Fresh off their newly minted three-game winning streak and brimming with confidence, you would have expected the Montreal Canadiens to steamroll the last-place Oilers last night at the Bell Centre.
Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to be, as the Oilers kept pace with the Habs all night to keep this wild game close.
Jaroslav Halak looked pretty shaky on most of the four Edmonton goals, but he turned aside all five shootout shooters, and Andrei Kostitsyn was the lone scorer to seal the 5-4 win.
The Habs got regulation goals by Tomas Plekanec (20th), Brian Gionta (21st), Travis Moen (eighth), and Sergei Kostitsyn (3rd). Sergei had two points on the night and played one of his best games of the season.
Edmonton responded with goals from Robert Nilsson (8th), Sam Gagner (15th), Andrew Cogliano (sixth), and Shawn Horcoff (11th), but the story of the game was Halak's weak play in regulation, followed by his stellar shootout performance.
Final score: Habs 5 - Edmonton 4 (SO)
1. Halak runs hot and cold for a rare evening
Jaro Halak has gotten us all used to him playing the role of brick wall and stoning the opposition. It is rare that he lets in a weak goal, so last night, when he let in at least three weak ones, fans were not sure how to react.
A win is a win, however, and Halak stood tall when it counted, helping to pull out a win in a game that should never have gone to a shootout.
As a few wise individuals pointed out in the Twitterverse, during the game, had Carey Price been in net and let in even one softie, the fans would have been all over him. Halak, on the other hand, let in bad goal after bad goal last night with little to no reaction.
Seems to me Price does not get a fair shake of things with Habs fans.
2. Hallelujah, the brothers Kostitsyn woke up!
Both Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn played their best games in a long time, with the latter playing his best of the season.
While AK46 was not able to get on the scoreboard in regulation, he did score the eventual game-winner in the shootout and played strong hockey on both ends of the ice. Hopefully, he's just a hop, skip, and a jump away from finding his scoring touch again.
As for Sergei, playing on the third line, he put in his best performance of the season. Showing flashes of 2008, Sergei was combative, strong on the puck, made excellent passes, and scored a beautiful goal as he walked out of the corner and roofed one over Devan Dubnyk.
If both players can keep it up, this team—which is already on a four-game winning streak—could become a force to contend with down the stretch.
3. Andrei Markov is the true on-ice leader of this team
With two more assists last night, Markov now has 25 points (4G, 21A) and a plus-nine rating over 32 games. In case you're wondering, that would put him on pace for 64 points over an 82-game season.
Markov is indispensable to the Habs, as their 20-9-3 record with him in the lineup shows. Hopefully he can stay healthy for the rest of the season and through the playoffs, however long they end up being.
4. Pleky for Selke?
With a goal last night, Plekanec is now tied with Jarome Iginla, Daniel Sedin, and Paul Stastny for 20th overall in league scoring. Aside for his scoring prowess this year, Plekanec has shown us his skill at both ends of the ice and in all situations.
Jacques Martin leans heavily on the talented Plekanec to play five-on-five, shorthanded, to take key face-offs, and to score in a shootout. He has simply become the most versatile two-way player on the Habs roster and is playing the kind of hockey that has to get him consideration for the Selke Trophy at the end of the season.
Let's hope that GM Pierre Gauthier can figure out a way to re-sign him!
Standings and Next Game
Last night's win gives the Habs 74 points in 69 games, good enough for seventh overall in the Eastern Conference. One spot ahead—in virtue of games played—but tied in points are the Flyers with 74 points and three games in hand.
Behind the Canadiens is the same motley crew: Boston (72 points, three games in hand), N.Y. Rangers (67, two games in hand), Atlanta (66 points, three games in hand), and Tampa Bay (66 points, three games in hand).
The Habs enjoy a day off today before another four-point game versus the Boston Bruins, in Montreal, on Saturday night. This game is as important as any, as the Canadiens only play two games next week while their competitors all play three or more games and start to catch up.
If the Habs can pull out a fifth straight win, they will keep the pressure on the teams who are trailing them in the standings.
Tune in Saturday to find out what happens.
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