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Eyes on the Price: Sending a message after defensive breakdowns

Carey Price and his new teammates crush the Rangers, but more change may be on the way

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game One Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

This time, the Canadiens’ victory in New York didn’t require any overtime heroics from Carey Price.

Fresh off their emotional 2-1 home victory over P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators on March 2, the Habs returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday March 4, and thrashed the Rangers 4-1. Trade deadline acquisitions Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, and Steve Ott all provided the physical presence that Marc Bergevin had hoped for, as his tweaked roster sent a message to their potential first round playoff opponents.

Shea Weber opened the scoring midway through the first period and, playing without the injured Alexander Radulov, the Habs’ shuffled lines picked up goals from Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw in the second. Entering the third period, Carey Price found himself in unfamiliar territory, with the Habs leading 3-0.

Max Pacioretty nearly broke the game wide open in the opening 90 seconds of the final period, but Henrik Lundqvist simply refused to let the Rangers go down that easily.

Chris Kreider (20) gave the Rangers hope on the ensuing rush, after Mats Zuccarello (36) and Derek Stepan (21) were able to turn the puck over from Nathan Beaulieu behind the net. Price makes an excellent first save, but Kreider was able to outmuscle Jordie Benn in front of the crease for his own rebound.

With the Habs leading 3-1 just over 5 minutes into the 3rd period, Oscar Lindberg (24) found himself alone in front of Carey Price with a chance to change the complexion of the game. As has been the case since the bye week, Price was not in a giving mood.

This is another excellent example of Price at his confident best.

The play actually develops as a counterattack by the Rangers. Alex Galchenyuk attempts a jam from behind the net on Henrik Lundqvist’s stick side, after causing a turnover by Eric Staal (18) behind the net. Lundqvist blocks the play, and Matt Puempel (12) collects the puck.

He quickly chips it to Brandon Pirri (73) in front of a retreating, twisting Alexei Emelin. Pirri weaves the puck through the neutral zone toward the Habs’ center blue line.

Emelin gets himself facing Pirri, with Lindberg trailing the play and Jeff Petry providing deep defensive support. At this point, it’s a 1-on-2 attack with a trailer, and it doesn’t appear to be a dangerous rush.

When Pirri carries the puck across the neutral zone to his left, Emelin has 2 choices. He can attack Pirri aggressively, leaving Petry to support his challenge and account for the trailer, or he can leave Pirri for Petry, and Emelin can account for the trailer himself.

Unfortunately, Emelin is indecisive. As Pirri moves to his left across the blue line, Emelin angles his body and skates toward Lindberg’s trail path, using his stick to widen his coverage. Emelin may actually make a slight move toward his left at this point as well.

Petry reads this as an indication that Emelin is going to cover the trailer, and moves into position to challenge the puck carrier.

Just as Petry commits to his challenge, though, Emelin changes his course and also challenges Pirri. This leaves Lindberg completely uncovered as he drives to the net on the offensive right.

To make matters worse, Emelin then turns away from the play, moving his stick out of the passing lane. Pirri is quick to take advantage, and makes a simple cross-ice pass to Lindberg.

Previously, we discussed how passive coverage mistakes in front of Price were putting him at a disadvantage. This is different, though, as the mistake by Emelin occurs high in the Canadiens’ zone. Price clearly reads the defensive miscue and establishes an aggressive position. By the time Lindberg receives the puck, Price is square and ready, at the top of the crease.

To Lindberg’s credit, he gets off a nifty inside out wrist shot from the toe of his stick, and slings it at the top left corner.

For the second weekend in a row, a puck heading for the top corner deflects off the handle of Price’s goal stick.

Again, this is no accident. It may be a matter of chance that the puck hits Price’s narrow stick handle, but it isn't luck that the stick handle is there, any more than it’s luck that Price reads Emelin’s defensive mistake and is in position to make the save in the first place.

Marc Bergevin’s trade deadline moves sent a clear message to the Habs’ skill players, as well as the Eastern Conference, that the General Manager intends for his team to be much more difficult to play against come playoff time. His acquisitions on defense, though, may well have a more profound effect on the Habs’ lineup.

Word from Monday’s practice in Vancouver, where the Canadiens practiced in preparation for their week-long Western swing that begins tonight against the Canucks, suggests that newcomer Brandon Davidson, acquired from Edmonton for David Desharnais, will get a look with Jeff Petry on the second defensive pairing. Trade deadline revelation Jordie Benn remains on the 3rd pair along with Nathan Beaulieu. It appears that Emelin, for now, faces a significant reduction in his ice time.

With this move, it appears that Claude Julien is sending a message of his own.

Everyone who wears the bleu, blanc et rouge knows that Carey Price makes his own luck. Wisely, though, it appears that their new coach would rather not leave anything up to chance.