There were more than a few story lines going into Saturday night’s Leafs/Canadiens contest despite the obvious fact that the game meant absolutely nothing beyond a few summertime golf course bragging rights. Phillip Danault over from the Chicago Black Hawks in yesterday’s trade. Michael McCarron up from St. John’s. The Canadiens going for a tenth straight win against Toronto. But when all was said and done, it was the goaltender who earned top billing. .
THE FIRST STAR
Condon was named the first star of the game and it was a good choice. The Canadiens started this game in the sloppy manner to which we’ve become accustomed over the last three months,. Int he first five minutes of the game there were five turnovers in the Canadiens zone, one of them led to the opening goal of the game. But Condon also stopped Nazem Kadri on a breakaway during that sequence. With the score tied 1-1 late in the first period he survived a monumentally bad shift from the Plekanec line that led to a Pacioretty penalty and then stood tall on the resulting Leafs power play which produced four shots. With the Canadiens leading by a goal and on a power play late in the second period he stopped Leo Komarov’s clear breakaway. Condon’s contribution through the first forty minutes gave the Canadiens a chance to break the game open on Pacioretty’s two goals in the third period.
Condon’s rookie season was supposed to be a sort of earn-while-you-learn experience featuring between fifteen and twenty starts as Carey Price’s backup and lots of practice time with goaltending coach Stephane Waite. So much for the good intentions. In the Canadiens 62nd game this was Condon’s 41st appearance. It has not been a smooth ride, especially through the months of December and January and opponents began to pick apart his rookie weaknesses, especially the five hole and his glove hand. We may look back at the Arizona game two weeks ago as a career turning point. Condon, getting zero help from the rest of his team, let in a potentially confidence-destroying 6 goals on 28 shots against the Coyotes. But he apparently has fought his way through that mess and, based on what we’ve seen in his four starts since he is much the better for it. In his latest stretch he is 3-0-1 allowing seven goals for a 1.68 GAA while stopping 128 of 135 shots for a .948 save percentage. Let’s hear it for the rookie.
Now to the rest of the night’s story. I wondered on Friday whether the Canadiens got the best they could out of Chicago in return for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann. We should know better than to question Canadiens pro scouting. If what we saw tonight from Phillip Danault is not more than just a first game illusion, the Canadiens have themselves a young player who really knows his way around an ice surface. Even without benefit of practice he still fit in seamlessly with his linemates Jacob de la Rose and Paul Byron and as a group they produced a solid night’s work at both ends of the ice. And Danault won 15 of 19 faceoffs.
THE FIRST ROUNDER ARRIVES
Michael McCarron. We’ve been anticipating his arrival since 2014 training camp. McCarron arrived in Montreal at 3:45pm after playing a St. John’s game in Utica New York Friday night. With no time to book into a hotel, he went straight to the Bell Centre. In the first two periods of the game he had five shots on goal, three heavy hits and his first NHL point in only 5:40 of ice time. He’s 6’6” and McCarron is using that size to greater advantage than he did in his two game December callup. That was emphasized in the creation of what turned out to be the game-winning goal when he crashed the boards behind the Toronto net then fought his way back in front to deflect the puck to Devante Smith-Pelly. We’re informed that McCarron has been told to get an apartment in the city, that he won’t be returning to St. John’s. Good news for all concerned. A first round draft pick paying dividends.
Remember, because of injuries and deadline deals, this game was filled with AHLer’s. On the Canadiens side there were some good things. The more I see of Victor Bartley, the more I like. Greg Pateryn is showing he benefited from a long season in the press box. Paired with Alexei Emelin, he had his seventh straight strong start.
Among the veterans, the surprising stat was Lars Eller, who led all forwards with 18:18 ice time, a minute more than Tomas Plekanec. Read whatever you want into that. The conspiracy theorists might be thinking he’s being showcased.
Max Pacioretty scored twice in the third period which salvaged a pretty bad night for both the captain and also his linemates Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher.
And now the Canadiens head west for four games. Before they arrive at the arena in San Jose Monday, the 3:00 trade deadline will have passed. Has Bergevin done all he’s going to do or does he have something else up his sleeve. Stay tuned to your favourite radio talk show.