If the Habs were tired after the four-game road trip they certainly showed no signs of it. They played their last game of the road trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night and were looking to return to Montreal with a perfect record to start the season. Pittsburgh was looking to simply win their first game of the season, and they will have to wait at least one more game as Montreal won the game 3-2.
Image Credit: HockeyStats.ca
If the home crowd was expecting the Penguins to come out firing for their home opener, it was in fact quite the opposite, as the Canadiens held Pittsburgh to only four shots on net in the first period. The Habs dominated puck possession, and this eventually led to Max Pacioretty opening the scoring once again, after some fantastic work by Brendan Gallagher to set him up.
The second period was more to the liking of the home crowd, as the Penguins dominated from the opening faceoff, and managed to tie the game five minutes in. The goal came on a great shot by a streaking Beau Bennett; one that Carey Price probably stops on most chances, but not this particular one. However, an ill-timed bench minor stunted the Penguins' momentum, and the struggling Montreal power play would capitalize thanks to an absolute laser of a wrist-shot by Pacioretty for his second of the game.
The powerplay ended up going 1-for-2, which is a lot more respectable than previous games. It's interesting to note that on the powerplay goal, Michel Therrien replaced Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban with Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu, and they would both pick up assists on Pacioretty's goal.
Alas, less than two minutes later, the Penguins would once again draw the game even. The puck found its way to Kris Letang at the Montreal blue line, and he let loose a knuckler that would find it's way through Price after deflecting off the stick of Dale Weise. The Canadiens netminder was his usual sharp self, and the Penguins were in need of such a fluke goal or two to stay in the game.
The third period was pretty even in terms of shots, but it was the Penguins who had the better scoring chances, only to be thwarted in spectacular fashion by Price, notably a complete robbery of Sidney Crosby late in the game. Price finished the game with 31 saves, the best of which was likely that pad save on Crosby.
Tomas Fleischmann scored the game-winner on a bizarre play, where the Pittsburgh defence simply stopped skating. This allowed a streaking David Desharnais to reach the puck in the corner, and pass it to a wide-open Fleschmann, who beat Fleury short-side. Desharnais played a very good game, backchecking aggressively and saving a sure goal at one point, although he only won 29% of his faceoffs.
- One player who drew a lot of positive attention for a change was Alexei Emelin, who played his strongest game of the year, distributing seven solid bodychecks and imposing himself physically. What's more is his extremely impressive stat line. The Canadiens commanded 62.5% of even strength shot attempts while Emelin was on the ice, and he achieved this with exactly zero offensive zone starts. It was, by all accounts, a fantastic game for the Habs rearguard.
- Though they couldn't find the scoresheet, the Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk, and Alex Semin line were once again great. They looked dangerous, and were Montreal's top line in terms of commanding even strength shot attempts over the opposition. When that line has the puck in the offensive zone, they look unstoppable at times, and you have to think they'll continue to get better the more time they get to spend playing together.
- That favourable deployment was at the expense of Pacioretty, Plekanec and Gallagher, though they didn't let it hurt them at all. Despite tough deployment, and having to play a lot of time against Sidney Crosby's line, the trio were all over 50% even strength CF. When you also consider Max Pacioretty's two goal night, it is very apparent that this line can handle tough assignments and still produce offensively, which will be huge moving forward.
- A lot has been said about Carey Price over the last year or so, and a lot more is likely to be said this season. He was spectacular once again, and so far through three starts he doesn't appear to be showing much, if any regression from last year's other-worldly performance. It sounds weird, because he was already an excellent puck handler, but the way he's been distributing the puck makes it seem almost as if he's actually gotten better at it. That must be a very scary thought for opponents; Carey Price getting better.
The Montreal Canadiens have started the regular season with four consecutive wins only three other times in their history: 1955-1956, 1970-1971, and 1977-1978, each time leading to a Stanley Cup conquest. It would be pretty unfair to draw comparisons to any of those three legendary squads, but it also can't hurt to dream.