Habs Are Back In The Win Column At Last

Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

Habs Are Back In The Win Column At Last

After what seemed like the longest 4 games in Habs history – or at least this season – the team came back on Saturday night, to win in a decisive 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

The Canadiens showed tremendous fortitude, especially through the first 2 periods, where they registered an incredible 27 shots. They have had games recently in which they haven’t had that many through 3, much less in 1 period.

There was so much that went right, it feels like the beginning of the season again where the team was on a streak to keep their opponents at bay. Or, perhaps it was because it had been so long since we’ve seen a win result from dominant play that this was a case of “everything old is new again.”

Whatever it was, it feels like magic to those of us who love this team beyond measure, and believe in their ability to continue to rise higher than ever.

Here’s how the game played out.

First Period: Shots 27-8 Montreal

Goals: Brian Flynn (Assists: Nathan Beaulieu, Charles Hudon), Max Pacioretty (Assists: Tomas Plekanec, Dale Weise)

The period opened with Montreal decidedly ready to play. This wasn’t new – we’ve seen this in recent games (the December 3 tilt against Washington comes to mind). But they kept it up, and were rewarded just 2:48 into the period when Brian Flynn opened the scoring.

The goal was a result of beautiful teamwork by the trio of Flynn, Nathan Beaulieu and Charles Hudon, when puck possession and perfect placement mattered. With Flynn to the right of Craig Anderson, Beaulieu brought the puck around and passed it over, where it slid between the skates of Erik Karlsson. Flynn had a clear opening, and beat Anderson for the goal.

The second goal came 30 seconds before the end of the frame; how often do we lament the late-period goals against our team? This time, it was the Canadiens making it 2-0 on a stunning example of why Tomas Plekanec needs more love than he already gets.

Kyle Turris took a tape-to-tape pass to skate the puck out of Ottawa’s zone when Plekanec tapped his stick and kept the puck in. Dale Weise hit the puck to keep it in as Plekanec skated deeper. Plek took the pass from Weise, got it to Pacioretty who scored on Anderson. This is the goal:

Craig Anderson was not too happy with himself:

If you would like to see a longer clip of this goal – and Anderson’s reaction – looked, please head over to the Canadiens’ video console here.

Going into the first intermission, shots at 27, 2 goals up already, felt like the good times all over again.

Though Ottawa took 8 shots on Dustin Tokarski, he didn’t look like he was bored; he was on point, and would only get better throughout the game. He did mention, post-game, how well the team was playing and his own mindset:

Two penalties were called this period – both on Ottawa. The 2nd penalty would be served at the beginning of the 2nd, as Jean-Gabriel Pageau was called at the end of the period.

Second Period: Shots 10-9 Ottawa

Goals:

  • Montreal: Jeff Petry (Assists: Dale Weise, Alex Galchenyuk)
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Assists: Alex Chiasson, Dave Dziurzynski)

Though the Senators had slightly more spark this period, and scored, they were still unable to catch up to the Habs’ dominance on the ice.

By the time 6 minutes had elapsed, Jeff Petry had already gotten a second insurance goal for the team, on this play:

While Anderson was not pulled after this goal, he would be before long.

A few minutes after the Petry goal, it looked like the Habs had scored once again. The goal was called on the ice, but upon review, it was clear that Pacioretty had batted the puck under Anderson into the net:

The deed was done, though; the Habs were up 3 goals, and Anderson was clearly done for the night. As always, it’s a great triumph to see a star goalie (especially from a fierce rivalry) chased from the net.

The shutout was busted at 11:24, though, when J-G Pageau scored his hab-itual goal of the game (what is it with this guy always scoring on the Habs?). It was bound to happen, Ottawa was starting to come alive.

The rest of the period was as strong for the Habs as the first, though they were outshot by 1. Still, a strong middle frame, and still with a two-goal lead, they were in good shape.

Third Period: Shots 8-6 Ottawa

No Goals Scored

Though there were no goals scored, the third period was filled with excitement-slash-tension. The Senators were clearly on a tear, looking to tie the game with a strong push right out of the gate.

Dustin Tokarski more than held the team off, though, with huge saves. This one, for example, was simply spectacular:

And it wasn’t just Tokarski; Alexei Emelin was true to his nickname (“Boom”) when he delivered this crushing hit on Karlsson:

A heart-stopping sequence came late in the period when Tomas Plekanec was called for slashing. Though the Canadiens’ penalty kill is quite successful, it became a 5-on-3 with 34 seconds left in the penalty, as Pacioretty went off for hooking.

The longest 34 seconds of the game, as P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, and Brian Flynn defended the net. But the best was yet to come:

When Plekanec came back, he took a shot that broke his stick. For much of the remaining penalty kill, Plekanec was without a stick without a chance to get a replacement, or a line change, as Ottawa kept the puck in the Habs’ zone.

Now, when this happens, it might as well be a 5-on-3; but not with Plekanec. He buzzed the player he was covering, he forechecked as much as he could without a stick, he created a wall in front of the net, and he showed why he deserved the 3rd star he was awarded in this game.

Frankly, after that penalty kill, I realized I had been watching him, rather than the play on the ice. He was that mesmerizing, skill-wise.

Ottawa pulled their goaltender with 2 minutes to play, and again, breath-holding nerves took over. Despite a valiant try at the empty net, the Habs did not score again, but it didn’t matter; they won this game 3-1, and deservedly so.

Some Thoughts:

  • I have to continue my thoughts with Tomas Plekanec at the fore. He is, bewildering to many, vastly under-appreciated. It seems there are so many critics of this player, they don’t see what he contributes, on every single level of the game. He is a stunningly beautiful skater; his speed and his skill make him visibly discernible were he not to be wearing the name and number on his jersey. He has style in his skating, and that is one of the reasons he is known for the short-handed goals the team has amassed over the years.
  • Plekanec has talented hands; the way in which he created the second goal Saturday night is just one example. But it is his hockey sense that sets him above so many other players, both on this team and around the league. Pleky knows what to do, and when to do it. Here are some facts about him, taken from Saturday’s “Numbers Game” feature on the Canadiens’ website:

14 – Number of goals scored by the Canadiens duo of Pacioretty/Plekanec where each player picked up a point, making captain and his assistant the most prolific duo on the Habs this year, as the two combined to score the second Habs goal late in the first period.

20 – Rank occupied by Tomas Plekanec on the Canadiens all-time games played list, playing his 792nd game for the Canadiens Saturday night against the Senators, to pull even with former Habs captain Saku Koivu.

9 – Number of seasons in which Tomas Plekanec has reached the 20 assists mark, the talented passer collected his 20th helper of the 2015-16 campaign in Saturday night’s clash against Ottawa, his 31st game of the season.

Impressed yet? Keep watching this man, even when he doesn’t have the puck. Watch some video clips, watch replays, and watch how he is always on high-alert level of engagement.

  • Still a little curious as to why Alex Galchenyuk‘s TOI is so low; he played 13:20, lower than Paul Byron (16:50), David Desharnais (16:08) and even Daniel Carr (13:38). It’s puzzling; and one wonders whether he would be more productive if he were given more time to play (seems logical to me).
  • Same with Nathan Beaulieu who – I feel – would have made a huge difference had he played against the Red Wings. He saw only 16:16 of ice time Saturday night and those 16 minutes – and 16 seconds – were magical.
  • It is a vote of confidence in Tokarski that he got the nod in this game; giving Tokarski more time in nets, with no return date for Carey Price and a demanding schedule coming up, just makes good sense. By January 6th, the team will have played 3 back-to-back games and the Winter Classic. Tokarski has shown he is more than capable of being a back-up goaltender, and is now proving that as back-up to the back-up he is just as reliable.
  • In any case, he did what was needed in order to support a well-playing team.

P.K. thinks so too:

So does Pacioretty:

  • I did take issue with the amount of non-calls against Ottawa when they ran our goalie; at first it was subtle, then – as the game went on and Ottawa grew more frustrated – a lot more blatant. The referees didn’t seem to see it (said tongue-in-cheek).
  • A note about the Canadiens’ social media team: their Twitter account is one of the most engaged – and engaging – of the sports teams I have seen. This season, they are using fun GIFs (short video clips) when a player needs highlighting. They have one for each player, and they’re all different. Here is the one they posted after the hit Emelin laid on Karlsson:

This was a good step in the right direction for the Habs. I still feel they can do more in terms of scoring multiple goals per game (I’m happy with 3 – I’m happier with the 4 or more we’d gotten used to earlier this season). But this was a great start back, and it sure does erase any gloom and doom from the 4 losses before it.

The next game will be Tuesday (December 15th) at the Bell Centre when the San Jose Sharks are in town. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.

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