Michel Therrien.

He mixes up his lines the way Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning created fine art. He’s ridiculed in much the same manner Dallas Cowboys fans treat their star quarterback. Yet he’s still standing behind the same bench and still winning.

After Montreal’s loss to Ottawa Therrien noted that seven of his forwards failed to register a shot on goal. “Unacceptable” he said. After outshooting the Islanders 35-31 Therrien no doubt checked the post game stats which showed only two of his players failed to get a shot on goal. One of them was defenseman Mike Weaver. The only forward of the bunch was 4th liner Michael Bournival.

Slow starts an issue for the Habs? They scored less than two minutes into the game. They scored 10 seconds into the second period. And they scored 52 seconds into the third.

The new-look power play? Looked pretty good – again.

Weaver was playing for the first time since suffering a concussion in Dallas on December 6th. He’s been cleared to play but couldn’t crack the line up. Therrien finally gave him the green light while scratching Tom Gilbert and not – as many had hoped – Alexei Emelin.

As good as the Plekanec-Gallagher-Pacioretty trio looked it weakened the other three lines. So Therrien moved Dale Weise to play alongside Plekanec and Pacioretty. He moved David Desharnais back to the middle to play with Gallagher and – after an in depth morning conversation to see where his young forward’s head was at – moved Alex Galchenyuk back to the wing. He had speedy Christian Thomas play not on the slower 4th line but with Lars Eller and Jiri Sekac. Manny Malhotra, Bournival and Prust rounded out the line up. Results? Their best offensive performance of the season. And the fact that Carey Price wasn’t around to take on the top team in the East mattered not at all.

There was another example of Therrien doing something the right way. Late in the game with his team on a power play Therrien had Brandon Prust on the ice. Prust had done everything but score. It was one of his best efforts of the season. He clanked a shot off the crossbar while killing a penalty that might have been the goal of the year. Later on he was robbed from the slot. He battled Matt Martin in an early scrap and for one of the very few times ended up on the bottom. He was out there late in the third period with the Islanders net empty and would have scored had he not been upended by Franz Nielson. If he had another step on Nielson he likely would have been awarded a goal. So there was Prust playing the final 67 seconds of the game. And he had one more opportunity to score when he broke in on back up goalie Chad Johnson. But instead, he set up Pacioretty with a perfect pass forcing Johnson into a strong save. Prust had given Pacioretty one more shot to keep his goal scoring streak alive. Rewarding the ultimate team player in this manner is the kind of move that is greatly appreciated by the players.

Even as his work as coach of the Montreal Canadiens seems hardly appreciated at all.

 

THE GOOD

  • Michel Therrien. What do John Tortorella, Peter DeBoer, Peter Laviolette, Lindy Ruff, Dan Bylsma, Guy Boucher, Paul MacLean and Randy Carlyle have in common? They are among the Eastern Conference coaches who have been fired since Therrien returned to coach the Habs in 2012.
  • Tomas Plekanec. That was a Crosby-like performance. Plekanec’s first four point night since November 2010. He spearheaded everything. It was his face off work that led directly to the first three Montreal goals, two of them on the power play. He now leads Montreal forwards in power play points. And he also kept an eye on John Tavaras. His 32 points in 44 games leaves him 11 points behind his season total of a year ago.
  • David Desharnais. First goal in five games. First assist in over a month. First multi-point game since December 12th vs LA. Looks like he prefers to play centre.
  • Alex Galchenyuk. His goal broke a nine game scoring drought. Scoring when he did also broke the Islanders chance of a comeback. New York had come from behind with a strong third period the night before to beat Pittsburgh. Galchenyuk’s goal made the Islanders think more about their weary legs. Looks like he prefers to play left wing. For now (Galchenyuk telling Therrien that he’s more comfortable on the wing is hardly a shocker to Knuckles Nilan who heard the same thing over the summer).
  • Brendan Gallagher. Best game in awhile. Looked fresh. Maybe it had something to with his ice time (14:23)? Gallagher plays so hard so often that it makes sense to keep him under or at 15:00. Drew a hooking call on Travis Hamonic. Yes, a referee took notice that he was actually hooked.
  • Max Pacioretty. Another strong night even as his goal scoring streak was snapped. Habs GM Marc Bergevin must break into a cold sweat whenever he sees Pacioretty head to the dressing room during a game.
  • Andrei Markov. Back to quarterbacking a productive power play?
  • P.K. Subban. Much like he rebounded against Pittsburgh after a poor night against Tampa Bay, Subban was Subban again following a bad night in Ottawa. His 10 goals are third highest total among NHL defensemen.
  • Power Play. 2 for 4. Screen in front (Jiri Sekac, Brendan Gallagher) on both goals. Since Therrien re-jigged the power play prior to the game in Columbus it’s 5 for 15 or 33%. Season total is now pushing 16% (15.9).
  • Nathan Beaulieu. No longer possible trade bait, is he?
  • Dustin Tokarski. Some big saves early. Tokarski is a bend-but-won’t-break kind of goalie. Yeah he let in a clunker but the game was already over by then. Fact is Habs never trailed. If you’re going to give up goals it might as well be when your team scores six of them. All he does is win. Now 7-3-1 as a Hab. Was awarded an assist on Plekanec’s second goal of the game.
  • Team Canada Reunion. Kind of cool to see four players from our gold medal winning 2009 Junior team on the ice – Tokarski, Subban, Tavaras and Thomas Hickey.
  • Christian Thomas. Looked a lot sharper than an obviously less than healthy P.A. Parenteau.
  • Dale Weise. The Weiser. Weiserama. Weisee. I know Tony Marinaro (“Weise should be on the 4th line”) was watching. I wonder if Tortorella was watching too. Raphael Diaz, huh?
THE BAD
  • Islanders’ first goal by Kyle Okposo. Habs left a guy who had scored four goals the night before alone in the slot. And on NYI’s second goal, Sergei Gonchar actually looked his age when he got caught up the ice and then turned the wrong way before Nikolay Kulemin scored to make it 3-2.
THE UGLY
  • Jaroslav Halak. He had already returned and conquered with St. Louis. But his first game at the Bell Centre as a member of the Islanders will be memorable for the wrong reasons. He was making back to back starts for only the second time this season. And the Habs pounced early. But even as he struggled we got a firsthand look at the difference Halak has made. When Plekanec scored his first goal of the game just six seconds into a power play to make it 3-1 it appeared that would be enough for Montreal. But in the moments that followed Halak robbed Plekanec and Prust. Instead of Montreal going up by two Kulemin’s late second period goal made it a one goal game. But by the third period he was done. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Jack Capuano handles Halak’s workload down the stretch. In the meantime his assault on a long held Islanders record was momentarily stalled. His 24 victories this season are just 8 shy of the single season record held jointly by Hall of Famer Billy Smith and Chris Osgood.
*This blog is dedicated to Dave Brunette. A true battler, Dave died of cancer early Sunday morning. He showed an almost incomprehensible amount of strength and courage after being stricken with the disease over six years ago. His wife Marie and kids Reilly and Dara will no doubt live the rest of their lives greatly inspired by Dave’s example. The strong base of Bruins fans in Montreal lost a great one.*

 

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