See what a little bit of rest can do? Or – in the case of long-injured players – a lot of rest.
Earlier in the day, when asked about the return of David Desharnais, Phillip Danault – who has clearly passed Desharnais and almost everybody else on the depth chart at centre – talked of how he and the Habs were looking forward to having the veteran return to the line up after a lengthy knee injury. “We’re the two Frenchmen in here…” said Danault in a refreshingly innocent manner.
Three days after the NHL paid tribute to its’ 100 greatest players it was kind of cool to watch a game that featured some old school flash and dash by Les Habitants. In fact, it was very reminiscent of the days of The Flying Frenchmen.
- Max Pacioretty. That’s how you return from the All Star Break. Just when you thought Robin Lehner was going to follow up his Bell Centre performance of two weeks ago, there was Pacioretty late in the first period, holding onto the puck just long enough to wait out the Sabres goaltender and beat him upstairs with a perfect shot to open the scoring and set in motion his second hat trick of the season. Only one player in the NHL has scored more goals than the Habs captain. His name is Sidney Crosby.
- Alexander Radulov. It’s no longer just the way he controls the puck and finds his open teammates with perfect passes, whether there is traffic or not. Nor is it the way he takes the puck to the net, often with a coupe of opponents hanging off his back. It’s the way he celebrates a goal that is now part of who and what the Habs are. I’ve never seen anything like it in over 50 years of watching this team. Mats Naslund celebrated goals in style. But they were his goals. The pure joy exhibited by Radulov when somebody else scores while he is on the ice is such a telling factor into the kind of teammate he is. And it sure does energize the joint.
Can u imagine how excited Radulov will be during the playoffs 😎 https://t.co/hEOb1wNmcc
— Tony Marinaro (@TonyMarinaro) February 1, 2017
- Phillip Danault. Not quite as proficient with his passing as Radulov (who is?) but that was such a big time play he made which led to Pacioretty’s second goal when his smart back pass sent the puck to Radulov who got it to Pacioretty in the slot whose shot was too quick for Lehner. Took a cross check in the back from Justin Falk to distract Lehner just enough for Pacioretty to complete the hat trick. And what was he doing in his own end with the Habs up 5-0? Blocking a shot. I think this guy’s a keeper.
- David Desharnais. Perfect team to return against and Desharnais took advantage of all the open ice the Habs created. We know Desharnais is always in pass-first mode. But not when he has the puck in the slot where he is deadly accurate. Desharnais is a career 15% shooter. Only the last angry anglo standing at the Ontario border couldn’t feel happy for the guy who was back in the line up after missing over seven weeks.
- Andrei Markov. Long before his perfect set up to help give the Habs a four goal lead, Markov announced his return with a nifty pass up the middle of the ice to spring Tomas Plekanec on a breakaway. Prior to Markov’s first game in six weeks, Mitch Gallo listed the over/under on Markov’s ice time at 16 (minutes). Did you go high or low? Of course he went over. He played 17:43. And it looked like he could have kept going for another period or two.
- Nikita Nesterov. Welcome to Montreal. Looked good. Couldn’t ask for a better partner to have for his Bell Centre debut than Markov. Definitely not shy to join the rush.
— RDS (@RDSca) February 1, 2017
- Paul Byron. Everybody benefitted from a few days off, but especially smaller guys like Byron. His goal to give Montreal a 4-0 lead was just his second in the last 13 games. It sure was a pretty passing play featuring wily old vets Plekanec and Markov.
- Pretty Passing Plays. All over the ice. For the second time in 10 days the Habs and Sabres combined for over 70 shots on goal. Not only did the Habs feature a relentless forecheck – at least until they took a 5 goal lead early in the third period – but they flashed a whole of old style fire wagon hockey. More please.
- Shea Weber & Alexei Emelin. To be expected at this point. Fresh off winning the hardest shot competition All Star weekend, Weber fired plenty of pucks at Lehner. But he wasn’t Montreal’s top shooter from the blue line.
- Greg Pateryn. Made the most of his opportunity to fill in for an ailing Jeff Petry. Following an expected rough first couple of shifts which included a holding penalty, Pateryn settled down and looked downright scary – for the right reasons – in his first game in eight weeks. Fired 5 shots on goal to lead the Habs and they were all hard, low, accurate blasts that tested Lehner. He also delivered a couple of heavy hits. Does he get to play in Philadelphia?
- Carey Price. Anybody still concerned that the real Carey Price is MIA? In his last 4 starts his save percentage is .940. To repeat, Price’s game always dips in December and January. Welcome to February.
- Third Period. For the second consecutive start at home Price looked to be in full shutout mode. Not quite as painful as losing a shutout bid with less than 2 seconds to play but his teammates owe him a couple. And they know it. One of the reasons Danault sprawled to the ice to block a shot with a five goal lead in the third period.
- I hope those who paid tribute to the people who lost their lives while praying in a Quebec City mosque did so during their moment of silence while coming to the realization that the most dangerous threat to peace and security in our country usually arrives in the form of a white person with extreme political views.