The game in Toronto Saturday night was the Canadiens season in microcosm.
So perhaps we should be encouraged by the happy ending.
The first period corresponded to the Canadiens’ 9-0 start.
Total domination of the Leafs. Shots were 14-3, shot attempts 28-11. Toronto didn’t get its first shot on Mike Condon until 11:27 into the game.
And, in contrast to most of their recent outings, the Canadiens’ advantage was reflected on the scoreboard, as goals by David Desharnais and Tomas Fleischmann made it 2-0 after 20.
The Canadiens looked terrific, dominating every aspect of the game.
Granted, the home team wasn’t the Chicago Blackhawks. But it was an emotional night at the ACC, with a touching pre-game ceremony honouring Leaf greats Turk Broda, Tim Horton and Dave Keon.
All that glory floating through the ether, and the home team sucked for 20 minutes
For Canadiens fans, happy days were here again. The team had responded to their general manager’s challenge, rising nobly to the task of saving their coach’s job.
But games last longer than 20 minutes.
The Leafs had an 8-5 shot advantage in the middle period and got a goal from Nazem Kadri – the most dislikable Toronto player since Darcy Tucker.
But the Canadiens didn’t fold.
Why would they, playing against a Toronto team that’s going nowhere?
Then those snakes nipping at the Canadiens since the beginning of December reared their fangs again.
Shots by Daniel Carr and Brendan Gallagher somehow failed to cross the goalie behind James Reimer. And Joffrey Lupul took advantage of soft coverage to tie it at 2-2 early in the third period.
For anyone who has followed the Canadiens recent swoon, it was deja vu all over again.
No puck luck on the Carr and Gallagher shots. And the question after 60 minutes was: “Which Leaf will break our hearts and plunge Montreal ever deeper into depression?”
I was sure it would be P.A. Parenteau.
That a collapse didn’t happen – and that Lars Eller, one of the team’s few recent bright lights, won the game in a Shootout – may have been a sign that perhaps the Canadiens have turned the corner.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of the tiny little differences deciding the outcome of games,” Eller said in the winning room. “I just think tonight was a big-time win for us, a tight game where we’re finally on the right side of things.”
Eller had company on the Heroes Podium:
• Jeff Petry played a solid 24:17 – second only to P.K.’s otherworldly 31:55. Perry had eight hits, tying the Leafs Leo Komarov.
• Mark Barberio and Nathan Beaulieu are evolving into a nice pairing.
• Mike Condon faced only 19 shots through 65 minutes. But he made some good saves. And Condon’s four stops in the Shootout were huge.
• Daniel Carr played another terrific game on Eller’s line. For the life of me I can’t figure out why Carr was sent down to St. John’s in favour of Jacob De la Rose.
There are still troubling signs.
• The “first” line – Tomas Plekanec between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher – exerted nothing in the way of sustained pressure.
• The second line was no better. I’m still waiting for some chemistry – or physics, biology … anything – between Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais. Props to #27 for taking a big hit from Dion Phaneuf.
• The first power play had six shots on goal. They next three had a grand total of one shot.
• I love Dale Weise, but 3:27 of PP ice time? Really?
• Brian Flynn in the Shootout?
• Andrei Markov’s ToI was cut back to 21:50. Still too much. But at least he wasn’t used in OT.
Elsewhere, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Boston won Saturday.
The Canadiens trail them and sit in 10th place, three points south of the last wild-card playoff spot.
The Canadiens have 52 points. Last season, Boston took the second wild-card spot with 96 points.
Can Mar Bergen’s stand-pat (for now) team get 44 points in their last 34 games?
Like the win in Toronto, it won’t be easy.
But Saturday night was a start.
• • •
Tweet from Arpon Basu of nil.com:
Alex Galchenyuk set a new season high in ice time for a second straight game. It was 18:19 v Bos, 19:27 tonight. Inching toward 20.
Comment on the Liveblog from bwoar:
Not very convincing tonight. Excellent to see Eller playing well at centre. One day MT will realize what position he plays. And figure out the actual pecking order of our centremen. But a shootout win will suffice for those who are clinging for dear life on the idea of a playoff round.
Speaking of playing guys where they belong, Beaulieu on the 3rd pair looked much better. P.K. Subban is not a good partner for him, to be honest.
The Fleischmann-Eller-Carr combo looked like a 2nd line to me. Daniel Carr looks better in the top 6 than DD and Weise. I wish we could trade #51 for that David Desharnais guy who so tenaciously broke in with the team with boundless energy and a fight to his game. He’s aged very quickly, probably from playing double the minutes he can handle.
Speaking of aging, at least we were spared Markov during 3-on-3.
Y’know, watching N8 on TVA after the 1st, you’d almost get the impression the team really was just in a funk all this time, and coming out now. “Message recieved,” he said. Then they spend 40 minutes letting the Leafs back in the game. Witnessing that runny fart of a powerplay fail so badly is still in my mind, enough to fire pretty much everyone running this team.
It was good to see the players’ reaction to the outcome. Strategy-wise it looks like they’re on their own, so let us hope they can scheme up a PP that will help them win the next one cleanly.
And from DDO_Habs_Fan:
I put gasoline in the tank after the Leafs tied. Thankfully they pulled one out against an awful defensive team (I mean awful). Looks like MT is slowly learning some lessons: no Markov 3 on 3 and Eller back at center. Eller didn’t need to score in OT to be the number one star tonight. It is nice to see a big guy down the middle. His puck-handling down the middle of the ice has always been over-rated. Carr came back to doing what he was doing before he inexplicably got sent down. Loved how steady Barberio played again tonight. He’s made Gilbert expendable. DSP played 7:43 minutes tonight: that’s 7:43 minutes more than he should have played. Toronto’s 4th line played like a 4th line is supposed to play. They hammered the Habs and changed the momentum in the second. DSP needs to go (I don’t know where but just go). Lastly, the PP is going to get a coach or all of them fired. There is nothing more negative that can be said about it. Hopefully they can build some momentum with this win.