Funny how it goes sometimes. The Thursday loss against Colorado was their ninth in ten games. With that record only the most cockeyed of optimists would even entertain the thought of a Montreal playoff berth in the spring. Twenty four hours later the Canadiens came up with a near perfect road game in edging the New York Rangers 2-1.
Here’s where it really gets strange. The victory moved the Canadiens into second place in the Atlantic Division behind only the runaway Boston Bruins. There are teams around the Canadiens that carry games in hand but the fact they are even close after all of their November struggles is truly remarkable and hardly credit to the rest of the division which was supposed to be the strongest in the entire league.
The Canadiens won this game the old-fashioned way. They shut down the neutral zone, sometimes eschewing an aggressive forecheck to clog things up with what we used to call ‘the trap’. It worked perfectly. And now the positive thinkers can say the Canadiens have won two of their last three games which sounds much better than November’s eight losses in a row.
There haven’t been many games this season in which Carey Price looked comfortable and in the co-called ‘zone’. He was there against the Rangers. When he’s like that, Price makes things look easy. He stopped 29 of 30 Ranger shots some of which were technically difficult. Price made them look routine, especially in the first period when the Rangers post five of their ten high danger scoring chances. Making the difficult look easy has been Price’s trademark. This was one of those games.
SHORTENING THE BENCH
At the best of times Claude Julien likes to roll his four lines and three defense pairings. But these are not the best of times. His team had lost nine of it’s previous ten games and he was missing four of his important regulars. So he did something he hardly ever does. He shortened his bench by sitting Charles Hudon, Matthew Peca rookie defenseman Otto Leskinen and constructed a new third line centered by Nate Thompson with Nick Suzuki and Nick Cousins on the wing. It was a hail mary coaching move that won the game.
The Thompson/Cousins/Suzuki line wasn’t exactly a new Julien concoction. They were considered the Canadiens fourth line when things were going well at the beginning the season. On the winning goal it was Suzuki who forced the Brendan Lemieux giveaway and poked the puck ahead to Cousins who’s shot was blocked. Ranger defenseman Ryan Lindgren left Thompson alone and the puck came right to him with the net wide open. Game winner with 1:07 remaining. .
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Otto Leskinen’s second career game was an improvement from his first. That was to be expected. He learned a hard lesson when he failed to protect a bouncing puck at the point and allowed Brendan Smith to break away for the Rangers goal. The coaching staff forgave the mistake. He was back out when his next shift came up.
….We spoke of the difficulties Jeff Petry had been having recently (minus-14 his lasts ten games). He was back in command of his game against the Rangers both on offense and defense.
….Brendan Gallagher scored three goals in the month of November. In three games in December he has equaled that total. Another typical Gallagher goal. Straight to the net in time to tip in Phillip Danault’s pass.
….The Canadiens killed off both Rangers power plays in the game. Over the last six games the Canadiens have allowed one power play goal in 16 opposition advantages.
….We’re still waiting for the real Max Domi to show up. He replaced Kotkaniemi in the middle of the line with Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia. There was no chemistry at all. Is it possible the ‘real” Max Domi is the one we’re seeing this season and not the one who produced 72 points last year.
….The last time Price saw the Rangers he allowed six goals on 29 shots in the 6-5 loss at the Bell Centre twelve days ago.
….Give credit to the Danault/Gallagher/Tatar line for keeping Artemi Panarin and his linemates off the score sheet. Panarin was held to one shot on goal. Danault also won ten of 13 faceoffs.
The Canadiens flew home after the game. They’re off until Tuesday when they’ll play the Penguins in Pittsburgh followed by the second half of another back-to-back set Wednesday at the Bell Centre against Ottawa. The Canadiens will host Detroit Saturday and then they set out on their annual holiday seven game road trip which will be broken up by Christmas day.