After last weekend’s sweep of the Senators, the Canadiens had Ottawa where they wanted them and then they came up with two dreadful home ice efforts against teams currently out of the playoff picture, to allow them back into the race for first place in the Atlantic Division.
There aren’t many who take this “race” to win the division very seriously beyond some probable summer Route 417 bragging rights. The big issue, at least for the Canadiens, is trying to take care of a lot of nagging problems surrounding their play in March.
For one night at least, most of the issues were took second stage to a team effort that made some thing that they actually were capable of making a playoff run. Whether they can sustain in through the final seven game of the season remains to be seen.
In his post game news conference Claude Julien mentioned how “professionally” Andrei Markov handles his conditioning and approach as he nears the end of his career. Against the Senators, at the age of 38 he appeared to have suddenly discovered the Fountain of Youth. Part of his re-birth may be the reduction in ice time his coaches have given him out of deference to age. Markov was on the ice for 22 minutes against the Senators compared with the 26 minutes a game he was getting at this stage last season. The spring to his step is noticeable. He scored twice and set up Shea Weber for the Canadiens other goal. One could argue it was his best game of the year at a time of the year when in seasons past his legs were starting to go away from him.
UP THE MIDDLE –
Centre ice for the Canadiens was taken up by Phillip Danault, Tomas Plekanec, Andrew Shaw and Torrey Mitchell. As a group they’re not going to cause opposition coaches to lose too much sleep but they might go down as the hardest working centres in the league. Led by Plekanec they played a major role in shutting down the Senators especially on the forecheck and in the neutral zone where the Senators attack consistently seemed to bog down. Even Erik Karlsson who normally moves the puck at will, had problems working through the neutral zone in this game.
The Canadiens took their 3-0 lead six minutes into the second period and then turned things over to Carey. The rest of the way Ottawa outshot the Canadiens 21-11 but could only beat him once. Price is now 9-2-0 over his last eleven games and in that stretch he’s allowed 18 goals. In seven of the games he’s allowed only one. Another thing for the fans to feel good about heading towards the post season.
It’s seems like picking at the nit on a night as successful as this one was, but once again the forwards the Canadiens rely most upon for offense, came away empty handed. They were solid contributors in other ways, but there wasn’t much offensive thrust to be seen from Max Packioretty, Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk. After they were prominent in February, all three are mired in March slumps. Of the 26 goals the Canadiens have scored in this month’s 12 games, only three have come from them – two by Pacioretty, one by Galchenyuk and Radulov with none. They’ll break out of it soon I’m guessing. Having moved to the wing, Galchenyuk looks closest to a breakthrough.
….I guess we can start touting the Jordie Benn deal as Marc Bergevin’s best at the trade deadline. While the other additions have been in and out of the lineup, Benn played in his 11th straight since being acquired from Dallas. Another steady night with no complications alongside Nathan Beaulieu.
….Not the usual suspects when it comes to the rough stuff. Tomas Plekanec jumped in to confront Fredrik Claesson after he slammed Brendan Gallagher awkwardly into the boards in the second period. And Alexei Emelin finally had enough from Bobby Ryan at game’s end and threw a few punches before the linesman could pull them apart. It’s well known that kind of thing goes a long way in the dressing room.
….After scoring one power play goal over their previous ten games (4.5%), the Canadiens came through with two on four advantages against Ottawa and looked good on all four opportunities they had,
The Canadiens are back into a three point lead in the Atlantic Division. They have 93 points which conventional wisdom seems to say is the cutoff point for making the playoffs. That’s not always true but it seems to average out that way over the years.
The Canadiens will host Dallas Tuesday night which should be fun. It’ll be the first time that the Benn brothers will play against each other in an NHL game. Then it’s Florida on Thursday before the Canadien take to the road for four of the season’s final five games.
I could say it seems like only yesterday that we were starting the season but that would be a lie. It’s been a bit of a grind with a lot of water under the bridge for the second straight year.