The Columbus Blue Jackets lead the Metropolitan Division and are one of the toughest teams to beat on home ice. Friday night the Canadiens went into Columbus and beat them 4-1. For the first time this season the Canadiens have won four games in a row. They have won five of their last six.
This was supposed to be the year of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they lost lost 3-1 to the Florida Panthers Friday night and now are only one point ahead of the Canadiens and the Bruins in this surprising race for second place in the Atlantic Division.
Boston and Toronto were supposed to be where they are. The Canadiens by all pre-season accounts definitely are not.
Face it, goaltending has been the key to three of the last four Canadiens wins. Claude Julien pointed that out after the Columbus gamenand it’s not disputable. The save totals in the last three have been 41, 52 and, in this game, 34. Carey Price has been in for three of the four wins in the current strak during which he has given up three goals. Price didn’t have to deal with the work load of the Boston overtime-win but in the third period he had to protect the Canadiens’ 2-1 lead and made very strong saves on the breakaways by Ryan Murray and Josh Anderson.
The reaction to the inclusion of Tomas Tatar in the Max Pacioretty trade was somewhere between ‘ho’ and ‘hum’. The book on Tatar was “decent skills but inconsistent”. And then there was the fact that Vegas hardly used him after he was acquired from Detroit at last year’s trade deadline and that Vegas was forced to eat 500-thousand of his annual contract in order to complete the deal with Marc Bergevin.
So much for pre-conceptions! Even with his recent ten game goal drought, Tatar has been a model for consistency with the Canadiens. His two goals were his 15th and 16th of the season. He now has 36 points in 49 games. If he holds to his current average he’ll be finishing his season with a career high 60 points.
Speaking of flying under the radar how about Phillip Danaut? The pass he made to send Tatar in on the breakaway that scored the winning goal was perfect. Danault has 18 points over his last 18 games. He says he looks to Patrice Bergeron for his inspiration. It’s a tough act to follow, but since early December Danault has been a pretty good facsimile. And he won 56% of his faceoffs (10 of 18).
….For a while it looked like Joel Armia was going to go into the record book as the first to score two empty net goals in the same game. The official scorer took that away from him because Joonas Korpisalo was still on the ice but heading for the bench when Armia scored the first of the two.
….There were three in the game from Finland’s west coast city of Pori (population 88,000);. Columbus goaltender Korpisalo plus Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
….Continuing on a Finnish theme; Artturi Lehkonen led the Canadiens with five shots on goal including four scoring chances, two of which were considering high danger. Will somebody explain to me why the puck is not going into the net for him? He wound up plus-four on the night – on the ice for all four of the Canadiens goals.
…..Tatar had a chance to complete a hattrick in the third period when he had Korpisalo cold in the thirteenth minute of the third period. Korpisalo made a strong glove save, his best stop of the night.
,,,,Kotkaniemi didn’t have a particularly good night but he won 60% of his faceoffs (9 of 15),
….The Canadiens had 4:57 of power play time without manufacturing a single shot on goal. Enough said.
….Max Domi drew assists on both of those late goals scored into a vacated Columbus net.
….Tatar‘s goal at 8:27 of the second period was the first shot on goal for the Canadiens in 17:38 dating back to the mid-point of the first period. During that stretch the Blue Jackets outshot the Canadiens 13-0.
….Prior to this game the Canadiens had failed to win four games in a row three times this season. The last time they won four in a row was November 25 to December 2nd 2017 when they won five in a row.
….Matthew Peca replaced the suspended Paul Byron on the third line. Not much to report one way or the other. I don’t think the line had a particularly good night.
The question is, will Price be allowed to play in back-to-back games when the Canadiens play the Flyers Saturday night at the Bell Centre? With only one remaining game before the All-Star break there’s a strong argument to let him play both ends but considering his 52 saves the other night, Antti Niemi is an equally good choice. After the Flyers it’s Arizona at the Bell Centre on Wednesday and then the break.