Considering the various circumstances – key injuries, angry goalie not originally scheduled to start, two straight losses, on the road against a team that had won six straight – this was the Habs best game of the season. It was, in fact, almost perfect.
- Carey Price. 250 career wins before the age of 30 is some kind of impressive. Especially so given that not one of those wins was for a team that was ready to win the Stanley Cup. As expected he had that look back instead of looking back.
- Jeff Petry. One of his best games as a Hab. Game winning goal was his 6th of the season – one more than all of last year and one shy of his career high. After going pointless in 9 straight games, Petry has three goals and four points in his last four games as the Habs struggle to find offense.
- Shea Weber. That was more like it. He wasn’t alone in his own end but it was a very strong defensive performance that his team desperately needed.
- Alexei Emelin. Ditto. And it’s a badge of honour to be referred to as “the jerk of jerks” by Don Cherry.
- Alexander Radulov. Even without hitting the scoresheet he was clearly Montreal’s most effective forward in the offensive zone, with several clean set ups to teammates who couldn’t finish.
- Max Pacioretty. Perfect cross ice feed to Petry won the game.
- Phillip Danault. Major bounce back after his horror show against San Jose. Anybody else notice his slew foot on the always rambunctious Tom Wilson?
- Artturi Lehkonen. Scored the all important first goal of the game when he was too quick on the wraparound for Braden Holtby, who didn’t make the same mistake in the third period when Lehkonen tried it again. Tied for 5th in goals scored among NHL rookies.
- Andrei Markov. Solid. Markov and Weber combined to block nine of the 21 Washington shots the Habs got in front of. But did one of those blocks result in the injury that forced him to leave in the third period?
- Nathan Beaulieu. Played well. Too bad it was for less than 15:00.
- Mark Barberio. Inserted in place of Zach Redmond and did a fine job, as usual. Barberio is too good for the AHL.
- Michel Therrien. Unlike Friday at home against San Jose, Therrien had his club ready to play. Price made some saves early (notably on rookie Jakub Vrana) but once Lehkonen opened the scoring it was a textbook performance on positioning. The Habs adjusted to the Caps stretch passes by effectively choking off the middle of the ice. They needed to respond by playing a lot better in their own end and they did just that, limiting a strong offensive team to just 21 shots on goal. Therrien showed a lot of faith in his younger players – he had Lehkonen on the ice with just over a minute to play, after he gave the 4th line of Michael McCarron-Chris Terry-Daniel Carr a shift with five minutes left. It’s likely Therrien’s most satisfying win of the season.
- Lars Eller. Maybe Lars was waiting for this match up to kick start his season. He was the best Washington forward. Let’s see if he creates some momentum from this game in an effort to hit double digits in points (let alone goals). But right now – even with injuries down the middle – the Canadiens miss Eller the way Canadians miss Stephen Harper.
- Tomas Plekanec & Brendan Gallagher. Nothing wrong with the effort. Gallagher was actually quite good while Plekanec played a smart game (but still too often weak on the puck) but it’s kind of difficult to believe that the Habs are a .710 team with Plekanec and Gallagher combining for just 7 goals. I’ve given up hope that Plekanec will suddenly recapture offensive skills that seemingly abandoned him a year ago. But Gallagher’s power outage of one goal in his last 24 games might actually be more of a case of his numbers slipping back to normalcy. Gallagher’s great start last year raised expectations of a possible 30 goal season. But if you add his numbers from last year to this season he has 24 goals in 84 games. In 2014-15 when he played all 82 games he scored 24 goals.
- Paul Byron. Barely noticed him.
- Penalties. Too many of them. After getting into early penalty trouble against the Sharks the Habs took four more minors, even if a couple of them were of the ticky-tacky variety.
- Power Play. A more disciplined Caps team took only two penalties but the Habs still had an opportunity to provide some breathing room for Price and his defenders. The first power play was a disaster with no shots on goal. The second one looked a lot better – until Gallagher got on the ice when, likely trying too hard, he couldn’t stay on his skates and gave the puck away.
- Markov injury. Montreal hasn’t yet entered the most demanding part of their schedule and the injuries are already starting to pile up. Wait until January. In this year of the World Cup and a highly compressed schedule it’s difficult to imagine a team winning the Stanley Cup by using less than 30 players.
- Shea Weber injury. “I feel great” said Weber after the game. But it sure looked serious when he took a Dimitri Orlov slap shot off the (unprotected) inside of his knee. To see Weber in so much pain while dragging his injured leg over the boards only reinforced the belief that GM Marc Bergevin is not done trying to acquire Top 4 help for the blue line.
- Nathan Beaulieu.
The referee isn’t taking any guff. pic.twitter.com/GAsgTUqN9i
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 18, 2016
Beaulieu is actually fortunate he got hit with a 10 minute misconduct after mocking the referee the way he did (applauding on his way out of the penalty box) instead of a two minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which would have put the Habs down again by two men. Beaulieu has looked very good the last couple of games. Maybe he gets another chance to play Top 4 minutes should the Markov injury open up a spot. But, truth is, the Canadiens already wonder about Beaulieu’s maturity level. This act – in the middle of a hard fought road game against one of the best teams in the NHL – will not go over well. It’s time for him to grow up.