There might be a scent of alcohol to it but that was one collective slow deep breath for Montreal hockey fans to exhale. While the season is still far from over (actually just 10 games away but you know what I mean) this back to back sweep of the team chasing them for the Atlantic Division lead should go a long way to all but assuring first place in the division for the Canadiens. Yes, Ottawa will get one more crack at them this weekend (will Mike Condon finally get to start?) but the remaining schedule of the two teams should dictate a safe landing for the Habs. They appear to be playoff ready. They are harder to play against. They have tightened up. They are standing up for each other. And that secondary scoring that was, not that long ago, missing in action? It’s back too. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, hopefully, an early near-miss (or as George Carlin would say a “near-hit”) is not foreshadowing anything sinister right around the corner.

THE GOOD

    • Paul Byron. 20 goal scorer. Who saw it coming? Maybe Larry Carriere did. The Habs Assistant GM was in Buffalo when Byron was a 6th round draft choice by the Sabres in 2007, following a 21 goal season for the Gatineau Olympiques at the age of 17. Byron showed some scoring promise over his final two years in Junior when he scored 37 goals and 33 goals (99 points) but after making his NHL debut with the Sabres he was traded to Calgary as part of the deal that sent Robyn Regehr to to Buffalo. Byron became a useful role player with the Flames before they tried to slip him through waivers prior to the start of last season. Other than his years in the Q were there any other indicators that Byron could score goals at the NHL level? Actually, yes. While it’s true he didn’t exactly fill the net while playing for Calgary, he did hit the back of it when he found it. His shooting percentage in his three seasons in Calgary went from 23% to 15% to 9% as his playing time increased. But last year, while scoring 11 goals in 62 games for the Habs it jumped back up to 22%. His shooting percentage during three playoff runs for Gatineau (when he scored 28 goals in 34 games) was 22.1%. This season Byron is shooting at 23%. Only one player in the NHL has a better mark – T.J. Oshie at 24.2%. And remember – Byron is 3 for 4 in shootouts this season. And he’s locked in for two more years at a cap hit of 1.16 million.
    • Brendan Gallagher. Started the play that led to the first goal of the game after just 28 seconds. And he didn’t stop. Gallagher is always a target, but he seemed to especially draw the wrath of Marc Methot, who, by the third period, seemed more interested in sending Gallagher onto St. Antoine Street than in playing his position. Almost on cue, it was an ill-timed Methot hit on Gallagher that opened up space for Byron to break in on a two on one and put the game away for the Habs when the speedster beat Craig Anderson through the 5-hole for his 20th goal of the season. And even though it didn’t count, right after the 4th Montreal goal, there was Gallagher outmuscling Chris Wideman for the puck in the neutral zone and feeding Byron for what appeared to be a 5-1 lead before it was waved off because Byron had jumped offside. The real Brendan Gallagher is most definitely back.
    • Tomas Plekanec. He lives! So yeah, the entire line had a great night, starting with Plekanec’s first goal since January 24th (19 games).
    • Carey Price. Right pad/toe save on Kyle Turris late in the second period was a game changer. Instead of a 2-2 tie entering the third period, the Habs were in position to throttle Ottawa which they did. By then Price was in full inpenetrable mode. Price’s even strength save percentage of .937 trails only Sergei Bobrovsky (.938) and Anderson (.938 – in 23 less games).
    • Phillip Danault-Andrew Shaw-Artturi Lehkonen. Not as dominant as the night before in Ottawa but still highly effective.
    • Shea Weber-Andrei Markov. Turning into one of the best pairings in the NHL. And they’re managing Markov’s minutes – keeping him around the 22:00 mark.
    • Jordie Benn-Nathan Beaulieu. Is there anybody having more fun as a Hab right now than Jordie Benn? Game winning goal – courtesy of Viktor Stalberg’s stick – off a perfect feed from Beaulieu. While Beaulieu gave the coaching staff something to think about by scoring on the power play – just his 3rd goal of the season and first since his three point night in Dallas on January 4th.

  • Alexei Emelin. Steady. Looked more like himself. Hit people at the right time including a weary looking Erik Karlsson (33:00 the night before). Big part of a strong PK unit (mostly with Weber, partner Jeff Petry, Byron and Plekanec) that killed off two Ottawa power plays.
  • Torrey Mitchell. Celebrated his 600th career game by getting into a scrap with fellow 4th line vet Chris Kelly.
  • Face offs. Strong reversal from what went down the night before in Ottawa. Habs won 56% of the draws led by Mitchell (9 for 11 or 82%). Plekanec and Denault were both at 64%.
  • Canadian anthem. I like it when there is only one. Saves time. I especially like it when I hear it sung by over 21 thousand fans – accompanied only by Dianne Bibeau on the organ.

THE BAD

  • Alex Galchenyuk-Alexander Radulov-Max Pacioretty. Ok, they weren’t really bad but I gotta put something here. But fact is they were not a factor in the back to back wins. There were good moments – like Galchenyuk starting the break out from deep inside his own zone with a good play while Radulov worked hard down low at the other end of the ice to get the puck to Beaulieu prior to the game winner by Benn. And Pacioretty helped out on the penalty kill. But there was another key defensive zone face off loss (by Galchenyuk who was 5/16 or 31%) that led directly to a (fluke) goal. (The face off was set up because of yet another unforced give away by Beaulieu.) There was that shift early in the second period when the entire trio could not get out of their own end. And their work on the power play continues to be uninspiring. So much so that when the Habs started the second period with the man advantage it was the second unit that was on the ice. And they were on the bench when Beaulieu’s goal snapped an 0-17 PP skid. But the fact that the Habs are winning while Pacioretty has scored two goals in his last 9 games; Radulov (not counting the shootout winner in Ottawa) has one goal in his last 13 games and Galchenyuk has gone scoreless in eight games. And that’s a good thing. Right?

THE UGLY

  • It was a brief moment but had the potential for real ugliness – on both sides – when early in the game Karlsson awkwardly collided with Radulov who was trying to avoid the Ottawa superstar. It was this close to a knee on knee collision. An inconvenient reminder.

 

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9 Responses

  1. PistoleGigantico

    I really hope you call out McGuire after that awful agenda-driven tirade when Julien was hired, when he said the Habs wouldn’t make the playoffs.

    • Mitch Melnick

      Agenda-driven? What agenda are you referring to? He doesn’t like it when coaches get fired. What he said was real – what he felt – at the time. Is he not allowed to criticize? Must there always be some other motive? Please explain this “agenda”. He’s been wholly supportive of the vast majority of moves Marc Bergevin has made. In fact – he went out of his way to call him a “visionary” for beefing up the team at the trade deadline while many others ridiculed Bergevin for not addressing the offense. And – as often happens based on my experience – what he said gets twisted by people who have a different opinion. He didn’t say the Habs “wouldn’t make the playoffs”. He said it was going to be tight.

      • PistoleGigantico

        Yikes, I guess I need to re-listen to that posty deadline segment. I genuinely remember him really being unimpressed and seemingly going out of his way to knock the entire braintrust in MTL. Thanks for replying.

  2. IMS1965

    I’d like to see a show of hands on who, just a few weeks ago, saw the Habs sweeping the Sens in this past weekend’s back-to-back games?

    Yeah, me neither………….

  3. Rick L

    Thought the Saturday game was one of the best I’d seen all year … glad to see four goals that didn’t involve an empty-netter on Sunday … would have been 4-0 if not for a bad bounce … still chuckling over the tete-a-tete with Radulov and Benn in the penalty box … funnier than the ‘Movember’ skit Shaw and Galchenyuk did a few months back … once that first line figures it out they’re going to be tough to beat … any concerns I had about Brendan Gallagher’s injuries are now gone … I thought he started getting back to form during that last western road swing and he’s gotten better every game … can’t let up against Detroit … the Red Wings always seem to play le Club very well … and thanks for the Lee Harvey Osmond music, Mitch …

      • Rick L

        I’m actually two hours away from you in Kirk Muller’s hometown, Mitch, so if I am going I’d have to plan for it soon …

    • Ian London

      Gally is playing his best hockey of the year (even before he got hurt). He plays w/reckless abandon but smartly. I am so tired of refs turning the other way when he gets illegally clobbered. The NHL needs guys like him. Every team hates him and all of them wish they had him on their team.

  4. Ian London

    Going to be general here. Saw the 4 games on the western swing from Whistler (awesome mostly powder skiing followed by good hockey – Calgary game not withstanding). Saw the VCR game live (of course). Saw both Ottawa games (Saturday’s was hockey at its best) and last night’s drop off game. I like so much right now of my team of the past 55+ years. That being said I am concerned about our 1st line. Max is a streaky scorer and he’s now in a down streak. But Rads has not been himself for a few weeks (are we sure he’s not hurt?). He’s no longer outmuscling and outhustling everyone in sight and his passes are off (did anyone see that poor pass on the 2-on-1?). And Chucky? is he putting too much pressure on himself to keep the #1 centre spot? If he is someone needs to get him to relax and just play his game. I hate talking about moving him to a 2nd or 3rd line spot as a demotion on a team that really does play like a team and I don’t want to break the chemistry on those 2nd/3rd lines but something needs to be done about our primary line lack of scoring as we head into the playoffs. And our PP has again slid into the depths of hell.

    Despite his too-many unforced errors, we are better w/Beaulieu than either Davidson or Nesterov. He and Benn are starting to click. Benn was a great pick up by MB.

    I am not surprised at our lack of emotion vs. Detroit and thank goodness for Leks’ hot wrist shot to tie it and Montoya’s heroics. But how do we go more than 4 minutes in OT with practically no possession and not one SOG?

    OK, we got a point but Ottawa is a point closer. Need to take care of business Thursday and then be ready for what will be a not-too-happy-to-see-us Sens team on Saturday. That should be another pow day on whistler and then settle in for the game. Such is the life on the west coast!!