Sometimes, you've just got to tip your hat to the better team. The Oilers are pretty darn good at this losing thing, and while the Habs had shown great potential in their ability to tank, they couldn't manage to thwart some inspired individual performances, most notably from the team's fully realized star power forward Max Pacioretty. On the anniversary of the Zdeno Chara hit, there was probably no sweeter story for Habs fans this year than seeing No. 67 score twice, netting his team-leading 30th goal of the year into the empty net to seal the deal. The goal moves Pacioretty into a four-way tie for 8th in the NHL, and he's tied for 3rd in the league with Phil Kessel with 26 even strength goals.
I tried to take some notes for tonight's action, but typically got caught up in the moment. So we'll go by memory.
The first period was pretty terrible. I don't mean for the Habs, they weren't outplayed by any means, but the action itself was overall sloppy, as if these were teams battling for 28th overall (or possibly trying to fail for 29th). A few things stood out: Scott Gomez and Aaron Palushaj, returning from eye injuries, looked to be at full speed and full awareness. They were moving the puck deep and creating chances.
The teams exchanged power play goals, Shawn Horcoff refusing to stay down in front of Peter Budaj and tipping home a Corey Potter point shot to give Edmonton the lead, followed by P.K. Subban getting a one-timer on a give and go play from David Desharnais that Nikolai Khabibulin... yeah, he hasn't been making those kinds of saves for a while. Just one of the reasons why the Oilers are better at this losing thing than the Canadiens are.
The Canadiens came out stronger in the second period, getting an early goal off a Gomez rush, where Pacioretty got his 29th of the year on a rebound. Then Tomas Kaberle, who has a lot of experience finishing near the bottom of the standings with the Maple Leafs, showed some of the Canadiens players how tanking is done:
Kaberle would get some redemption, as he scored the go ahead goal in the third period on the PP on a nice pinch from the point. When Lars Eller banked in his 15th of the year from behind the net on the aging fossil known who refuses to retire playing goal for the Oilers, all was over, said everyone who had forgot about what this entire year's been like so far. Of course it wasn't.
Taylor Hall made a nifty little play to elude Chris Campoli to bring the Oilers to within one, and then the crazy goalie-pulled ending took shape. The puck somehow ended up on Peter Budaj's back at one point but the Oilers couldn't tie it up, and P.K. Subban finally took matters into his own hands by intercepting a centering pass and skating the puck (which had been bouncing wildly all shift) out of the zone himself, all the way across the Oilers blueline before feeding the puck to Pacioretty who capped off the night with his 30th. And because it was his 30th and so special, we'll show the highlight, even though it was an empty netter:
David Desharnais left the game unseen in the second period, prompting MathMan in the comment section to say he had been traded. He tried to return, but couldn't do so, and was given the 'lower body' reasoning. Of course, on Desharnais, lower body could mean anything from an ankle injury to a concussion, you never know.
Tomas Plekanec played 22:36 with Desharnais being limited to just 5:38. He led the team with 5 shots on goal, and looked fantastic and aggressive in reclaiming the undisputed top centre role. You know, we just might have a player here.
Theo Peckham knows how to tank quite well: 3 minor penalties for him. I'm impressed. I'm less impressed with Renney here, he only gave him a team defense-low 13:30 of ice time. If you want to tank, Tom...
Ryan White - 4:07 of PK time. We're getting low on PK options, but this is definitely an encouraging sign.
Speaking of surprising PK time: Yannick Weber got 2:21 in PK time, as Cunneyworth and Ladacouer try and find a fourth man for the rotation (Campoli and Kaberle didn't play at all shorthanded). For a guy trying to land a regular spot on this team, this is a positive.
Rene Bourque could've easily had two goals, one being overturned on review (never got enough on it to push it fully across the line) and another crazy bounce was whiffed on by him. He's been pretty bad for the Canadiens, but tonight was just a frustrating experience for him, playing before his 'hometown crowd'.
NHL 3 Stars: 1. Max Pacioretty, 2. Lars Eller, 3. Taylor Hall
My 3 Stars (Just Habs): 1. Max Pacioretty, 2. P.K. Subban, 3. Tomas Plekanec
Really, I'm only giving Pacioretty the glory of the night here, Subban easily could've been the #1.
Final thought: This game had some excitement, but if this was an European league, this game would've been a battle for possibly staying in the NHL altogether. The end of the current NHL season, with fans hoping for losses for a better draft pick, is a pretty terrible time of the year. Especially since teams embrace that failure by trading away good players at the deadline to make their teams worse down the stretch while the rich playoff bound teams get better.
Rewarding losing stinks, and because of that, I'm glad for tonight's result. I was honestly thinking I was going to be writing about a new low for the Habs, so that it came out with Pacioretty getting his 30th is really, really sweet.
Recap from The Copper and Blue to come.