Montreal vs. New York: Carey Price's 5th Shutout Earns Win Over Rangers

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2011

MONTREAL, CANADA - FEBRUARY 5:  Lars Eller #81 of the Montreal Canadiens congratulats Carey Price #31 on his shutout victory over the New York Rangers during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on February 5, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Rangers 2-0.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The streaking Montreal Canadiens, 10-2-3 in their last 15 games, played their first of two back-to-back Super Bowl weekend matinees yesterday at the Bell Centre.

The game was a classic "four-pointer" against the New York Rangers, a team that the Habs have owned so far this season. Unfortunately for Rangers fans, Scott Gomez scored the winner and Carey Price held the fort to move the Habs record to 3-0 this season against their Big Apple opponents.

Montreal and New York are two evenly matched teams that both rely on the sum of their parts being greater than the whole and, aside from Marian Gaborik, neither team boasts any superstar players.

The game had excellent up and down pace, with both teams doing a great job of keeping the opposition to the outside, as the playoff-like intensity made for a tightly contested match.

Montreal once again got themselves into penalty trouble, taking seven penalties and handing the Rangers four power plays for the game. Fortunately, their top-ranked penalty kill continued to keep the opposition at bay, shutting down all four of Rangers' chances and even outshooting New York 1-0 on two of the PKs.

Gomez's late second-period goal, a rebound on a Yannick Weber shot off the back boards, proved to be the winner, with Tomas Plekanec putting the insurance goal into an empty net. But the story of the game was the Rangers' sputtering power play and Carey Price's stupendous play in the third period, turning aside 19 shots as the Canadiens sat back in their defensive shell.

Price stopped 35 shots total, earning his fifth shutout of the season.

Final Score: Habs 2- Rangers 0

Habs' scorers: Scott Gomez (7), Tomas Plekanec (18)
Rangers' scorers: None

Three stars: 1. Carey Price, 2. Scott Gomez, 3. Martin Biron

Game Notes

1. P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber continue to play key roles for Montreal.

While Subban has been a factor all season and has settled into a top role on the team, Weber has really shown improvement since the All-Star break, providing a steadying presence on the back end.

There was a shift in the first where the Rangers hemmed the Habs into their own zone for about a minute. During that shift, Subban played some of his best hockey of the game, battling between two Rangers players in the corner for the puck.  

Using his stick, skill and size, Subban blanketed both players ultimately allowing his teammates to get the puck out of the zone. On the ensuing play down the other end of the ice, Pacioretty, Gionta and Plekanec had a nice scoring chance.

This play illustrates Subban's incredible ability to fight and win one-on-one battles for the puck, an ability that has been sorely lacking in the Habs lineup for a lot of years.

Yannick Weber, like Subban, is also starting to come into his own as a bonafide NHL defenseman.

Playing 20:51 minutes last night, third only to Hal Gill and Subban, Weber is getting better and better each game and is slowly becoming an integral part of the Canadiens defense corps.

At 5'11", 198 lbs, Weber is not the biggest guy out there, but he uses his speed and excellent positioning to effectively shut down the opposition. Moreover, where Weber has always been known as an offensive defenseman, what is most impressive is how well he is playing on the defensive side of the puck lately.

With a plus-1 rating last night—along with one assist and two shots on net—Weber is now plus-5 for the season.

With Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges gone for the season, I shudder to think where the Canadiens would be without the excellent play of Weber and Subban. Their continuing progression is, without a doubt, a major factor in the Habs ongoing success.

2. Team toughness.

While no one is going to mistake the Montreal Canadiens for the Philadelphia Flyers any time soon, yesterday they continued to show their vaunted "team toughness".

From the start of the game, it was apparent that a big part of the Rangers' game plan was to run, bump and otherwise interfere with Carey Price whenever possible. And that is exactly what they did.

About 15 minutes into the game, however, Yannick Weber decided that enough was enough.

As Brandon Prust gave Price a shot just after the whistle, Weber went right after and jumped on the much bigger Rangers player. As the players piled up on the ice, the end result of the melee was that Alexandre Picard and Sean Avery dropped the gloves.

While that fight wasn't much more than a draw, what's important to see is players protecting and sticking up for each other, despite being in much lighter weight classes than the opposition.

Weber and Picard are two of the most unlikely candidates to get caught up in aggressive, post-whistle activity, but last night they both stuck up for their teammates. And when you see players showing that kind of character, it goes a long way towards explaining the success the Habs have been having lately.

There is no question that Pierre Gauthier would do well to add some grit and toughness to his lineup for the playoff run, but if the Habs can keep sticking together and displaying this kind of team spirit, it can only continue to produce good results on the ice.

3. The Habs are really embracing the Jacques Martin patience game.

The defense-first, shut down the center of the ice, cover the slot and wait for your chances patience game that Jacques Martin has been preaching since last season has truly sunk into the Habs' DNA.

Since the beginning of January, the Habs had shown an ability to win games despite trailing by a goal or two. This is a big turnaround for a team that had little success accomplishing this feat over the first three months of the season. Moreover, the ability to comeback from a deficit points to a level of confidence and patience that hasn't always been present with this team.

Lately, however, the Canadiens don't seem to panic no matter what is happening on the ice.

Up by a goal, down by a goal, scoring on the power play, not scoring on the power play, it makes no difference. Montreal plays the same patient game regardless of what is happening and that patience is allowing them to rack up the wins.

Last night, despite not having a lot of scoring chances and mostly managing shots from the outside, the Canadiens stuck to their game plan and waited for their opportunity. That opportunity came at 18:34 of the second period when Scott Gomez scored his first even strength goal in 19 games to earn the win.

This kind of calm, patient attitude will come in handy once the playoffs start and goals and even harder to come by. And love him or hate him, you have to give Jacques Martin credit for instilling this trait in his team.

4. Andrei Kostitsyn came to play.

AK46 has been playing on a line with Scott Gomez and Lars Eller since the All-Star break, and to say that they have done very little on the ice would be an understatement.

Yesterday, however, Kostitsyn was in fine form and made that line more effective as a result. Skating, hitting, shooting and even getting mixed up in a little post-whistle activity, Kostitsyn showed the form that should make him an integral part of the Canadiens offense, if only he could play that way consistently.

Last night's performance by Kostitsyn is why he can be such a frustrating player to watch, because, as has been the case throughout his career, he just doesn't play that way every night.

Despite his 29 points (13G, 16A) this season, Kostitsyn's best stat is his plus-12 rating, demonstrating how much more responsible he has become without the puck.

The problem is that he is not being played to break up scoring chances, but rather score goals and while he is third in points on the Canadiens, he is only on pace to pot 20 goals this season.

That is just not good enough, and I still think that there is a very strong chance that he won't finish the year in Montreal.

5. Price was the difference maker.

Price wasn't tested a lot over the first two periods, but when he was, like Martin Biron on the other end of the ice, he was there to make the save.

As the game progressed, however, and the Canadiens were finally able to get on the board—right at the end of the second period—they retreated into their predictable defensive shell.

This allowed the Rangers to blitz the Habs zone, barraging Price for 19 third period shots as their famous prevent defense reared its ugly, and fully expected, head.

The Habs did do a good job of collapse down low around Price, ensuring few second chances and shots from in close. That being said, Price still had to be sharp to track the puck and make save after save as his teammates were just trying to run out the clock.

The win was Price's league leading 26th of the season. In addition, the shutout is his fifth of the season, tying him for third in the league in that department.

So much for a post-All-Star break letdown!

Standings and Next Game

The win is the Habs' 10th in their last 15 games and third in a row, moving their record to 30-18-5 with 65 points in the standings.

The two points earned give the Canadiens a little breathing room in the standings with a three-point buffer on the Rangers, who have played two more games than Montreal, and a seven-point lead on both the Hurricanes and Thrashers, with 53 and 55 games played respectively.

Montreal also gave themselves a good chance at moving up in the standings, as they are only one point back of the Capitals and two back of the Bruins, both with the same amount of games played.

The Habs are right back at it with their second Super Bowl matinee this afternoon against the suddenly hot New Jersey Devils.

Going 8-1-2 in their last 11 games, the Devils are sure to be a challenge for the Canadiens. Look for Carey Price and Martin Brodeur to go head-to-head in what is sure to be an entertaining match at the Bell Centre.

Game time is at 3:00 pm.

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