Canadiens vs Lightning 10 takeaways: Making a statement

It wasn’t always pretty, but it counts just the same

1. A statement game

There were a lot of reasons to think that the Montreal Canadiens would lose this game. Tampa Bay was waiting in Montreal while the Habs played in Brooklyn. It was Montreal’s third game in four nights. Quite frankly, Montreal was due to lose one, and Tampa Bay is a pretty good team. Tampa Bay scored first.

None of that mattered.

A lot of people - both Habs fans and media - aren’t buying into the Habs start because of what happened a year ago. But this win showed a lot. In the third period, down a goal, tired... No one would have blamed them if they let up. They didn’t just let up. They won the game in regulation. Against a really good team.

While beating the Lightning in the regular season doesn’t mean success (see last year), this was a win they can hang their hat on. Let’s get to some of those reasons.

2. Carey Price

The last time I did one of these, I had Carey Price down a lot lower even though he was making his season debut and even though he won.

I said eventually he’d be higher up. Well, here he is.

Let’s face it, the Canadiens (and every team) are going to have games they don’t deserve to win. The only thing is that other teams don’t have a goaltender like Price to keep them in games they have no business being in.

When the Habs don’t play well, and you have Price, it’s like having a second chance.

The shots in the third period were 14-9. The shot attempts were 27-12. Both in favour of Tampa Bay. The goals were 3-0 Montreal. That pretty much sums up how the game went.

At what point to we stop saying Small Sample Size and start admitting he has super powers?

3. Max Pacioretty

Our Editor, Marc Dumont, is a pretty smart guy. He was on TSN 690’s morning show Thursday morning saying how Max Pacioretty just needs to find space on the ice and fire his shot.

Did you see his winning goal? Yeah, exactly.

That’s what Pacioretty does. It was a great play by Andrew Shaw (more on him later) and Greg Pateryn, but that’s how Pacioretty scores his goals and why he doesn’t look great when he isn’t scoring.

If he gets hot, watch out.

4. Nathan Beaulieu sticking up for Price

There was a lot to like about Nathan Beaulieu’s game. Going after Cedric Paquette after a little tap on Price was great. The wink to Price was even better.

A lot was said about team toughness and being hard to play against. This by Beaulieu is what that means. You show one guy you stand up for your goalie, and soon enough they’ll stop. Nevermind what Shea Weber will do to you if you go too close.

Beaulieu didn’t give the opposition a power play and he didn’t do anything dirty. He, like the rest of the team, just sent a message.

5. I like the top nine structure - and Michel Therrien

I know this may be a controversial opinion, but I don’t mind Paul Byron with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. I don’t mind Max Pacioretty with David Desharnais and Andrew Shaw.

The fact is, even before the changes, the Canadiens played their top three lines about the same amount. After the changes, they are almost identical. Tomas Plekanec had 23 shifts, David Desharnais had 20 and Alex Galchenyuk had 19.

By the end of the game, Alex Radulov and Paul Byron switched places but I’m not sure if that was more to get Plekanec a more defensive minded winger.

The fact is, when you have three lines with Galchenyuk, Radulov and Pacioretty split up, that makes life very difficult for opposing teams. Remember the Pittsburgh Penguins won a Stanley Cup with third liner Phil Kessel.

It needs to be said that after Therrien’s changes, Byron, Galchenyuk, and Pacioretty all scored. But I’m sure that’s only a coincidence.

Therrien has made a habit of winning out of the gate. It’s not just the last two years. It’s not just the 8-2-1 October in 2014-15. Since becoming the Habs coach for the second time before the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, Therrien has led the team to a 43-13-3 record over the first month of the season. (For 2012-2013 I took games a month from the first game of the season since it started in mid-January).

Say what you want about Therrien but his teams come out of the gate strong.

6. Andrew Shaw is getting better

After a slow start, Shaw played what I feel are his best two games of the season the last two games. Against Tampa Bay, he took the Brandon Prust role of making Ben Bishop’s life miserable.

He has been getting scoring chances, he has been forechecking hard, and has made himself noticeable despite not always getting on the scoresheet. It’s an encouraging stretch for Shaw after a slow start.

His forecheck and screen on Pacioretty’s game-winning goal should not be overlooked.

Maybe he just feels comfortable playing alongside the team captain...

7. Artturi Lehkonen is being trusted. A lot.

Quick: Name the forward with the most ice time at even strength. Now, the headline is a giveaway, but it wasn’t Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais. It was rookie Artturi Lehkonen.

In fact, even when you consider all situations, only Plekanec had more ice time than the Finn. His scoring chances have dried up a bit as he’s hit a bit of a rough patch, but at the same time, he’s being used in a defensive role. He’s getting the hardest matchups, especially at home when Therrien has last change.

Therrien is a coach that likes duos. Galchenyuk and Gallagher. Desharnais and Shaw (or Pacioretty, I guess). I think that Plekanec-Lehkonen is one as well. And that bodes very well for the rookie going forward (though maybe not his scoring numbers). He wasn’t on the ice for one offensive zone faceoff at even strength.

8. The powerplay isn’t just scoring... It’s scoring when it needs to

The last two games, the Canadiens had powerplay goals. They weren’t just any powerplay goals, either. They were to win the game vs New York and tie the game vs Tampa Bay.

Being able to cash in on your opportunities when you need to is huge, and right now at least, it doesn’t matter which wave is on the ice. Andrei Markov can still make the cross-ice pass better than anyone, and he did that on Galchenyuk’s goal. And Markov isn’t even on the first wave.

Between Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, Gallagher, Shea Weber, and Radulov there is no shortage of offensive weapons on the team. And we need to start adding Jeff Petry to that list as well.

9. I really like the fourth line

Now, add me to the list of people that would rather see Daniel Carr (or Sven Andrighetto) on the ice instead of Brian Flynn, but the Habs fourth line has been pretty good lately. Therrien trusts them. Even with last change, they were not on the ice for one offensive zone faceoff, which shows how Therrien likes to use them.

And for all the plaudits that Torrey Mitchell is getting, I really like Phillip Danault. Considering he was acquired (with a second-round pick!) for two expiring contracts that were not going to be re-signed, it makes it even better.

He’s a great fourth line player, who could probably develop into a solid top-nine player. Which means it’s only a matter of time before he gets top line minutes, right? Right?

10. It wasn’t pretty but after last year, who cares

Just win. When Pacioretty scored, I got giddy. I started literally just looking at my wife and laughing. After last year, I think we all deserve some fun and winning is fun, even if the first 40 minutes weren’t so much yesterday.

After two or three games they deserved to win, I’ll take a subpar effort against a division rival on the second half of back-to-back games that ends with two points.

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