Thats more like it.
I didn’t think the Habs would necessarily beat the Rangers at MSG. But certainly expected a better effort than what we saw Saturday at the Bell Centre against Winnipeg when they were still in how-do-we-break-these-bad-habits mode.
Compete level is the term Claude Julien used prior to the game. He saw plenty of it. How fitting after two practices that he’d see some positive results up against the coach he defeated nearly six years ago to win the Stanley Cup.
- Carey Price. Talk about the save all you want. I prefer to talk about the look. He’s got it back. You know it – staring down a shooter for a split second after robbing him. Or even, staring down an opponent – like Mats Zuccherello in the shootout – as if to say, “How’d you beat me? It won’t happen again”. He’s locked in. There’s little doubt Price needed a physical, but even more importantly, mental break. But even as his game faltered there was something else lost too – that bit of arrogance that every great athlete leans on. It wasn’t lost simply because he wasn’t stopping pucks. He was distracted. It’s one thing to smile under your mask after making a highlight reel save. But it’s another thing entirely to be chuckling and kibbitzing with an opponent down by three goals as Price was in Minneapolis with Zach Parise on the lip of his crease. Or upending Team Canada teammate Claude Giroux in the neutral zone while heading off the ice after two periods in Philadelphia. That wasn’t intensity – it was too cool for the circumstance. Or, to borrow a perfect word from the French, nonchalant. It spread to the rest of his game. Price had taken hold of the situation and clearly didn’t like what he was seeing or hearing. Following the win at MSG, he spelled out why Michel Therrien was fired, for anybody who was willing to actually listen: “…no matter what happened out there we stuck with it… even with a late penalty…we didn’t say oh not again. We stayed positive on the bench and found a way to win.” That would be Andrew Shaw’s penalty 200 feet from his own net during a Montreal power play with less than five minutes to play. There had been way too much negativity and tension that rubbed off on the players. Most of them, especially their leader, reached a breaking point. How many desperation saves did we see from Price just prior to the coaching change? It’s all very symbolic. The save enabled Price to tie Ken Dryden for 3rd place in franchise wins with 258 Next up – Patrick Roy at 289 and Jacques Plante at 314. And it handed his new coach his first win back home. “It’s cool” said Price post-game about the milestone. Nothing nonchalant about it.
— Dave Stubbs (@Dave_Stubbs) February 22, 2017
- Shea Weber. Best skater on the ice. Been waiting for Weber to take over a game at both ends of the ice. This is as close as we’ve seen since early in the season. The Habs are going to need more of this from Weber down the stretch. And maybe they’ll get it – if they give him a better partner.
- Andrei Markov. First time he’s played in the vicinity of 25:00 (24:56) since November 26. He has earned the ice time but it drives home the point about the need for another experienced defenseman. Leaning on Markov for that much ice time with the most intense part of the season coming up is playing with fire.
- Tomas Plekanec. Best game in many moons. Looked like vintage Plekanec.
- Artturi Lehkonen. Looked dangerous and in control. Like virtually every one of his teammates Lehkonen is goal hungry. But unlike most of them, he has already shown the ability to finish off plays. Looked the closest to breaking out.
Julien spoke in glowing terms about Lehkonen in post game. Said he is smart, good 2-way player with a lot of potential.
— Dan Robertson (@DRTSN690) February 22, 2017
- Andrew Shaw. Yeah, there was that late bad penalty – again. But there was also that early go ahead goal which his team desperately needed. And, despite the penalty, Shaw was back on the ice for two additional late game shifts.
- Phillip Danault-Alexander Radulov-Max Pacioretty. Strong game without scoring. A reminder that the Habs can actually win a game without Pacioretty or Radulov putting the puck in the net.
- Paul Byron. The best player on his line. Game winner in the shootout. His night ended a lot better than it started when his high shot during the pre-game warm up caught Price in the neck. The ensuing media panic when Price left the net for the dressing room (about two minutes earlier than normal) proved yet again what we all know but don’t practice often enough (unless you’re Mitch Gallo): Breathe in…breathe out.
- Power Play. Stuck in a 1-24 rut Weber’s blast on their only full two minute opportunity of the game gave the Habs a 2-1 lead off a perfectly executed face-off which was won by Pacioretty after Danault was waved out.
- Penalty Kill. What a difference a coach makes. Much more aggressive, which was also evident in Julien’s debut vs Winnipeg on Saturday. Part of the reason Plekanec looked so strong.
- Overtime. Ok, so it wasn’t Auston Matthews vs Patrick Laine. But that was fun to watch. Pacioretty seemed poised to win it early and late. Galchenyuk won a key face off in the offensive zone. Markov was a beast, springing Pacioretty and Plekanec in alone on Henrik Lundqvist and Price was, well, Price.
- Kirk Muller. Julien admitted post-game that it was Muller who drew up the shootout list. Hopefully by now, “fans” have stopped grumbling about Brian Flynn (5-10 career). Radulov is now 3-4 with that incredible backhand under the crossbar. Pacioretty took his shot from too far out to beat Lundqvist on the glove side. Alex Galchenyuk fired a terrific shot but off the goalpost before Byron beat Lundqvist 5-hole to win the game. Who was next man up, Kirk?
- Claude Julien. Welcome back coach.
I love when Claude Julien smiles…
— Tony Marinaro (@TonyMarinaro) February 22, 2017
- Breakaway Central. “We weren’t perfect”, said Julien after the game. Rangers used the middle of the ice wisely. Twice Ryan McDonagh sent Rick Nash in alone on Price with perfect feeds that split the Montreal defense. Price stoned Nash the first time but couldn’t catch the second one. Fact is the Habs have two of the slowest left defensemen in the league. Most of the time, Jeff Petry – who otherwise played a very strong game while logging over 25:00 – can bail out Markov. But it was kind of a feeble attempt by Petry on Nash, even as we recognize that Nash’s size and strength can make life difficult for many defensemen who are in catch-up mode.
- Alex Galchenyuk & Brendan Gallagher. Formed the “second” line with Byron but ended up playing 3rd line minutes and with good reason. Gallagher is very close but still not the Gallagher we know. He did skate better as the game went along. Didn’t shy away from the front of the net on the Weber blast while he had to have at least held his breath as the puck whizzed by his twice-broken hand. And running into Lundqvist might be another indication that he’s almost there. Galchenyuk, on the other hand, could certainly have used that goal in the shootout. But maybe it too, is a sign, that he’s about to turn it around. He looks clunky on the ice and is clearly gripping his stick tighter than some of the assholes who are running around Washington D.C. these days.
- Alexei Emelin. Beaten badly to the outside by 4th liner Jesper Fast on the Rangers first goal. It’s happening too frequently. He’s also getting beaten on the inside (Dustin Bfyuglien on Jets winning goal on Saturday). Nor is he moving the puck well. But there he is, shift after shift, with Shea Weber.
- Nathan Beaulieu. Played just ok on the third pairing with Greg Pateryn. But once again made some truly boneheaded decisions with the puck. And when he finally got an opportunity very late in the game to play alongside Weber (Emelin missed a shift because of a shot block) he fell behind his own net with nobody around and coughed up the puck. Is it ever really going to kick-in for Beaulieu?
- Stefanie Pateryn (Andrews). Greg Pateryn deserves better. It’s one thing to request a trade over lack of playing time. And he certainly has little control over the keyboard meanderings of his wife. But I’m not sure how the LA-born Ms. Andrews can possibly show her face again at the Bell Centre. Unless there’s egg all over it.
— Alex Nyko 🔆 (@AlexNyko) February 21, 2017