After a mostly blah performance against Toronto on Saturday, and the announcement that Lars Eller was going to be scratched tonight, a lot of Montreal Canadiens fans were understandably pessimistic about this matchup with the Florida Panthers.
Turns out that there was no need for it.
While it was pretty clear that 3 games in 4 days had taken it's toll on Florida, in this shortened season that's just not going to be an excuse for anyone anymore.
It took only 3:26 until the same trio that combined for the Canadiens' only goal against the Maple Leafs on Saturday tickled the twine and gave Montreal a lead they would never relinquish. Raphael Diaz found Brian Gionta breaking into the offensive zone, who saw a completely uncovered Tomas Plekanec in the slot who beat Scott Clemmensen through the five hole. Lazily skating behind Plekanec on the play was former Hab Alex Kovalev.
A hair under 10 minutes later, Andrei Markov broke an 804 day streak without an NHL goal with a 5-on-3 blast from the high slot. The elation on EOTP was awesome, as about 10 straight comments simply said "MARKOV".
As if that wasn't enough, Markov blasted another through Clemmensen on the powerplay at 8:31 of the second period. Every time Markov touched the puck in the offensive zone the rest of the night the crowd roared, hoping for a hat trick.
That opportunity didn't come, but the crowd was able to go ballistic all the same as Alex Galchenyuk tipped a Brandon Prust shot overtop of Clemmensen for the first goal of his NHL career.
The Prust - Galchenyuk - Gallagher line seemed to have instant chemistry, and impressed the coaching staff and fans in limited minutes. Galchenyuk's two way play was especially noticeable at center, backchecking hard whenever Florida gained possession.
This game seemed to give a bit of insight into the system that Michel Therrien is trying to implement, and the signs are surprisingly quite positive. Unlike the Cunneyworth era of dump and chase, the Canadiens seem loath to ever dump the puck this year, preferring to carry it into the zone.
Work done on Broad Street Hockey by Eric Tulsky has shown that carrying the puck into the zone results in a higher number of shots than dumping it in, which in turn leads to more scoring chances and more goals.
The high tempo game by the Canadiens was facilitated by some excellent passing throughout the lineup, but especially by Andrei Markov, who sliced up the neutral zone all game, finding players in transition all game.
The early lead and consistent pressure from all 4 lines allowed Therrien to balance the ice time among his forwards, which could be a huge edge over this sprint of a season. Only Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta played over 16 minutes on the night among forwards.
500 words in and I haven't even mentioned perhaps the most dominant force in the game, Carey Price. Once again Price was granite wall in net tonight, making stops even us Habs fans who've been watching him consistently since the 2007 World Juniors couldn't believe.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Price so far this season is that he's been impenetrable at even strength. 38 shot against in two games, 38 saves.
Every once in awhile it seemed like Florida was building pressure, but every time, Price was there. The guy is just impossibly solid.
Right after getting out of the penalty box from an unsportsmanlike conduct to start the 3rd period, Tomas Fleischmann of the Panthers laid a ridiculously dirty and dangerous hit on Josh Gorges, a hit from behind directly into the numbers about a foot from the boards.
Ryan White saw the hit, and wasted no time in jumping Fleischmann, not a fighter, and sending a few punches into his face as the Czech tried pitifully to turtle. 99 times out of 100, I would admonish White for sucker punching a guy. He did it last season in a game and I found it distasteful. However this time, Fleischmann deserved every punch. Too often the Matt Cookes of the world get away with dirty plays with a slap on the wrist. I'm not saying Fleischmann is that kind of player, but he has tons of time to make the decision on that hit, and he made an intentionally dangerous play. You can't make that kind of play in the sport of hockey and expect to walk away unscathed. All 27 PIM White took were worth it. He put his team on a 5 minute major penalty kill, which included nearly a full 2 minute 5-on-3 disadvantage after a chintzy call on Markov, and his team killed it for him.
Ryan White may be suspended for his sucker punch, and you could say he deserves it. He probably does deserve it, but there's no denying how good it felt to see a cheap shot punished instantly.
Now at 1-1-0, the Canadiens will travel to Washington to take on the winless Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin, who have been outscored 10-5 in two games under new coach Adam Oates.
Reaction from the losing side at Litter Box Cats.