There are no moral victories in professional sports. The Canadiens outplayed Columbus but still managed to lose – again.
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) December 23, 2016
Montreal also discovered first hand as they played out the pre-Christmas break that there is more to the Vezina trophy chase than just Carey Price.
- Jeff Petry. Has clearly taken his game to another level. His teammates couldn’t beat former Vezina winner Sergei Bobvrovsky from anywhere so Petry showed them how it’s done – from the corner of the rink. The goal was his career high 8th of the season. And he’s just 8 points shy of his career high of 25 set in his first full season with Edmonton in 2011-12. In the last five game Petry has 4 goals and 6 points while taking 26 shots on goal.
- Al Montoya. Tested early (especially on a 3 on 1 when he stopped rushing defenseman David Savard) but not often. But this was an important outing for him. And he did his job. Both goals were basically deposited into an empty net. Hasn’t won since October when his victory over the NY Islanders improved his record to 3-0-1. Let’s play a quick game of ‘What If?’ – What if his nightmare 10 goals against in Columbus on November 4th never happened? His save percentage would be .931 instead of .906. Montoya might have been the best back up goalie in the NHL last season. There are bigger issues in Florida than Roberto Luongo’s under study. But there has been much grumbling about the play of James Reimer (4-5-2, .907 at a cap hit of over 3 million dollars). I’ll say it again – if a (traditional) back up goalie is giving you .910 or better he’s doing a heck of a job.
- Michael McCarron-Chris Terry-Daniel Carr. Seemed to make something happen on every shift, especially over the last two periods.
- Shea Weber. Played a lot better than I thought he would considering the 30 minutes of ice time he logged the night before on home ice against Minnesota. But there must be something going on with him physically – above the normal wear and tear. Because when he does get the opportunity to shoot the puck there is not nearly the same kind of zip behind it as was the case earlier in the season. And what about that cross check from behind early in the game by William Karlsson? In another lifetime, Karlsson might have been pummelled by Weber instead of merely being threatened.
- Paul Byron. Who has more breakaways this season than Byron? Who tracks this kind of thing? Great move on Bobrovsky after Byron stripped Brandon Saaad of the puck. But it was an even better save. Also won a key face off late in the game in Columbus territory with Montoya on the bench for a 6th attacker.
- Artturi Lehkonen. Carried his older line mates in this one.
- Nathan Beaulieu. Followed up a career high 27:43 vs Minnesota with 28:22 as Weber’s partner. But he got burned on Sam Gagner’s opening goal on the power play, as he over-committed to Weber’s side of the ice. He appears – appears – to have turned a corner.
- Michel Therrien. I was wrong. Therrien’s (icing) decision to start Montoya (icing) instead of Carey Price (icing) is not why the Habs (icing) lost the game. He got his team to slow (icing) the pace down early. (A frustrated John Tortorella could be seen waving his players off the bench and onto the ice after yet another Montreal icing call.) Once Columbus grabbed a two goal lead they might have thought (and hoped after blitzing Pittsburgh the night before) that the Habs would fold but in fact the opposite happened. Therrien changed up two of his lines to help energize his team and they dominated play the rest of the night. He has his team playing very smart hockey. They are one of the best possession teams in the NHL (as they were a season ago before the season went into the toilet). Their goal differential 5 on 5 (+26) is (along with Columbus) the best in the NHL. Now, if he (they) can just get their special teams act together.
- Alexander Radulov. Rough stretch. Obviously missing his centreman. But once Therrien moved Radulov alongside Torrey Mitchell & Paul Byron we saw a lot more spark from him. Radulov has been in constant playmaking mode since the season started. But I think the message got through that with his team in short supply of offense he is going to have to think a lot more about shooting instead of passing.
- Mark Barberio. He got too cute while in possession of the puck in his zone along the boards. Instead of an easier dump out, Barberio, with his time and space being taken away, decided to send the puck all the way back around the net with a surprised Petry as his intended target. Alex Wennberg got their first to help set up Brandon Saad for what turned out to be the winning goal. That mistake aside, Barberio has mostly looked good since Andrei Markov was injured. His case is an interesting one. He loves to skate with the puck. He’s very good at it. But he’s playing for a coach whose system all but prohibits defensemen from doing it.
- Penalties. Too many. Again. Heading into the game the Habs knew that Columbus had the best power play in the NHL. The Blue Jackets went 1 for 4 – almost right on their season target (26.9%). Following a dubious slashing call on Radulov (by Russian ref Evgeny Romasko who should have then spent the rest of the night sending players off for stick tapping) the Habs got buried by a too many men on the ice call. Then as the Habs tried to fight back from a two goal defecit they took two more soft penalties – a Philipp Danault trip on Brandon Dubinsky (if you’re going to take a penalty on the combative Columbus centre along the boards you ought to make him feel it) and a Max Pacioretty hook.
- Zach Redmond-Joel Hanley. The best thing you can say about the Habs third defense pair is that they ate up about 10 minutes of play. Hockey’s equivalent of a middle innings eater.
- Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. Plekanec wasn’t much of a factor. He looked dispirited. Gallagher, on the other hand, had a terrific night of creating havoc and chances but ultimately couldn’t snap his goalless drought which has reached a dozen games. And as almost everyone knows by now, he has scored just one goal in 28 games. It’s kind of stunning that the Habs are playing .676 hockey (6th best record and dropping) while Plekanec and Gallagher have combined for just 8 goals.
- Power Play. At least another four weeks without Alex Galchenyuk.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 24, 2016
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