Mere days removed from the tragic shooting in Ottawa, the game began with a tribute, and the national anthems performed in the Canadian capital. While things like hockey may seem trivial in the wake of such events, it was a moving ceremony, and showed how sports can bring people together even in the toughest of times. As a proud Canadian, I will readily admit that this ceremony choked me up a little bit, and I'm sure I wasn't alone in that.
On to the contest at hand. As the season rolls on, the first period is becoming less of a headache for the Habs. For what seemed like the first time in forever, the Canadiens actually opened the scoring! An excellent penalty kill led to Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec breaking in shorthanded two-on-zero, passing the puck back and forth until Henrik Lundqvist had absolutely no chance.
It seemed as if the Habs would take a one goal lead into the first intermission, but the Rangers were able to answer not long afterwards. A tipped point shot bounced off Carey Price's pad, and Carl Hagelin beat Brendan Gallagher to the rebound to even the score at one apiece. Gallagher was visibly frustrated after the goal, as he clearly knew it was his man that put it home.
The powerplay once again proved ineffective in its only opportunity of the night, and in fact nearly resulted in a goal against. Right after the Rangers finished killing a minor, Derek Brassard got in the slot, pulled the breaks and fired a bullet, but Carey Price robbed him with a magnificent glove save. Price was fantastic all night, and made a number of highlight-reel saves.
Lars Eller, who has also been very good, and very unlucky so far this year, was finally able to cash in on a loose puck in front of Henrik Lundqvist to restore the Habs one goal lead, little over mid way through the second. Eller had himself another great game Saturday, and it was only a matter of time before he found the scoresheet.
Dale Weise picked up an assist on the aforementioned Eller goal while banging away at the loose puck. In the third period, he would double his assist total on the night with a beauty no-look backhand feed to Max Pacioretty in the slot to make it 3-1 Habs.
The much maligned Chris Kreider was booed mightily whenever he touched the puck in Montreal, and he made good on his bad reputation in the city late in the third period. Kredier went full Lucic on Andrei Markov, executing a stick lift directly to his nether region. No call was made on the play and it is unclear whether there will be any supplementary discipline at this point.
The Rangers pulled Lundqvist with about two minutes remaining in the game, but the Canadiens did a great job defensively, and Carey Price kept the door shut to seal their seventh win of the season in only eight contests. It was a pretty even match between the two clubs overall, but Montreal had the better scoring chances, better goaltending, and that will tend to be enough on most nights.
The new top line?
If one thing was made abundantly clear on Saturday night, it is that Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and P.A. Parenteau have formed an undisputed top trio for the Canadiens. Perhaps undisputed is a strong word, but that trio was dominant, and easily Montreal's most dangerous.
They were three of the top four forwards in CF% for Montreal, and their numbers were even better before score effects naturally brought them down in the third period. Even more impressive? They did this while taking a majority of their starts in the defensive zone. It stands to reason that this should be looked at as the top line moving forward.
Galchenyuk in particular appears to have found another level to his game, and seems to be developing into quite the offensive threat. He was all over the puck for most of the night, and has excellent chemistry with Plekanec and Parenteau. If this is to be the year of the Galchenyuk, he is certainly doing his part to try and make it so.
As for Parenteau, it should be noted that acquiring him for Daniel Briere has clearly been a huge steal for the Canadiens. Not to disparage a departed player, but Parenteau is clearly a major upgrade and has been paying dividends no matter where he is inserted in the lineup. One should however hope that his current trio stays together, as they appear to have some serious upside.
As the game's first star, Price was absolutely phenomenal. While the Habs skaters did a good job limiting quality scoring chances in their end, Carey Price was there when one got through. After the game, he mentioned in his on-ice interview that the team really wanted that win after the way things ended in the playoffs, and he certainly did his part to make sure that happened.
On that bad statistical start; Price went his first four games with a 3.76 GAA, and .874 save percentage. In his last three starts, he's posted a sparkling 1.36 GAA and a .959 save percentage. If there were any cobwebs on the Canadiens' netminder to start the season, it seems that he has shaken them off and is back to his gold medal form.
The Canadiens are now 7-1 for the first time since 1961-62. While it is still very early in the season, it is nonetheless very encouraging to see efforts like this put forth on a nightly basis. Even when they have a rough start to games, they somehow manage to turn it up in the latter frames. If their performance keeps improving early in games, this team will be something special.