With the pressure of a seven-game losing streak on their back and the first game home after a disastrous road trip, it went without saying that the Canadiens were desperate for their eventual 5-1 win on Tuesday night. Despite this last statement, this game was much closer than the final score indicates as they needed a full 20-man effort to pull out of this funk. In the end, they had key saves by Carey Price, key goals scored by players who needed it badly, and some unlikely contributors to lead them to victory for the first time in 19 days.
Marc Bergevin’s “improved” blueline went to work early as the soft turnovers started only ten seconds into the game. Luckily, Price would have none of it on this night as he made his first big save of the contest before many fans had even found their seats. The Panthers were in complete control for the first five minutes of the game. Price was equal to the task. After the initial flurry had settled, the next ten minutes was unentertaining hockey by both teams to say the least. Both teams skated up and down without ever going near the opposition’s net. Fortunately for fans everywhere, Florida decided to threaten Price’s crease, so with roughly five minutes to play in the period, Price had to come up big again. This time, the save appeared to wake the team. The newly formed top line of Paul Byron – Jonathan Drouin – Artturi Lehkonen (has he not been the best Hab since the all-star break last season? So constantly good; if only he had a bit more finish) went to work and used their speed to create some turnovers in the Florida zone and make James Reimer work a little in his net. Despite this, the period would end scoreless. Noteworthy in this period is the effort of Max Pacioretty who made two big defensive plays in the period, in addition to finishing a big hit in the defensive zone that is sure to make Don Cherry’s DVD next year.
The action picked up in the second, as the Panthers would be gifted a chance off the opening faceoff. Jonathan Huberdeau found Keith Yandle only 20 seconds into the frame, this time beating Price to lead the game 1-0. This goal was a result of granting easy zone access to the opposition as both Philip Danault and Shea Weber handled their gaps poorly. The Habs looked stunned following the goal and were lucky the deficit didn’t get worse. The turning point in the game was perhaps the penalty to Michael McCarron because the Canadiens killed it and seemed to gain a gigantic wave of momentum from doing so.
It helps that the Panthers committed four penalties afterwards, though some credit needs to go to Nikita Scherbak who showed some hustle and attracted the most important of those penalties. On the third Montreal man advantage of the period, Jonathan Drouin made an awesome breakout pass to Brendan Gallagher who broke in and shot into Reimer’s pads. Alex Galchenyuk hustled for the rebound, scoring his second of Montreal’s four PP markers on the year to tie the game. Seconds later, Montreal would be awarded a fourth PP, where Drouin found Weber for at least his third shot on the shift, this one finding the net and giving the Habs a lead they would never surrender. Shortly after the ensuing faceoff, Yandle committed an inexplicable turnover which left Gallagher open in the slot. The gritty forward made no mistake, and in a span of 1:35, Montreal was up 3-1 heading into the third period.
In a shocking turn of events, the Canadiens kept skating in the third, forcing the Panthers to retreat and essentially admit defeat early in the final period. After many missed chances, it was Lehkonen who forechecked until Florida coughed up the puck. Lehkonen found Weber, who scored his second on the night. A minute later, Danault dangled through the entire playing surface, finding Pacioretty after a failed wrap-around attempt to put the final nail in the Panthers’ coffin on this night. The rest of the game essentially featured both teams going through the motions as the outcome was decided. Of note, with a minute remaining in both the second and third periods, Claude Julien opted to play the Galchenyuk-McCarron-Scherbak line and deservedly so. Galchenyuk was guilty of a few turnovers but played an overall okay game. Scherbak was the catalyst on this night as he played big, showing his first real flash at this level to defend his first round selection in the draft.
HW Habs Three Stars of the Night
1st Star – Jonathan Drouin
At times too fancy with the puck, Drouin was still a force on this night. His line with Byron and Lehkonen played the entire game in the offensive zone. I believe Lehkonen has made all his line mates look good this season, but on this night, it was Drouin who broke the silence of the Habs as he made plays that allowed both first goals to be created.
Stats: 0 goals, 2 assists, +1, 3 shots, 2 hits, 17:43 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Shea Weber
Not sure many nights we’ll see a defenceman score two goals and still find himself as the second star of the contest. Weber looked bad on the first goal against and made sure that was not the final impression on the night as he fired two bombs home, one being his vintage PP marker.
Stats: 2 goals, 0 assists, +1, 7 shots (not a typo), 3 hit, 24:31 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher continues to be the little warrior who takes a beating as he refuses to play elsewhere than the tough spots on the ice. On this night, he was rewarded for it, and therefore edges out a significant list of players who could also have been featured here.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 0 hits, 14:56 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nikita Scherbak
His name didn’t appear on the scoresheet, but Scherbak was visible in a very positive way. He was sound in his defensive positioning, created some offence off the rush, and was even physical when he had to be. He’s also responsible for three great plays on the same shift that ended in Florida taking a penalty against him as he skated toward the opposition net. That was the PP that turned the tide of the game. Good first impression on this call-up.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 0 shots,0 hits, 11:13 T.O.I.