The Montreal Canadiens welcomed their franchise player back into the line up. Everyone feels a little better when he’s on his game. Here’s Brian Wilde with his McLean’s Pub COTW.
– Been a while since the big horse in the franchise was actually the big horse on the ice. That was exactly what the doctor ordered for an ailing team. Can you imagine a poor night for Carey Price and a poor night for the team. This is one to build on. You get your required three goals and then Carey does what we all know he can do. He said he looked at a lot of tape to find what he used to do that was working. What a great idea! It builds confidence subconsciously when you look at all your saves, and it helps your technical game as well. It seems like this may have been a good reset for Price. Goodness me was he technically sound. 36 saves out of 36 shots. Just like the .930 goalie that we have seen for years. Now he needs to build on it. They all do. They can use this as a stepping off point to get back into the season. It certainly creates a little excitement for the next one.
– There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of point production from Jonathan Drouin. He’s been carrying a damaged digit around so the shot isn’t going to have too much sting, but let’s look at his playmaking for a brief shift or two. Four minutes in, it’s Drouin who leads the rush and gains possession in the Sabres beautifully as few Habs can then he finds Joe Morrow with an absolutely gorgeous pass. Morrow has a free path to goal. He fires it well wide. Drouin picks it up and dangles again. He wins space. No one wants to take him on directly. He wins more space and then finds an all alone Paul Byron. It’s a wide open look from seven feet. Byron misses the net completely. Drouin can’t receive his own amazing passes here, Folks. Stamkos has two assists on those two gorgeous plays. Drouin gets shit from the media.
– Jeff Petry is stepping it up with the absence of Shea Weber. He’s taking the reins on the power play, and playing his best hockey of the season. He scored the goal that carried through much of the game. It was a power play goal and that has been severely lacking.
– Victor Mete to me has been the Habs second best defenceman this season and this was one of his better nights. He didn’t get an assist on the Habs second goal but that was a fantastic pass to get the rush going before the Sabres were ready for it. We talk a lot about puck moving defencemen these days and Mete adds to this D-corps something that without him, other teams don’t have to respect enough – the quick breakout. Goals are scored when the other team makes a mistake. Mistakes happen when you lose time to get to your assignment. I would like to see Mete go to the world juniors if the Habs aren’t going to be contending. If they are, this kid should be playing more minutes.
– A terrific play by everyone on the Habs second goal. The first quick pass up by Mete, then the freedom pass by Drouin to Byron, then the intelligence of Byron to shoot it off the pads to a waiting Galchenyuk who had the easiest job of the four players. He simply tapped it into a gaping net. It takes three good plays to score a goal in Habs land and they got it done perfectly. Nothing halfway about it. It was full on NHL caliber the entire distance.
– Jakub Jerabek isn’t struggling at all here. On a defence that could desperately use some foot speed, it’s nice to see a guy not get walked all night for speed. Jerabek is learning the North American game quickly here. A brief tutelage in Laval went very well, and now up a level he’s still not looking out of place. One gets the feeling that he has some ceiling to go too when he gets acclimated. What a bonus that would be if he continues to improve as this defence is dying for his skill set.
– Not sure anyone thought it was possible for Paul Byron to hit the 20 goal plateau again but lo and behold after a gorgeous shorthanded marker to break the Sabres’ backs Byron has six. That’s on pace exactly for the same total of 22. The league turned into a speed league firstly about 10 minutes after the Flames put the speedster on waivers. One of Bergevin’s best moves: a 20 goal scorer off the waiver wire. Imagine that.
– Carey Price finally back in the line up after 23 days out. One thing you have to do on his first night back is make sure he has to only save pucks and not handle players crashing him. Five minutes in, Rasmus Ristolainen comes in from his point position and heads right for Price and untouched goes right after him and bowls him over. Hard. Price’s legs bend back and over. If it were a knee injury, it would have been re-injured. It’s blatant. It needs to be answered to. He’s your best player. He’s your franchise player. Disappointedly, Ristolainen barely got touched. It was a pathetic response. He should have been chopped down like a tree. Instead the Habs send the message to just keep on coming at their goalie. Injure him again that Habs team is saying. Extremely disappointing response. Price is going to have to chop down Palmieri again by himself, if no one on his team steps up.
– Tomas Plekanec is trying hard and he’s still good on the defensive side of the puck but wow did he lose the offensive skills quickly. He had about four good games hooking up with Charles Hudon but that seems done now. If you want to know why the Habs are 31st in the NHL in goals in a 31 team league look down the middle. Drouin, Danault, Plekanec and 4th liner du jour isn’t enough. There’s only one guy that is even a danger at all offensively and he’s got a damaged digit and is doing all he can to keep contributing.
– I love Claude Julien as a coach. I think his experience makes navigating a difficult moment like this season possible at all. An inexperienced coach and this would all be such a tragic mess already that I can’t imagine it. Just imagine if a bad coach put fuel on this tire fire of a first quarter of a season. Julien doesn’t deserve any of this criticism. He’s using every ounce of wisdom there is here. He was dealt a bad hand. I do want to make one small criticism though. I do not understand Jakub Jerabek and Victor Mete being paired together. They both are inexperienced for one and that doesn’t make sense to put green with green. Also for two, they both have the same characteristics as players: smallish, puck movers, quick. Would seem that one of each with some molasses would add a little viscosity to the overall mix. With that said, Julien is a hell of a head coach and I’m a journalist.