Somewhere around the middle of the first period I asked myself “where would the Canadiens be if they hadn’t signed Al Montoya in the off-season?” To myself I said, “Probably 0-3-0 to start the season.”
As was again clearly demonstrated last season, goaltending can be almost everything in the NHL, especially the way the game is played today. It’s more than “everything” when Carey Price is available but Carey hasn’t played for the Canadiens in eleven months.
Al Montoya may not be as elegant as Price, but he gets the job done and has been doing it for a few years now. He was a star in the season opener at Buffalo. If the Canadiens had managed to win the shootout Saturday against Ottawa he might have been considered for first star. In the first period of the home opener against Pittsburgh Tuesday night, twelve of the seventeen first period shots were scoring chances. He stopped them all and 19 more. That first period was the difference between what could have been a lopsided loss and a 4-0 win. Marc Bergevin has stated multiple times he wants the Canadiens to be more difficult to play against. Nothing is harder to play against than a hot goaltender.
Max Pacioretty’s leadership qualities have been questioned almost from the day he was named captain of the Canadiens. At times I’ve doubted it as well. Not in this game. Pacioretty was the team’s best skater. He scored the game winning goal 23 seconds into the first period and his backhand pass from the corner that set up Desharnais’ first goal was as good as it can get. He stuck up for his teammates and gave the team his best game in a year. Part of his stastic line along with the goal and assist were 9 shots attempts, 6 of them on-goal with a plus-2 in the defensive column. There were signs he was starting to come out of whatever was holding up his game Saturday in Ottawa. He had a great night against Pittsburgh.
While Pacioretty has found a way to get his game in gear, we’re still waiting for the team’s other 30-goal scorer Alex Galchenyuk to have an impact type game. He’s going to get his season started eventually. Right now, Pacioretty and Gallagher are doing most of the heavy lifting on the line. When allowed to take a faceoff, he was better that his 26 % of the first two games, winning four of nine but things are so bad in that department that Michel Therrien has Brendan Gallagher taking half of his opportunities. (Gallagher was successful on four of his eight faceoffs.
We’ll that chant a lot this year.
It didn’t take long for Canadiens fans to catch on to just how good Alexander Radulov can be. Therrien called him a “very special player” in his post game news conference and he is that. But we’ve been saying that since training camp. After taking two bad penalties in the third period he came right back to score his first goal as a Canadien and it was what we call a ‘goal-scorer’s goal’; hanging on to the puck while cutting across the slot waiting for Marc-Andre Fleury to go down before roofing it to make it 3-0. He also got the crowd chanting when he put on a one-handed stickhandling display while being double-teamed late in the third period.
WORK TO BE DONE
The Canadiens are now 2-0-1 to start the season. Despite a shutout win against one of the league’s top teams, they are still not even close to being on top of their game. Goaltending won this game, not controlled hockey. They were better in the second half but with six players on the ice who weren’t with the team at the end of last season, cohesion is still an issue.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Mikhail Sergachev was given a total of eleven shifts in the first two periods but only two more in the third. He seemed to be contributing but Therrien isn’t using him on special teams yet and there was a string of seven penalties issued over a 3:14 stretch late in the game which disrupted the flow.
….On the scoresheet, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Sergachev, and Artturi Lehkonen registered three hits each. Torrey Mitchell won 10 of 13 faceoffs (77%). Jeff Petry, who is playing the way we thought he would before came down with that groin injury early last season, blocked four shots and picked up two assists. In two games he has a pair of goals and four points.
…Nothing to complain about in Artturi Lehkonen’s game. He had two shots on goal but both of them were good scoring chances. Also three hits.
….The Canadiens will host the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday and play the Bruins in Boston on Saturday. We might see Carey Price on Saturday. There’s no reason to bring him back before then, the way his backup is playing.