The Canadiens’s persona the last two seasons have been based on an attack-driven freewheeling style. Conversely the Arizona Coyotes, while coming close to Montreal in speed, have taken on the disruptive playing personality of their coach Rick Tocchet. Last season that ability to take the Canadiens out of their comfort zone led to Arizona wins in both meetings.
Different story Wednesday night at Glendale Arizona. The Canadiens scored in the opening minute of each of the first two periods and in the second minute of the third to take a 3-0 lead and despite never getting their skating game consistently operational still came out of it with a 4-1 victory.
This was Brendan Gallagher’s 500th career NHL game. Considering the way he throws his 5’7” body fearlessly into the chaos around opposition nets without major injury makes reaching 500 games a remarkable achievement.
As we’ve seen time and again, his gung-ho attack set the table for the a win. On the opening faceoff Gallagher fought his way past his 6’4″ check Lawson Crouse and burrowed under 6’1″ defenseman Jason Demers to win a battle for a loose puck at the goal mouth. It was his 6th goal of the season. It took all of 22 seconds. The Canadiens never trailed in the game. Of the nine high danger Canadiens scoring chances Gallagher had three.
Carey Price had a good night. He stopped 33 of 34 Arizona shots, some of them dangerous. But it was that incident in the 14th minute of the second period that caused major concern. Derek Stepan was checked and his skate forcefully hit Price on the back of the head. Price remained down on the ice for a few seconds and appeared wobbly when he finally got to his feet. He stayed in the game.
Last season in Philadelphia he took a hard shot to the side of the head and stayed in the game. A day later the headaches arrived and he wound up missing a month with a concussion. It’s a legitimate question: what happened to the NHL’s concussion protocol policy when it comes to goaltenders?
TIME FOR A CHANGE
While the other three forward lines produced goals, once again Kotkaniemi/Byron/Lehkonen came up empty. All three of them are in a slump. None worse off than 19 year old Kotkaniemi, who’s game seems to have hit the sophomore wall. If anything, his play seems to be going from bad to worse. Kotkaniemi’s confidence is dissolving and with it his effectiveness. He dangerously gave the puck away twice in the second period. His only offensive contribution the last nine games is a single assist. I don’t think Julien has much choice but to replace him with Jordan Weal and let him sit him it out for a spell, perhaps the final two games of this road trip.
RIGHT SPOT, RIGHT TIME
Some seem to think that rookie Nick Suzuki’s progress is being hampered by his placement on the fourth line with veterans Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins. I don’t share that opinion. Considering the fact that his defensive game has developed far beyond his years, he is in a perfect place to confidently grow offensively. Once again the fourth line produced a goal and Suzuki’s gorgeous pass to Cousins made it happen.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Cale Fleury, the Canadiens other rookie, seems to have benefited from his stretch in the press box. This was the best of the four straight games since he returned to the lineup. Most notable in this game were his game-leading ten recorded hits. He also led both teams with three blocked shots.
….Mixed bag for Jonathan Drouin. His backchecking failure led to the only Arizona goal. He made up for that by imitating Gallagher at the goalmouth to score the Canadiens insurance fourth goal. Drouin, Gallagher and Joel Amia share the Canadiens goal scoring lead at six.
….Another strong night from Armia which included two major scoring chances. On one of them he should have been greedier. He passed when he had a clear shot. That’s the old non-productive Armia resurfacing.
….The Canadiens were 3-for-3 in penalty kills in the game. They’ve killed all four opponents chances since the disastrous night against San Jose last Thursday.
….Julien rolled his four lines almost equally. Among the forwards, Phillip Danault led in ice time at 17:13. Fewest minutes were 12:51 logged by Cousins.
….Speaking of that: how often will we see Ben Chiarot log more ice time than Shea Weber – 23:00 to 20:29. Of course Chiarot was playing with Jeff Petry who led the Canadiens with 24:06.
This week Julien kept emphasizing how important it was to win the opening game of the three game road trip. Game two in Vegas Thursday will complete the third set of back-to-back games of the Canadiens season. We’ll probably see Keith Kinkaid in goal for that game. The Canadiens are 3-0-0 in opening games but have lost both of the second games against very beatable Minnesota and Detroit.
After Vegas it’s on to Dallas for Saturday night before returning come to meet Boston next Tuesday at the Bell Centre.