Thanks to an exquisite Claude Julien game plan executed almost perfectly by a depleted Canadiens lineup it turned out to be a terrific bit of entertainment at the back end of a season to be forgotten.
Claude Julien has been preaching the transition game from his defense from the day he arrived last February. The last thing you would expect was the makeshift group he put on the ice in Tampa would give him one of the best transition games the Canadiens have put up in a couple of months.
That was a pretty makeshift defense that Claude Julien put on the ice for this game.
The defense pairings for this game were Reilly/Petry; Alzner/Juulsen and Benn/Lernout. Two raw rookies and a trade-dealine acquisition making up half of the group. They moved puck will for two and a half periods before the Lightning started to figure things out. It was because of the work from deep in the Canadiens end that the Canadiens were able to mount and sustain a strong North/South game.
The Tampa Bay Lightning nearly ended Antti Niemi’s career earlier this season. In two and a half appearances against them he gave up 16 goals and was placed on waivers twice. Symbolic of his comeback, he’s had star quality in his two appearances against them as a member of the Canadiens, both of the game decided in overtime/shootout. The Canadiens considered Niemi as merely a warm body to back up Charlie Lindgren until Carey Price came off injuries. Right now he has the best statistics of any of the Canadiens goaltenders. Niemi did his job again. He’ll be gone at the end of this season but somebody is going to get a pretty good backup come next season.
WHO’S NUMBER ONE?
The Canadiens haven’t had a top first line all season. Hard to pick one in this game because every line on the team has a disfunctional part. Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher made the Jonathan Drouin line work. My impression is, they made Drouin have a pretty creative game. That can only be a good thing.Jacob de la Rose should never be considered a top six forward but he centered Charles Hudon and Alex Galchenyuk. Hudon and Galchenyuk had good nights. Hudon drew first assist on both of the Canadens goals. His setup for Galchenyuk was perfect.
De la Rose was quite often overmatched especially, as one might expect, when matched up against the Steven Stamkos line. He’s got to stop taking those fouls. He was in the penalty box for the first Tampa goal.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
I know it’s ancient history but, watching Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh in this game would make a long term Canadiens fan want to cry. Both were Canadiens top-ten draft picks. Both gone. McDonagh for Scott Gomez in one of the worst deals in Canadiens history. Who knows how we will judge Sergachev for Drouin five years down the road but right now it doesn’t cover the Canadiens in any glory.
There has to be a reason the Minnesota Wild felt the best they could get for defenseman Mike Reilly was a fifth round draft pick from the Canadiens. I’m sure there is something in his game they didn’t like. Whatever that disqualifying fault, in six games with the Canadiens I haven’t seen it. Certainly his ability to get the puck out of his zone has outweighed whatever defensive deficiencies exist in his game. Reilly and Petry has some chemistry. So far.
….Brendan Gallagher had six shots on goal. Again.
….Impressive was the way Charles Hudon came back after that hard knock against the boards which had ankle sprain written all over it.
The Canadiens complete their six game road trip in Columbus Monday night. That will be the first of back to back games with Dallas at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. The Canadiens have had their moments on this road trip but the end result is four losses in a row after winning that opening game against the Islanders (1-2-2). And never to be forgotten, the Canadiens have now lost 12 of their last 15 games overall.