A special request for Gary Bettman:
The heck with geography and conference alignments.
Let’s have the Montreal Canadiens play the Colorado Avalanche five times during the regular season.
The game was THAT entertaining.
And the 6-3 win left Canadiens fans hungry for more … even if it means we see the New Jersey Devils less often.
I’d sacrifice a few Dainius Zubrus sightings if it meant we got to see Nathan MacKinnon more often.
On the Monday night edition of L’Antichambre, Patrick Roy promised a crowd-pleasing show when his team faced the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
The Avalanche, Roy said, would not be playing defensive hockey.
What a happy coincidence: Neither did the Canadiens.
The result was 60 minutes of end-to-end firewagon action and excitement rarely seen at the rink this season.
The game wasn’t as crazy as the Canadiens’ Saturday night win over Ottawa. Yes, Colorado blew a couple leads and were outplayed in the third period. But the visitors did not succumb to pressure like the hapless Senators, whose playoff hopes took a mortal blow Tuesday night when they were stomped 8-4 in their own barn by the Rangers.
The Canadiens, by contrast, are sitting pretty. They are second in the Atlantic Division with 83 points, eight clear of the playoff cutoff. With a dozen games to play, they need eight, maybe nine more points to punch their ticket to the postseason dance.
It seems very do-able for a team that has won three in a row and may be straightening out its special-teams difficulties. The penalty killers were 3-for-3 against the high-powered Avalanche. And the recently moribund power play – two for its last 27 – produced two goals in three opportunities.
There are still issues on defence. But a lot of teams would have defensive zone problems against the MacKinnon (who won’t be 19 until September!) and a lineup that also includes Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Statstny.
They’re all young, fast and sublimely talented. That the Canadiens held Colorado to three goals is a tribute to some timely stops by a still-rusty Carey Price – and the presence of Douglas Murray in the pressbox.
It was all P.K. Subban could do to try to contain MacKinnon & Co. They’d have skated figure eights around Murray – as the Avalanche did on occasion to Francis Bouillon.
Josh Gorges is missed on the back end, where the most positive development is the emergence of Jarred Tinordi, who looks steadier every time out and was on the ice for two Canadiens goals and only one by Colorado.
Thomas Vanek will garner all the headlines, as he should. The Canadiens’ prize deadline-day acquisition scored three goals that travelled a total of maybe 20 feet.
Vanek doesn’t chase down loose pucks with the indefatigable ferocity of Brendan Gallagher. He doesn’t plaster defencemen to the end glass.
What Vanek does is score goals from high-percentage positions in proximity to opposing goaltenders. He goes to the slot, where David Desharnais is very good at finding him.
The scoring ability of Vanek and Max Pacioretty opens the ice for DD. And the diminutive centre is finding his linemates.
Finally, 70 games into the season, the Canadiens have a bona-fide Number 1 line.
And a fourth line.
Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and Dale Weise each scored against Colorado. The line was collectively plus-8.
The Canadiens are 9-1-1 with Weise in the lineup. It could be a while before we see George Parros again.
Michel Therrien will stick with this lineup when Columbus visits the Bell Centre on Thursday night. Moving off the DD line has meant diminished ice time for Brendan Gallagher – under 12:28 against Colorado, matching his friend Alex Galchenyuk’s 12:27. They both must envy MacKinnon’s ToI of 21 minutes.
Sadly, that’s the last we’ll see of that special teenager – unless the Canadiens and Colorado meet in the Stanley Cup final.
Or an NHL realignment that creates an Excitement Division.