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The Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 at the Bell Centre Wednesday night thanks primarily to another stellar performance by their All-World goaltender, Carey Price. The visitors outshot, outhit and outplayed the Habs, particularly in the first half of the game. But time and again, Price bailed out the home team’s skaters, many of whom took the night off. Price turned away 42 shots while the Canadiens could only muster 21 shots on Canucks’ goaltender Ryan Miller.

Montreal came into the game with the NHL’s best record and on a seven-game win streak. The Canadiens’ stellar start to the season has been anchored by an improved power play (seven PPG in nine games), Shea Weber’s strong play on the blueline, scoring from unexpected sources (such as Torrey Mitchell) and outstanding goaltending from both Price and Al Montoya. The Canucks started the season 4-0 but entered the game on a five-game skid. During that stretch, scoring has been a huge challenge for the Canucks, who last held a lead on October 20th and had been shut out two of their previous four games. On paper, this was a game featuring two teams heading in opposite directions. However, the Canadiens early on were very gracious hosts and displayed few of the characteristics that has lead to their early season success.

In the first period, the Habs struggled from the outset. An early Canadiens power play yielded no shots and little to nothing in the way of puck possession in the offensive zone. Throughout the period, the Habs were hemmed in their own zone by aggressive Canuck forechecking and their own careless clearing attempts. The home team’s own zone breakouts appeared rushed and disorganized. Add in some careless neutral zone turnovers (e.g., Andrew Shaw’s errant pass that lead to a breakaway for Jannik Hansen) and some other errors and the Habs stumbled through 20 minutes where they were badly outplayed. Of course, one Canadien showed up in the opening frame and Price turned away 13 shots to keep the game scoreless after the first. The game may have been decided after period one had it not been for the play of Price and the persistent challenges the Canucks are encountering when trying to bury their chances.

The first third of the second period was more of the same. The best scoring chance early was a drive to the net from the outside by former London Knight Bo Horvat (who was one of Vancouver’s best forwards on this night). Horvat’s effort was denied by Price. In the early going, the Canucks had a power play that generated some sustained pressure at the end of the man advantage. That pressure continued after the penalty expired. This resulted in some quality chances that Price denied. Brian Flynn also blocked one quality chance from the right hash mark and Jeff Petry deflected a glorious opportunity for Markus Granlund in front with his stick. The Canadiens remained on their heels early on but Price (and some stellar defensive efforts) kept the game deadlocked.

About seven minutes in, the Mitchell line executed a rare organized breakout from their own zone and created some energy with some possession time in the Vancouver end. The so-called fourth line also generated a quality scoring chance in the process. From that point on, the Canadiens’ skaters began to find their legs. The very next shift, Artturi Lekhonen drew a hooking penalty committed by Christopher Tanev. The ensuing power play was another dud, generating next to no possession or pressure and ending in a questionable interference call against Andrew Shaw with 40 seconds remaining. On the 4-4, Paul Byron set up Nathan Beaulieu for a quality chance that was well handled by Ryan Miller.

The Canadiens took care of the Canucks’ abbreviated power play and promptly followed that up with some scoring chances. Both Paul Byron and Max Pacioretty generated opportunities. Then, the Canadiens first line struck. Galchenyuk carried the puck through the neutral zone and fed Brendan Gallagher on the right side. With little chance to score, Gallagher fired a hard, low shot towards the left side of the net (a shot-pass if you will). Miller was forced to make a pad save and had no opportunity to control the rebound. Vancouver’s back checkers failed to pick up Beaulieu and he opened the scoring on the play. Shortly before the Canadiens came alive, the Canadiens were being outshot 24-7. They now held a 1-0 lead that they certainly did not deserve.

Shortly thereafter, Paul Byron drove the net and was called for goalie interference. The replay showed Byron largely avoided Miller. There were questionable calls both ways on the night and this was certainly one of them. The ensuing Canuck power play was the visitors’ least effective of the night to that point.

It was clear then that the Canadiens were beginning to take control of the play and the Canucks were the team that became guilty of neutral zone turnovers. This culminated in a careless blind pass in Montreal’s end by Ben Hutton that generated an odd man rush for the Canadiens. The ensuing breakout was started by Brian Flynn in Montreal’s end. Flynn head manned the puck to Phillip Danault who rushed through the neutral zone and down the right side. Danault then found Torrey Mitchell on a beautiful feed.  Mitchell wasted no time burying the puck past Miller who had no chance on the play. The goal was scored with less than a minute left in the second period and gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead going into the final frame. The Canadiens fourth line (which was their best line all night) saw a lot of ice in the third, all of which was well earned.

Despite their current slump, the Canucks were 3-4-1 when trailing going into the third period. Early in the third period, the Canadiens were initially pressured for the first minute but over the next five minutes, the game settled into a tighter checking affair. Around the five to six minute mark, the Canucks began crashing the net, no doubt to try and interfere with Price’s vision and/ or positioning. This very nearly paid dividends as a shot from the point glanced off the post with Price being screened on the play. Loui Eriksson (who signed a six-year, $30 Million dollar contract this summer and has not scored this season) had an incredible point blank chance that Price calmly stopped with his shoulder and steered away.

But for most of the third, the Canadiens kept Vancouver’s opportunities to a minimum and had a few of their own, such as Galchenyuk’s shot from the hash mark and Radulov’s wrap-around attempt, both of which were capably stopped by Miller. The Canucks did have another power play that ended up being their poorest effort of the night.

Miller was pulled with 2-3 minutes left. At about the 18 minute mark, Radulov had a break towards the open net. He was slashed by Alexander Edler en route. Although Radulov did not put the puck in the net, he was credited with a goal to make it 3-0 (the goal is automatic if a penalty is committed when a player is on a breakaway on an open net).

While a win is never disappointing and eight straight wins is a major accomplishment, the Canadiens were fortunate to come away with the win, especially when one considers their play over the first 25 minutes of the game.

HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night

1st Star: Carey Price – Another outstanding performance by the Canadiens superstar netminder. The Canadiens did not deserve to be in the game after 25-30 minutes. Price is once again the difference. He is an artist at work who makes it all look so very easy.

Stats: 42 saves on 42 shots, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%

2nd Star: Torrey Mitchell – Mitchell scored the second Habs goal with less than a minute left in the second period. The goal was a back breaker for the visitors.  The Canucks had outplayed the Habs for much of the game and went to their dressing room at the end of the second down 2-0. Mitchell also led the fourth line which provided energy and quality minutes for the Canadiens on a night when many of their skaters did not have their best night.

Stats: 1 G; +/-: +1; TOI: 13:58; SOG: 1

3rd Star: Phillip Danault – Danault set up the Mitchell goal with a fine rush up ice and a beautiful cross-ice pass. Danault also was part of the very effective fourth line which was their best on this night.

Stats: 1 A; +/-: +1; TOI: 13:38; SOG: 2

Honourable Mention: Alexander Radulov – Radulov scored the empty netter but more importantly was physical, hard on the forecheck and generated some scoring chances.

Stats: 1 G; +/-: +2; TOI: 13:18; SOG: 3