There are a number of narratives that surround this year's iteration of the Montreal Canadiens: bad first period team, great third period team, finding ways to win, great goaltending, and so on. What much of these narratives tend to amount to is that they often win games they don't necessarily deserve to win. Tuesday's game against the Flyers may have fit the aforementioned narratives rather well, but if was far from an undeserved win.
Image credit: HockeyStats.ca
Rough start to the first period? Check. Disaster would strike almost predictably on the Flyers' very first trip into the offensive zone. Wayne Simmonds gained the line and set up Matt Read, who fired a shot over the glove hand of a screened Carey Price, opening the scoring less than a minute in to the game.
They did manage to generate some decent scoring chances of their own at the other end, and Ray Emery had to be sharp early on. Even when killing the only minor penalty of the period, Max Pacioretty was sent in alone by Tomas Plekanec, but shot wide. After the Read goal though, they gradually cooled down, the pace of the game slowed, and they ended the first down a goal, and down nine to seven in the shot count. A typical start to a Canadiens game if you'd ever seen one.
After the first intermission, the Canadiens seemed to realize that they are in fact a better team than the flyers, and decided to take control of the game. They put 17 shots on goal in the frame to no avail. If not for Ray Emery and the Flyers shot blocking, the Habs could have easily scored three or four goals in that period. Alas, they would have to hope for some of that third period magic to get back into the game.
Good third period team? Check. The domination that started in the second continued through the third, and they were finally able to break through Emery late in the frame. Some great work from Alex Galchenyuk led to a scrum in front, and amid the chaos in front of Emery, the puck found it's way to Tomas Plekanec, who made no mistake in tying the score.
They kept their foot on the gas pedal, but couldn't find anything else before the end of the third. Awarded a late third period powerplay, they had plenty of opportunity to finish the game in regulation, but Emery held strong. Usually if one saw the Canadiens involved in a 1-1 overtime game you'd expect Carey Price to be the sole reason for their presence. While he certainly played well, it was Emery at the other end who dragged his team to the extra time on this occasion.
Overtime followed essentially the same script as the second and third periods. The Habs took control of the puck and didn't allow much from there. Eventually, David Desharnais entered the zone and attempted a centering pass, only to have it deflect off Michael Del Zotto and on Emery, who couldn't control it. Desharnais found the rebound himself, and fired it top shelf to bring home a much deserved win for the Canadiens.
A bad first period, a great third period, Carey Price being solid, and they found a way to win it in extra time. So you can check off a lot of the usual narratives that exist around the Canadiens, but while "finding a way to win" usually means some element of luck, in this game it was absolute domination that allowed them to find the win.
A few observations
-Not a single Flyers skater managed a positive even strength shot attempt differential. Not one. Even if you look at the all situations numbers, they're still all under 50% Corsi for. Sure, you'd ideally like to see an effort like that end itself in regulation, but it's hard to find fault when they display dominance on that level.
-Rarely do the Habs register more than 40 shots on goal in a game, something they managed last night. Where they usually lean too heavily on Price, they gave him plenty of run support, but ran into a hot goaltender. If not for Emery, this could have been a five or six goal night for the home team.
-The fourth line of Christian Thomas, Jacob De La Rose and Michael Bournival was a revelation on Tuesday night. In the first period they were the only line on the Canadiens putting up positive possession numbers. They finished the game as the top three forwards for the Habs in even strength shot attempt differential, and they looked very good in the process.
Yeah, it wouldn't be a proper recap without mentioning that guy. Carey Price is Carey Price and last night he did Carey Price things like he usually does. With the win, he passed Bill Durnan for sole possession of fourth in career wins for the Habs. It'll be a stretch, but he's arguably within reach of Jacques Plante's record for single season wins (42) in Montreal. His save percentage is currently higher than that of Jose Theodore's 2001-02 campaign, when the latter won the Hart and Vezina trophies. Price is currently enjoying one of the absolute best goaltender seasons in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, and not enough can be said about it.