To say the atmosphere was tense at the Bell Centre on Saturday would be understating it by several levels. A pair of badly struggling Original Six teams looked to right the course of their seasons, but it was the Montreal Canadiens who came out with more jump.
The first 20 minutes were so lopsided that the outcome would almost have been the same if the Rangers hadn’t even taken the ice at all.
The Canadiens took an early lead when they finally utilized the slot to generate a high-danger scoring chance. Jonathan Drouin snagged a loose puck in the corner and drew the Rangers’ defence towards him. With the defenders occupied, Paul Byron slid into the slot, took the Drouin pass and had all day to fire the puck past Ondrej Pavelec for the opening goal.
Much like they did against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the Habs’ offence took their opening goal and sprinted away from the Rangers on the scoreboard. With Mats Zuccarello sitting for a slashing penalty, the Canadiens’ power play took advantage to double their lead.
Brendan Gallagher did the dirty work down low behind the net, then found a heating-up Alex Galchenyuk. The American made no mistake from in close, and buried his third goal of the year, putting an anemic Rangers team deeper in the hole.
For good measure Phillip Danault piled on another goal just two minutes later. He and Andrew Shaw broke in on an odd man rush, Shaw shot low off of Pavelec’s pads, and the netminder kicked the puck directly out to Danault. Crashing the net paid off as Danault had only to sweep the puck in and notch the Canadiens’ third goal of the period.
When the dust settled after the first, Montreal held a dominant 19-2 shot advantage going into the intermission.
While the first period was a treat like Reese’s Pieces or Twix bars for the Canadiens, the second period was a bit more of a mixed bag, filled with a few Almond Joys and a box of raisins.
It took the Rangers just 2:21 into the period to break Carey Price’s shutout bid on the power play. Rick Nash provided a perfect screen and Pavel Buchnevich wired one past Price who had no chance on the play.
Just after the halfway point of the period a defensive miscue between Shea Weber and Victor Mete allowed the Rangers to claw back within a goal. Weber followed the puck behind the net, and left Mete slightly out of position as he scrambled to get to Rick Nash. Nash made no mistake on the play, and bested Price for the second New York goal of the period.
Unlike the Habs of a week or so ago, this side fought right back, despite the Rangers having the momentum of two goals on their side. Max Pacioretty jumped in a goal-mouth scramble to put home the Canadien’s fourth goal of the night.
It was a solid way to stave off a Rangers run of goals, and helped send Montreal to the intermission with their heads still held high, especially with a 33-16 shot advantage.
The third period was nearly one of monumental disaster, as the Canadiens sat back a bit too hard on their two-goal lead. Once again it was an early goal that turned the tide in the Rangers’ favour. Nash took the puck off the faceoff and twisted his way through the Canadiens defence before setting up Mika Zibanejad for one of the easiest goals of his career.
It was a third period to forget for Tomas Plekanec, as his man was the goal-scorer on the play, and he himself had drifted too far out of position to recover in time.
Then it was time for more of the patented Canadiens luck, with yet another puck bouncing off a Montreal player and behind Price. Tomas Plekanec was working down low to try and move Chris Kreider out of the crease, at the same time Brady Skjei let a shot fly on net. Unfortunately for Plekanec it hit him square in the butt, and deflected into the open net, tying the game for a Rangers team that 20 minutes prior had been on its last legs.
But the Canadiens did not fold despite the tide of momentum facing them in the third period. Danault struck pay dirt with his second goal of the night, and fourth point overall to give his team the lead.
Max Pacioretty got in deep on a forecheck, forcing a Ranger turnover to Andrew Shaw, Shaw then picked up Brandon Davidson who rocketed a shot in on Pavelec. Then Pavelec does what he does best; he kicked out a juicy rebound right to Danault who made sure he paid for the turnover, and put the Habs back on top 5-4.
The win would not come easily however, even with a spirited power play and chances galore, a Shaw penalty wiped out their man advantage. Torrey Mitchell made the best of his lineup spot, creating several chances while short-handed that Pavelec turned away with great effort.
New York threatened heavily late with Pavelec on the bench, bolstered by several Habs icing calls in a row. The Blueshirts’ own miscue would be the end of the game though, as a puck got out of the zone, and Kevin Shattenkirk missing a long stretch pass that led to an icing call against. With the faceoff back in their zone, the Rangers had no chance of getting the puck down the ice, and were handed a 5-4 loss.
- The offence is slowly finding its feet after an atrocious start to the season. Pavelec is a middling to bad NHL goalie on most nights, and last night the Canadiens were able to jump on him early. With 43 shots and five goals, the team is finally generating at a level that it has always been capable of.
- Major props to Phillip Danault who had the quietest four-point night I’ve ever seen in the NHL. With two goals and two assists he drove the offence, and him getting his game going will take a lot of pressure off Jonathan Drouin to be the only centre producing right now.
- Some bad luck persists with the Habs, and some is self inflicted still as well. Tomas Plekanec trying to clear a guy from the crease and having a puck bounce in off him is bad luck. Trying to cover a player who is already covered and leaving an empty lane for Zibanejad is not. Things will still hopefully balance out going forward, but if the offence keeps clicking, and Price stays solid the Habs can right their wayward ship.