Six games on the road, three of them without Carey Price. The Canadiens took eight of a possible twelve points and finish the calendar year with nine wins in their last thirteen games.
They’ll start the new year holding down the first of the two Eastern Conference wild card spots.
THE BOUNCE BACK
As bad porous as Antti Niemi was Saturday night at Tampa, he was close to air tight in Dallas. Quite a comeback from what was surely a depressing and soul searching night for the Canadiens backup. Sixteen high danger scoring chances among the 47 shots he faced in the game. A rebound goal on a power play put the Stars ahead in the second period but it was one of the few rebounds that got away from Niemi in this game, a marked change from Saturday night in Tampa when he was a rebound factory. Niemi was clearly the difference maker in Dallas. He closes out the road trip with wins in two of his three consecutive starts.
Phillip Danault scored both goals in regulation time for the Canadiens.
He has five goals and eight points in his last four games. What’s going on with that?
Going into the game in Vegas Danault had scored 1 goal in his previous 29 games – none in his last 11. He scored his first NHL hat trick in Vegas, then three assists in Tampa and now two goals in Dallas. He was in perfect position to take Brett Kulak‘s pass for the game’s first goal. On the tying goal he was quick to jump on a missed Shea Weber blast for a wrap around that was initially stopped by Ben Bishop. Danault’s second effort pushed it into the net. The goal is nice, but what stands out is his confident playmaking.
Danault’s timing has been impeccable. His game has heated up just as some of his teammates were starting to cool off.
The Canadiens lost five straight overtime games to start the season. The Canadiens are noted for their speed but Claude Julien seemed to go against speed in favour of defense in his 3-on-3 overtime personnel selection. He went against that in Vegas with Byron, Domi and Mete combining for the OT winner. In Dallas he started with Domi, Byron and Petry. Domi beat Seguin on the opening faceoff and sent the puck to Byron and what started out as a 1-on-1 break suddenly became a 2-on-1 when Petry roared right past Seguin for the pass and the game winner. It took 14-seconds. Speed did kill.
IN NEED OF A CHANGE
Once again we saw very little that one could describe as sustained pressure from Domi and Drouin in this game. The problem here isn’t Domi but Drouin who is back in one of his seemingly disintereste funks. This has been going on for a while now. It might be time to shake that line up a bit and, considering the way the Danault line has been going, the change is not likely going to be in that direction but more likely downward toward the third line.
This was one of the second anniversary date for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The first was his 10th game of the season after which he gained a year on his entry level contract, the second was the Canadiens 40th game of the season which was this one. There wasn’t much doubt he would stay round for the duration but now he’s get unrestricted free agency after seven rather than eight year.
Kotkaniemi lost his right winger Andrew Shaw to an upper body injury and wound up with a handful linemates. He still had a strong offensive game. The early complaint was he wasn’t shooting the puck enough. He is now. Four shots on goal and a goalpost in this game; five shots against Tampa and against Florida – two goalposts. There will be a day when those shots will start going in.
….Danault not only had two goals, he led the Canadiens with six shots on goal; Kotkaniemi was second with his four.
….Kotkaniemi also won 6 of 9 faceoffs. Danault won 13 of 19 and, as a team the Canadiens were at 55%.
….Paul Byron led the Canadiens with five of their 21 hits.
The Canadiens will fly home on New Year’s Day. They will play their next three at home – Vancouver on Thursday, Nashville Saturday and Minnesota Monday before heading to Detroit for next Tuesday.