Last night's match between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers was not exactly what fans were expecting. With their three previous matchups this season being tightly contested and decided by no more than a two-goal margin, you expected more of the same last night.
Well, that was not to be.
The Rangers set the tone early, and I mean really early, when Brandon Prust challenged Travis Moen to a fight with both dropping the gloves off the opening faceoff.
In the scoring department, New York got on the board first when Yannick Weber's point shot was blocked by Artem Anisimov, who skated in for a clear break and a 1-0 lead. Montreal got that one back less than two minutes later on a seeing-eye blast from the point by P.K. Subban.
After that the Rangers blew the doors off the game, scoring four more goals in the first and driving Carey Price from the net in favour of Alex Auld.
Montreal looked slow, tired and demoralized for most of the first period and with nine regulars on the sidelines and two games in 24 hours, I guess that was to be expected.
The Habs had a little more oomph in the second and third periods, making things interesting on goals by James Wizniewski and Brian Gionta before the Rangers put the game away with less than three minutes to play.
Final score: Rangers 6, Habs 3.
Habs scorers: P.K. Subban (8), James Wizniewski (9), Brian Gionta (25)
Rangers scorers: Artem Anisimov (17), Dan Girardi (4), Ryan Callahan (22), Marian Gaborik (21), Brian Boyle (21), Vaclav Prospal (5)
1. Habs showed toughness around their net.
Well, at least in the first blush of the game they did.
There were several plays early in the match where the Habs defense showed some rare aggression around their net.
Subban got the party started by tackling Prust after he was pushed into Price. Next it was Weber cross-checking a Rangers player who got too close to Price after the whistle. Paul Mara too—a player who seems to habitually abuse opponents that stray too close the net—got into the action pushing, shoving and otherwise letting the opposition know that the blue paint was a no-fly zone.
These are actions which while sometimes earning your team a penalty, protect your goaltender and give him more room to operate. In addition, they send notice that your team won't be pushed around.
So as much as you expect it from a player like Mara, when you see smaller players like Weber get into the action, the words "team toughness" suddenly jump off the page and into reality.
2. Pop goes the bubble.
Did you hear that sound? That popping noise? That was the sound of the Canadiens' bubble finally bursting.
This is a team that has gotten it done all season despite being weighed down by a truckload of injuries, but last night it all caught up to them.
Playing without Brent Sopel, Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, Max Pacioretty, Mathieu Darche, Tomas Plekanec and Jeff Halpern, inevitability finally caught up to the Habs.
The Canadiens, whose roster reads like an American Hockey League lineup in recent games, played like an AHL team on the ice.
But again, given all that's going on with this team it's certainly not the end of the world. The only real surprise is that the Habs didn't fall apart sooner!
Last night's game goes under the "file it and forget it" category.
3. Subban is the Habs' best defenseman.
With the Canadiens down by four goals in the second period and all hope seemingly gone, P.K. Subban carried the puck up the ice, through the neutral zone, past a maze of Rangers defenders and straight to Henrik Lundqvist.
While he didn't score on the play he did plow right in Lundqvist, bowling over the Rangers netminder and drawing the ire of Michael Sauer. After a bit of posturing both players dropped the gloves but the linesmen stepped in before any punches were thrown.
I won't question the fact that Subban played "the game" a little there, waiting for the linesmen to show up before dropping the gloves. It was pretty clear that he didn't want to fight Sauer.
That aside, it was a great move by Subban to try to spark his team and it was the first time that last night that any Hab crashed the Rangers crease, a favour they did not return in chasing Price from the game.
So while his move only served to make Subban even more hated by opposing players, his ability to agitate while skating with the best in the league is something the Habs have not seen since the days of Chris Chelios.
4. Brian Gionta is playing his best hockey in a Canadiens uniform.
With injuries to mainstays like Pacioretty, Plekanec and Halpern, the Canadiens need the rest of their veteran forwards to pick up the slack. Unfortunately for the Habs, aside from Brian Gionta this has simply not been the case.
With Michael Cammalleri continuing to look unhappy and frustrated on the ice and Scott Gomez continuing to look like he forgot how to play hockey, the Canadiens are ridiculously thin up front.
That is except for the captain.
Gionta scored the Canadiens third goal last night at a time when the Rangers were back on their heels. If Montreal had been able to capitalize on any of their subsequent power plays there would have been a very real chance of a comeback.
You could see that before Gionta's goal his teammates didn't seem to believe. After it, however, they played their best hockey of the game.
With a goal last night, Gionta now has nine points (5G, 4A) over his last 12 games. In addition, he leads all Habs with 26 goals this season and looks like he should hit 30.
So while players like Cammalleri and Gomez have been ridiculously disappointing this season, the captain continues getting it done with or without help. Just imagine how many goals he would have if he hadn't been stuck playing with Gomez for the first 15 or so games of the season!
5. The team is Price and Price is the team.
I'll make this short and not so sweet—the Habs go as Price goes. If Price doesn't play lights out, the team has almost no chance of winning on any given night.
This was the case at the beginning of the season and it still stands true with 10 games to play.
Last night, Price was certainly not to blame for the loss as the team in front of him, and in particular his defense, simply did not show up for the first 20 minutes. The Habs' horrendous defensive coverage and terrible turnovers meant that Price was pretty much a sitting duck.
Unlike he has done on so many other nights this season, Price was unable to bail his team out as they fumbled and bumbled in their own end.
So the Habs lost and lost badly and this is exactly what will happen come playoff time if Price doesn't stand on his head.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Montreal will go exactly as far as Carey Price can carry them this postseason.
Standings and Next Game
Fortunately for Montreal they had a seven-point lead over the Rangers before last night's game. As such, the loss leaves them in sixth in the East with 85 points, five up on the seventh place Rangers and eight up on the Buffalo Sabres.
Montreal missed an opportunity to inch closer to the idle Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, both with 88 points.
The Canadiens now enjoy a rare Saturday off before traveling to Minnesota to take on the Wild on Sunday evening.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/