If I had told you that a 4th liner would be the difference maker in Game One, I’ll take a wild guess that you would have picked Alex Galchenyuk to be that guy. Or, to put it another way, of the six players who made up the respective 4th lines for the two teams you might have had Tanner Glass at #6.
Don’t you love the playoffs?
- Carey Price. Not quite ready for the sneaky backhand by Glass but more than made up for it the rest of the way, especially with a series of big saves over the final 40 minutes when the Rangers outshot the Habs 26-15.
- Shea Weber. Anybody still asking questions about this guy? Dominating performance. As expected, he saw a healthy dose of Chris Kreider (but Alain Vigneault managed to keep Kreider away from Weber for most of the second period) but it didn’t matter who was out there for New York. Weber was that good defensively. He also had the Habs best scoring chance of the night on a second period power play when he moved in and forced Henrik Lundqvist to make the best of his 31 saves of the night. And Weber took full advantage of the rather loose interpretation of the NHL rule book by veteran refs Dan O’Halloran and Ian Walsh by repeatedly hammering Mikke Zibanejab with cross checks to the back. Mats Zuccarello also felt the wrath of Weber. And he’ll be more than ready to do it all over again in game two since his ice time was limited to under 25:00 (24:15).
- Jordie Benn. Impressive return from an injury. Got himself into the game early by laying out Glass with a thundering hit. Played the left side (mostly next to an okay Jeff Petry) after playing mostly on the right side following his acquisition from Dallas. But there was no change to his strong game.
- PK Unit. Excellent, anchored by Weber, Andrei Markov and Benn with Steve Ott and Tomas Plekanec up front. Especially strong during a 50 second 5 on 3 Rangers power play late in the second which would have effectively ended the game earlier had New York connected.
- Alexander Radulov. Played the role of playmaker but nobody could finish, thanks mainly to the work of Lundqvist. Had an early chance of his own after taking a long pass from Carey Price (who came out of his net to beat an onrushing Kreider to the puck while Habs Nation held its breath) but couldn’t beat Lundqvist up high. Which seemed to be very much a part of the Habs game plan. When they had time to tee it up they went high and hard.
- Max Pacioretty. Recovered from a very poor start. Pacioretty was knocked off his feet by veteran Dan Girardi (the Rangers’ most physical defenseman on the night) midway through the first period and fell awkwardly into the boards. Even more awkward was his own attempt to retaliate when he led with his chest instead of his shoulder. Girardi was ready for him and it appeared the Habs captain was winded when he made contact. Pacioretty was especially bad during a Ryan McDonagh penalty (which he drew) when he couldn’t control the puck while either making a pass or taking one. But he was better by late in the second period and had a couple of the Habs best scoring chances the rest of the way.
- Artturi Lehkonen. Also recovered from some early shaky moments. Best player on his line. Suffered a bloody lip somewhere along the way. Welcome to the NHL playoffs, kid.
- Steve Ott-Andreas Martinsen-Alex Galchenyuk. Other than a terrible shift in the second period when Vigneault managed to get his top line out against them and the Habs needed Price to bail them out, they did mostly a good job. Claude Julien didn’t veer away from his set lines until very late in the game when he had Galchenyuk take Dwight King’s spot alongside Andrew Shaw and Lehkonen. I suspect that if the Habs continue to struggle to score, we’ll see more of Galchenyuk (13:52 – 11:51 even strength) and less of King (14:01 – 12:48 even strength). If you had told me in October that the Habs would start the playoffs with Alex Galchenyuk playing LW alongside Ott and Martinsen, I would have asked you how the heck do they even get in – and who are their centremen?
- Power Play. Radulov to Shaw in the high slot, while Pacioretty remains stationary by the side of the net. This can’t be a plan. Andrew Shaw will not beat most NHL goalies from up there. By their second power play it was Pacioretty back to being the trigger man but he couldn’t beat Lundqvist who made a good save down low with his left pad. Moments later, Radulov set up Weber with what looked to be the tying goal but Lundqvist made his save of the night. But instead of keeping that momentum the Habs were back in the penalty box when Galchenyuk took one his two face offs and played the puck with his hand. The power play set up of Pacioretty,Radulov and Shaw up front did not work down the stretch. The second unit is Galchenyuk, Gallagher and Lehkonen. Does it really make sense to have Shaw (who brings a lot to each game) play on the #1 unit (3:30) while relegating Galchenyuk and/or the red hot Lehkonen (1:24 each) to the 2nd unit? Just asking.
- Phillip Danault. Rough night. We know the Habs are weak down the middle. But somebody is going to have to be a difference maker. Danault was clearly frustrated by late in the third period when he took a bad penalty behind the Rangers net. He obviously tripped up Brendan Smith whether the Rangers’ defender (Smith and partner Brady Skjei were terrific) embellished or not. Danault responded to the call by firing the puck up high, perhaps something Claude Julien had in mind post-game when he talked about the Habs need to “keep their composure”.
- Nathan Beaulieu & Nikita Nesterov. Miss Alexei Emelin yet? Brutal night. And you can’t blame it all on Nesterov (How is he better than Mark Barberio?). Beaulieu gave the puck away in his own zone on three separate occasions on the same shift.
- Tomas Plekanec-Brendan Gallagher-Paul Byron. Ugh. Forget the goal (Byron cheated off the draw and missed the loose puck lying there while Glass made like P.J. Stock on Martin Brodeur by going top shelf), this trio couldn’t get anything done 5 on 5 even as they had plenty of ice time against the Rangers 4th line of Glass, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Plekanec continued his strong performance of late in the face off circle (61%) and helped kill penalties. But where was the other part of his game? Byron’s early shorthanded chance – a shot from the left wing – was the only shot on goal generated by the three players. Gallagher seemed too hyped up. He took an early bad tripping penalty on Marc Staal and seemed distracted by the physical pounding laid on him, mostly from Girardi. Gallagher lingered on the ice for about a minute after the first period to mouth off to a couple of Rangers as they made their way to their dressing room but also to the zebras. His second minor penalty – a hold on McDonagh caused by his own inability to get the puck in deep for a line change – put the Habs in deep trouble following the face off violation call on Galchenyuk. The Canadiens are going to need a whole lot more from these guys moving forward.
- Andrei Markov on Rick Nash. We don’t see the old guy lose his temper very often but he was pissed after Nash caught him in the face with the blade of his stick on a follow through as the Rangers winger cleared the puck out of his zone. So there was Markov, with 24 seconds left in the game, channeling Milan Lucic (or was it Brad Marchand?) by threatening Nash with a circumcision. Or maybe he was just wishing Nash a Happy Passover.