The Canadiens are back in a playoff position thanks to a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche combined with Saturday night losses by Buffalo and the New York Islanders.

This game wasn’t easy. For two periods the Avalanche played a nearly perfect road game, holding the Canadiens in check and off the score sheet while taking the crowd out of the picture. If anything, were it not for some more impressive work from Carey Price, the Canadiens could easily have been down a goal or two going to the third period. As it was, the Canadiens finally shook off the close Colorado checking. Brett Kulak’s shorthand goal proved to be the game winner at 8:21 and Jesperi Kotkaniemi clinched it a couple of minutes later.

Both teams had been struggling going into the game, the Avalanche more than the Canadiens.  With this game Colorado has now lost nine of it’s last ten games (and fifteen of the last twenty) but still hold the first  wild card birth in a tight five-way race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.

THE SHUFFLE

After the uninspired effort Thursday in St. Louis, Claude Julien split up Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin for the first time since the fourth game of the season. It meant shuffling the top three lines.   The change didn’t bear fruit offensively until the third period but playing on a line with the energy supplied by Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher  seemed to wake up Drouin who played a rare solid 200 foot game capped by that perfect cross ice pass for the Kotkaniemi one-timer to give the Canadiens their 2-0 lead.

SHUTDOWN

The Avalanche are basically a one-line hockey team but that line, MacKinnon/Raantanen/Landeskog, is also statistically the league’s best. It was left to defencemen Shea Weber and Victor Mete to handle them and the pair had a very big game. With Weber doing the body work and Mete carrying the puck out of harm;s way, the line was limited to five shots and just two high danger scoring chances both of them from Landeskog. Mete’s trip to Laval has done wonders for his confidence.  In the end MacKinnon’s eight-game point streak was ended and Landeskog’s multi-point streak was ended at three.

FIRST STAR

Carey Price got the shutout but Danault was named first star and for good reason.  It was his clean faceoff win against Alexander Kerfoot led to Brett Kulak’s game winning goal. It was also his win deep in the Canadiens end that allowed Jordie Benn to score his 200 foot empty net goal. Overall Danault won 15 of 21 faceoffs including 10 of 14 against the MacKinnon line.

PRICE

Forty-third career shutout for Carey Price, third of the season and second in six games. He was very good again. Colorado was limited to only five high danger scoring chances in the game but three of them were in the second period when it was still scoreless. Remember in mid-November when Price’s save percentage was .892 and his goals against average was 3.07. Since then the save percentage is .919 and his goals against average is 2.44.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….Jordie Benn hasn’t a particularly physical defenceman. Notably he was throwing his weight around in this game, another sign of his recent improvement.

….Julien shuffled his power play as well but it still came up empty. I have problems digesting Kenny Agostino on the number one unit beside Byron and Armia. Agostino wound up with 3:10 in power play time.  The PP was 0-for-3 and at home is now 0-for-26 in the last nine home games.

….Tomas Tatar and the ever-present Brendan Gallagher led the Canadiens with four shots apiece.

….The Canadiens hit three more goalposts in the game – including Shea Weber who hit the post for the second straight game.

….Kulak‘s goal was the third shorthanded of the year for the Canadiens.

….Max Domi‘s goal drought is now sixteen games dating back to December 9th at Chicago.  He had three shots on goal vs. the Avalanche and won 70% of his faceoffs (7-of-10) and was effective as a playmaker for linemates Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen.

….As a team the Canadiens won 61% of the faceoffs (30 of 49).

MOVING ON

Another back-to-back set Monday and Tuesday. A four point game in Boston Monday. The Canadiens trail the sixth place Bruins by three points. The Canadiens are home to Florida on Tuesday. Then it’s another back-to-back in Columbus Friday followed by Philadelphia at the Bell Centre on Saturday. Four games in six nights.