NHL coaching staffs spend the season’s first seventy games drumming into their players how to do things ‘the right way’ and then when it comes to a critical game in the playoff race all of those drills are forgotten and we end up with a run-and-gun track meet.
But it all turned out well and good in the end. The Canadiens outlasted the Buffalo Sabres 7-4 for their third straight win and with that moved three points ahead of Columbus in the continuing race for the East’s final playoff berth.
How crazy was this? Buffalo scored the first goal. The Canadiens scored three in a row. Buffalo came back with two to tie it. The Canadiens added two more but Andrew Shaw‘s bad penalty allowed Buffalo to make it a one goal game before a late goal and an empty netter ended it.
Everyone in Montreal will take it. No complaints.
Turning a speedster like Max Domi out against a team that is having serious defensive issues can produce spectacular results. On the Canadiens first goal, Domi stole the puck, spun and slid a backhand pass over to Shaw who then hit the diving Artturi Lehkonen for the tip in. Doesn’t get much sweeter than that
On Montreal’s third goal he created the turnover near his own blue line and sped away down the left boards before hitting Shaw in the slot. 3-0.
And it was Domi who cinched this game. Two minutes after the Sabres closed it to 4-3, he used Gallagher as a screen for his 26th goal. Those were just the highlights of dominant night. He and his linemates Shaw and Lehkonen produced six high danger scoring chances and controlled 66 percent of the shooting attempts while they were on the ice.
We spend a lot of time extolling Brendan Gallagher‘s many nightly virtues, often leaving his centre in the shadows. Danault carved his own space in this game especially on the forecheck. Danault was one of the best parts of what was one of those slow first period Canadiens starts. On the Canadiens second goal, Danault beat Rasmus Dahlin in the corner and while falling poked the puck out to Gallagher for his career high 32nd goal.
If the Domi line was great, led by Gallagher’s nine shots on goal and six high danger scoring chances, the Danault line was close to it’s equal controlling 66% of the game’s shooting attempts. It’s still the only unit that seems immune to Claude Julien‘s line juggling.
Thompson/Weal/Byron is another line that isn’t likely to be broken up between now and the end of the season. While the other forward lines may have had issues, the fourth line did things the right way. They’re not only giving Julien the strong defensive minutes he wants but also offence we haven’t seen from a fourth unit in a couple of years. Thompson showed a burst of speed around the outside of the defense that led to a second period scoring chance. He then set up Weal for the shot that caromed off Byron’s skate for the Canadiens fourth goal. Five-on-five the Thompson line was second in minutes only to the Danault line. I have no idea how long their chemistry will last but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Peca, Deslauriers, Hudon or Weise to return to the lineup anytime soon.
NO SIGN OF REDEMPTION
Once again Jonathan Drouin drew the fewest minutes of any member of the Canadiens. His penchant for stickhandling his way right into a check cost the Buffalo’s third goal. Drouin was well into his solo stickhandling act before he was easily stripped of the puck by Kyle Okposo inside the Buffalo line. He followed that by making a halfhearted backchecking effort as Marco Scandella tied the game at 3-3. Failing to register a point in his 42nd of 74 games this season, Drouin finished the night with one unremarkable shot on goal. He is pretty much leaving linemates Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia to fend for themselves at both ends of the ice. Judging by ice time, Drouin seems to be dragging the Kotkaniemi and Armia down to fourth line status.
….Two goals for Gallagher gives him a career high 33 with seven games remaining. Twenty-eight of his goals have come at even strength which puts him a goal away from the league lead. His nine shots on goal equaled a season high.
….Carey Price is 8-0-1 his last nine starts at the Bell Centre. His last home loss was January 7th vs. Minnesota. Over the nine game stretch he has allowed 17 goals – 1.89 per game.
….Tomas Tatar played in his 500th regular season game and recorded an empty net goal and two assists. Domi and Gallagher also had three point nights.
….The goal by Lehkonen was the 22,000th in Canadiens history including NHL the earlier NHA days.
…..The assist on the Lehkonen goal was the 200th point of Domi‘s career.
….Including his five vs. Buffalo Shea Weber has produced 16 shots on goal his last three games during which he has 2 goals and an assist.
….After a two week slump, for the third consecutive game the Weber/Mete pairing had a strong night. Weber was plus-2 while Mete finished plus-4. Mete again was moving the puck extremely well.
….Shaw lost his cool after taking an elbow to the head from Scandella midway through the third period. He retaliated by charging Evan Rodrigues and drew a four minute penalty which led to the Sabres fourth goal. Shaw went to the dressing room after serving the penalty, presumably for concussion protocol.
….The Canadiens held an 18-4 game advantage in five-on-five high danger scoring chances including 10-1 in the second period.
The final of the fourteen back-to-back games this season Sunday night with a four point game at Carolina. Also Sunday night, Columbus will try to snap an three game losing streak at Vancouver. Carolina beat Minnesota at home Saturday night still holds won the first wild card berth two points ahead of the Canadiens with a game in hand. Columbus now is three points behind Montreal – also with a game in hand.
The Canadiens will return to play Florida at the Bell Centre Tuesday.