In their first game without captain Brian Gionta, the Montreal Canadiens had a challenge to deal with in the Vancouver Canucks. For the first period of the game, it didn't look like it was going to go well either, as the Habs were outchanced 9-3 at even strength, yet they held a 1-0 lead courtesy of Max Pacioretty drawing, then scoring on a powerplay.
Carey Price was flat out brilliant to keep the Canucks off the board, highlighted by spectacular saves on Jason Garrison and Ryan Kesler. Price was all over the puck all night, and though he let out his fair share of rebounds, he was there to make the second save on every chance but one.
The one goal he let in was courtesy of a flubbed pass by Raphael Diaz that Lars Eller couldn't handle near the Habs' blueline, then ended up being a typical Daniel Sedin to Henrik Sedin tap in goal. Eller's line was used heavily in the defensive zone against Vancouver, and struggled a bit as a result. Eller had his worst game of the season, which was characterized by two brutal turnovers in the Habs' zone. With that said, Eller's line managed to keep their scoring chance differential even despite being outpossessed severely, and Eller is on such a hot streak that he was able to score without being on the ice.
Eller's goal was the high point of a trio of hilarious happenings in the game. If you score an own goal like Dan Hamhuis inflicted on Roberto Luongo, in and of itself you can probably live with it. If that goal is the game winner, and you also allow Josh Gorges to score, and Francis Bouillon to get a point on the powerplay, you're getting into relegation territory.
Gorges' goal came off of hard work from the fourth line, who have been better than anyone could have hoped coming into the season. Even though the resurgent play of Travis Moen is a good sign, the best sign on that line in my opinion is the play of rookie Michael Bournival. Bournival's ice time has increased in each game, from 6:09, to 7:05, to 10:32 last night. Bournival was even trusted with a 58 second shift on the penalty kill last night, which for the first time this season didn't give up a goal.
Bournival is also finding ways to get the puck on net at a very high rate. He has 5 shots through 3 games, which doesn't sound that impressive on the surface of it, but because he's received so little ice time, he's actually recording 15 shots per 60 minutes of ice time, close to the same level as Brendan Gallagher.
Speaking of players that showed improvement, for the first time this season David Desharnais did not have a bad game. He's had a couple games where his linemates were great and he benefited from a statistical point of view, but last night he was actually objectively good. There was only maybe one play that I can remember thinking that he blew it, and every player is allowed one of those per game. Desharnais' line was the only dominant possession line the Canadiens had against Vancouver, and although both his linemates put up better numbers than he did, I don't think last night it's fair to say that they carried him.
Marc mentioned in the Top Six Minutes that P.K. Subban didn't have his best game, though he and Markov were both over 55% Fenwick and outchanced the competition, and both Markov and Subban recorded assists on a beautiful goal by Tomas Plekanec, putting him one point closer to 400 in his career. But one point and owning 55% of possession is a ho hum game for P.K. Subban.
A second straight 4-1 win on the team's third game in four nights is a great sign going forward, even if it took the Habs until an absurdly dominant third period to get the possession game going their way.
Montreal is now 3-2-0 on the season, good for third in the division and in a playoff spot, but even better news? The Canadiens are once again a top 10 possession club, and they've been unlucky to begin the year from a shooting perspective, scoring on just 6.5% of their even strength shots. That's unlikely to continue to be so low. This team is very, very good.
Fancy stats for the game from Extra Skater.
Check out the losing side over at Nucks Misconduct.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- Retour sur le match Canadiens - Canucks
- Bulldogs fall in shootout to defending champs
- Highlights of the Habs' 4-1 win over the Canucks
- Canadiens at Canucks - Top Six Minutes - The Price is Right
- Brian Gionta returns to Montreal for family reasons