Montreal 2 Atlanta 1 SO (Bell Centre)
It's been almost seven months since the last Bell Centre victory, and for some fans, it didn't come a minute too soon. Was there joy amongst the Canadiens faithful? Sure. But primarily, there was a feeling of relief.
No one person, player or fan, wanted to spend the next few days lamenting the worst Canadiens start to a season in 68 years. The Habs avoided that unpleasant task with a 2-1 shootout win over Atlanta.
It was a game that the Canadiens dominated for the first two periods. The first line of Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, and Scott Gomez provided the spark. It was Gomez's best game as a Canadien, heroically putting away the shootout winner. Gionta had another strong effort with a goal in regulation time and in the shootout. Gionta and Cammalleri each had seven shots on goal.
It was a relatively easy night for Jaroslav Halak, facing only 13 shots over the first two periods. He made a couple of big saves on Rich Peverley and Ilya Kovalchuk during the game. In the shootout, Halak looked cool and was helped by the mistakes of the Atlanta shooters. “[Kovalchuk] just missed his shot,” Halak said. “And the second one [by Peverley] was shot right into my pads.”
It was the best defensive game of the year for the Canadiens. Besides limiting the Thrashers opportunities, they also blocked 26 shots.
Penalty killing was also strong, especially while facing the NHL's top power play. The Habs killed off all five Atlanta chances—allowing only three shots.
Coming into the game, Jacques Martin was looking for consistency and sustained pressure. Getting a 60-minute effort from his team added a small grin afterwards. “It was a game where we dominated, but didn’t show up on the scoreboard,” said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin. “We kept coming, we didn’t panic, we showed some poise and in the end, we won it in the shootout.”
Despite the win, the lack of production (both at even strength and on the power play) should be a concern for the Canadiens. The power play units continued to struggle, going 0-for-5, including a 2:35 span in overtime. Since losing Andrei Markov to injury, the Habs are a woeful 2-for-27 with the man advantage.
On the four-on-three advantage in overtime, Cammalleri manned the point and was effective. Perhaps it is something that Coach Martin can try for the next game to improve his power play.
The player, brought in specifically for his power play abilities, struggled in his first game with the Canadiens. According to some, Marc-Andre Bergeron was one of the worst players on the ice. Bergeron is a smooth skater, but his puck movement lacked precision and urgency. He was far too casual with the puck.
But it was in his own zone where Bergeron really struggled. Bergeron took a penalty when beat on his first shift and it was all downhill from there.
If not simply for his poor play, Bergeron should have been on the bench after being on the short end of a huge hit by Colby Armstrong. The incident was the only time in the game when Max Lapierre made an appearance. Lapierre came to the aid of Bergeron despite it being a clean hit by Armstrong.
The third line, particularly Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse, seemed lost. They weren't competing for loose pucks and committed far too many turnovers. The third line was pinned in their own end for the first three shifts.
Latendresse found himself on the fourth line for most of the third period with Kyle Chipchura and Matt D'Agostini. Georges Laraque played only three minutes in the game.
There were a number of positives to take from this game moving forward. The Canadiens did not have a bad period like they did in the first seven games. Also, they didn't fold after the Thrashers tied the game in the third period.
Persistence from the players, particularly from the first line, was key—especially when facing Ondrej Pavelec. The young goaltender had an outstanding game and made several sensational saves.
The Canadiens now prepare to face the New York teams as the Islanders and the Rangers are the opponents for the next three home games.
Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri
Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Pacioretty
Lapierre, Latendresse, D'Agostini
Chipchura, Laraque, Moen
Jaroslav Halak starts in goal for the Canadiens; Ondrej Pavelec starts for the Thrashers.
Scratches: Stewart, Markov (ankle), Metropolit (ribs), O'Byrne (knee)
Rocket's Three Stars
1. Brian Gionta
2. Ondrej Pavelec
3. Mike Cammalleri
Montreal 2 Atlanta 1 SO (Bell Centre)