Hockey people like to call them “statement games”. These are the games on the schedule where teams test themselves tactically, physically and mentally against those considered to be projected contenders for the Stanley Cup.
So far this season the Canadiens have been very good in statement games. Against the league’s bottom feeders, not so good. Go figure.
Their 5-4 win over the Bruins Tuesday night at the Bell Centre was their eighth win of the season. Six of those wins have been in ‘statement games’. So far they’ve beaten the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues and Toronto twice along with Vegas and now Boston. Five of their seven losses have come against teams currently in the bottom third of standings including bottom feeders Detroit and Minnesota.
As stated. Go figure.
First star of this game didn’t even lace up skates. Before the game Claude Julien made two key and totally unexpected roster moves involving his number one and number two defense pairings. Ben Chiarot was moved up to play with Shea Weber while Victor Mete dropped down to play with Jeff Petry. It was masterful. The big, heavy hitting pair of Weber/Chiarot were part of the successful shut down of Boston’s high-scoring Bergeron/Pasternak/Marchand line and to add icing Chiarot wound up scoring the game winning goal. Mete brought added speed with Petry and after going 127 games before scoring his first career goal, scored twice giving him three in his last eight games. Mete and Chiarot were named the game’s first and second stars.
GAME OF CENTIMETRES
But it was a Julien third period gamble that cemented the win. Playing their second game in two nights, the Bruins had finally come to life. Sean Kuraly tied the game 3-3 at 3:03 of the third and two minutes later it appeared Charlie Coyle had given the Bruins their first lead of the game. Julien challenged that the goal was off-side. It took five minutes and multiple replays before referee Marc Joanette announced no-goal. Replays showed Coyle was off-side by maybe two centimetres. Had Julien lost his appeal, the Canadiens and the Bruins would have had the lead and with the lost challenge the Canadiens would have been facing the league’s best power play again.
Julien was coaching his 1200th NHL game. This one will remain in his memory bank.
Along with Weber/Chiarot, the checking of the Bergeron line also fell on forwards Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar. As a group they had a really good night. According to naturalstattrick.com, against Bergeron/Marchand/Pastrnak the line controlled 58.82% of the play and allowed only one high danger scoring chance. It’s not often that Brad Marchand fails to get a shot on goal. Gallagher had him shut down the entire game.
….Neither goaltender covered himself in glory. Tuuka Rask looked very weak on the Chiarot game winner. And we’re still waiting for Carey Price to get in the groove. Boston scored their first three goals on eleven shots.
In only three of his twelve starts has Price allowed fewer than three this season. The ragged nature of the Canadiens defense plays a part in that, but with the four in this game his goals against average is a very mundane 2.75 and his save percentage .910.
….For the first time this season, Paul Byron was visible. It was hardly a work of art but he scored his first goal of the season and at last his game showed some speed.
….Ryan Poehling’s ice time in his season debut was limited to 9:20. He registered no shot attempts but he was on the ice when Byron scored his unassisted goal leaving him at plus-one. He won only one of six faceoff attempts. Poehling also took a Bruins shot off the side of his head which was concerning after the concussion he suffered in training camp. He was back in the game in short order.
….As good as the first two defense pairings were, it was a rough night for Mike Reilly and Cale Fleury on the third. Especially Reilly, who had real problems with his decision making. We’ll likely be seeing Brett Kulak back in the lineup Thursday in Philadelphia. Or maybe former Flyer Christian Folin.
….Max Domi did a lot of fancy stickhandling in this game but he really didn’t accomplish very much. Seemed to me he was trying to do too much on his own.
….It wasn’t only a milestone game for Claude Julien. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara played in his 1500th career game. Forgetting or, at the very least forgiving him for the Max Pacioretty incident of eight years ago, the Bell Centre crowd acknowledged the announcement with a nice ovation. Chara seemed moved by the crowd response.
To complete their week the Canadiens will play two teams behind them in the standings, the The Canadiens play two teams behind them in the standings; Thursday in Philadelphia and they back home to face the 27th place LA Kings Saturday. The Flyers may currently rank 21st in the overall league but they are 5-1-1 at home. So Canadiens beware.