After losing 5-1 to the Senators on Wednesday, fans began to wonder if this team was for real. A back-to-back set of afternoon games at the Bell Centre seems to have answered some questions.
It's undeniable that Carey Price has been brilliant this season. The .932 save percentage he carried into yesterday's game is a fantastic start to the season, but until yesterday, you could hardly say that he was the difference maker on the team.
After an opening night loss to Toronto, Price was given some really nice goal support for 5 straight games, with the Habs scoring 4.4 goals a game for him. Yesterday afternoon though, the Canadiens could only muster two goals, both early in the game, forcing Price to hold the fort for nearly 50 minutes.
Price stopped 62 of 64 shots in the two games on the weekend, a .969 save percentage.
Another star of the weekend was the resurgent David Desharnais, who scored 3 goals on 6 shots over the two games. Desharnais tripled his shot total on the season, and found chemistry with Lars Eller on Saturday that was missing in the previous games.
A big spark for Sunday's win was the miraculous return of Max Pacioretty, who had undergone emergency surgery to remove his appendix just 8 days before the game. Pacioretty's presence seemed to make Erik Cole more daring, and the two big wingers both registered in the Habs' two goals. Pacioretty took the shot that Desharnais tipped in just over 2 minutes into the game, and Cole showed great poise on a great backhand goal just after a powerplay expired.
You have to give it to Craig Anderson. After the Habs got rolling today, I figured that his streak of not allowing a goal after the first period this year would end, but it didn't. Anderson wasn't as great as he was on Wednesday, but his play to start the season has been insanely good. It's going to be interesting to see how a Jason Spezza-less Senators team copes when that great goaltending gets back to Anderson's league average career numbers.
As annoying as it was with HNiC fawning over his every facial expression like a 6 year old at a Bieber concert, Erik Karlsson was once again dominant for the Sens. I think it's pretty safe to say that he's usurped Spezza as the best player on that team. His 20 shot attempts yesterday afternoon is a feat I don't believe I've ever seen from a defenseman. That said, good god is Hockey Night in Canada pathetic. I think my favourite part of the broadcast after the game was Glenn Healy saying that Karlsson doesn't "waste energy" when he doesn't have the puck like for example, P.K. Subban does, by being aggressive. He just waits for the puck to come to him. That was a serious statement by a supposed hockey analyst that was meant to be a compliment. He literally said Karlsson doesn't play defense as a compliment.
One interesting storyline from the game was the return of Pacioretty forcing Lars Eller down to the fourth line for most of the game. The move was an odd one, and while it worked out well for Pacioretty, it wasn't at all consistent with the message that Therrien has been trying to send this year. Eller was the best forward on the team against the Sabres on Saturday, notching 1 goal and 2 assists, along with finally getting some time on the penalty kill. To send him down to the fourth line after a game like that seems pretty absurd. Adding insult to injury, he was also taken off of the penalty kill.
In the third period Eller started to get some shifts with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, but to me, there's already a chink in Therrien's armour. He's repeatedly said that the same rules apply to all, good play is rewarded and bad play is punished. Yesterday we saw the first hint of inconsistency, and that's not a good thing.
Ottawa fans flipped out after the Senators appeared to tie the game at 2 early in the 3rd period, but the goal was waved off due to goaltender interference. Whether or not the refs got the goal call right, and there's a good argument that they didn't, the cognitive dissonance of the situation is pretty hilarious. The Senators opened the scoring on a penalty to Tomas Plekanec for goaltender interference that was completely bogus. You can't have one call and pretend the other is unfair. Sorry Sens fans, suck it up.
With the win, the Canadiens moved past the Senators for second in the Northeast Division with a game in hand, and are tied for second in points among the entire Eastern Conference with 12 points in 8 games. With the Habs taking on the division leading Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they have a real chance to take the top spot in both the division and conference.
For reaction from the losing side (I'm really getting used to saying that), check out Silver Seven Sens.