Let’s go back to October. If I had told you Carey Price would allow three goals, the Montreal Canadiens would get goals from Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak, Phillip Danault would be the No. 1 centre, and Bobby Farnham, and Ryan Johnston would be in the lineup, would you have thought the Canadiens would have won? What about leading the division by 10 points?
Well they did, and they are, with a 5-3 over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night to end a 4-1-2 road trip.
The Canadiens couldn’t have dreamed of a better start. Twenty seconds into the game, Alexander Radulov knocked down Nazem Kadri, picked up the puck behind the net and found Max Pacioretty who beat Frederik Andersen for the Habs to take a very quick 1-0 lead.
Less than four minutes into the game, it became a 2-0 Habs lead when Artturi Lehkonen scored Montreal’s second goal on three shots. Lehkonen fired a wrist shot between the body and arm of Andersen.
With just over 12 minutes remaining in the first period, Tomas Plekanec took a slashing penalty. On the ensuing power play, Mitch Marner made a nifty back pass to Tyler Bozak who beat Carey Price and the lead was down to 2-1.
The Leafs would tie the game a few minutes later on another power play. Marner took the shot in the slot, and the rebound was loose unti Kadri jumped on the rebound and put it past Price.
With only two seconds remaining in the period, Nikita Scherbak, playing in his first NHL game, took the puck in front of the net from a Jeff Petry shot and used his hands to beat Andersen to score his first NHL goal. It restored the Habs lead at 3-2.
Twenty seconds into the second period, Marner was called for tripping putting the Canadiens back on the power play. Twelve seconds later, Shea Weber jumped deep into the offensive zone to retrieve a puck behind the net and centered it to Radulov to put the Habs up 4-2, only 36 seconds into the frame.
Carey Price made some big saves to keep the game 4-2, and Josh Leivo charged towards the net and got into it with Michael McCarron. Both got roughing penalties and the two teams played 4-on-4. It was a sign of things to come.
The Maple Leafs would continue to get scoring chances, but Price was up to the task at times, other times, the puck wouldn’t get to the net.
After an puck went into the netting, Bobby Farnham ran into Matt Martin after the whistle starting a significant melee in front of Price. McCarron then got into it with Martin, and Farnham and Frederic Gauthier had a fight of their own.
Right before Farnham starting things, Martin had hit Petry high, that could have been interference but no call came of it, and Farnham seemed to want to police things himself. Farnham and Gauthier received game misconducts.
Zach Hyman drove the net and ran into Price, causing Shea Weber and Phillip Danault to literally run over each other to get to Hyman and this time Weber was the one to deliver body blows to Hyman, allowing Price to relax.
Hyman was hit by Emelin right before going into Price, but you still need to try to avoid the goaltender, and Hyman did not come close to doing that.
Late in the second, Marner skated around the zone and fed a perfect pass to James van Riemsdyk to cut the Habs lead to 4-3. Credit where credit is due, it was a pretty play.
About a minute later, a weird play as Kadri fell on top of the puck and was called for delay of game for not playing the puck. Marner ended up with the best chance as he fired a wrist shot from the slot that was saved by Price. The power play was negated when Weber took an extra two minutes for cross checking Hyman at the end of the period.
Early in the third, I had just enough time to say to myself it was strange that the 4th line of Daniel Carr, McCarron and Scherbak would be playing in a one-goal game, and then they scored.
McCarron threw one on net from the goal line and it hit off the inside of Andersen’s left leg and into the net.
Price kept the lead again in the third with a couple of saves on van Riemsdyk.
- I know that Michel Therrien doesn’t have many options, but seeing a power play unit of Artturi Lehkonen, Nikita Scherbak and Phillip Danault was nice to see. In the past I feel like Torrey Mitchell or Tomas Plekanec would have been pushed into that role, but Therrien trusting young players (perhaps out of necessity) is one of the bright spots from this season.
- Carey Price proved again why he was Carey Price. He allowed three goals which is not Price-like, but he was dominant in the third period and made some key saves before and after Marner made it 4-3. I don’t think a goaltender can steal a game where his team scores five goals, but he did his job and Frederik Andersen didn’t do his.
- The Canadiens lead the Atlantic Division by 10 points in January, and have used 30 players - the most of any team in the NHL. They are also fourth in the entire NHL in points percentage. The team is also winning the possession battle more often then not, often looking dominant. At some point, with all the injuries, we all need to give a lot of credit to the coaching staff, especially Michel Therrien.
- Speaking of Therrien, this was his 400th career win. Only 34 coaches have more wins than Therrien in NHL history. His 265 wins with the Canadiens puts him fourth all time, behind only Toe Blake, Dick Irvin and Scotty Bowman. I don’t agree with all of Therrien’s decisions, and yes, he owes some of those wins to the fact there are no ties but he’s done a really good job this season and it’s a great achievement for his coaching career.