the Vrabata goal that opened the scoring but had a reasonably quiet night thereafter.
The more excitable segment of Canadiens fandom were suggesting the acquisition of Vanek made the team a contender.
Let’s just cool the Cup talk about a team that hasn’t won a game in regulation time since Feb. 8.
Losing to Phoenix should calm everyone down – at least until the new sniper settles in. The race for playoff spots and postseason seedings is tight in both Conferences, which explains the urgency we saw from the Coyotes.
With Tampa bay and Detroit losing Thursday night, the Canadiens are still second in the Atlantic Division.
A win in San Jose would salvage a very arduous road trip.