The Montreal Canadiens struggled against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, and desperately needed to get scoring from players not named Max Pacioretty. Carey Price sat the game out with a minor upper body injury, giving Dustin Tokarski consecutive starts for the first time this season.
For once the Habs actually got off to a fast start, with an early powerplay goal from P.K. Subban after Ryan Strome was dinged for a phantom tripping call early on. Despite the Isles owning a slight shot advantage through the opening frame, it was apparent that the Habs came ready to play. No one had a better opening twenty minutes than Nathan Beaulieu, who made his presence felt at both ends of the ice, and put forth his best period as a member of the Canadiens.
The second frame would be more of the same for the Canadiens with Dale Weise proving once again that his speed can be an asset in short bursts with a tip-in goal 10 seconds into the period. Tomas Plekanec notched his second assist of the night, while Pacioretty kept his point streak going with a secondary assist. Fresh off a four goal night, Kyle Okposo kept his streak going when he beat Tokarski midway through the second period. Not to be outdone Plekanec would grab his third point of the night when he blasted a slapshot past Jaroslav Halak on the powerplay, with Andrei Markov and Pacioretty grabbing the assists. Despite a late Nikolay Kulemin goal, it didn't feel at all like the Canadiens were in trouble of losing their lead.
Keeping with the trend of fast starts this game, Alex Galchenyuk snapped his eleventh goal of the year past Halak less than a minute into the third. The offense kept on chugging as David Desharnais picked off a Brock Nelson pass, streaked into the Islanders zone, and blasted a slapshot by Halak to increase the Canadiens lead to three. The onslaught continued when Markov hit Plekanec with a gorgeous breakout pass that sprung he and Pacioretty in on a 2-on-1 break, Brian Strait tried his best to cut off Pacioretty, allowing Plekanec an easy goal that ended Halak's night at the Bell Centre.
With the game seemingly in hand the Habs sat back on their four goal lead, but would surrender a goal to the rookie Anders Lee and a powerplay goal to John Tavares. However, with Chad Johnson on the bench Brandon Prust broke in on the empty net only to be taken down by Frans Nielsen. Originally it was believed that the officials would award a goal to Prust, but they awarded the Habs a powerplay due to Prust not having total control of the puck. With the man advantage, they rode out the final minute to a huge 6-4 win.
The game was not without it's scary moments, specifically when Cal Clutterbuck laid a borderline dirty hit on an unsuspecting Michael Bournival. The young forward laid motionless on the ice for a few seconds before getting up and making his way to the bench. Bournival played a regular shift for the remainder of the game, so it appears that he escaped without any serious injury.
Eller and Beaulieu dominate
It's been said on this site too many times to count that Lars Eller is a puck possession monster, and his line proved that yet again tonight. Playing alongside Jiri Sekac and Christian Thomas, they managed to produce some of the best possession stats on the team. Thomas checked in with a 72% Corsi, Sekac with 66%, and Eller with 63% at even strength, and it showed with the line hemming the Isles in on several occasions.
Nathan Beaulieu has become easily the Canadiens' third best defensemen, and last night showed us all why. Right from the outset the young defensemen was noticeable in all areas of the ice, whether it was generating scoring chances, or blasting Micheal Grabner along the boards. Beaulieu was third on the team in ice time, behind only Subban and Markov, showing he's likely earned Michel Therrien's trust and when you rock a 60% Corsi against a top team, and save a goal, it's easy to see why.
Now for the bad news
Plekanec, Pacioretty, and Weise were an offensive juggernaut against the Isles, with the trio generating seven points on the night. From a possession stand point though, they got absolutely hammered with Weise at a team low 21% Corsi, being out-possessed 7-27, while Pacioretty was at 29%, and Plekanec 33%. It's apparent that while Weise can ride along on the line and chip in the odd goal, that he isn't cut out for tough minutes and drags Plekanec and Pacioretty down with him, which is pretty tough to do to a line with Pacioretty on it.
The positives from this game far outweigh any negatives, especially when the offense hangs six goals on one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders.