At the end of the first week of the NHL’s schedule the Canadiens defeated the Arizona Coyots at the Bell Centre and took sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division. Through thick and plenty of thin, over 128 days the Canadien have not relinquished their hold on their division lead for even 24 hours.
And, thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Toronto Saturday night they’ll still be in first place for at least two more days.
After that, who knows?
Ottawa can close to within two points of the Canadiens with a win at Florida on Sunday and depending on how the Canadiens do Monday night at New Jersey, might be able to edge ahead of the Canadiens after their own Monday night game against Tampa Bay.
But that’s ahead. Now is the time to savour a terrific piece of Saturday night entertainment at the Air Canada Centre.
It’s been twenty years since a game between the Canadiens and Leafs had any kind of real importance beyond whatever manufactured rivalry there was between Montreal and Toronto-based teams. But this game was meaningful. A true four-point game with huge impact in the standings. If the Canadiens had lost this one in regulation time Toronto would have moved to within two points of the Canadiens with a game in hand. The Canadiens were coming off a dreadful shutout loss to the Islanders and were sporting an offense that has been one of the league’s worst in the month of February. Other than that, no pressure at all.
FROM THE ASHES –
There were signs as early as the 4-0 loss to Boston on February 12th that Carey Price was beginning to shrug off whatever had been shackling his game over the previous two months. After the five day break, he came back with a good efforts in a loss against Winnipeg, a shootout win against the Rangers and then came the shutout loss against the Islanders. Against Toronto, he was the old Carey. With the Leafs, Ottawa and Boston right on the Canadiens heels and the trade deadline Wednesday, his timing couldn’t be better.
The Canadiens ended a 118 minute goaless streak thanks to Max Pacioretty’s 29th goal of the season. Pacioretty was fourth man on the play when Alex Galchenyuk gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead. Both goals came in a second period in which the Canadiens were outshot 12-5 and while Price was putting on one of his goaltending clinics. The Canadiens registered 28 shots in the game. Pacioretty had six, Galchenyuk – 4 and Radulov – 2. The remaining nine forwards totaled five which tells us, and especially GM Marc Bergevin that there’s work still to be done between now and the Wednesday trade deadline.
ONE FOR THE COACH –
The most noticeable pre-game lineup changes turned out not be the adjustments he made to his bottom three forward lines. It was the defense Shea Weber had the benefit of Andrei Markov’s ability to move the puck. At the same time, Alexei Emelin became a hitting machine playing along side Jeff Petry. Emelin registered a game high 9 hits and Petry had five hits to go with his four shots on goal. It was a rare night in which the Canadiens outhit an opponent.
The moment they came on the ice I wondered what in the world Claude Julien was thinking when he put Tomas Plekanec out with Andrew Shaw in the 3-on-3 overtime. Seconds later they won the game. Forgetting the goal, if there were such thing as a fourth game star, or hardest-working-player award it would have to go to Shaw. He did in this game everything that Marc Bergevin thought he was getting when he traded for him last June. And he stayed out of the penalty box.
WE MOVE ON –
The Canadiens are in another stretch of three games in four nights. They play at New Jersey Monday night and return home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. At the same time Ottawa plays at Florida and Tampa Bay Sunday and Monday. They’re four points back with three games in hand, Then comes the trade deadline. Despite the encouraging result in Toronto, I can’t imagine Marc Bergevin standing idly by past 3.00pm Wednesday.