Elliotte Friedman put it best during Hockey Night in Canada’s postgame show:
“Some time in the near future, I want seven games of that.”
“That” was 60 minutes of wide-open, frequently thrilling hockey at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night. The Canadiens emerged on the long end of a 5-3 score, but the home team put up an epic battle in a game so exciting you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching the World Juniors.
Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock are building something special in Toronto, and the Leafs’ young stars shone against the Canadiens.
Toronto outshot the Canadiens 36-31. The margin in shot attempts was 67-49.
Thirteen Canadiens blocked 23 Toronto shots. The Leafs had four blocks by four players.
Of course, the Canadien making the key blocks was Carey Price. In recording his 10th straight win over the Leafs, Price made 15 saves in the third period, including a couple of spectacular stops on prize rookie Auston Matthews.
The disparity in hits was less a manifestation of newfound CH physicality than an indicator of which team had more possession time in the offensive zone.
After falling behind early, Toronto cranked up its speed to climb back into the game. Matthews and the spectacular Mitch Marner were threats to score on every shift they played.
But the Canadiens prevailed … and in the process secured a 400th win for Michel Therrien.
Therrien’s injury-ravaged team – lacking seven starters – completed their longest road trip of the season with a 4-1-2 record,.
The Canadiens bagged 10 of a possible 14 points and solidified their hold on the top spot in the Atlantic Division, 10 points clear of Boston with two games in hand on the Bruins.
Since the injury bug hit with the loss of Alex Galchenyuk, most of the Canadiens have stepped up big-time to fill the void left by the loss of their best forward and subsequent injuries to Andrew Shaw, David Desharnais, Greg Pateryn, Andrei Markov and, during the road trip, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher.
This team battles.
In Toronto, the Canadiens squandered a 2-0 lead and let 4-2 become 4-3. But they never panicked, and Price was a wall down the stretch.
There’s a long list of Canadiens who have elevated their game since the injury bug hit:
Phillip Danault and Max Pacioretty have been excellent; and in Toronto, Alexander Radulov effectively filled the void on their line left by the injury to Gallagher.
Shea Weber and Alexei Emelin have been terrific all season. Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu are emerging as a first-rate second pairing. This should let Markov play sensible minutes when he returns.
Tomas Plekanec is still struggling, but he was 11-7 on face offs in Toronto and plays a smart defensive game.
Artturi Lehkonen had an excellent road trip. The young Finn is emerging as the kind of solid, two-way player who’s been a feature of good Canadiens teams for decades.
Michael McCarron scored his first goal of the season. And his linemate, Nikita Scherbak, scored the first of his career.
McCarron and Bobby Farnham stepped up when the Leafs tried to turn the game into a Colton Orr Tribute Night.
That flashback notwithstanding, Toronto plays fast, skilled, exciting hockey that demanded the best of the Canadiens … Price in particular.
Let’s hope Friedman gets his wish.
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Comment on the Liveblog from city center:
Great to see the Habs keep rolling. 24, 67 and 47 is a bona fide number one line. Danault does not look out of place one bit and you almost wonder whether MB was able to essentially steal a number one center away from Chicago. And Rads,…. the power forward we haven’t had since Cole got sent packing.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of this stretch is that the Captain has clearly grown into the role. He has upped his game just when the team faces its greatest adversity of the season and sets a club record for clutch goals.
Last, Shea Weber is everything i had hoped for and more. Knows when to pick his spots for payback and deliver justice without pulling a Ryan White meltdown for the team.
Well done boys. Tons of character.
And from Chris:
Since December 4th, the game where Montreal lost Galchenyuk, Pacioretty has 14 goals and 19 points in 16 games. Most impressively, that includes 7 goals and 11 points in 10 road games, where opposing coaches can match lines.
The other player who has really stepped up is Jeff Petry, who now has 5 goals and 12 points in those same 16 games, filling the offensive void left by Markov’s injury.
Maybe the best news is that the team has stayed afloat with all these injuries despite weak play by Carey Price, who sports a very mediocre 2.54 GAA and below average .900 SV% over those games. You know that Price can and will elevate his play, so a healthy Montreal team with a re-focused Price could be dangerous if they can pick up another scorer at the deadline.
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And the final words to Angela Price