So how's that for a rebound?
After losing the night before to the Edmonton Oilers in a horrific manner, the P.K. Subban-less Canadiens were in New Jersey to take on the Devils last night. Coach Martin, clearly unhappy with the play of his young defensive stud, benched Subban in favour of Yannick Weber.
While this was a bit of a shocking move for most fans, the Canadiens didn't seem to miss a beat. If they did think about it, his benching only served as motivation as they scored twice before the game was even two minutes old.
Brian Gionta potted the rebound on a Roman Hamrlik shot 11 seconds in and Lars Eller made it 2-0 at the 1:38 mark of the first. That was all she wrote for Johan Hedberg as the Devils pulled him in favour of Mike McKenna. Keep in mind that Jersey was already shorthanded in the net with perennial Hab-killer, Martin Brodeur, sidelined with an elbow injury.
The Devils were able to sparsely apply pressure at times during the game but, overall, were not really able to muster much offense. This is not really surprising when you consider that they are last in the league in goals with 46 in 25 games.
Aside from their offensive woes, the Devils just looked like a flat, emotionless team. Most of the night, they seemed as if they were just going through the motions. While they did have a few decent scoring chances overall, they really didn't put up much of a fight.
As has been the case since the beginning of the season, when they did have a chance to score, Price was there to shut the door.
Final score: Habs 5, Devils 1
Habs' scorers: Brian Gionta (8), Lars Eller (2), Tom Pyatt (1), Scott Gomez (4), Benoit Pouliot (6).
Devils' scorers: Jason Arnott (9)
Three stars: 1. Lars Eller, 2. Brian Gionta, 3. Carey Price
1. Price continues to anchor this team.
Win, lose or draw, Carey Price continues to be the Habs' MVP. Last night's game against the Devils is one of the easier wins of his career to say the least, but the Devils still had several excellent scoring chances. And, in each case, Price was there to make the save.
There were moments in particular where sloppy play by the Canadiens would lead to a partial break or an odd man advantage for the Devils. Last year, Price would have let those shots in, deflating his team in the process and starting a downward spiral that would more often than not lead to a loss.
This year however, Price continues to make those key saves game in and game out, masking some of the flaws in the Canadiens' game in the process.
2. Lars Eller and Benoit Pouliot are starting to develop chemistry.
Eller scored his second goal of the season only 1:38 into the first period on a beautiful individual effort. While the goal was weak and Johan Hedberg would have stopped it if his skate was firmly against the post, it illustrates the incredible skill this kid has.
On the play, Eller picked up the puck in the neutral zone and turned on his after burners. He beat the Devils' defender with speed to the outside, then swooped behind the net for the wrap-around, which he stuffed past the aforementioned Hedberg to make it 2-0.
Along with his linemates Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche, the Habs' third line is starting to develop some nice chemistry. Eller and Pouliot in particular look like they are starting to understand each other’s playing styles and, as such, are able to create more scoring chances. Given the offensive capabilities of both players, they form a duo that should be able to provide key secondary scoring for the Habs going forward.
Eller is gaining more and more confidence each game and looks like the prime candidate to try out as the second line center, should the coaching staff decide to make a change.
As for Pouliot, he showed what an incredible shot he has when he fired one from the faceoff circle top shelf to make it 5-0 Montreal. The goal was Pouliot's sixth of the season and fifth on the road while averaging only 11:55 of ice time per game. Those are the kind of numbers that makes a coach smile from ear to ear.
While many are calling for Pouliot to be placed on the second line with Gomez and Cammalleri, I think he is better suited to the slightly more obscure role of third line winger. Without the added pressure and in absence of top defensive pairings to play against, Pouliot is able to produce on a regular basis. I am not so convinced that he has what it takes to do so in the top-six.
3. Weber played an excellent game.
Playing in place of fan favorite P.K. Subban, Weber looked good in a duo with defensive partner Alexandre Picard.
While we all know that Weber has a wicked shot from the point and is effective on the power play, what I was curious to see was how well he played on the defensive side of the puck at the NHL level.
Last night, Weber proved that he belongs in the NHL and in the process makes things a bit more complicated for GM Pierre Gauthier and Coach Martin. Despite his 5'11" frame, Weber was able to keep up with, compete against and shut down the opposition, including breaking up a three-on-one midway through the first period.
Now the Devils are hardly a juggernaut, but Weber showed that he has the skill to play defense in this league.
Oh, and if there was ever any doubts about his offensive abilities, Weber fired a howitzer at the net on a second period power play that lead to the Habs' fourth goal. With Mathieu Darche screening McKenna, Weber's bullet bounced off the Devils' goalie right to Scott Gomez on the doorstep, who put it into the empty net to make it 4-0. That point shot is something that Habs haven't had in their lineup since Marc-Andre Bergeron last season and, dare I say, it makes a big difference on the power play.
Weber finished the night with one assist, six shots on goal and 17:10 of ice time. The other thing he did is put the Canadiens defensive squad under the microscope.
With Weber playing so well, who will sit next game? You have to imagine that Coach Martin will not keep Subban out of the lineup for two straight games. Also, it is evident that Weber would increase the skill level of the Canadiens back end. So what does that coach do?
Given that Subban and Weber have similar games—with Subban having much more skill—don't overlook the possibility that Weber could be being showcased for a potential trade in the future.
4. Don't look now, but Scott Gomez could be waking up.
With 17:40 minutes of ice time and one goal last night, Gomez now has goals in back-to-back games. His goal against the Oilers was fluky, but his marker against the Devils was anything but. Gomez was positioned where he needed to be, on the side of the net, and was in perfect position to put the rebound off of Weber's shot into the open net.
Both he and Cammalleri looked like they elevated their games last night. I don't know what happened behind closed doors, but it looked like the two players did some talking because they were much more cohesive last night.
Instead of playing keep away, they were playing more of a pitch-and-catch style that seemed to complement both Cammy's skill as a shooter and Gomez's skill as a playmaker.
Despite his improved performance, Gomez still found a way to be the only Canadiens' player to finish the night with a minus. He was the player who was supposed to be covering Jason Arnott when he cut in front of Price and scored the Devils' only goal of the game. In a 5-1 romp there is no question that this is a minor detail, but that was just not a good play by Gomez.
5. Roman Hamrlik is playing excellent hockey.
Often criticized by fans, Hamrlik currently looks every bit the defensive stalwart that helped the Canadiens survive through the Markov-less first half of last season. In addition, he has started to get into an offensive groove and has four points (1G, 3A) in his last two games.
With Markov likely out of the lineup long term, this is exactly the kind of offensive contribution that the Canadiens will need from Hamrlik. If he can keep it up and continue to make timely offensive pinches, Hamrlik will help even out the offense coming from the backend and make the Habs that much more competitive.
There is nothing quite like having two defensive duos that can score.
Standings and Next Game
In bouncing the Devils in Jersey, the Canadiens continue their win-one, lose-one ways. The win gives them 34 points in the standings and a 16-8-2 record.
The Habs have the day off before taking on the San Jose Sharks in a 2 p.m. matinee game at the Bell Centre on Saturday.
The big question right now is what Jacques Martin is going to do with his defense. Will Subban be back in the lineup? If so, who sits? Weber looks ready for primetime, so do you keep him in the lineup and sit Picard? Does he go with seven defensemen?
The plot thickens.