The stage was set.
The surging Chicago Black Hawks, back in familiar territory just one point out of the lead in the Central Division, bringing in the old reliable crew of Quenneville, Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook and Crawford while the Habs set up at home for the rest of the month (with a quick post St. Patrick’s Day trip to Ottawa) while clinging to a lead over the Senators in the Atlantic Division. Original Six. The best jerseys in sports. While the worst snow storm of the season raged outside.
Tonight, The Hawks and The Habs. This is what life is.
— Norm Macdonald (@normmacdonald) March 14, 2017
What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, actually. Except for one slow, mixed up and confused defenseman who is making some Montreal fans long for the days of Igor Ulanov.
- Shea Weber. One of his best games of the season, long before he finally beat Corey Crawford with one of the nearly dozen shots he fired at the Chicago net. Excellent defensively, breaking up passes and rushes, holding his position while forcing Chicago forwards to the outside or to get rid of the puck. This is what he does as well as anyone yet some want to see the younger, nastier Weber more often. There is a time and a place for that stuff (mostly in pre 2012-13) but against a swift, star-power driven team like Chicago you need the kind of steady, controlled game that Weber provided. The Habs were never in trouble on his side of the ice.
- Paul Byron. Just like in Edmonton it was a Byron goal with time running out in the third period that got the Habs on the board. But this one merely cut the deficit to two. One again it was Byron down low, finishing off some hard work by his teammates. Following a long lull (which followed a concussion) Byron is in the process of finishing off the season they way he started – by fearlessly heading to the net to pick up loose pucks and burying them. While too many of his fellow forwards are still firing blanks, Byron has now scored 4 goals in his last 5 games. His next one will be his 20th of the season.
- Brendan Gallagher. Did most of the work on the Byron goal and spent a lot of time down low in the Chicago end. He’s back in head down, relentless, charging-to-the-net mode which is resulting in a lot of scoring chances. But he also missed setting up an open Byron early in the game with what looked like an easy pass to his left as the two broke through the neutral zone together. But by the time Gallagher thought of passing the play had died.
- Alex Galchenyuk. Nifty pass off the boards to set up Weber for his one-timer and goal that moved the Habs to within one with 3:28 to play. Galchenyuk spent a good chunk of the night, especially after Chicago took the lead, matched up against Jonathan Toews. He did a good job, even winning a couple of key draws in Chicago territory (12-13 or 48% on the night). For the first time this season Galchenyuk’s ice time broke the 20:00 mark (20:54). If he continues to centre Alexander Radulov (who is still playing catch up. A couple of more practices and he’ll be fine) and Max Pacioretty they will produce what the Habs desperately need – goals. Galchenyuk’s P/60 is 3.03. Pacioretty is at 2.68. Radulov 2.38. The only other Montreal forward above the 2.00 mark is Byron. I think Claude Julien realizes he has to ride his best offensive players. Galchenyuk – and more importantly the team – should benefit greatly.
- Artturi Lehkonen. Loved his game. Played with an edge. Hungry for goals. Flashed his strong release. He’s so close. There’s a dynamic element to his game that we don’t see very often but it’s there. We might not see it on a consistent basis until next season but it’s coming.
- Brandon Davidson. First point as a Hab in his first game at the Bell Centre since the trade with Edmonton. There appears to be a late season opening on the left side of the Montreal blue line. Let’s see if he can grab it.
- Andrei Markov. Not a great night but moved into 6th place – with Rocket Richard – for most games played in Habs history at 978. He’ll pass Claude Provost (1005) early next season. But will he catch Jean Beliveau at 1125?
- Discipline. Habs took just one penalty (take a wild guess) but killed it off led by Jordie Benn who blocked a couple of shots, Weber, Torrey Mitchell and Steve Ott.
- Jeff Petry. It might be the curse of #74. He looked a lot looser once he was teamed up with Davidson in the third period. He talked post-game about lack of communication on the ice. That’s something Julien had specifically pointed out when praising the play of Benn. Petry has had some rough nights but as an offensive defenseman he needs a more a stable partner. And about that offense? It’s gone missing since Christmas. But there was a good sign in the third period when a couple of his strong shots from the blue line actually made it onto the net. No doubt pressing, Petry’s shot had turned wild and ineffective.
- Tomas Plekanec. Let’s see if he can benefit from some late season time off. His first game back wasn’t exactly a dud but he needs to generate some offense.
- Phillip Danault. Some good spurts playing between Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw but the fact remains he is going through his Jacob de le Rose phase (it should be pointed out that de la Rose has picked up his offensive game in the AHL. He’s all the way up to 9 goals this season). In his last 28 games, Danault has scored just one goal. Between Denault and Plekanec, that is one gaping hole down the middle behind Galchenyuk. And it won’t be filled by Ott or Michael McCarron.
- Dwight King. Hello? Maybe he’s waiting for the playoffs to start.
- Three Stars. Who picked them? Corey Crawford makes 40 saves while almost having his head taken off via a Weber slapper and he doesn’t get to take a post-game bow in his hometown? Further proof that Crawford (now 7-0-2, 1.55, .951 lifetime vs Montreal; 3-0-2, 1.39, .962 at Bell Centre) is the most under appreciated great goaltender of my lifetime.
- Alexei Emelin. WTF happened here? Never a star, or close to an impact player (except when he drove Milan Lucic nuts) Emelin at his best was a sturdy, stay at home defenseman who could could pile drive opposing forwards into the boards or force them to get rid of the puck while lining them up for an open ice hip check. Now he has seemingly turned into an infant in a jolly jumper. He destroyed his own team in this one (almost literally – after taking out Gallagher in the neutral zone prior to the goal by Johnny Oduya). It might eventually come to me but I can’t recall a worse game by a regular Montreal defenseman. It’s gotten so bad that even when the 6’2″ Emelin collided with 5’10” 175 pound Patrick Kane, it was Emelin who hit the ice. It’s too late in the season to be playing musical chairs on the blue line. If only Nathan Beaulieu had progressed the way it looked like he might when he was inserted into the line up against the Julien-led Bruins…three full seasons ago.
2014 playoffs, Habs were in epic battle with Bruins that they won. Why? Because they benched Doug Murray for Beaulieu. Emelin is Murray now.
— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) March 15, 2017