This was an impressive balls-to-the-wall performance (ok the throttle was was mostly down in the third period) in new enemy territory for a clearly exhausted Montreal team that arrived late following a home ice loss the night before. It was important to jump out to an early lead and they did – with some help from Jaroslav Halak (who might have a battle on his hands to keep Thomas Greisse away from his crease). Yes Virginia I know it’s always better to score first but after falling behind in five consecutive games and with a limited energy supply there would be no comebacks a la Monday night versus Vancouver or near comebacks like the night before against Arizona.
Now more than a quarter through the 2015-16 season it seems crystal clear the Habs are a special team. They more than survived three weeks without the planet’s best goaltender. Their young star-in-the-making centerman is stalled on two goals. A free agent sniper is stalled on just one. Injuries have finally hit them. Yet they keep winning.
The NHL’s Eastern Conference is shaping up as the best 3 way race (NY Rangers, Washington) since the federal election. Habs fans can only hope their team doesn’t mimic the performance of Tom Mulcair.
- Jeff Petry & Nathan Beaulieu. A dynamic duo in the making? “Our best defensemen tonight” said the coach post-game in a vast understatement. Combined for three goals and four points. Petry again showed no hesitation in jumping down low as he beat a confused Halak for the game’s first goal while his second was a shot from inside the point on an expiring power play that deflected off Josh Bailey’s stick. Beaulieu’s goal was a real good display of hockey smarts 101 as he fooled Halak by changing his angle while at the same time taking a quick peak to his right making Halak think pass. As a result Beaulieu had almost a full net to shoot at and the goal effectively ended Halak’s night (remember when the Habs couldn’t beat Halak? His career save percentage vs Montreal is down to .904). Difficult to imagine Alexei Emelin reclaiming his spot alongside Petry. Unless Beaulieu is traded to Edmonton for Jordan Eberle. (L’Antichambre devoted a segment to this while seemingly going out of their way to downplay Beaulieu’s talent “He’s no Markov”. Do they know something?)
- Tom Gilbert & Greg Pateryn. Gilbert started the play that led to the opening goal when he made a nice pass through the neutral zone. He was also the lead skater (3:34) as the Habs killed off three Islanders power plays. It’s strange these days to see a right defenseman playing the left side but Gilbert looks very comfortable while Pateryn looks better and better. You don’t often see John Tavares caught with his head down but I doubt the Islanders captain has been hit as hard (legally) as when Pateryn stood him up and dropped him to the ice in the first period. Pateryn also flashed a bit of a mean streak when he drew a penalty for cross checking Matt Martin in the back. Old time hockey.
- David Desharnais-Dale Weise-Tomas Fleischmann. Connected on all important second Montreal goal just 35 seconds after the Islanders had tied it. What an unlikely feel good story. Even if the Fleischmann goal was a woofer.
- Brian Flynn. Key guy down the middle for Montreal, especially with Torrey Mitchell out of the line up. Still not sure how he missed a wide open net but the puck bounced off the goalpost before Petry sprinted down to tap it in to open the scoring at 2:52. Flynn took a season high 18 draws, winning half of them.
- Devante Smith-Pelly. While many of his teammates were running on fumes in the third period, Smith-Pelly provided a much needed boost of energy, especially after he was moved up to the “#1 line” to help protect the lead. His work this season was showcased well when the Habs were killing off a penalty in the second period. The dangerous Kyle Okposo was carrying the puck towards the Canadiens zone while Smith-Pelly chased him from behind. The Habs winger couldn’t quite catch Okposo but managed to strip the Islanders forward of the puck in an impressive display of strength and discipline. Early candidate for the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy.
- Alex Semin. He lives! Thanks mainly to the Mitchell injury. That was an all-world behind-the-back pass he made to Flynn in the slot on the game’s first goal. (“Blind”? “Dangerous”? How about “highly skilled”?) And was that actually Semin on a breakaway early in the second? Who was that Islanders defenseman – Keyser Soze? It’s a shame he couldn’t beat Greisse because a goal likely would have cinched his appearance Sunday at the Bell Centre. Semin (with Fleischmann) led the Habs with four shots on goal – in just 9:00. A good night’s work for a 4th line right winger.
- Michel Therrien. At the very least his sit down with Semin worked. So does he really scratch him again on Sunday with the arrival of a young, skilled forward from St. John’s? Therrien recognized that his top line was out of gas so he moved Smith-Pelly up while dropping Brendan Gallagher down. We’ve already touched on Smith-Pelley’s importance. How did Gallagher react? He threw his tired body in front of shots (something I used to do on Friday nights) while eventually working himself free to clinch the win with an empty net goal. Therrien also won marks for his relentless dialogue with referees Dean Morton and Brian Pochmara starting with Brock Nelson’s first goal (good call) after he appeared to crosscheck Therrien’s goaltender to the ice. He didn’t like the way Martin and Cal Clutterbuck were running around (who does?) and Petry’s delay of game penalty for firing the puck over the glass after a tired group of players couldn’t get off the ice did appear to be a bogus call, so there was Therrien holding the puck as evidence that it ricocheted off the glass and into the Montreal bench. To no avail. At which point, with the puck still in his right hand, he reached over the boards and started to tap out the speed metal rendition of “Three Blind Mice”. He looked perilously close to pulling a Knuckles Nilan on Paul Baxter in the Forum penalty box (look it up). As long as it’s not a continuous rant (Torts) players want their coach to have their backs. It must have been so difficult for Therrien to pace out the final nine minutes of the game without lighting up a cigarette. Or maybe he managed a quick dart because you could see smoke pouring out of his ears.
- Carey Price. “Our biggest leader” said Beaulieu after the game. Special team led by a very special player. It was clear that Price was rusty. You can argue that none of the New York goals go in when he’s in top form (although Nelson’s second goal was a terrific shot inside the goal post on the stick side) but just his presence forced some Islanders shooters to think a little too much. The guy misses three weeks, has two full practices and stops 33 of 36 shots against a strong team in a rink he had never played in before. Something else struck me about Price while watching this game: There was a moment when he was slow to get up after freezing the puck. I thought he was using the time to catch his breath. But then I realized he had called one of his teammates over (Beaulieu?) and was jawing at him while pointing to an area on the ice. We know the leader part. But this was a player-coach moment.
- P.K. Subban & Andrei Markov. Combined -5. No surprise they struggled after a heavy workload the night before, especially Subban (30:33).
- Tomas Plekanec-Gallagher-Max Pacioretty. Same issue here. They played a lot against Arizona. Too much (Plekanec 22:18, Gallagher 20:23, Pacioretty 22:08). I realize Mitchell got hurt (or reinjured. Remember, he had a therapy day last week) against Arizona but Therrien and his staff were a little shortsighted in the first of a back to back. They got lucky this time. The effort was there but they simply had no legs. Pacioretty’s best moment was when he punched a surprised Clutterbuck in the face.
- Alex Galchenyuk – Lars Eller. I expected these younger dudes to show a lot more energy. Galchenyuk had his moments – again, as he set up Beaulieu – but the bottom line is he has scored just two goals this season. Or one goal in 20 games since scoring on opening night in Toronto. Smart move to bring up Sven Andrighetto following a two goal performance for St. John’s – including the winner in overtime. (And that roundhouse right to celebrate – only stars do something like that.) Maybe Andrighetto’s quickness and skill do for Galchenyuk what Semin and Eller haven’t. Unlike a seemingly growing chorus of watchers who think Galchenyuk is out of place down the middle I’m still convinced it’s just a matter of time. All he needs to do is score one. And then he might not stop.
- Islanders black jerseys. Forget the blue and white of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, nothing says Brooklyn sports history like the colour… black. I know the rink was built for the NBA’s Nets (black and white) but does Jay-Z’s influence really trickle down to John Tavares? Welcome to Brooklyn, John.