There was a hockey game played at the Bell Centre. It was a tight checking playoff-like affair but post game chatter seemed to be a referendum on concussion protocol, a term that has moved to the forefront of everyday NHL talk, right up there with ‘coach’s challenge’, ‘three on three’ (known in this corer simply as ‘Ken Holland’), ‘bigger nets’, ‘last place Oilers’ and now, ‘redacted’.
The game marked the return of John Tortorella who was in fine, thoughtful form following the morning skate but in more typical Tortorella fashion post game when he blasted his own team (player). Scott Hartnell is exactly the kind of scoring winger (big, strong, physical, experienced) the Habs could use but he’s never shaken the habit of taking too many penalties, especially bad ones. Tortorella thought his team had earned at least a point. But Hartnell gave it away.
The Canadiens rebounded nicely from their late game collapse against New Jersey. They mostly carried the play – even with five defensemen for over 40 minutes – while the Blue Jackets hung around, with a lot of help from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who is stopping shots again, seemingly ready to try to win the game in overtime or beyond.
With this game the Habs officially entered the no-Carey-Price phase of their season. And even though they’re the highest scoring team in the league I suspect we may begin to see a string of these low scoring games. So we haven’t heard the last of ‘bigger nets’. I’m not in favour of seeing it but I’ll gladly accept hearing it – especially at the expense of ‘concussion protocol’.
- Dale Weise. I’m not aware if Weise was informed of Tortorella’s morning comments (“It’s terrific…I couldn’t be happier for him…I don’t hold a grudge(?)….He’s a good guy…I’ve watched him…I hope he doesn’t do it tonight but you tell him that…I couldn’t be happier for him” said Torts in a brief, exclusive exchange with TSN690’s Amanda Stein) but the Habs #1 right winger (no debate on that right now) needed no further motivation. He was a force all night, stoned a couple of times by Bobrovsky, finishing with a team high four shots on goal while dishing out a team high four hits, and he even blocked a couple of shots. And there he was late in the game setting up the game winner. He did it (tonight) alright.
- P.K. Subban. Forced into nearly 30 minutes of ice time it was fitting that Subban drew the Hartnell penalty (“Of course it was a bleeping penalty” said Tortorella post-game to the Columbus whiners who apparently think it’s ok for a forward to stick his skate between an opposing players’ legs to knock him off the puck.) then made a spectacular move along the boards just outside the Columbus blue line to play keep away from Matt Calvert. Subban’s cross ice pass to David Desharnais began a series of 11 consecutive passes that resulted in the game winner.
- Max Pacioretty. Beat Bobrovsky 5-hole along the ice from in close to win the game. It’s not Patrick Kane territory but Pacioretty has picked up points in five straight games and in 11 of his last 12.
- Special Teams. Difference in the game. The Habs took only one penalty but it was an Alexei Emelin major for interference on Calvert (The Columbus forward went down clutching his head even though it was shoulder to shoulder. Calvert might have missed a single shift – concussion protocol? – but played over 15:00.) which might have been a turning point, just 34 seconds after Nick Foligno’s wraparound had tied the score.
- Mike Condon. Looked sharp early. Got the job done – again. But also overplayed his angle (again) on the Foligno goal and was caught swimming around in his crease too often. Let’s see if Stephane Waite can clean this up. Major test coming up against the Capitals. If he falters, and Dustin Tokarski can actually get his game together in the AHL, then perhaps we haven’t seen the last of “Ticker”. Tokarski has nobody to blame but himself for losing the back up job to Condon. We know he’s a battler. He might, at the very least, get an opportunity to fight to try to get it back. If not here then for some other organization.
- 4th line. Hugely important opening goal. Brian Flynn and Paul Byron had gone three straight games without a shot on goal. But it’s Christian Thomas who’s starting to open some eyes. Flynn started the play along the boards by getting the puck to Nathan Beaulieu who’s pass sent Byron and Thomas away on a two on two, which quickly developed – because of Byron’s speed – into a two on one once Byron sent the puck to Thomas. That was a beauty of a set up from the boards to the slot that Thomas made to Byron. Perfectly timed. It’ll be interesting to see if Thomas can build off some strong play in his first two games, especially with Brendan Gallagher out and before Marc Bergevin finds a more proven winger not named Scott Hartnell.
- Michel Therrien. A victory in career game #700. He worked for it. Sensing not much from 2/3 of his top line, Therrien flip-flopped Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais. Of course it worked. The five guys on the ice for the power play game winner with just 2:09 to play – Subban, Andrei Markov, Pacioretty, Weise and Desharnais. Therrien and J.J. Daigneault also had to work at rotating five defensemen for the last two periods. And they all looked good.
- Referees Kelly Sutherland and Kevin Pollock. The initial call on Emelin – two minutes for interference – was the correct one. I get it that they’re sensitive to a player writhing around the ice while clutching his head. But if one of the zebras, including linesmen Steve Barton and Michel Cormier, suggested that it was a head shot than they were simply guessing. The non-call which followed Foligno’s take out of Tomas Fleischmann was also bad. It was kneeing or clipping. A dangerous play. Not only was it a missed call but it led to a fight. It’s been awhile since we’ve hit the officials but this veteran crew had an off night.
- Nathan Beaulieu flattened by Nick Foligno. Beaulieu won praise for his willingness to scrap after Fleischmann went down but it could have cost the Canadiens the game if he had actually been hurt. The Habs would have been down to four defensmen for half the game. He was hurt, you say? Sometimes a guy gets rocked in a fight and he’s concussed. And sometimes a guy gets flattened and suffers nothing more serious than a black eye. There was nothing sinister about seeing Beaulieu on the ice in the third period. He played nearly 6:00 through eight shifts and was one of the best players on the ice. That’s what I saw. But then again, I never studied medicine with Dr. Recchi.