Hands up, everyone who thought your Montreal Canadiens would collect four points this weekend?
OK, you’re visionaries. Go buy some lottery tickets.
Now a show of hands: Who would have been happy with three points?
Final question for the faithful: At the 16-minute mark of the third period Saturday night, how many of you thought this team would miss the playoffs?
And they still might.
The Canadiens have a killer schedule this week. The patrick Roy Show rolls into the Bell Centre Tuesday night, followed by the surging Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Then the Canadiens hit the road for games in Toronto on Saturday and Boston on Monday the 24th.
Bolstered by the miraculous Overtime win over Ottawa and that ho-hum conquest of hapless Buffalo, the Canadiens finds themselves back in second place in the Atlantic Division. They are seven points clear of the cut-off for Eastern Conference postseason play.
They’re not home and dry just yet. Another three-game losing streak – which is what the Canadiens rode into this weekend – and it’s tight-collar time again.
But the team is looking a lot better than it did in the seconds preceding Lars Eller’s goal at 16:38 of the third period Saturday night.
In reaping four points that boosted them past Tampa Bay and Toronto, the Canadiens displayed guts, character, never-quit attitude – and some semblance of a lineup that might carry the team into mid-April.
Let’s begin with the MVP of the weekend.
MIA since Sochi, P.K. Subban showed up when he was needed most.
The Canadiens stud defenceman played an astonishing 55:31 seconds in the space of 26 hours. P.K. assisted on the three goals that erased Ottawa’s lead on Saturday night. After seven shots on goal against the Senators, P.K. had only one in Buffalo – along with two penalties – but he controlled the play on every one of his 26 shifts against the Sabres.
I was skeptical of pairing P.K. with Francis Bouillon, and they were on for a couple of Ottawa goals. Unless Michel Therrien plans to use Frankie Boo in the 13 remaining regular-season games – including three sets of back-to-backs – we’ll likely see Subban with yet another partner.
Not a problem. The reigning Norris Trophy winner is in a zone, and P.K. can play with anyone.
OK, maybe not Douglas Murray.
David Desharnais was another standout: The goal – with .3 of a second left, off a genius pass by P.K. – that sent the game into OT, plus an assist against Ottawa. An assist on Dale Weise’s goal in Buffalo.
DD is in a zone, and he can play with anyone.
OK, maybe not Rene Bourque. But DD and Max Pacioretty might be the best linemates for Thomas Vanek, who had six shots on goal in his Buffalo homecoming.
Brendan Gallagher scored his 17th of the season against the Sabres and continued to energize new linemates Daniel Brière and Tomas Plekanec. The Canadiens also got a decent performance out of the other new line THerrien threw together against Ottawa: Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brian Gionta.
Defensive forward duty on the third line is a comedown for the Canadiens’ captain. But at this stage of his career, that would seem to be Gionta’s future with the Canadiens, through this season and beyond if they bring him back.
Galchenyuk played 14:48 against Ottawa, 13:24 in Buffalo. I still think the Canadiens are bringing him along too slowly, and we’ll get to see a different developmental approach when Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche visit. But the Canadiens have a plan for the kid, and they’re sticking to it … at least until the next time Therrien juggles his lines.
That won’t happen if the Canadiens can string some wins together. They got off to a good start, but it was a near-death experience against Ottawa and Buffalo has been dead since October.
Even though the Sabres’ offence was Drew Stafford and 11 guys you’ve never heard of – oops, I forgot Matt D’Agostini – surprise starter Dustin Tokarski had to be sharp. And he was, making 29 saves to ring up his first NHL shutout.
With Carey Price, Tokarski, Peter Budaj, Devan Dubnyk in Hamilton and Zach Fucale in the Q, the Canadiens have an over-abundance of quality goaltenders – none of whom can help their power play, which went 0-for-Buffalo.
P.K. will fix that.