Walking into the arena last night with three friends, we all agreed on one thing; Rene Bourque was going to score today. He was the pregame topic after firing 13 shots at the net in against New Jersey on Sunday evening.
Sure enough, Bourque found the net on a beautiful one timer on the first powerplay of the game. It would be the only time Bourque hit the net with a shot in the game, with 3 more shots missing the net. He wasn't as dominant on the shot clock as he was against New Jersey, but his play has remained extremely impressive this season, especially compared to last year.
The game was marred by horrid officiating, which accounted for two of WInnipeg's goals and gave them a chance to tie it late in the game by calling Brandon Prust for diving after a gutless hit from behind by perennial loser Nik Antropov. The call was absolutely absurd in every imaginable way, but in retrospect kind of worth it to see 5'7" David Desharnais go after 6'6" Antropov. Best thing was Antropov looked scared.
Let's talk about Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, shall we? These guys have so much chemistry and so much talent. When was the last time you can remember two rookies breaking into the NHL so smoothly? Leblanc had a nice start last year, but nowhere near this. Gallagher is sniping and Galchenyuk is constantly making great plays. Gally and Gally is going to be a thing for a long while, I think.
It was great to see Erik Cole finally score, even if the goal was of the garbage variety. He seems to be coming to life a bit faster than last year which is huge, because Desharnais really, really misses Max Pacioretty. Lars Eller is slowly adjusting to the wing, and looked better tonight than he did against the Devils, but he isn't anywhere near Pacioretty and it really shows. The poor play from Desharnais at evens has lead to Plekanec playing over 23 minutes the last two games, and that just isn't sustainable. It's not for lack of effort that Desharnais is struggling, he's always been a guy who will give it all every shift, but due to his size and lack of speed, he hasn't been able to enter the zone effectively, carry the puck, or win battles. It's not a pretty sight.
Someone needs to step up on the second line, and judging by the way Therrien shortened his bench in the third, we may see a shakeup soon. Cole was played with Galchenyuk and Gallagher on the powerplay in the second half of the game they even had a few even strength shifts together.
So if the Habs played so well, why did they only win by one? That one is a combination of some bad luck bounces, like Antropov's goal, and a horrid penalty kill unit.
I don't want to be too hard on the coaching staff because for almost everything this season, they've been making good decisions and playing players to their strengths (except Eller), but the penalty kill is a mess.
Going into the game, I had been looking at behindthenet.ca for the Habs' special teams data, and noticed that Colby Armstrong had been an unmitigated disaster on the PK. His -117.28 Corsi on the PK is a full 30 shots against per 60 worse than the next Canadien. He should not be getting any time there, but Therrien keeps tossing him out to start every PK. If there were no other options, I would understand that, but Therrien didn't give Eller even a second of time while shorthanded last night. Why do I bring up Eller you ask? Because as I noted in my review of his 2011-12 season, Eller was the second best penalty killer in the entire NHL last year. Yes, you read that correctly. Here's what I said about Eller back in September:
Where Eller really shone this year though, was on the penalty kill. His -56.41 Corsi was second best in the entire NHL among those who played at least 1.5 minutes per game on the PK, and the extent to which he pushed the puck up the ice from his measly 3.2% offensive zone starts is astonishing. Eller was also a constant threat to score while a man down, producing more scoring chances per 60 than any other Habs player while on the ice. His scoring chance differential was also better than any other Habs penalty killer, aside from the surprising Raphael Diaz. Unsurprisingly, Eller's risk/reward rating on the PK was higher than any other Habs player by a significant margin.
To not use a player of Eller's skill on the PK is just stupid. There's no other way to put it. This is a huge, huge oversight on behalf of the coaching staff that borders on embarrassing. Yes I am being dramatic, because it's that stupid.
P.K. Subban is obviously going to help the shorthanded situation, and he should make Josh Gorges look a little better as well, as he's been struggling, but he can't do everything on his own. Part of a coaching staff's job is to know who has success in what situation. Right now that isn't being done on the PK.
Carey Price didn't have a great game tonight, but I find it tough to blame him for the goals against. Sure, on many nights he may have stopped one or all of them, but I don't think his save percentage tonight was reflective of his performance. From where I was sitting tonight, it seemed like the Jets couldn't get a shot on net until they got prime scoring chances, and they just happened to capitalize on limited opportunities. It was a night where Price didn't get many easy stops from 40 feet out, most shots were screened or tipped or involved a bad luck bounce.
After facing just 10 shots through 40 minutes and stopping only 7, Price shut the door in the 3rd period when Montreal sat back a bit. I'm not saying he was Marc-Andre Fleury style clutch, because that's BS, but his play improved as the game went on. Peter Budaj is set to start the next game, and that should be nice for Price to get a rest.
To read the perspective of the losing side, check out our good buddies at Arctic Ice Hockey.