We’ve been heading for a game like this from Carey Price for over a month. Thursday night he put it all together and posted a 2-0 win, the 42nd shutout of his career and his first since he shut out Boston in the Canadiens 10th game of the season October 27th.
Making is first start in eleven days, Price made it look easy which is the way he goes when his game is at it’s best. There were few rebounds, no second chances. He handled the puck well and he was always in the right spot to make a tough save look routine. Price stopped 33 shots, twelve of them on the Vancouver power play. Twenty-eight of the Vancouver shots came in the final 40 minutes.
This was the Canadiens 41st game of the season. Half way through the schedule the Canadiens have 49 points, 11 points more than they had at the 41 game plateau last season. They now have won five of their last six and ten of their last 14 games and hold the second wild-card berth in the East trailing Buffalo by one point.
We have just gone through the Phillip Danault point explosion after two goals in the season’s first 37 games. Now it’s Jordie Benn.
Benn scored the game winner with a first period screen shot. He has a three game point streak including two goals and has five points in his last five games. Much of this has occurred since he was bumped down to the third pairing with Brett Kulak. The uptick in his game was reflected in his 17:05 ice time including 4:57 penalty killing.
Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin have had more downs than ups over the last dozen games but they were very good in teaming up for the Canadiens second goal. It was Drouin’s checking that caused a Vancouver turnover at the Canadiens line. Drouin then released to centre ice as Domi picked up the puck and hit Drouin on the breakaway. Great shot and the Canadiens second goal. Drouin’s thirteenth goal of the season to equal his total of last season in 76 games.
This was only the fifth time Claude Julien was able to put his all-Finnish line of Kotkaniemi/Armia/Lehkonen together and the first time in 25 games. They were the Canadiens best on the night. Their aggressive forecheck was key to the Benn goal. First Kotkaniemi and then Armia were responsible for the turnover deep in the Vancouver zone. Armia skated away with the puck before sending it out to Benn for the screen shot.
The selection of Armia as the game’s second star was interesting. Along with the assist on the game winner, he also registered 3 takeaways. But there was also that naked giveaway to Bo Horvat deep in the Canadiens end that led to one of Price’s best saves of the night.
Still Julien sent both Armia and Kotkaniemi out in the final minute of the game with Vancouver using six attackers.
Brendan Gallagher provided an anxious moment midway through the first period when he stopped a Ben Hutton shot with his hand. He headed straight for the dressing room with fans having visions of more broken fingers dancing in their heads. Fortunately Gallagher returned in short order and in the second period put on one of his relentless stickhandling shows against a hapless looking Canuck defense. The scoring chances are still there but the goal scoring has slowed up. Nobody seems concerned.
….The power play had it’s moments during the recent road trip. Back to square-one in this game. 0-for-3 and only one shot on goal during 4:41 of PP time.
….The Canadiens power play may be lousy but five-on-five the Canadiens are one of the best teams in the league. Once again they dominated the Corsi puck-possession numbers at 56.79% including 71.43% in the third period when the Canucks were feeling the effects of having played 24 hours earlier in Ottawa. Overall the Canadiens had 9 high danger scoring chances to 5 for the Canucks.
….Jeff Petry led the Canadiens with six shots on goal. Tomas Tatar had four.
….Again the Canadiens lost more faceoffs than they won – 42%. Phillip Danault won 8 of 18 – 44%. Kotkaniemi was the only one who won more than he lost – 9 of 14 (64%).
….Calder Trophy favourite Elias Petterson suffered a leg injury when he was hauled to the ice awkwardly behind the play by Kotkaniemi. There is no doubt that Kotkeniemi deserved an interference penalty. The result was simply bad luck on Petterson’s part.
The Canadiens start the second half of their season by hosting P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators Saturday night and Minnesota Monday before facing the Wings in Detroit on Tuesday. Thursday they will be in St. Louis.