I suppose it’s “the glass half-empty” side of me that makes me want to first mention the fact that the Canadiens 2-1 win over Arizona Wednesday night put seven points between themselves and the seventh place Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference rather than the fact that, as they head into the All-Star break the Canadiens moved out of the wild card race and into third place in the Atlantic Division. That reaction is probably the residue of the diminished expectations for the team back in October.
With their fifth win in their last six games the Canadiens are not only two points ahead of Boston and one point behind second place Toronto in the Atlantic Division but fourth overall in the Eastern Conference a point ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
There are games in hand all around the Canadiens ibut fans can enjoy the moment for the next ten days.
This wasn’t the smoothest of Canadiens’ efforts. They never trailed in the game but they also never really got a leg up on the Coyotes who were playing their third road game in the last four nights.
The fact that Carey Price was the game’s third star should tell you everything you need to know. There were stretches when the Canadiens were forced to defend against sustained pressure, especially early in the second period and through the game’s final ten minutes after the Canadiens had taken their 2-1 lead during which the Canadiens were outshot 9-4.
One of the things most noticeable about this season’s Canadiens is the nightly participation of the defence in the five-on-five offence. Victor Mete came back from his seven game stint in Laval a changed player. He’s still looking for his first NHL goal, but his second period rush produced one of the game’s best scoring chances. And then there was Jeff Petry who in the third period carried the puck deep into the Arizona zone before sending it back to Mike Reilly for the game winning goal. The defence produced one third of the Canadiens 24 shots.
I really don’t know where to start when it comes to the night Joel Armia had. Although he wasn’t credited with a point, he played a major part in Jonathan Drouin’s first period power play goal that gave the Canadiens their 1-0 lead. There was that terrific scoring chance five minutes into the second period followed five minutes later by some brilliant penalty killing forechecking that produced his second high danger scoring chance of the night. And then, with the Coyotes trying to get their goaltender out for the extra attacker, he singlehandedly forechecked them to a standstill behind their own net. Marc Bergevin made the deal to bring him in from Winnipeg because he brings size and toughness along with speed. He had all of that against the Coyotes. Along with his three shots on goal, he dominated the game physically. No doubt he was the Canadiens best on this night.
For a week it was all about the return of Alex Galchenyuk. The Canadiens put a nice video montage on the scoreboard and the fans gave him a nice ovation. That was basically his night. He did tie the game at 2-2 in the third period, but video review showed he created the off-side that negated the play. Until the third period he did not produce a shot on goal or even an attempted shot. He wound up with two shots.
With Paul Byron completing his three game suspension, Charles Hudon got another chance at something other than fourth line duty to which his totally unsuited. Again he played with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Armia and for the second game in a row he was good offensively. Of his nine shooting attempts, three were on goal. He was given second assist on the Canadiens winning goal, although his contribution was sketchy. Hudon also did a fair job defensively although I wasn’t thrilled with that ‘holding-the-stick’ penalty he took midway through the second period. Sadly for Hudon, it will be back to the press box when Byron comes back after the All-Star break.
….We’re still trying to figure out what was in Artturi Lehkonen‘s head when he decided to abandon his penalty killing assignment and head to the bench for a new stick while the Coyotes had puck possession in the Canadiens end. His departure created a five-on-three and led to Arizona’ only goal. It was just part of Lehkonen’s less than stellar night.
….Jesperi Kotkaniemi may not be dominating games yet but almost nightly there is something notable. Claude Julien used him on the first power play unit and it was Kotkaniemi lifting a stick at the goalmouth that led to Jonthan Drouin’s opening power play goal.
…..During his post game news conference Claude Julien praised the work of his video replace coaches Mario Leblanc and Eric Gravel for quickly spotting the off-side that led to the review and the overturning of Arizona’s second goal.
…..Only Phillip Danault won 10 of 19 faceoffs (53%). As a team the Canadiens were at 43%.
….The Coyotes came into the Bell Centre with six wins in the their past eight including most recently wins against Toronto and Ottawa.
The Canadiens will now get eight days off before their next practice on Thursday January 31st. Their next games will be those back-to-back Super Bowl weekend afternoon games against New Jersey and Edmonton. Because Carey Price has to serve a one game suspension for missing the All-Star game, Antti Niemi will be in goal against the Devils.