So whaddya know – the Canadiens can win without Carey Price.
Dustin Tokarski lost his back up job to Price not simply because he had a poor camp while Michael Condon had a strong one. Tokarski was on a short leash. He finished last season with losses in six of his last seven starts. Four of the losses were against non-playoff teams. He just didn’t look like the same guy who had finally earned an NHL contract the year before. (After making 30 saves to win on opening night for the AHL St. John’s Ice Caps, Tokarski allowed six goals in a loss in game two to Bridgeport.)
While the Habs struggled to win their season opener in Toronto they carried the play in subsequent games outshooting Boston and Ottawa by a combined total of 72-42. It’s very early but it’s apparent that Montreal has three lines which feature a skill element on each one. And a 4th that doesn’t just forecheck but skates even better. The defense is highly mobile. The goaltending is the best in the league.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, there’s this small matter of opposing teams taking liberties with all that skill especially with no deterrent (yet). The Canadiens know that 50 wins and 110 points matters little when they match up against Tampa Bay. They needed to get quicker. But another part of the off season game plan was to ice a more formidable power play. We’ll find out if it’s still a work-in-progress or an Andre The Giant sized achilles heel.
- Mike Condon. Welcome to the NHL. Showed a lot of poise. Didn’t face his first shot (Mark Stone) until the 3:00 mark. It’ll be difficult to forget his 1st game with Matt O’Connor also making his NHL debut at the other end of the ice. Do you still remember Tokarski’s first game as a Hab?
- Tomas Plekanec. Followed up his empty netter with consecutive goals to open the scoring including another one of his “You’re expecting a pass from this sharp angle so I’m going to fool you with a shot along the ice” to officially welcome O’Connor into the NHL. How many more of these does Plekanec score before opposing goalies finally catch on? Much more impressive was his second goal when he used his great stick to block an Erik Karlsson pass and then out skated the Norris Trophy winner and beat O’Connor 5-hole. Plekanec backed up his words (telling Arpon Basu of NHL.com that he’s tired of hearing the Habs described as a one-trick pony team) with action.
- Torrey Mitchell – Brian Flynn – Devante Smith-Pelley. With Ottawa native Paul Byron watching from the press box the 4th line rewarded Michel Therrien’s reluctance to break them up with as impressive a performance as you can get from these three guys. They deserved a goal and Mitchell’s soft deflection of a P.K. Subban shot was a thing of slow-mo beauty. Flynn, terribly banged up the night before in his home state, was one of the best players on the ice (6 shots on goal) while Smith-Pelley, definitely quicker after shedding about a dozen pounds, has looked good in all three games.
- Jeff Petry. Wow. I know Curtis Lazar is no speed demon but Petry’s mad dash to catch up to Lazar and push him off the puck after the Ottawa forward blocked a bad Nathan Beaulieu shot was beyond impressive. Unless your name is Greg Millen and you’re standing at ice level between the benches. Millen laughingly suggested that Lazar should have been awarded a penalty shot. Millen also can’t tell the difference between Smith-Pelley and Subban because, well, never mind. Petry wasn’t done. He neatly broke up a two on one shortly after Mitchell made it 3-1.
- Brendan Gallagher. It was Gallagher’s rush up the ice which lead to the opening goal. Overall this was vintage Gallagher-in-Ottawa.
- Max Pacioretty. Passed first real physical test in the back to back games and looked good in nearly 20:00 of ice time.
- Alexei Emelin. Yes he was good. Did GM Marc Bergevin take any calls?
- Tom Gilbert. Ditto.
- P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov. They both struggled at times after logging as much ice time as they did the night before. But both hit the scoresheet again. Markov was wisely kept to 20:00 with virtually no time spent killing penalties.
- PK Unit. A perfect 4 for 4 against a normally explosive looking power play.
- Eugene Melnyk. It was good to see the Senators owner make his first public appearance since undergoing a life saving liver transplant. While it was heartwarming to see his two daughters alongside him I hope you will keep in mind the countless number of Canadians who aren’t nearly as visible or powerful who die waiting for a new liver. Please sign a donor card.
- Not picking on anybody here. The Habs dominated territorially on the road in the second half of a back to back to match their 3-0 start of a year ago. The Galchenyuk-Semin-Eller line didn’t connect but there were encouraging signs. Galchenyuk hit the crossbar again and Semin actually fired pucks at the net (only one made it through). But Semin still passed when he should have shot and Galchenyuk shot when he probably should have passed (on a 3 on 1) which isn’t all that surprising considering his 2015-16 mission statement to shoot more. The trio is clearly generating several scoring chances per game. I can see Semin finally hitting the net in Pittsburgh. Unless he has a real sense of drama about him and is waiting for the home opener against the Rangers.
- The Power Play. Three games in and they’re seemingly back where they started (or ended?). This wasn’t a 3-1 game. A better power play would have resulted in an embarrassing loss for the Senators in their home opener. The Habs were 0-7 with just 3 shots on goal. They allowed better scoring chances against them then they were able to generate including Ottawa’s lone goal after Subban dropped the puck back to nobody before Jean Gabriel Pageau picked it up and went the length of the ice to make a game of it. There were a lot of poor decisions and terrible entries. Like the night before in Boston they were given an opportunity to bury their opponent with a good chunk of 5 on 3 time (in the second period) but fired blanks. And then had two more chances to put the game away in the third when Patrick Weircioch and Stone were penalized but again failed miserably and then had to hang on late playing 4 against 6 for the final two minutes after Mitchell was sent off for holding. I didn’t think the Habs power play could possibly be as bad as a season ago. Right now (1-14 or 8%) it’s worse. Calling Dr. Ramsay.