Habs are a difficult team to figure out right now. But as we suspected, getting away from the Bell Centre where they have won just 4 of their last 12 games, might have been the perfect scenario to get them to where they want to be for the final 20 game sprint of the season.

Much like their shootout win earlier in the week at Madison Square Garden, the Habs showed a lot of energy and competitive fire – or “desperation” as their goaltender put it. Now let’s see if they can do something in Newark that they haven’t been able to do in six weeks – win back to back games.

The two points in Toronto was obviously much needed. And well earned. But man, they had to work awfully hard for it against a Leafs team that was without Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak.

THE GOOD

  • Carey Price. Saturday night against the Maple Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada – what else did you expect? Price made 32 saves including several game savers. Yeah the blocker side save on the Auston Matthews breakaway in overtime was the obvious one but Price was forced into a few others in regulation, most of them on Matthews who had the kind of night that might have ordinarily resulted in 4 or 5 goals. Just as impressive as his work in the crease was the obvious determination and emotion he displayed: working through traffic, second effort, and a rare fist pump after the OT save. It sure seems like the Carey Price of October-November has re-emerged. But that’s just step one.

  • Alex Galchenyuk. Well whaddya know? Biggest game of the year and it’s Galchenyuk who leads the offense. Perfect pass on the power play to help open the scoring. Outworked Nazem Kadri (Leaf Nation on a campaign to get Kadri a Selke nomination is so Toronto) to free himself in front of Frederik Andersen to score his first goal since the overtime winner in Arizona and give the Habs a 2-1 lead. Almost won the game late in the third with an impressive rush through the neutral zone and then ended the play by taking a pass in tight to the goal only to be foiled by a sprawling Alexey Marchenko. Was 9-12 in the face off circle (75%). Galchenyuk also did his best to catch up to Matthews on the breakaway in overtime, ultimately taking a whack at the teenager which didn’t have anything to do with the shot on Price other than perhaps to speed it up, while there was a predictable amount of whining afterwards on HNIC because – after rightfully praising referees Dan O’Halloran and Kendrik Nicholson for not getting in the way of the well played game – they suddenly expected a call because it was Matthews who had the game on his stick. Anyway, This is what Galchenyuk is capable of doing. This is what he did last season after he was finally put in the middle of the ice. This is pretty much what he did before missing 8 weeks with knee/leg injuries. Still want to move him to the wing while the rest of the Habs centremen continue to fire blanks? Still want to trade him for Matt Duchene? This could be step two.
  • Andrew Shaw. Spectacular game winner was the perfect reward for Shaw who was one of the best players on the ice. I’ve been puzzled by the heavy criticism thrown Shaw’s way. This performance is kind of what we saw from him prior to his concussion. He’s a ferocious forechecker – one of the best in the NHL. Step three?
  • Max Pacioretty & Alexander Radulov. Second effort from Pacioretty paid off big time on his power play goal after he coughed up the puck inside the Toronto blue line. He got pissed and chased down Zack Hyman in the neutral zone to strip him of the puck and get it to Shaw who made a nifty play to get it to Galchenyuk. Radulov started the play on the Galchenyuk goal, but was otherwise kind of quiet for the second game in a row – until the third period when he kicked himself into another gear. Watching Galchenyuk feed Pacioretty (which happened a lot late last season) for the one-timer had many of us thinking the same thing.

  • Shea Weber & Andrei Markov. Hallelujah. Yes it’s asking a lot for the 38 year old Markov to play Weber-like minutes but this is where bench management comes into play (Weber – 24:07/Markov 22:22). It’s Claude Julien’s only real option. For now. Step four?
  • Jeff Petry. I liked his game. Especially considering who he was stuck with.
  • Tomas Plekanec. Perfect feed to Shaw on the game winner.
  • Nikita Nesterov. Huh? On first look that was a Markov-type pass to Galchenyuk at the side of the net on Montreal’s second goal. On second look, and because it’s Nesterov not Markov, it might have been a missed shot. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Whatever it was, it made up for Matthew’s first goal which bounced off him.
  • David Desharnais-Torrey Mitchell-Sven Andrighetto. It was a very good start to the game for the new 4th line. But in typical fashion of late, when Desharnais fed Mitchell with a perfect set up in front of the Toronto net, the veteran forward couldn’t connect. There was an understandable sense of urgency displayed by all three players who might find themselves somewhere else by Wednesday. Even as they looked ok (although Desharnais was bailed out by Price after a terrible give away) the trio failed to generate a single shot on goal. On the other hand, it was their strong shift that forced the Leafs into taking a penalty which led to the goal by Pacioretty.
  • HNIC opening featuring The Hanson Brothers. It never gets old.

THE BAD

  • Phillip Danault. One goal in 20 games. Pointless in six. Three assists in 10 games. Playing between Pacioretty and Radulov.
  • Brendan Gallagher. Strong effort, as usual, but other than an impressive drive to the net with one hand on his stick, there is no sign of any offense. It’s going so badly right now he even lost a foot race to Roman Polak.
  • Paul Byron. Set up perfectly in the slot late in the game by Weber. He missed the net with a weak re-direct attempt.
  • Artturi Lehkonen. No zip. Looked fatigued.
  • Nathan Beaulieu. Wait – didn’t he help set up Galchenyuk? Ok. But why did the Habs fall behind 1-0? Surely it couldn’t be traced to Beaulieu who wasn’t even on the ice when Toronto opened the scoring…well it was on Beaulieu. He skated the puck out of his zone with nobody around him. He looked good. Head up. Moving well. The rest of the ice in front of him. But then he passed the puck into traffic and headed to the bench. You know what happened when the Leafs took control. Point is Beaulieu makes so many unforced errors he makes Jake Gardiner look like Brent Burns. How about late in the second period when he had the puck behind his net? There were three Leafs in deep to his right. Nothing to his left. He tossed the puck into the corner where there was blue and white but no red. But then he can hit Pacioretty through a maze of bodies in full stride to send his captain in on a breakaway and you wonder why we don’t see more of that? Beaulieu’s inability to secure a steady Top 4 role is perhaps the biggest disappointment of this Canadiens season. At this point the question is – does he have 20 games left to turn it around, or just two?

THE UGLY

  • Alexei Emelin. Forget the first goal which bounced off him and Nesterov before finding the back of the net. But failing to tie up Matthews on the game tying goal was unforgivable. It’s hockey defense 101. Did he think it was Dave Matthews standing in front of the net? The Habs zone was littered by Emelin mistakes. So how does he end up with more ice time than Markov and Petry? As horrid a stretch of games we’ve seen from him in a couple of years. And it’s Greg Pateryn who is a healthy scratch?

  • February. Is late season franchise rehab really a 12 step program?

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4 Responses

  1. Pat

    Mitch:

    -you know what I saw ? a lot of talented 1st and 2nd year players supposedly playing for a Cup pretender staying step-for-step with a more seasoned supposed Cup contender whose goalie was essentially the difference maker

    -2 thoughts come to mind:
    1) their respective fan bases and media hordes need to change the team descriptors especially in MTL
    2) more importantly looks like those to whom the term Maple Laffs has been long applied are more prepared to reach the Cup finals than la sainte flanelle

    -after 5 years is that the legacy of the play station GM ?

  2. Dan Davis

    Great article as usual Mitch, love your articles and the drive show on TSN 690. Being a die hard Habs fan from the Rock it fills the daily fix of Habs

    • Mitch Melnick

      Cheers Dan. Thanks. Have to make it back there one of these days.

  3. Fadel

    Well said Mitch.
    Really enjoy the great articles and Melnick in the afternoon on my drive home.
    Did Tony Marinaro actually say trade Price?!?!