One day after being bag-skated by Coach Jacques Martin, the Montreal Canadiens welcomed the L.A. Kings to the Bell Centre in another yardstick match for the Habs.
While the Canadiens looked a little tentative early in the game, they quickly turned things around by scoring on the power play and never looked back.
Coach Martin has to be happy with his teams play as they clearly heard his cries and responded with a 60-minute team effort. From Price on out, the Canadiens were the better team and played a tight, well executed game based on quick transition and speed through the neutral zone.
For all the talk about the Kings being Cup contenders, they really didn't look very impressive last night. They looked lost and even players like Drew Doughty, usually one of the best players on the ice, looked average at best. To be fair, however, the Kings do have a boatload of injuries and are going through a bit of a slide right now. As such, I don't think last night's game was a true representation of what they are capable of.
That being said, the Canadiens deserve full marks for taking it to their floundering opponent. They rebounded nicely from a disappointing effort in Philly with 11 different players getting their names on the score sheet.
The scoring included goals from veterans Andrei Kostitsyn, Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec and a bonus goal by rookie, Lars Eller—his first regular season goal in a Habs uniform. With assists from Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, that makes five of the top six players who got points last night.
You know that's got to put a smile on Martin's face, even if it is indiscernible.
Interesting stat of the night: Prior to last night's game, the Canadiens were 8-0-0 in games where P.K. Subban had at least one point. After getting an assist on Kostitsyn's power play marker in the winning effort, that record moved to 9-0-0.
Final score: Habs 4 - Kings 1
Habs' scorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (8), Michael Cammalleri (7), Tomas Plekanec (8), Lars Eller (1)
Kings' scorers: Alec Martinez (1)
Three Stars: 1. Andrei Kostitsyn, 2. Lars Eller, 3. Michael Cammalleri
1. Price was able to fight through the physical contact.
For a rare occasion this season, there was a ton of physical contact taking place in Price's crease. As such, he was knocked down and lost his stick several times during the game. With Ryan Smyth in their lineup, it is no real surprise that the Kings did so much crease crashing. Smyth is one of the best in the league at making legal or borderline legal contact with the opposing goaltender without taking a penalty.
What was impressive, however, was how well Price maintained his focus and positioning despite all of the traffic around him and the bodies crashing into him.
Price is playing with the calmness and patience of a seasoned veteran right now, and nothing seems to rattle him. When he is on top of his game, as he is so far this season, he looks very big in the net and gives the opposition very little to shoot at.
Of the 25 shots the Kings fired at him, only a handful were dangerous and while Price wasn't tested a lot last night, he made the key saves when he was called upon. The lone goal that got past Price was on a play where Ryan Smyth collided with him and he was unable to get across to make the save. The play was borderline clean, as Smyth was outside of the blue paint, but there was no question that the contact impeded Price's ability to make the save.
Were it not for that incidental contact, Price would have had another shutout.
The win was Price's 13th in 21 games and matches his win total for the entire 2009 NHL season. His 13th victory puts him in first place among all goaltenders for wins.
2. Is Gomez waking up?
With Tomas Plekanec and Dustin Brown in the box for elbowing and interference, respectively, the Habs used the extra room to get a 2-0 lead on a bullet by Cammalleri from the point. On the play, Scott Gomez was tied up with the defenseman in front and screening Kings' goaltender, Jonathan Bernier. While he didn't score the goal himself, Gomez played a pivotal role in making it happen by going to the front of the net.
In fact, Gomez seemed to be going to the net on almost every shift. In addition, where he has seemed lost over recent games, he was more engaged and his focus was palpable.
Gomez was doing all of the little things to help make the team successful and, when a player is slumping, that is all you can ask of them. If the player focuses on the details, the rest usually falls into place.
Now Gomez is clearly not back to the level where he needs to be, but last night's game was a huge step in the right direction.
Could it be a sign of things to come?
3. Hello Andrei Kostitsyn, and welcome back!
The slumbering bear, as Joel Bouchard from RDS calls him, awoke from his hibernation to be the main offensive catalyst in the Canadiens' win. With one goal, one assist and a plus-1 rating in 16:36 minutes of ice time, AK46 looked like that bulldog who is capable of scoring 30-plus goals in a season.
On his first goal of the game, Kostitsyn used his lightning quick release to wrist a bullet five-hole on Bernier. That goal illustrated what an incredible shot he has and why he needs to be shooting more often.
On the second goal, where AK46 got an assist, he created the entire play by beating two Kings' defenders and firing another bullet through a screen on Bernier. The shot was stopped but AK's foray into the Kings' zone seemed to destabilize their "D". This momentary confusion allowed Gionta enough time to get the puck to an open Plekanec in the slot for his eighth goal of the season.
On plays like that you see why Kostitsyn went 10th overall in the 2003 draft. It is incredible how dangerous an offensive weapon he can be when he is playing with confidence as he was last night.
Now we can't talk about the resurgence of AK46 without mentioned Plekanec. He truly is the cure to all that ails floundering forwards. Gionta wasn't scoring at the beginning of the season? Put him with Plekanec. Andrei Kostitsyn was wilting on the Gomez line? Put him Plekanec.
As I've said before, it's too bad Plek can't play with three wingers because Cammalleri, Kostitsyn and Gionta would all be ripping it up!
4. Michael Cammalleri played his best game of the season.
One goal, a plus-1 rating—he is now a team-leading plus-10—with 20:41 of ice time, Cammalleri looked like the player who was leading all playoff scorers in goals last spring.
Cammalleri has had moments where he looked good but hasn't really been able to pull it all together like he did in the playoffs, despite his 15 points (7G, 8A). The biggest thing about Cammalleri, is that he hasn't looked completely comfortable on the ice and looked like he was forcing things at times.
Last night, however, the old Cammy was back as he showcased the kind of creativity that makes him a consistently dangerous player on the ice. Also, like Gomez, he was paying the price physically to make plays and setup his teammates. I don't think it is a coincidence that Cammy was more involved during the same game where Gomez came to play. At the end of the day, all that matters is that he played like the difference-maker that he knows he can be. Hopefully he can keep it up.
5. What a difference a goal makes!
Lars Eller scored his third NHL goal—and his first in a Habs uniform—on a spin around in the high slot. Buoyed by the confidence gained from his goal, Eller's skill and creativity was suddenly on display as he froze out the Kings defenders and made crisp passes into open seams, for a myriad of scoring chances.
Hopefully Eller can build off his goal and strong third period, because playing in the bottom-6 should give him the opportunity to play against weaker defensive pairings and, by extension, create more scoring chances.
If his line can get going, that will give the Canadiens yet another trio that can contribute offensively. I don't have to explain why having three or more lines that can score is difficult to defend against and a good recipe for success.
Standings and Next Game
The Canadiens now have 29 points in the standings and a 14-7-1 record, good enough for first overall in the Northeast. The Bruins, 3-1 winners against the Panthers, kept pace with the Habs and have 26 points in the standings with two games in hand.
The Habs now fly to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers Friday evening before returning to Montreal to take on the Sabres on Saturday. With back-to-back games, you would have to think that Alex Auld is poised to get his second start of the season.
Whether it will be Friday in Atlanta or Saturday in Montreal remains to be seen.
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