Montreal Canadiens v New York IslandersThe Canadiens survived another of their tentative first period and came back to defeat the New York Islanders 3-1 Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum. The Canadiens were outshot 14-3 in the opening period and trailed 1-0 on a goal by Kyle Okposo. The Habs turned the game around in the second period and took the lead on goals by Andrei Markov and Brendan Gallagher. David Desharnais clinched it with less than two minutes left. Carey Price stopped 37 of 38 shots. The Canadiens had only 21 on Islanders goaltender Chad Johnson. The RDS three stars were Price, Okposo and Markov.

Inside the Game –

Simply the Best Carey Price has been lights out in the 18 games leading to the Christmas break. He’s won five of his last six starts allowing only six goals. When you stop 37 of 38 there are a lot of highlights especially in the first period, but in the end his save on Mikhail Grabovski from ten feet out and the score 2-1 will be the most memorable. It came with 2:47 left. A minute and a half later Desharnais scored the clinching goal.

Rope-a-Dope – We have spent 35 games trying to understand and explain the Canadiens inability to kickstart their games. They have scored only 12 first period goals all season. In this one they Canadiens were outshot 14-3 in the opening 20 minutes. They only attempted ten shots compared with 25 for the Islanders. But…once again they went to the dressing room still in the game.

Table Setter – The first shift of the second period was a game changer. Galchenyuk/Pacioretty/Gallagher dominated the Frans Nielson/Grabovsky/Kulemin line and with that the Canadiens turned the table upside down. The Galchenyuk line had five shots on goal in the period, but they were only part of the story.

The Little ThingsAndrei Markov tied the game six minutes in the the second period on a big slapshot, but it was the winning goal that said a lot about the little things that go into winning hockey. In the 12th minute Alex Galchenyuk sent Brendan Gallagher into the zone. At the same time Sergei Gonchar joined the rush. Gallagher fed Gonchar and headed for the goalmouth where as usual, he stopped as Gonchar let his shot go. Gallagher was there for the rebound. Game winner.

High Wire Act – Nobody in the league seems to be more comfortable and confident protecting a lead than the Canadiens. Although the third period Corsi possession numbers don’t tell the story (22-17 in the Islanders favour), most of the third period was spent in the Canadiens end, mainly because they fell back and for the most part gave up the neutral zone. Still, 90 percent of the play came along the boards, in the corners and behind the net. And when the puck came loose, Price was there. The Canadiens got into the Christmas break with a 14-1-0 record going into the third period with a lead.

Montreal Canadiens v New York IslandersAlso Worth Mentioning – ……The Advanced Statistics crowd keeps waiting for the Canadiens game to collapse around their ears. It ain’t happened yet. Yet another game that, based on Corsi & Fenwick numbers, the Canadiens should have lost. What may be confounding their calculations is the Habs goaltender. …..Andrei Markov played in his 800th game as a Canadien, scored the tieing goal and was very good again only two days after his 36th birthday. We expressed concern about the age of the Canadiens defense. I would argue that the two old guys, Markov and 40 year old Sergei Gonchar were the Habs best in this game. Markov has points in his last five games (2g,4a). ….And yes, David Desharnais can play left wing. The Eller Desharnais combination line had a good night. I really like some of their shifts defensively in the third period. Still would like to see a little more from P.A. Parenteau but, that said, he was excellent in starting the play that led to Desharnais’ clinching goal.

At The Break – With five wins their last six games, the Canadiens, along with Tampa Bay, move up into a points tie with the Islanders for second place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Penguins. The Habs have twice as many wins (22) as losses (11). And who would have predicted that at this point of the season.

Moving On – The Christmas break. A lot of the players are heading straight on to Florida for what will be three days away from the ice. Saturday they will all find their way to Raleigh North Carolina and Sunday they’ll play the Hurricanes in game two of the five game road trip.