“I’m kind of sick of hearing we’re a team that’s just about Carey” – Tomas Plekanec to Arpon Basu of NHL.com October 9th.

Through roughly one fifth of the season Plekanec and teammates have made their point. They are 5-0-1 without their MVP & Vezina Trophy winning goaltender. You could also say they’ve been without a guy they hoped would be their top offensive right winger. But it doesn’t matter. Not yet anyway. Because it’s evident this edition of the Canadiens is, in every sense of the word, a really good team.

In beating the Islanders they took on a talented young team who play a heavier game. And one that managed to clog up the neutral zone so that it resembled rush hour through the streets of NDG. Once Kyle Okposo tied the game in the second period with a nifty move on P.K. Subban and strong wrist shot to the stick side, the Islanders took over. But Montreal remained patient. In the third they took advantage of a lucky  bounce to regain the lead and then, as we’ve seen for over a year now, suffocated the opposition. Without needing to rely on their goaltender.

I’d be excited if I was a Montreal fan because they’re as good as any team in the East.” – Ray Ferraro on Melnick in the Afternoon TSN690 Radio October 6

THE GOOD

  • Brendan Gallagher. Has clearly mastered the art of the deflection. But beyond the insurance goal Gallagher was the best player on the ice. His work ethic is something to marvel at. I was thinking about this during one of his shifts (which featured him outmuscling John Tavaras for the puck, followed by a scoring chance which was followed by a successful hit, and still he had enough energy to skate back to his own zone full speed on the back check): Who does he remind me of? And only one forward comes to mind: Bobby Clarke. Gallagher doesn’t have the playmaking ability of the Flyers captain and Hall of Fame centre but I can’t recall another forward who consistently plays every shift like it’s his last, while at the same time remaining (seemingly) indestructible.
  • David Desharnais. Game winning goal was a text book example of how to finish from in close, especially against a goaltender like Jaro Halak who is so strong down low. Roof it.
  • Tomas Fleischmann. What a heady player. Long stretches when you don’t really notice him and then – presto! Smart play to hang onto the puck on the two on one, waiting out a down-on-the-ice Nick Leddy before skating around him to set up Desharnais.
  • Nathan Beaulieu & Tom Gilbert. It was Beaulieu’s long pass along the boards past Johnny Boychuck that hit the linesman and bounced directly to Fleischmann. But it was Gilbert who started the play with a take away deep in his own zone. He got the puck to Beaulieu, who has picked up points in three of his last four games. The way these guys are going it should come as no surprise that, according to Pierre LeBrun, the Habs have let other teams know that Jarred Tinordi is available.
  • Jeff Petry. A classic Joni Mitchell line would apply to the former members of the Hockey Ops Department in Edmonton: Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone.
  • Power Play. Matched up against the #1 penalty killing unit in the NHL? No problem. From a wickedly good move by P.K. Subban to keep the puck alive at the blue line to Petry who sent it to an open slot area (The Habs are using this planned play every night. It’ll be interesting to see if opponents start taking it away and if they do, how Montreal will adjust) where it was perfectly redirected by the NHL’s third leading goal scorer. Power play success rate has hit 25% behind only Boston (35%) and Dallas (29.5%).
  • Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. Habs top line was back with Gallagher leading the way. Plekanec is becoming adept at scoring into an empty net (no need to roof it) while Pacioretty snapped a five game pointless drought. The Habs captain is still missing a gear which is understandable considering his summer long rehab on his injured knee. The adrenaline phase of his schedule is over after he started the season like he was shot out of a cannon.
  • Devante Smith-Pelly. Might have been his best game of the season. Wise move by Michel Therrien to drop him back alongside Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn to give the trio some much needed size and strength against Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck-Matt Martin. One tremendous shift of note late in the first period after he was hit by a Subban rocket in front of the Islanders net. Smith-Pelly limped directly into the Canadiens dressing room but was back in time for his next shift and he seemed possessed, bulldozing his way over Mikael Grabovski in the neutral zone to gain entry to the Islanders zone where he set up Mitchell in front of the net, drawing a a Ryan Strome hooking penalty. On the ensuing power play the Habs opened the scoring. It all started with Smith-Pelly.
  • Dale Weise. I see how a guessing game has started all over the NHL – How many goals can Weise score this season? If you had asked me at the beginning of the season I would have said 13-15. Honestly. You do know that some of us were wondering why an ailing power play refused to turn to Weise last year. The countdown to 20 is on. Oh – and that is now two goals on the power play.
  • Marc Denis. Good on Marc for letting Weise enjoy a wonderful moment on the ice after the game. The RDS analyst began his discussion by listing the names of the NHL’s leading goal scorers beginning with Jamie Benn and Tyler Tiffoli before getting to Weise which prompted a long, loud ovation from over 20,000 fans.
  • Mike Condon. Unbeaten in regulation time in the first six starts of his NHL career. Somebody was doing their homework on this undrafted Princeton grad.

THE BAD

  • Alex Galchenyuk-Paul Byron-Lars Eller.  Combined for just one shot on goal (Eller). I get it that Galchenyuk is learning how to play centre in the NHL (and yeah I know you can say the same thing about Eller and LW but there really is no comparison) but what started out as a second line is now – based on ice time anyway – the Habs 4th line. It’s time to put Semin back in the lineup because it’s time to get Galchenyuk going offensively and he’s not going to do with just Eller and  Smith-Pelly or Byron or Brian Flynn. And you can’t really break up the other trios and alter what is obviously some great chemistry. On other hand, if reports that Semin is hardly busting his ass in practice to get back in the lineup are accurate, then maybe they need Scott Mellanby to return from his scouting mission with a hug for Semin. Or with a new right winger.

THE UGLY

  • Desharnais game winner. Maybe if Cal Clutterbuck hadn’t looked behind him to complain about Beaulieu’s pass bouncing off linesman Michel Cormier, he would have been able to catch up to Desharnais. The Islanders reaction was kind of over the top. Cormier was positioned where he was supposed to be. Beaulieu made a smart pass as Fleischmann got behind Boychuck. It might have been icing or maybe Fleischmann catches up to it or maybe he outraces Leddy and the icing is waved off. Whatever. When things are rolling like they are for the Habs this stuff seems to happen. So perhaps instead of a face off deep in Montreal territory in a 1-1 tie the game basically ends on a bounce, faster than you can mutter “Shane Doan”.

 

 

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