1. The Canadiens started off slow
Before so much as two minutes had elapsed, the Habs gave up a solid six shot attempts, including Jamie Benn’s clear breakaway and Curtis Mackenzie’s uncontested tap-in of his own rebound.
McKenzie opens the scoring for the Stars. pic.twitter.com/UkgsyLaQ3j— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) March 28, 2017
The sloppy play continued even after the first goal, turning Montreal’s first five minutes of the game into a circus of failed zone exits, impotent zone entry attempts, and a general lack of positional awareness.
Before the Stars could do too much damage, however, the Canadiens woke up, and when they did, they took over the game for much of the rest of the way. Whether it was Alexei Emelin’s big hit on Benn in the corner, Claude Julien’s words of wisdom during the first commercial break, or something else entirely that sparked them, the complexion of the game changed suddenly before the halfway mark of the first frame.
2. Carey Price was rock solid in his surprise start
When Al Montoya suffered a lower-body injury, the Canadiens star goaltender was thrust into the crease on short notice. If he was knocked off his schedule, though, he sure didn’t play like it.
Price turned aside 27 of 28 Dallas shots in effortless fashion, benefiting from the clean crease maintained on his behalf.
3. Something needs to change on the fourth line
The good news is, Dwight King, Torrey Mitchell, and Steve Ott each kept in the black on possession in about 10 minutes of 5v5 ice each. In fact, only two Canadiens - Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen - did not, in what was a dominant outing for Montreal overall.
The bad news is, the trio showed not even a hint of threatening the Stars in their own zone, despite facing mostly the dregs of a roster that could be charitably described as “not deep.” The Habs are talented enough to succeed through the rest of their regular season schedule regardless of how they configure their lineup, but this isn’t going to fly come playoff time. The Canadiens have six games left to come up with an alternate solution for a useful fourth line.
4. Benn vs. Benn
As is to be expected around a relatively meaningless game at the end of the regular season, much attention was paid before the game to Jordie Benn’s first game against his younger brother, Stars Captain Jamie. The two brothers played a mostly insignificant 1:40 head to head, but while Jamie spent his evening dealing with a steady dose of Shea Weber, Jordie had an effective day at the office against the Stars’ depth forwards.
After factoring in his slick rush (at least by the standards of a bottom pairing defenceman), his zero game-opening breakaways missed, zero bone-crushing hits taken from Emelin, and his 66% Corsi when on against his brother, I hereby declare Jordie the victor of Benn vs. Benn, round one.
5. Jordie’s replacement had a rough night
While all the focus was on the defender they acquired at the trade deadline, former Hab Greg Pateryn logged almost 19 minutes at 5v5 and another minute or so on the penalty kill for Dallas. While he didn’t make any glaring errors, at least on first viewing, and managed to avoid any goals against while he was on the ice, Pateryn’s numbers were pretty ugly.
At +10/-21 on 5v5 shot attempts, only three of his Stars teammates came out worse on possession.
6. Pacioretty busts his slump
It’s going to be tough to get to 40, but after six games without a goal, the captain finally broke through to open the scoring on Tuesday night. The backhander may not be his usual weapon of choice, but his 34th of the year was a welcome sight nonetheless.
Pacioretty's 34th goal of the year. Radulov jumping in his arms might be the best part. pic.twitter.com/GIH93LvqIF— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) March 29, 2017
He can’t do it on his own, of course, but it’s safe to say that as Patches goes come the playoffs, so goes the Montreal offence. Given his track record, there’s no reason to suspect he won’t come through.
7. Radulov gets on the scoresheet, too
Alexander Radulov was a dominant force alongside linemates Pacioretty and Phillip Danault, and with the game winding down, he got his reward.
#47 looked a little like #41, burning through the neutral zone before leveraging Pacioretty’s presence as a cross-crease decoy into enough space to put home a backhander with the same enthusiasm he applies to just about everything he does on the ice.
Radulov seals the deal as he turns on the jets. pic.twitter.com/LVC39ZSshX— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) March 29, 2017
The point was just his third since his four-point effort against the Devils 10 games ago, but it’s not for lack of trying. Radulov is just one point back of 50 in his first season wearing the CH, and I can’t wait to see what he can do come the postseason.
8. The Gallagher we saw is the Gallagher the Habs need
Speaking of trying, few players seem to exert themselves the way Brendan Gallagher does shift after shift, and he too was rewarded for his efforts. The winger was all over the ice last night, most noticeably during one particularly productive second period shift when he generated three scoring chances on Kari Lehtonen in a span of seconds. Ultimately, it was his pull-up jumper, taken from just above the face-off dot in the opening minutes of the third period, that stood as the game-winning tally.
Gallagher's 9th of the year gives the Habs a 2-1 lead pic.twitter.com/SRmmXwzcHz— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) March 29, 2017
With Danault, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrew Shaw lined up down the middle in the Montreal top-nine, the Canadiens are counting on their wingers to do the scoring. As he showed tonight, Gallagher is a critical part of that equation.
9. The General ties Guy Lapointe
By swallowing up John Klingberg’s lazy clearing pass, entering the Dallas zone, and quickly dishing to Lehkonen (who unleashed a wicked knucklepuck), Andrei Markov earned his 30th assist of the 2016-17 season. He also passed a more significant milestone: Markov is now tied for second all-time with the legendary Guy Lapointe for scoring by a defenceman in Canadiens’ franchise history.
Markov is behind only Zdeno Chara in career scoring among active defenders, and finds himself 42nd on the NHL’s all-time scoring list among defencemen.
The veteran Russian received a standing ovation from the Bell Centre faithful after his assist, only for it to be cut off as play continued. Of course, given how Markov has toiled in relative anonymity throughout his career (in large part due to the state of the organization around him), perhaps it’s only fitting that his reception was brief.
10. Who’s it going to be?
With 95 points in the standings, the Canadiens’ playoff spot is all but assured, and with Ottawa’s shootout loss last night, the Habs stretched their lead to four points over their closest divisional competitor.
Anything can happen, especially in a time frame as short as seven games, but it’s looking more and more like the Sens are going to run out of steam as they chase the Tricolore and the Atlantic division title.
With no team realistically able to unseat the Rangers from their perch in the first wildcard position, the odds are on Habs and Blueshirts in the first round of the playoffs.