Resuming action after a couple of days off, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves playing in another Original Six rivalry, this one against the Boston Bruins just as one-sided in the Habs favour as the last.
Montreal went into the game with a six-game regular season winning streak on the line against their Atlantic Division foe, and early on it became apparent the Bruins were going to attempt to counter the Canadiens' superior offensive skill with their brand of physicality.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the officials were having none of it, sending the Bruins to the penalty box for their first man disadvantage situation just over a minute into the game, when Matt Beleskey got called for an illegal check to the head of Alexei Emelin.
The Canadiens wasted no time, as Alex Galchenyuk poked a David Desharnais faceoff win back to Andrei Markov at the left point, with the puck going across to PK Subban, down the boards to Galchenyuk, back across to a pinching Markov and to the front of the crease for Desharnais, who finally jammed it in on his third hack.
The Bruins were forced to play one man short again about four minutes later, as an aggressive forecheck from Dale Weise drew a high-sticking penalty, but this time the Canadiens were unable to get their neutral zone passes through the sticks of Boston's defenders and failed to gain the offensive blue line.
When the Canadiens did gain the zone, they constantly won puck battles versus the young, Zdeno Chara-less Boston defence and faced little resistance in their cycle game. All four lines caused havoc for the Bruins, with David Desharnais' 50% shot-attempts-for percentage being the lowest of all 18 skaters.
Alexander Semin led the way with his 77% Corsi-for percentage, and played a large role in the night's affairs. He was rewarded for his offensive efforts just minutes after the second period began, as Subban picked off an errant pass in the neutral and let the Habs top line of the early season work their skill, with a nice passing sequence ending with Semin touching it over to Lars Eller for his first goal of the season.
Alex Semin gets his first point as a member of the Habs with this assist on the Lars Eller goal pic.twitter.com/Qg0gWIHOyG— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) October 11, 2015
Another lengthy period of sustained offensive zone pressure after the goal failed to result in a goal for the Canadiens. but a transition the other way ended with the puck getting past Carey Price. The goal was waved off for incidental contact and a challenge from the Bruins bench failed to get that call overturned
Five-and-a-half minutes after their first five-on-five goal, the Galchenyuk line was at it again, this time with Semin picking off an attempting Bruins clear and tapping it to Galchenyuk in the slot, who touched it over for Eller to convert for his second goal of the game. The pass from Galchenyuk was his third assist on the night.
The play along the boards from Semin was a theme throughout the night, whether he was set up on the half-wall in the defensive zone to help the breakout, setup in the neutral zone to help the zone entry (as he was on the second goal), or forcing the opposing defence to make a play through the middle of the ice, which they declined to do and paid for on Eller's second goal. Setting up in a predictable spot helped his teammates to transition up the ice, and that transition should only improve as the Canadiens become more familiar with their off-season acquisition.
Emelin made an undisciplined play of his own soon after the 3-0 goal, opting to head into the offensive zone to lay a late, completely unnecessary hip-check on Patrice Bergeron. Emelin was given an interference penalty on the play.
A few unsuccessful attempts by Desharnais and Jeff Petry to bank the puck off the boards and out of the zone with about six minutes to go in the second resulted in the Bruins getting control of the puck below the Canadiens' goal line, and Beleskey's cross-crease pass bounced in off a sliding Petry to cut the Habs' lead to 3-1.
The fourth line fared much better than Desharnais' trio, with none of Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn, or Devante Smith-Pelly finishing with a Corsi-for percentage below 60%, despite seeing about five defensive zone starts to every one the received in the attacking end.
Early in the third, Flynn was battling for the puck near the penalty boxes, and Ryan Spooner charged across the ice to hit him squarely in the numbers and into the glass. Spooner was assessed a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct for the egregious infraction.
The Canadiens seemed to take the call as a sign that the game was over, as they failed to generate much offence on the lengthy man advantage. A dumb backhand slash from Brad Marchand on Nathan Beaulieu as the Habs' defender was racing out of his own end put the Bruins down two, and Therrien chose to use his timeout to emphasize the importance of the chance to put the game away.
The five-on-three alignment had Pacioretty replacing Eller on Galchenyuk's line, and the five-man unit never got on the same page.
The Bruins gained a boost from surviving the disadvantage, and launched an offensive flurry of their own upon the return to even strength. Their efforts were undone by yet another penalty, their sixth of the contest, as David Krejci cross-checked Weise in front of the Bruins net midway through the third, though the Canadiens failed to convert, with the first goal from Desharnais being the only power play goal the Habs would score.
Tomas Plekanec scored his 500th NHL point with less than a minute to go, and things seemed to be headed toward a relatively uneventful Canadiens win, but Claude Julien decided that the game hadn't had enough physicality.
Zac Rinaldo was sent out after the empty-net goal, and he immediately went after Flynn, with the Canadiens winger ending up being hit into the boards from behind for the second time in the period. Torrey Mitchell went after Rinaldo after the incident, kicking his feet out from behind and using his arm to throw him backwards. That dangerous slewfoot will likely be looked at by the league, and the Canadiens could be without their fourth-line centre for a game or two once the investigation concludes.
Mitchell's penalty was the only minor assessed, and Bruins took advantage, with Patrice Bergeron scoring on a nice pass from David Pastrnak. It was Pastrnak's second assist of the night, and he was the most effective Bruins player on the ice, leading the team with a 50% shot-attempts-for percentage and tying Pacioretty for the game high shot total with five. He nearly scored in the first period, as well, not falling for a Subban turn-back, stripping the puck and would have scored if not for the patience of Carey Price, placing the his pad between the puck and net and denying Pastrnak an angle to shoot.
Bergeron's power play goal was the last to enter either net, with the Canadiens winning by a final score of 4-2.
The Canadiens have a quick turnaround, and will look to improve to 3-0 on the season tonight when the visit the Ottawa Senators.