It was happening again. A bad team came into the Bell Centre last night, check that two bad teams, and the one that wasn't from Montreal absolutely dominated. After the first period, the Phoenix Coyotes held a 21-6 Fenwick advantage and a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard.
It was a shredding, and it's becoming all too familiar. Montreal came out a little bit better in the second period, with an early flurry of shots, but even then, the Coyotes held a wide advantage at 34-17. It wasn't until Michel Therrien made an adjustment that we've been waiting for a long time that things turned around.
Near the end of the second period, Therrien split up the pairing of Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, and put Subban with Josh Gorges, Markov with Alexei Emelin. This mixing of the top 4 wasn't exactly what we expected, as Therrien still seems to be too stubborn to take Emelin out of the top four, but the mixup had immediate results.
For the remainder of the game, Montreal held a 27-9 Fenwick advantage, which allowed them to draw two third period penalties, and score on both. Max Pacioretty sealed the deal with an empty netter, his second goal of the game, which could have been his 5th if he'd had any modicum of luck. Pacioretty also added an assist on Markov's tying goal, just Pacioretty's 4th assist of the season.
Max sure is scoring though, both at even strength and on the powerplay. It's the first time in his career that goals are going in for him in both situations, which has lead to a higher shooting percentage and scoring over a half goal per game. His 14 goals in 27 games has him pacing for 38 goals in 73 games, after missing 9 games due to injury. That would be a career high for Pacioretty, and an over 40 goal pace.
Therrien commented after the game that the defensive shakeup was a long time coming, which is the understatement of the year, because he wasn't happy with the transition game when Subban and Markov weren't on the ice. This is essentially exactly what Olivier has been harping on of late, and if Emelin can regain his previous form with Markov, this could be the start of a serious turnaround in the Habs' fortunes.
They still need to sort out where Daniel Briere fits, who got all of 4.5 minutes of ice time last night, and they still need to deal with having two terrible 6th defensemen in Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon, but a competent puck mover in Raphael Diaz on the third pairing could hide that inefficiency enough to get back to where they were last year. However this is all dependent on Emelin. He has to rebound, and he has to do it now.
The Briere conundrum is even more pressing, as he has yet to find a consistent spot, and seems to end every game on the fourth line. His production level for his ice time is actually quite good, and he's producing scoring chances, but it's quite obvious that he won't be getting the same opportunity given to a player like David Desharnais. After the game, when asked why he played Briere so little, Therrien said he wanted to play the players who gave him the best chance to win. Yikes.
And the Habs aren't out of the woods yet. They still needed Carey Price to steal the show early, and he was once again phenomenal. The only goal that beat him was a lucky bounce off of a skate for Mikkel Boedker. The win brought his lifetime record against the Coyotes to 6-0-0, with a .944 save percentage. Price's play has been truly remarkable this season, but depending on a player so heavily doesn't bode well.
And they haven't been giving Price a lot of run support either, especially at even strength. It's been five games, 323:44, since the Habs have scored a goal 5-on-5.
The win was an important one for Montreal though, their first comeback win when trailing after two periods, which could go a long way towards building their confidence. Last season the Canadiens were able to comeback in the third period for a win four times, and those points could end up being crucial.
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