It’s a Bell Centre moment that will be etched in memory forever. Not as meaningful as the 2002 salute to Saku Koivu – when the former Habs captain fought for his life and won, and then returned very late in the season to a thunderous ovation prior to a game against Ottawa. And certainly not as emotionally charged as in 2006 when the Habs retired Bernie Geoffrion’s jersey number 5, with Boom Boom’s grieving family on the ice, just hours after the Hall of Famer passed away at his home in Atlanta. And for sheer size and scope nothing could match the Centennial pre-game ceremony in 2009 when almost everybody came back for the greatest pre-game warm up of all time. But the moment for P.K. Subban was very special indeed. More than I expected. Perhaps more than he expected. It was beautiful. I’m guessing the tears he shed in front of over 20,000 fans was a long time coming. P.K. was hurt by the trade. Of course he was. While ownership, management, some teammates and a former coach were less than enthralled by his, at times, overwhelming presence, there was no wavering by the people who matter most. It took eight months but P.K. Subban heard what he might have known but needed to actually hear for himself from Montreal hockey fans – “We love you.”
But then, unfortunately, the game had to start.
- Carey Price. Nearly perfect against a team that is rolling offensively. Since January 1, only the Minnesota Wild and the Washington Capitals have a better record than Nashville. Price is clearly playing with purpose again, personified by his aggressive kick save on Viktor Arvedsson with less than 80 seconds to play, when he steered the shot over the boards. Yep, the swagger is back.
- Brendan Gallagher. Finally. You could feel something good happening as Gallagher barrelled his way down the ice and fought off defenders inside the Nashville zone. Too often this season in those situations he has lost control of the puck or ended up on the ice. His first goal of 2017. Let’s see if it can get him to at least double figures for the season.
- Paul Byron. Habs appeared to be in deep trouble in their own zone with time running out until Roman Josi lost the puck to Byron who had just enough gas in his tank to out skate Matt Irwin and beat (barely) Pekka Rinne for the win. His first goal or point in 13 games.
- Alex Galchenyuk. Kept the puck going along the boards after Gallagher did most of the work to feed the Habs right winger and tie the game with just over 9 minutes to play after it appeared the home team would be shut out yet again. Has picked up a point in 4 straight games.
- Shea Weber & Andrei Markov. Had to feel kind of strange for Weber who, probably more than anybody, just wanted the game to start without having to look up at the scoreboard. Weber and Markov helped shut down the hottest player in the league in Filip Forsberg.
- Jeff Petry & Alexei Emelin. Solid. Mike Fisher should have been penalized for boarding Emelin’s face into the glass. But Emelin doesn’t do himself any favours by staying down on the ice for a lengthy period of time, whether he’s actually hurt or not.
- Jordie Benn & Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu had a couple of rough spots but overall this is a very capable and good looking third defense pairing.
- 4th line. Michael McCarron, Torrey Mitchell & Dwight King. Very effective down low early in the game. I can’t recall a Montreal forward combo featuring a 6’6″ centre and a 6’4″ winger. King was out of position (thanks Knuckles) on the Predators power play goal but we’ll give him a pass since it must have felt terribly awkward for the veteran winger who seemed to be in shock over his trade from LA. Mitchell had a strong night in the face off circle (7-1 or 88%).
- Tomas Plekanec. There is a sign of life. But he still can’t score.
- P.K. Subban. Perfect scenario for a Habs fan. They get a chance to welcome back one of their all-time favourites, watch him hit the scoresheet as he set up Ryan Ellis on the lone Nashville goal, then boo him lustily in the third period after his heavy hit on Plekanec in the corner of the rink. And of course, the good guys won on a late, dramatic goal with Subban on the bench.
- Power Play. Mostly dreadful. As Habs (and their fans) buckle in for a lot more of these low scoring games, the power play becomes vital.
- Andrew Shaw. His interference penalty in the neutral zone late in the first period opened the door for a lethal power play of late (6 for their last 13 coming in at 46%) to go to work. But instead of barking or growling at Shaw, Claude Julien put him right back on the ice to finish up the period. Until the Gallagher goal it was Shaw who had the Habs best scoring chance after Plekanec stole the puck inside the Nashville blue line and fed Shaw who was alone in front of Rinne but couldn’t beat the veteran Nashville goaltender.
- The first 51 minutes of the game made the Subban pre-game moment seem like weeks ago. It was truly painful as entertainment. But in the aftermath of the trade deadline which netted the Habs no offense to speak of, you had better get used to this kind of hockey for the rest of the season. As long as it results in a win, do fans really care? I suppose, especially if they’re paying Bell Centre prices for tickets and beer. This is, in every sense of the phrase, winning ugly.