The Canadiens 4-0 win over the Islanders Thursday night was impressive. After a string of second-rate efforts, it was the second straight game in which the Canadiens held things together for the entire sixty minutes. It was also the second straight game in which Carey Price wasn’t left with the feeling that he was manning the ramparts alone.
A week ago in New York the Canadiens were totally owned by the Islanders especially in the neutral zone. Only Price prevented a 2-1 loss from becoming a 6-1 rout. With home ice advantage Thursday night the Canadiens completely reversed their fortunes. Not only was the defence impeccable, but they also found some of the offence that he been missing over the last month.
Claude Julien has been desperately searching for a fourth line since he re-took over the Canadiens two years ago. At the trade deadline Marc Bergevin finally gave him the tools to at least put something together with the acquisition of Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal. Last week Julien set tongues to wagging when he moved Paul Byron down to the line to join them. As a unit they had an outstanding night. Thompson’s penalty killing work kept the Islanders off the board in the game’s first ten minutes which is what we’ve come to expect from him since he joined the team. After that the line went on to produce ten shots on goal. Weal made a terrific play to gain first assist on what turned out to be the game winner late in the first period. Thompson also drew assist on Weal’s first goal as a member of the Canadiens. Stastically the line was the Canadiens best by far. Five-on-five they controlled 76.19% of the shot attempts while they were on the ice (16-5).
Julien didn’t stop at the re-assembling of his fourth line. After his team dropped four of five games, he set critics to talking when he moved the slumping Jonathan Drouin down to the third line while promoting the snake-bitten Artturi Lehkonen to the Domi line. Both also had a say in the result of the game. Drouin’s goal at the end of a slick four-way passing play once again reminded everyone why he was a third overall draft choice. Lehkonen hit another goalpost three seconds before Shea Weber scored the Canadiens second goal.
On Tuesday night in Philadelphia Carey Price‘s ability to handle the puck and initiate plays in his own zone was the standout feature of his game. Against the Islanders it was his ability to absorb almost every shot without presenting a juicy rebound. Like the Philadelphia game, the Canadiens defence did a good job protecting Price. His big moment came with the Canadiens leading 2-0 early in the second period. Jordan Eberle took a cross ice pass. Price, who was moving on the play, reached back and got his glove on Eberle’s shot. The save broke the Islanders back. Twenty-seven seconds later Drouin scored his first goal since February 7th to make it 3-0.
THE END RESULT
The Canadiens win combined with losses by both Columbus and Carolina really tightened what has become the three team race for the last two playoff berths. Carolina has the first wild card with 87 points and a game in hand over the Canadiens and Blue Jackets. The Canadiens have 85 points with Columbus sinking to ninth in the East with 84 points.
Let’s not count our chickens just yet. Of the Canadiens eight remaining games, six are against teams either in the playoffs already or fighting for a berth, including four point games against Carolina and Columbus next Sunday and Thursday. If the Canadiens keep playing the way they have this week, we’re in for a real ride.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….UPDATE – With the win over the Islanders sportsclubstats.com raised the chances of the Canadiens making the playoffs by 20.3% to 50.9%. If the Canadiens were to reach the 95 point plateau – meaning a ten points in their final eight games their chances at the playoffs are 88%.
….Price is now 8-0-1 in his last nine Bell Centre starts. In his last five overall starts he has allowed only six goals but is 3-2-0 because of the 2-0 loss to Chicago and the 2-1 loss to the Islanders.
….The Canadiens carved out territory for themselves by outhitting the Islanders 23-8 in the first period.
….Despite showing some improvement, for the second straight game Drouin logged the least Canadiens ice time – 12:15.
….On defence Shea Weber has had his problems over the last month but he still has his shot. The goal was his 13th of the season. Weber attempted twelve shots – six of them on goal. Over his last six games he has four goals, two assists.
….Going into the game the Canadiens had one power play goal in their previous 25 opportunities.
The Canadiens play their final set of back-to-back games Saturday against Buffalo and Sunday at Carolina. After Florida at the Bell Centre next Tuesday it gets tough. At Columbus and Winnipeg and then the final week of the season starting with a home game against Tampa, followed by the Capitals in Washington and Toronto at the Bell Centre to wrap up the 2018-2019 season. .