Who would have guessed that two games into his season that Peter Budaj wouldn't have allowed an even strength goal? Even better than that, Budaj has allowed just one goal against in 120 minutes of play, a fluke deflection a couple weeks ago in Edmonton. It's pretty obvious that kind of play from Budaj is not going to continue, but he's currently sitting atop the entire league in save percentage at .982, which sure isn't bad for a backup.
The Canadiens played a prototypical road game in front of Budaj, keeping the Rangers to the outside as much as possible, limiting chances from in close. This worked a lot better while the top four defensemen were on the ice, but even so, overall Montreal was able to outchance the Rangers in spite of losing the possession battle.
Interestingly, Montreal's penalty kill had a very sharp night, giving up just one chance on five shorthanded situations. They also managed to get a chance of their own while shorthanded, which continues to be a trend in this early season.
Near the end of the second period, the Habs were finally able to break the 0-0 tie on a goal of the year candidate where all five Canadiens on the ice touched the puck before a brilliant drop pass from Michael Bournival took out both Rangers defensemen and allowed Tomas Plekanec to drive across the net and slide the puck past a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist.
Plekanec's sixth goal of the year brings him into the Canadiens' lead, showing once again that the soon-to-be 31 year old Czech is not ready to give up his mantle as the Habs' number one center. Also of interest, Plekanec has scored the game winning goal in each of Montreal's last three victories.
The Rangers ended up with a brilliant chance to tie the game as Raphael Diaz and Josh Gorges collided with each other at the blueline causing a clear breakaway, but somehow the officials interpreted that because Chris Kreider was in the vicinity, he had interfered with the two. There may have been some mild contact, but honestly if this had happened to the Habs we'd all be howling in derision. However after the brutal officiating the Habs have dealt with lately, they deserved that one.
And they'd get one more break, as Alex Galchenyuk would convert on a pass from Lars Eller on a two-on-one break with his skate, in what looked like a very clear kicking motion to my eye. The goal looked eerily similar to the one scored by Mika Zibanejad on Montreal in the playoffs, though markedly less distinct. The one thing that's always reliable with kicked in goals, is that the NHL rules exactly the opposite of what I expect them to. Compare the two goals yourself:
Both were pretty clearly kicks to me, as I don't see any reason why the back foot would abruptly move forward in a non-arcing motion while stopping outside of a purposeful kick, but I'll take this one and not think twice. With that said, the Rangers fan I was watching the game with at my place was understandably miffed.
Yesterday was also our first exposure to Douglas Murray on the Canadiens during the regular season, and as predicted it was not a great turnout. The team was outchanced 6-3 while Murray was on the ice, and the big lug seems to have the turning radius of a tectonic plate. There was one shift where he came out from behind the net with "speed" and tried to loop around, and he had to go all the way to the top of the circle to do it. It was actually kind of endearing.
What was surprising though, was that Murray wasn't the big drag on his pairing. It was actually Francis Bouillon who played worse, getting outchanced 7-2 and putting up worse possession numbers. All told, 12 of New York's 18 even strength shots against Montreal were taken while Bouillon was playing his 10.8 minutes at even strength. That's right, in the other 25.1 minutes of even strength hockey, the Rangers managed 6 shots. While P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were on the ice, they managed a whopping 2 shots.
Yet Therrien made the curious decision to bench Subban in the final minute and play Bouillon with Markov. We've been saying for 10 months now that eventually Michel Therrien has to get over his Bouillon fetish, but I'm starting to believe it will happen less and less. You could make the case that he wanted to rest P.K. in the first half of a back-to-back setting, but shouldn't he also want to rest Markov, who played 5 extra minutes and is 11 years older?
David Desharnais saw his ice time sit below 13 minutes for the second straight game, meaning that even though his Bouillon blindspot is fully intact, Therrien has noticed the problems in Desharnais' game just as we have. Desharnais hadn't played under 13 minutes in a game without an injury since he was a rookie, and back-to-back games seems like a strong message that he has to earn his ice time back. Even his powerplay time has been cut, though an argument could be made that he doesn't deserve any at all.
Desharnais has now managed just a single point in 12 games, a level of futility I don't think anyone could have expected. Puck luck has played it's part, but he's also taking way too much time to make decisions, which is usually a rookie problem. He clearly misses the time and space afforded to him by playing with a puck possession beast like Max Pacioretty, but he's going to have to get used to it if he wants to stay in the lineup once Max returns, as Michael Bournival has for all intents and purposes usurped his place in the top-9 when everyone is healthy. In order to stick around, Desharnais is going to have to do a lot better than he did on this play:
Even with Leblanc running a bit of interference to buy him time, Desharnais couldn't decide what to do with the puck on what should have been an easy clear, and turned it over, which would have created a prime scoring chance if Rene Bourque hadn't been there to break it up.
Last night's game was also Louis Leblanc's first as a Hab since 2011-12, and he struggled big time over the first 40 minutes adjusting to NHL speed. After that though, he began to make the smart plays we saw back then. After being drubbed in Fenwick early, he went 5-1 on Fenwick attempts in the third period, drew a penalty, and had a scoring chance. There is a player in Louis Leblanc, but it's up to him to show that it's an NHL player.
Speaking of NHL players, the fourth line could use some. Early in the season it was a strength for Montreal, but with Brandon Prust and Travis Moen out with injuries, and Michael Bournival promoted, Ryan White hasn't quite been able to hold the fort with two AHLers, even though he's been playing well to my eye. The interesting development from last game though, is that Patrick Holland may have worked his way above the Blunden line, as his proficiency on the penalty kill saw him almost double up Michael Blunden in ice time.
And don't forget to check out reaction from the losing side at Blueshirt Banter.