There’s strong feeling out there that Sylvain Lefebvre should lose his job as head coach of the Canadiens American Hockey League St. John’s affiliate. There are few coaches on any level who have gone four straight years without making the playoffs and is on track to make it five in a row this season who still can manage to hang on.
But, say this about Lefevbre, when he sends a player up to the Canadiens, that player knows how to play the game, as Michel Therrien would say “the right way.”
There were seven of Lefebvre’s players in the lineup in the 5-3 win over Toronto Saturday night. For the most part that played a big role as the Canadiens seven game road trip finally ended. Five of them were forwards; McCarron, Scherbak, Andrighetto, Carr and Farnham. Ryan Johnston and MarkBarberio made up the Habs third defensive pairing. Every one of them played a role as the Canadiens finished their road trip with ten of a possible fourteen points.
Anyone who has a chance to watch St. John’s this year has been impressed with the massive improvement in Nikita Scherbak’s game after injuries messed up his rookie professional year last season. The offensive talent is there. Missing was consistency. He made his NHL debut on the fourth line with Mike McCarron and Daniel Carr and scored on his first NHL shot with one second left in the first period. After blowing a 2-0 lead, Scherbak’s goal gave the Canadiens a lead they didn’t relinquish the rest of the night. Although he didn’t get a point on it, Scherbak was also important on the McCarron goal which turned out to be the third period clincher.
Three of the five Canadiens goals came from Canadiens draft choices over the last four years. 2013 first-rounder Mike McCarron scored the Habs fifth goal; a hail-mary from the corner early in the third period to take the wind out of Toronto’s sails. The rookie Artturi Lehkonen was taken in the second round that same draft. He now has quietly produced eight goals in his first year on this side of the Atlantic. Scherbak was a first rounder in 2014. His goal came on a power play, and he was in front distracting Frederik Andersen when McCarron scored from the corner.
IN OVERDRIVE –
We’ve known since training camp the kind of talent possessed by Alexander Radulov. We have found on this seven game road trip that Radulov has another gear. As the injuries piled up he found overdrive. It wasn’t only his goal and assist, it was the way he was engaged with the Leafs and especially with Nasem Kadri who’s assignment was to check Radulov’s line. Radulov checked the puck away from Kadri to start the play that led to Pacioretty’s goal twenty seconds into the period and then he was there in front of the Toronto net to accept Shea Weber’s pass out 36-seconds into the second period. In the six road games since the Christmas break, Radulov has 4 goals, 4 assists.
The Canadiens road tripbecause of the injury load, had all the makings of last season’s diastrous 2-6-0 holiday road trip especially when the dropped a 2-1 decision in Columbus to start things off. But, in the six games after Christmas they were 4-0-2. The rookies helped but some of the remaining core players did more than their share. Radulov could have been a star in each of the last six games. Pacioretty, Weber and Petry took control as well.
With two assists vs. Toronto Weber has 2 goals, 5 assists in the six games since Christmas. Petry also with 2 assists…he’s got 12 points his last 13 games. And after serious doubts about his season after 24 games, Max Pacioretty appears to be ready to take a run at 40 goals again this season. He has 14 his last 16 games.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING –
….Some think Carey Price is in a slump. Not if you watched the third period when stopped all of the Leafs 15 shots including five in the final two minutes when they had their goaltender pulled. Two of the goals came on Toronto power plays and third after the Canadiens ice the puck and were left with their third defense pairing on the ice, with Jame van Riemsdyk getting a gimme off Mitch Marners goalmouth pass.
….Some discussion during the Hockey Night telecast about Tomas Plekanec’s future once some of the injuries start filtering back. Hate to see it, but the conversation has some merit, especially with the development of Phillip Danault as a top centre. Six million dollars is lot to be paying for what #14 is giving the team right now, but he still remains solid defensively and he won 63 percent of his faceoffs.
….Outside of Alexei Emelin, the Canadiens aren’t known as a physical team but they registered 25 hits in the game to only four for the Leafs, which is usually an indication of who had the puck for a large portion of the night. Jeff Petry led with four. to record one.
….Another indication of the kind of battle this was. The Canadiens were forced to block 28 shots to only four for Toronto. Shea Weber blocked three; Plekanec and Barberio with three each.
….Maybe the best way to sum this up would be, the Canadiens got the goaltending when they needed it. Toronto didn’t.
HEADING HOME –
The Canadiens come home with 56 points in 40 games even with eight players on their injury list. They’ll face the Capitals Monday night at the Bell Centre and then head out for two more road games Wednesday and Thursday in Winnipeg and Minnesota. That will be the third set of back-to-back games in three weeks. It doesn’t get easier.