After a lackluster effort against the Florida Panthers in the second half of a Florida back-to-back, the Habs managed to yield two points regardless, thanks largely to Dustin Tokarski's imitation of Carey Price. They made their way out of the sunshine state with two of four available points, and straight home for what one would expect to be an easy match against the Carolina Hurricanes, currently locked in a battle with the Leafs for second-to-last in the Eastern Conference.
Image Credit: HockeyStats.ca
If an easy game is what was expected, it certainly seemed to be on tap early in the first. Just over five minutes into the first period, Brandon Prust did some fantastic work battling below the goal line in the Hurricanes' zone, and set up Manny Malhotra in the slot. Malhotra couldn't bury it, but Dale Weise was in the right place at the right time to bang it home and open the scoring.
A mere three minutes after that, Tomas Plekanec broke in on a rush, and none of the Carolina defenders thought to cover Brendan Gallagher. The latter went straight to his favourite spot in the world, right in front of the crease of course, and banged home the rebound for his 20th goal of the season.
The Canadiens out shot their opponents 10-4 , out attempting them 21-14 in the process, in a period that is most aptly described as one of domination. With Carey Price in nets, this is the type of offensive support one would expect to be enough to get two points.
But, as the old saying goes; a two goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. I'd typically promote a revision of that statement; that it is the most dangerous lead in hockey, because being up by two is hard to call "the worst." Score effects naturally allow for a little more offense coming your way, and one goal gets the other team right back into it. The best strategy is avoiding the allowance of that first goal as long as possible, ideally until the final horn.
The key to doing that while you're allowing a number of quality second period chances? Well, it's a goaltender from Anahim Lake, British Columbia by the name of Carey Price. Despite not being busy at all in the first period, Price was phenomenal through the second as his workload increased. He made a number of huge saves that kept Carolina from getting on the board and back into the game.
As if inspired by their goaltender, the Canadiens began to ramp up the pressure at the other end of the ice. As a delayed penalty was signaled against Carolina, David Desharnais hopped on the ice as the extra attacker and went straight to the front of the net in the offensive zone. Tom Gilbert, meanwhile, walked in down the boards and fired a beautiful pass right on the tape, gifting one to Desharnais to increase the dreaded two goal lead to three.
As that puck crossed the line, an interesting thought came to mind. Many have wondered what it is the Canadiens need to do to fix their powerplay, whether that be a change of personnel, system, or both. It seems that at least one very effective fix would be to always score before the referee can actually call the penalty.
The third period was all about getting Carey Price the shutout he absolutely deserved, and they managed to do it. Max Pacioretty would add one more insurance marker, banking one off Anton Khudobin in the third to make for a final score of 4-0 for the good guys.
A few observations
-It is definitely nice to see a final score like this against a team one would expect the Habs to defeat as such. That said, it should be noted that sitting on two goal leads the way that they did last night can be extremely dangerous, especially if it's not a basement dwelling team you're up against. They absolutely dominated the first, but ended up being out attempted somewhat heavily on the night. Much of that can be chalked up to score effects, but if Carey Price wasn't in net they very well could have been in a tie game after two.
-Know who had a really good game? That's right, I'm talking about Dale Weise. In truth, the entire fourth line of he, Manny Malhotra and Brandon Prust (in particular) performed admirably. Special mention for Weise because the denizens of EOTP have been rather critical of him this year, not necessarily because he's bad, but because he has been continually used outside of his limitations. When you see what he can do on the fourth line, as was seen last night, is when you understand that he's a very effective player when used appropriately.
-Carey Price, man. The level this guy is playing at is absolutely unreal. In that second period when score effects kicked in, they kicked in somewhat mercilessly. Carolina had some great chances, but Price made even better saves, which at this point is just par for the course when it comes to him. It's amazing, and as much as people are talking, not enough can be said of it.
-Max Pacioretty became the first Hab since Vincent Damphousse to post back-to-back 35 goal seasons in a Habs uniform. It is important heading into the playoffs to look at the major positives, of which it seems there are two. The Canadiens have their best goaltender since Patrick Roy, and their best goal scorer since Vinny Damphousse. Just saying...