You could make a case for Lars Eller as First Star of the game even if he hadn’t scored the Shootout goal that gave your Montreal Canadiens a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Eller opened the scoring in the terrifically entertaining game.
He had seven shots on goal, tying Max Pacioretty for the team lead on the night.
Eller put in 3:30 on the Canadiens’ penalty-kill, but he was at his best in even-strength situations, using his size to maintain possession and create opportunities for linemates Alex Galchenyuk and Gabriel Dumont in the Ottawa zone. He was also 9-7 on faceoffs.
As has been the case for a while now, Eller played like a number one or two centre.
Along with Galchenyuk, who’s 19 and 26-year-old David Desharnais, Eller – who’ll be 24, and quite possibly playing hockey, in May – gives the Canadiens a bright future at the all-important pivot position.
And it’s not like Tomas Plekanec, 30, is ready for retirement.
Eller, a healthy scratch for Games 2 and 3 of the season, is displaying the talent that made him a first-round draft choice in 2007.
Hey, how the heck did the Canadiens get that guy?
Oh, right: In a trade for the goaltender who is now Jake Allen’s backup in St. Louis.
O Halakites, feast your eyes on this potentially great Dane … and STFU.
But of course, that’s not going to happen. Because this is Montreal, the city that devours its goaltenders like smoked meat or bagels.
And so while giving Lars Eller his props, Carey Price’s critics will stoutly maintain the game never would have gone to Overtime and a Shootout if Jaroslav Halak had been at the Bell Centre to stop the Patrick Wiercioch five-hole cheapie that completed Ottawa’s rally from a 3-1 deficit.
But when you dial up NHL.com to check the goaltender stats, the name at the top of the list is the guy who can’t steal games for the Canadiens.
Carey Price has 14 wins, and to reach that total he had to stop 29 Ottawa shots – plus two more in the Shootout.
Was he the better goaltender on Wednesday night?
Probably not. Robin Lehner made 42 saves through 65 minute before was beaten by Eller and Galchenyuk in what Red Fisher calls The Gimmick.
You have to envy Ottawa’s depth at that key position. Lehner is their goaltender of the future, and Craig Anderson was an outstanding goalie of the present before he got hurt. Plus gargantuan Ben Bishop.
The Senators are right in the thick of the playoff race, despite injuries to Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Jared Cowan. They play tough, disciplined, up-tempo hockey that produces great games against the Canadiens. Too bad there won’t be any more, unless the teams meet in the playoffs.
Ottawa romped to a 5-1 win in their first meeting this season. Since then, there have been three one-goal games, two of which went to Shootouts. On the season, each team is 2-1-1.
That’s a good matchup, and the Wednesday game didn’t disappoint. The up-tempo game was a showcase for players who can skate – and no one shone brighter than P.K. Subban.
His seven giveaways were atrocious. But P.K. played almost 31 minutes – as did Andrei Markov – and had a goal (his seventh, tops among NHL defenceman, and matching his 81-game total last season) and an assist.
Here’s a telling stat on P.K.: He had five shots on goal, plus four that were blocked by Senators. But Subban – he of the big windup and wild howitzers – didn’t have a SINGLE SHOT that missed the net.
Michel Therrien and J.J. Daigneault are coaching P.K. into Norris Trophy contention. In the absence of Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang is favoured. But P.K. is becoming part of the Norris conversation.
There were 77 shots on goal, two successful power plays by each team and some fierce hits – most of them dished out by the Senators, who had a whopping 39-18 advantage. That’s the most hits against the Canadiens this season.
Chris Neil and Eric Gryba had eight hits each. Francis Bouillon’s five led the Canadiens.
To their credit – and typical of the way they’ve played this season – the Canadiens absorbed the shots and kept on coming. They generated a good bit of traffic in front of Lehner, particularly when Brendan Gallagher was on the ice to fearlessly crash the blue paint.
• • •
There was no puff of white smoke emanating from the Bell Centre, but the Canadiens are undefeated when playing on the same day a new pope is elected.
It had happened twice before Wednesday.
On March 2, 1939, when Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli became Pope Pius XII, the Canadiens beat the Leafs 3-1 at the Forum.
When Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli became Pope John XX!!! on Oct. 28, 1958, the Canadiens tied the Blackhawks 5-5 in Chicago.
Maybe the current backup goaltender’s spot in the dressing room should be called the Chair of Peter.