Following a rather brutal outing against Tampa Bay, the Canadiens needed a bounce back game for their 2014 home opener. As is customary, fans were treated to the standard lengthy opening ceremony, arguably the best moment of which was seeing the torch passed from Canadiens goaltending legend Ken Dryden to current net-minder Carey Price. Great way to open the Montreal hockey season.
Special teams have been rather problematic for the Habs this year, and it seemed early on that this would continue to be the story, as Zdeno Chara opened the scoring while screening Price on a Boston Powerplay early in the first. The Canadiens however would finally get their first powerplay goal of the season, with Max Pacioretty evening up the score off an amazing assist effort from David Desharnais. Given the recent run of sloppy starts, most Habs fans were likely quite content to head into the second with the score even.
While the first period wasn't the unmitigated disaster that it has been of late, the Canadiens were still outshot in the frame by a margin of 13-7. The second period, as has been the case in most games this season, is where things began to improve. Brendan Gallagher, in true Gally form, cashed in on a rebound in tight to take a one goal lead, but the Bruins immediately answered, with Carl Soderberg evening the score at two apiece.
A quick note on officiating; it was evident last night that "Montreal Typical" does not mean what some would have you believe. For all the botched icings and questionable calls, the worst was P.K. Subban being called for embellishment after being speared in the groin by Brad Marchand. Any man on the planet would openly attest to the simple fact that any reaction to such an offense is almost always 100% legitimate. It was a terrible call, and it was really a night full of terrible calls from the zebras.
In any case, officials do not play the game. But as luck would have it, Boston took a 3-2 lead after one of the aforementioned botched icings, putting the Canadiens on their heels. They responded in kind by beginning to take control of the game as they have shown the ability to do at times this year. First it was Jiri Sekac, tying the game with his first NHL goal, which yielded this great celebration from his father. Then P.A. Parenteau converted a gorgeous one-timer to put the Habs up by one late in the second.
The third period was all Montreal, as the team seemed to feed off the crowd to dominate their opponents. Max Pacioretty bounced one off Brendan Gallagher to extend the lead to two, and the Canadiens looked posed to finish the game strong. Alas, the ever confusing definition of 'distinct kicking motion' came into play once again, as Simon Gagne cut the Habs lead on a goal that was reviewed, but ultimately allowed.
While the Gagne goal was surely cause for concern, it was all for naught, as Milan Lucic decided that being down a goal late in the third was the perfect time to make good on one of his post season threats from last year. Lucic took a run at Alexei Emelin, then proceeded to act like a total gentleman in the penalty box. Down a man, the Bruins had no choice but to pull Niklas Svedberg to ice five skaters, and P.A. Parenteau sealed the deal with his second of the night into the empty cage.
Like it or not, special teams are still a lingering issue. The powerplay finally clicked a little last night; I definitely noted considerable improvement in puck movement, and they looked far more dangerous than they have to date. It definitely still needs to be a focus moving forward, but it seems that the coaching staff must have taken at least some steps to improve that which has been pretty bad so far.
The flip side is the penalty kill, which could use some work as well if you ask me. It has not been as glaring an issue as the powerplay, but sometimes when that unit is on the ice, it feels like only a matter of time before they are scored on.
It was a pretty good night for the Habs skaters statistically, particularly at even strength. David Desharnais played quite well and should receive special mention for leading the Habs with a 62% CF 5 on 5. Including him, 10 Habs skaters were able to attain 50% or higher in that category. Most of those who didn't not-so-coincidentally took the majority of their starts in the defensive zone.
The Habs continue to do their best work at 5 on 5, something that has to be seen as highly encouraging. If they can maintain the status quo at even strength, and combine that with some improved special teams, they definitely have a recipe for continued success in the wins department.
Carey Price still has yet to put together a statistically impressive game this season, but that is certainly not to say that he hasn't been playing well. He made a number of key saves throughout last night's game, and without him, it could easily have been a real barn burner with 12-15 total goals instead of 10. Price is most certainly not a problem for the Habs, and it would be rather ridiculous to suggest that he is.
The four goals he did allow were essentially unstoppable; lots of screens, deflections, and one goal off the skate of Simon Gagne in tight traffic. It would be very premature to judge the Canadiens' netminder on stats alone this early in the season, as his current save percentage and GAA are likely lower than his play should allow for. There is no need to be worried about Carey Price, he's going to be just fine.
In all, the Habs home opener featured a great ceremony, a rogue laser pointer guy, an attack to the groin, bad officiating, Jiri Sekac's first NHL goal, a Milan Lucic tantrum, and so much more. It was basically everything one could expect from a Habs/Bruins game, and it resulted in two points for the good guys.