Ken Dryden used to describe his shutouts in two ways. There were the ones where the defense in front of him was so airtight that the game seemed like a vacation. He used to call those his “non-working shutouts”. In the 1970’s Dryden saw a lot of those. But there were also those nights, rare as they might have been, when his defense was taking the night off. Those were his “working shutouts”
Antti Niemi had the latter Friday night in Buffalo.
Niemi had to turn up at Keybank Center in Buffalo came with his work boots and lunch pail. He went to work, stopped all 35 Sabres shots and earned his first shutout as a member of the Canadiens.
This was a pressure game. Niemi was protecting a 1-0 lead right up to the final two minutes of the game. He has some really big moments. He stopped four shots while the Canadiens were two men short early in the third period. But, to me his best work was late in the second period when the Canadiens got themselves hemmed in and Niemi had to come up with three terrific stops, twice by Sam Reinhart and then on Brendan Guhle. Game saving work.
With the Canadiens Niemi is now has a 6-4-4 record with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage; extraordinary numbers on a team that is so bankrupt defensively.
It seems like a broken record on this website, but one can’t help continue to marvel at the way Niemi has turned his season, and probably his career around in Montreal.
It was all up to Jacob de la Rose. When Phillip Danault went down with his concussion issues Claude Julien really had no choice but to move him up to centre one of the Canadiens top lines. Julien gave him Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen. He’s had his ups and downs in the role, but the last couple of games he’s seemed to have created some consistency. Galchenyuk and Lehkonen can’t hurt, but he’s also had some input of his own. His shot off the back boards allowed Lehkonen to score the game-winning goal. He had three shots on goal; all three of them scoring chances. He also won 9-of-15 faceoffs. There’s still some skepticism about his ability to maintain his current level of play. So far, so good.
Lehkonen’s game winning goal was his 10th of the season. After scoring eighteen goals his rookie season, most were predicting at least 25 goals for Lehknonen. Nothing has worked out well for him. He missed sixteen November/December games with an injury and up until the third of February the only two goals he’d scored had come in Ottawa October 30th. It took a while following his return from the injury but it seems his conditioning has finally caught up to the rest of the league. In his last 22 games he has eight goals, which would be close to a thirty-goal pace if circumstances hadn’t derailed the first half of his season. Like almost everything else involving this team, it’s wait until next year.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Mike McCarron watched this game from the press box and with Byron Froese replacing him, the fourth line had some impact on the game. Froese is not going to turn games around individually but he was a marked improvement on McCarron and left winger Daniel Carr had a particularly good night.
….Paul Byron led the Canadiens with four shots on goal. Brendan Gallagher had three. If Jonathan Drouin can eventually get it all together, this could be one of the fastest lines in the NHL. Byron scored one of the empty net goals, and the next shift Gallagher got the other.
….Something jacked Jordie Benn up. This was his best game in a month or more. He rushed the puck with confidence. Even made a couple of deep forays into the Buffalo zone, something we’re not used to seeing from him.
….Half the Canadiens defense are rookies. All three of them, Mike Reilly, Noah Juulsen and Brett Lernout were noticable by not being noticable. That can only be a good thing.
….We’ve been ranting about the Canadiens horrible penalty kill for months. At least in this game it came through, especially in that 1:06 when they were two men short. Granted it was the league-worst Buffalo power play, but, the way things are, you take a positive anywhere you you can find it.
The win didn’t help the Canadiens in their quest for a high spot in the draft lottery, but Saturday night they take on the Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre and then Detroit Monday night. Then it’s four days off before they head back to Pittsburgh. Seven games and it’s over and done with.