In the world of NHL hockey, panic is never a good thing. Not from the forwards, not from the defense, not from the goaltender and not from the coach.
So, a night after getting shut out and shut down by the surprising Atlanta Thrashers, Coach Martin, who has coached over 1,000 NHL games, decided to leave his lineup exactly the same.
I guess Martin's thinking was that the veteran core of the his team would ensure a better effort last night, whether he changed the lineup or not. And his veterans did not disappoint.
Led by the first line of Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta, the Habs dominated the first period in a game that looked like men against boys.
The Habs employed an aggressive two-man forecheck and used their speed to draw penalties and setup scoring chances. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was stellar in the net, stopping 19 of 20 first period shots fired his way, as the fiery Habs were intent to make up for a poor showing on Friday.
The Canadiens cashed in on a first period power play but became the defenders in the second period as the Sabres turned the tables on them. Outshooting the Habs 17-7, the Sabres mounted their most effective attack of the game but Carey Price was there to protect the Habs lead.
Two quick goals by Brian Gionta seemed to crush any momentum the Sabres had built.
The Habs proceeded to control the play until around the ten minute mark of the third where they took their foot off of the accelerator. The result was a barrage of scoring chances and except for one goal with less than two minutes to play, Price was equal to that task.
Final score: Habs 3 - Sabres 1
Habs' scorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (9), Brian Gionta (6,7)
Sabres' scorers: Jordan Leopold (7)
Three stars: 1. Brian Gionta 2. Carey Price 3. Andrei Kostitsyn
1. The goaltenders were really good!
Miller, in his second game back from a groin injury, was shelled for 20 shots in the first period, 33 on the night and only let in three goals. Miller is the reason this game wasn't over in the first period as the Canadiens were utterly dominant.
On the other end of the ice, Price was only tested eight times in the first frame while his team was controlling the play. But indiscipline once again reared its ugly head as the Habs took four penalties in the second period. Those penalties combined with a much more tenacious Sabres squad in the second period, meant that Price had to stop 17 in the frame and 36 on the night.
The Canadiens unfortunately sat back for the last ten minutes of the game and left Price to his own devices. Were it not for a screened shot that evaded him with less than two minutes to play, Price would be celebrating his fifth shutout of the season this morning.
Not to matter though, as he is celebrating his 14th win of the season—one more than he had all of last season—in 22 games and leads all goaltenders in that department.
2. Michael Cammalleri played the point, 5-on-3.
The Canadiens took a 1-0 lead on a first period 5-on-3 power play. On the ice were Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri and P.K. Subban, and the combination worked.
Once the Canadiens got control of the puck, Subban and Cammalleri switched sides with Cammalleri on the right and Subban on the left. This gave either player the option of a one-timer and they were able to tee up more than a few blasts, with Gionta, Kostitsyn and Plekanec ready for the rebounds.
It was a great idea and I only wonder why Martin didn't do it when the Habs had their 5-on-4 advantages. Having Cammy at the back end on a regular basis would likely be more productive. In addition, it would mean that Roman Hamrlik would have to play a few less minutes per game. At 36 years of age, playing a few less minutes will help ensure that Hamrlik has enough gas in the tank come playoff time.
3. P.K. Subban and Mathieu Darche were good on the PP.
One major change that Coach Martin has made on the PP over the last few games is to have Mathieu Darche on the second wave. As much as I am not a fan of having a third or fourth liner on the PP, it's hard to argue with how well Darche has performed.
Every time Darche was on the ice during the man-advantage, he simply parked his butt in Miller's face and took all of the physical abuse that came with it. The Canadiens have had problems getting players to commit to the front of the net in recent years, so it is refreshing to see Darche doing exactly that.
Speaking of the power play, another major difference was that Subban was hitting the net more often with his shots from the point. It's great that he has a hard shot, but if it misses the net most of the time then it doesn't help the power play.
Last night, Subban seemed to take a little mustard off of his shot and gained a some accuracy in the process. The result was that the Canadiens were often able to create goal mouth scrambles and scoring chances. If he can keep it up, it should be a recipe for success going forward.
4. The Plekanec line was at it again.
Flanked by Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta, Plekanec continued to make magic happen on the ice. While his linemates are excellent complements to his game, make no mistake that Plekanec is the catalyst on that line.
Plekanec's combativeness, puck protection skills and vision are at an elite level and he instantly makes any player on his line that much better.
On the second Gionta goal, the puck was knifed into the corner and Plekanec shouldered 6'8" Tyler Myers out of the way. Then, with everyone focusing on him, Plekanec found Gionta at the top of the faceoff circle, whose perfect shot beat Miller high stick side.
Gionta is a player who always works his butt off, however he was saddled with an anchor named Scott Gomez at the beginning of the season.
Now, however, he is able to benefit from the physical play of Kostitsyn and the brilliant vision of Plekanec and has seven goals to show for it. Gionta finished the night with three points (2G, 1A), and plus-1 rating and eight shots on net.
With AK46 getting assists on both Gionta goals, the Plekanec trio had with a collective seven points (3G, 4A), a plus-3 rating and 12 shots on goal.
Not a bad night's work!
5. Travis Moen protected the skilled players.
Just like an old school Oilers match where Marty McSorley would demolish anyone who even looked at Wayne Gretzky the wrong way, Moen played the role of protector to Cammalleri and Gomez all game.
Cammalleri in particular tends to get more involved in post-whistle scrums and was targeted a few times by Sabres players.
Each time it happen, Moen was on the opposing player like white on rice, and even fought Cody McCormick near the end of the second period after he slashed Cammalleri. Moen got an instigator penalty for the fight, but who cares? Cammalleri got to play his game and that is what is important.
After the abuse the Canadiens took in Atlanta on Friday, it was nice to see a player like Moen making sure that the skilled players could stick to playing hockey.
That is a very important trait of any team that aspires to be a contender.
Standings and Next Game
The win was the Habs 12th against conference opponents and seventh (out of nine) against division opponents. The season is far from over, but beating teams that you are in direct competition with is exactly what you need to do to qualify for the playoffs.
That Canadiens record now stands at 15-8-1 with 31 points in the standings, first overall in the Northeast. The idle Bruins sit in second place with 26 points in the standings and three games in hand.
The Habs now have three well deserved days off before taking on the Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre Wednesday evening.
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