By all accounts, last night's game was as good as it gets.
Not only did the organization do a wonderful job honouring Jean Béliveau, but they players followed through with perhaps the best effort of the season.
No one does it better than the Canadiens, and that's not just tired rhetoric. See for yourself how the Habs honoured Le Gros Bill, and how strong Mrs.Béliveau, a veritable angel, was during the ceremony.
Everyone fought off tears as Mrs.Béliveau saluted the crowd. She thanked the fans, when in reality we should all be thanking her for sharing her husband with us during all these years. Behind every great man there's a great woman, and Élise Béliveau showed us that class is a common theme in the Béliveau clan.
An emotional start to the game led to an early scoring chance by the Canucks. Thankfully, Carey Price was up to his old tricks and managed to produce a fantastic save. The save sparked the Canadiens, as they would go on to dominate the majority of the game.
All eyes were on the new forward lines, and thankfully for everyone concerned, the results were absolutely fantastic.
Let's start with the first line. Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk finished with 95%, 94% and 90% even strength Corsi for %, respectively. It was only one game, but it was a hell of a game.
The most evident advantage to the newly formed line is the options that opened up on the ice. Instead of only covering Max Pacioretty, defenders were forced to spread their coverage around, which gave way to plenty of high quality scoring chances.
The new line immediately paid dividends, as Brendan Gallagher shed his coverage and beat Ryan Miller on his glove side early in the second period.
That's all well and good for Pacioretty, but what about his former linemate David Desharnais?
Have no fear Habs fans, he looked very good out there. One of the best parts about being paired with the speedy Michael Bournival is that Desharnais doesn't have time to overthink his plays. It also forces Desharnais to use his shot a little more, something he's generally reluctant to do. In the end, the trio didn't perform as well as their first line counterparts, however they did manage some very encouraging shifts. If they keep playing like they did last night, they're bound to start producing.
The one major error of the night came during the powerplay. There was a mixup between a very tired P.K. Subban, and a very fresh David Desharnais. Desharnais attempted to cover for Subban, as he should in that situation, but unfortunately the Canucks still managed to score. But we won't dwell on the shorthanded goal by the Canucks, as it was perhaps the only negative aspect of the game.
Thanks to Derek Dorsett's goal, the teams went to the locker room tied, although it was clear that on this night the Canadiens were the better team.
The Habs continued to turn puck possession into scoring chances, and their efforts were rewarded. With less than five minutes left to go, Sven Andrighetto completed a perfect pass to a streaking Tomas Plekanec. The turtleneck assassin made no mistake, and put the Canadiens ahead for good with a brilliant finishing touch.
What did we learn last night?
- Nathan Beaulieu's position in the defensive lineup should be permanent. There's no doubt in my mind that he has absolutely nothing left to learn in the AHL, and it's quite evident that his puck-moving skills are up to par, and even better than many other NHL defenders. Hopefully the Canadiens give him the green light to buy a condo soon, because he constantly contributes to the team on both sides of the ice, as was evidenced by how calmly he saved a goal in the third period. Also worth noting, Tom Gilbert has struggled away from Beaulieu.
@ArponBasu Gilbert goes from 46% Corsi to almost 53% with Beaulieu. Some deployment differences I bet, but not bad.— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) December 10, 2014
-We learned that despite contrived criticism from the usual suspects, P.K. Subban is without a doubt an elite defender, and is playing like it. Subban was on the ice for three even strength shot attempts against, all game.
-We can probably stop using quotation marks when mentioning the "first line". Welcome to your Galchenyuk years.
-Desharnais is not necessarily dependent on Pacioretty, and when he's playing well the team generally plays well. His demotion was necessary, but it could end up being the perfect motivation, and help him silence his critics.
-The fourth line is so much better when Brandon Prust is involved.
-We learned that Sven Andrighetto's skill level is NHL caliber, and even though he was given the tough task of riding shotgun alongside Tomas Plekanec and Jiri Sekac in their hellish defensive duties, Andrighetto's held strong.
But finally, and most importantly, we learned that Jean Béliveau wasn't only an icon for Canadiens fans, but for the entire hockey world. We're lucky to be a small part of this amazing organization, and tonight served as a reminder why. The Canadiens made a statement by intentionally ending their 388 game sellout streak.
Canadiens announce attendance - 21,286. One empty. With a No. 4 sweater draped on it.— Michael Farber (@MichaelFarber3) December 10, 2014
When it comes down to it, it was a perfect night with a perfect ending, topped off by Tomas Plekanec ensuring the game puck went to the right person.
This one was for Le Gros Bill.
(gifs via @myregularface)