Well now.

It appears the recently stalled and faltering Habs’ train is not only back on track and rolling again but picking up steam. That was a machine-like performance in hostile territory at MSG – while playing without one of the best forwards in the NHL.

There’s been a lot of talk since the trade deadline how the Habs will be a one-and-done team come playoff time because GM Marc Bergevin didn’t address an obvious offensive hole (crater?). And after all, they’d likely be matched up against a Rangers team that has spent most of the season ahead of Montreal points wise. A toss up I’ve responded, especially if the goaltending match up remains the same. But following their second win over New York in less than two weeks (not that it matters in the grand scheme of things), the Habs have just two less points than the Rangers.

It was an energized, physical performance by Montreal, anchored again by the best goaltender in the NHL. While the Rangers looked listless and disorganized. Kind of like Montreal did, prior to the coaching change.

When we spoke to Mark Recchi on the radio following the hiring of Claude Julien, the future Hall of Famer, who is a development coach with the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins, told us it took Mike Sullivan about three weeks to get the Penguins to play his kind of hockey after the firing of Mike Johnston. When the Habs begin a three game western road swing in Vancouver, it will mark three weeks since Julien replaced Michel Therrien.

THE GOOD

  • First Period. Wow. Talk about message sending.

    • Carey Price. The only goal that beat him – by old nemesis Chris Kreider – came after he had made a strong pad save while Kreider was left alone to bury the rebound. Price was in total control of every aspect of his game and for the umpteenth time out played Henrik Lundqvist. Since Julien took over behind the bench, Price’s season save percentage has risen six points (.916-.922), no easy task this deep into the season.

  • Phillip Danault-Brendan Gallagher-Max Pacioretty. Gallagher moved seamlessly into Alexander Radulov’s spot and picked up where he left off against Nashville. He – and the line – didn’t find the back of the net but the Habs still managed to score four goals without them. The definition of “secondary scoring” – a major talking point since the trade deadline. Pacioretty helped set up the first two goals of the game while it was a perfect feed by Danault that led to the Habs grabbing a 2-0 lead. Danault had a good night in the face off circle (65%). He had a very strong game but his assist was his first point in 10 games while his goalless drought extended to 18 games.
  • Artturi Lehkonen. Broke through with a goal scorer’s goal after he jumped on the ice during a line change while Pacioretty and Danault led the rush up the ice. I ran a Twitter poll in the aftermath of Gallagher and Paul Byron breaking out of scoring slumps against the Predators. Smart followers. Is Danault next?

      • Alex Galchenyuk. Two more assists, including one directly off a face off, an area which he dominated (8 for 11 or 73%). Has points in 5 straight game (3 goals, 4 assists).
      • Andreas Martinsen. Whoa. Impressive debut for the big dude from Norway. Clearly better on his skates right now than Michael McCarron. That’s how you make a strong first impression. Fast learner too: “We want to show them that if we meet in the playoffs it’s not going to be an easy experience for them.”

  • Steve Ott. Early face off win led directly to the opening goal. Had a goal on his stick later on but Lundqvist made a terrific glove save. Love him yet? (Apparently not):

  • Torrey Mitchell. Yeah him too. Looked like Ott and Martinsen breathed new life into the veteran forward who has now gone 39 games without a goal.

  • Andrew Shaw. Second straight game at MSG Shaw scores a goal on a wraparound into an open net. This one was even easier.

  • Shea Weber & Andrei Markov. Once upon a time Weber’s defense partner wore #74, not #79. But they were “hard to play against”? Weber’s last partner in Nashville was Roman Josi. I think he prefers the current set up. Julien was able to keep Weber-Markov ice time down to a less than heavy workload (Weber 22:20, Markov 21:07).
  • Jordie Benn. I’m thinking Hal Gill with better mobility.

THE BAD

  • Injuries/potential injuries. They didn’t miss Radulov but if he goes down for any length of time they will. Same goes for Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. Oh yes they can win an opening round playoff series – against the Rangers or anybody – they way they are constructed but with offense in such short supply they simply can’t afford to lose any one of their three most naturally talented offensive players and hope to win a long or deep series. As for Carey Price?

  • Rick Nash is a gentle giant. Remember a few years back at the Bell Centre when he knocked Price onto his back and P.K. Subban was about to deliver a response only to be held back by Price (the Habs scored on the ensuing power play)? There was nothing malicious on Nash’s part here. But that’s not the point. If an opposing forward makes a decision to take the puck hard to the net, with the end result being a collision with Price, it doesn’t matter if the contact was intentional or not. You have to make the next guy (Kreider?) think twice about doing it again. I’ll make a baseball analogy. If a pitcher wants (needs) part of home plate against an opposing slugger he has to keep the hitter honest by coming inside. But he has to do it without hitting him. Because once he hits him, even if its unintentional, a message has been sent. And he has now put one of his own better hitters in a tough position (unless the other team is playing by softball rules). It’s Carey Price. He’s been down this road before. So have they. Somebody has to respond. If it’s not in the moment (Shea Weber?) then you pick a spot, like Gallagher did late in the game, and retaliate. You can be sure, if it wasn’t very late in a one sided game and Price hadn’t been skated into by the 6’4″ Nash, Gallagher would have done a better job trying to avoid Lundqvist. But the response to peacenik J.T. Miller going after Jeff Petry and then skating through Price’s crease at the end of the night was entirely appropriate.

THE UGLY

  • Alexei Emelin. Ugh. Pierre Mcguire believes Emelin might be hurt. He did take a therapy day on Friday (with Radulov, Weber and Byron) but whatever it is it’s time to go to the bench. In more ways than one. Good call Fabe.

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5 Responses

  1. dra58

    Nice recap and oh if they could only summon that style of play for a whole season plus the playoffs… How could anyone complain if they did, win or lose, which would be win most nights. Exciting fast paced game that too many times this season we were on the wrong side of til CJ got here. Happy that we have a little swagger back now onto the west coast. Go Habs Go!

  2. Andy kirstein

    Why did it take so long to add 3rd and 4th line size? It costed nothing and we all saw the necessity of these moves years ago! Applaude MB for this? Please!!!! These were no brainer moves that should have been made quite some time ago. Guarantee Julien Pushed MB to make them as he saw no use for 51,42 and 32 on bottom 6

  3. sled ed

    Emelin will never be mistaken as the reincarnation of Rod Langway…but jeez…it looked like he totally forgot how to play defense there a few times!

  4. Rick L

    What a difference a positive work environment can make … similar to when Marc Bergevin took over from Pierre Gauthier (or when Jacques Demers took over from Pat Burns, RIP) … as for the game, great road win … that’s two wins in a row in MSG and that, in itself, is a good message to send … would be really nice to win in Vancouver, though it will be tough, as will Calgary and Edmonton after that … a friend of mine suggested Jordie Benn resembles Greg Pateryn … game 66, eh … where did that time go …

    Cheers.

  5. Rick L

    Nothing to do with hockey, Mitch. Enjoyed that Lee Harvey Osmond segment on the way home from work. Excellent triggers. Thanks.