P.K. Subban pinched at the offensive blueline, Alexei Emelin missed the cross-ice saucer pass as he dove to break up the ensuing two-on-one, and the Colorado Avalanche got a 1-0 lead early in the first period on a goal by former-Canadien Alex Tanguay.
The Canadiens played at the level of the Avs for the beginning of the first period, and it ended up being another case of having to play from behind. They seemed to spend the first half of the period attempting to fool rookie goaltender Calvin Pickard with trick shots from poor angles. Fortunately, the Canadiens began to make higher-percentage shots and play to their ability around the 15-minute mark and took control of the game.
The increased time spent on the offensive side of the puck led to a man advantage near the end of the first period, and the powerplay looked much improved from what we saw at the beginning of the season. The players are moving around and distributing the puck more efficiently the last two games. There's also a very noticeable increase in the speed of the puck movement while on the powerplay, keeping the penalty-killers shuffling to adjust to a new attack pattern and opening up opportunities to make plays while they're in transition. It was one the main points of criticism of the Habs early in the season, and it appears to have improved quite dramatically.
That reinvigorated powerplay yielded some results early in the second period as P.K. Subban moved laterally around the top of the circle, forcingto adjust his angle and being slightly off his line, as Subban fired a slap shot far side.
The penalty kill also got some work in the second period, but the Canadiens managed to convert those man disadvantages into a goal advantage, thanks to some power moves by some offensively-gifted core players as they left the penalty box.
Alex Galchenyuk was called for slashing about halfway through the second period. He made a play on the puck immediately upon exiting the box once his minor was up, taking it into the offensive zone, driving to the front of the net, and putting home his second goal of the season on a power move.
Not to be outdone, P.K. Subban raced onto a loose puck after serving his holding penalty later in the period, lost yet another checker who had difficulty navigating around his own net, realized how much time and space that wipeout of Avalanche defender Tyson Barrie garnered him, and broke out some shootout dekes before netting his second goal of the period.
While those two goals exposed the poor defensive play of the Avalanche, the forwards of that team are still some of the best in the league. Last night, the most dangerous of those forwards was Matt Duchene, who showed why he is one of the best forwards in the NHL.
Duchene registered ten shots in the game and probably should have had four goals if not for some spectacular saves from Carey Price. One of those shots came near the end of the third period as Patrick Roy pulled his goalie early facing a two goal deficit, with Duchene deftly tipping the puck as he was being closely checked by Tom Gilbert and bringing the Avalanche back to within a goal.
Manny Malhotra was called upon to do what Manny Malhotra does best, winning two key faceoffs at the end of the game and keeping the Avalanche from getting any closer, sealing the 3-2 victory and restoring the Canadiens to the top spot in the NHL standings.
P-A Parenteau played well in his first regular season game against the Avalanche since being traded in the off-season, especially in the first period when you could see his desire to score against his former team.
Lars Eller and Jiri Sekac also did some great work in their limited shifts, often transitioning from a faceoff in their defensive zone to enagaging the cycle in the offensive zone. It's becoming increasingly evident that Rene Bourque is incapable of keeping up on that line and its effectiveness is being hindered because of it.
Jarred Tinordi was deployed similarly to the members of the Eller line and managed to end up with the highest Corsi for percentage (64%) of all the Canadiens' defensemen despite having the toughest zone starts. He also squeezed a fight into his 10 minutes of ice-time, handling Cody McLeod quite easily in a second period bout.
The Canadiens now have a couple of days off before they take on the red-hot Gustav Nyquist, and the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.