Markov and Subban in Habs opening ceremony pic.twitter.com/WCnm2bXwZZ
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 15, 2015
“A lot of people think we’re overrated (but) we’re a good hockey team”
Carey Price’s message to the naysayers (delivered on the ice post-game to Marc Denis of RDS) couldn’t have been more clear. It was a postscript to Tomas Plekanec telling Arpon Basu of NHL.com last week that he was sick and tired of hearing about how the Habs were basically a one man team. There is a lot of hockey to be played but you know the Canadiens are real good because when the time finally arrived to face a legit Stanley Cup contender they actually raised the level of their own game (“They schooled us” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault) to go 5 and 0 and rewrite part of their record book.
This was as entertaining an opening night as I can remember, at least since the Habs moved into the now newly renovated Bell Centre. The pace was quick, the goaltending was sensational and the game was clean. Late in the second period Tony Marinaro turned to me and said “This is a playoff game”. Then the Habs took back to back penalties and it went to yet another level. Is it asking too much for an encore in Game Six?
- Carey Price. Ho hum. 9-1-1 vs Rangers at the Bell Centre with 6 shutouts. That’s just sick. His series of saves during the Rangers 1:42 of 5 on 3 – back to back carbon copies on Derek Stepan while moving to his right and a desperate, lunging glove stab on Rick Nash while moving to his left will be embedded in the memory bank until he replicates it somewhere somehow during the playoffs. And his behind the net takedown of Chris Kreider was just perfect, whether he knew who it was or not.
- David Desharnais-Dale Weise-Tomas Fleischmann. Tremendous night led by the little centerman who did what he does best – set up his wingers for quality scoring chances. Desharnais’s work on the clincher was especially impressive as he controlled the puck down low to almost mesmorize the Rangers defense pair of Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle before feeding the puck to Weise who became the first Montreal rightwinger to score a goal this young season. Fleischmann’s opener gave him goals in consecutive games to move to within six of his goal total of a season ago. And nobody seemed to enjoy holding the torch during the opening ceremony more than Fleischmann.
- Opening Ceremony. Again. Just perfect. The black and white montage featuring Hall of Famers Serge Savard, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Yvan Cournoyer morphing into colour featuring the younger leadership core of Brendan Gallagher, P.K. Subban, Carey Price and Max Pacioretty was a beautiful touch. Seeing coaching “consultant” Craig Ramsay beaming behind the Habs bench after his introduction was yet another reminder of how deeply the history and tradition of the Montreal Canadiens resonates. Hockey lifer Ramsay is thrilled to be here. And then to see the last Habs captain to capture the Stanley Cup – Guy Carbonneau – walk out with the torch held high, next to the bench that he once ran, with a handshake for the current coach and a pass of the torch to the new captain was beyond symbolic. That would have been impressive enough but the topper was Andrei Markov as performance artist. Who knew? “We know he can laugh” said Michel Therrien about Markov’s friendly send up of his defense partner. And 20,000 + laughed inside the Bell Centre for the first time since Kevin Hart headlined.
- *Tomas Plekanec-Brendan Gallagher-Max Pacioretty. This trio is just flat out dominating play.
- Alex Galchenyuk. Robbed twice by Henrik Lundqvist’s glove hand, Galchenyuk tried to go even higher the next time but missed the net completely. He looks great.
- Lars Eller. It was not a physical game but Eller got in the way while also creating room for himself. It looks like he’s been playing LW for years.
- Torrey Mitchell-Brian Flynn-Devante Smith-Pelly. Both Flynn (breakaway) and Smith-Pelly (deflection from in close) were robbed by Lundqvist. Mitchell set up Plekanec for the empty netter. It’ll be interesting to track how well this 4th line does the rest of the way compared to the opponents’ 4th line because through five games its been a mismatch.
- P.K. Subban & Andrei Markov. Another big shutdown night. Subban was excellent on the 5 on 3 kill and in other shorthanded situations as well.
- Jeff Petry. “He’s been the Habs best defenseman so far” said Pierre LeBrun pre-game. Just picking up where he left off last spring.
- Henrik Lundqvist. He’s usually terrible at the Bell Centre but his brilliance didn’t go unnoticed at the other end. “That was a spectacle. Just an absolute clinic. I really enjoyed watching it” said Price. The best regular season goaltending battle I ever saw was at the Forum in 1968 when two future Hall of Famers battled to a 0-0 tie. Gerry Cheevers was in goal for Boston. While a rookie stuck behind Gump Worsley and Rogatien Vachon played for the Habs. His name was Tony Esposito.
- Alex Semin. Here we go again. I thought he’d break his goose egg in the home opener. He came close, hitting the post from in close while Lundqvist was without a stick. But he still doesn’t look comfortable in shooting situations. And just like he did the game before in Pittsburgh, Michel Therrien kept Semin on the bench for a couple off shifts while Smith-Pelley took his spot while protecting a one goal lead.
- The Power Play. It’s statistically ugly at 9.5% after going 0-5 but there were encouraging signs. This wasn’t so much a case of an inept unit as it was of a goaltender slamming the door.
*During editing the Habs announced that Plekanec had signed a new two year contract worth 12 million dollars but without a no-trade clause. This is a very good deal – again – for GM Marc Bergevin who knows that Plekanec is indispensable for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Now it’s up to Therrien, at least in part, to help make sure Plekanec is at his best in the playoffs, not at his worst.