The woes of the New York Rangers in Montreal continue. They came into tonight’s match with an unimpressive 0-4-1 record at The Bell Centre in their last five appearances hoping to change their luck in our building. Instead they left without improving their success rate after being handled 4-1 by your Montreal Canadiens. Yes, you read this correctly! The Habs, playing their second game in as many nights, defeated the Eastern Conference and NHL leading Rangers!! Some will say that the Rangers were “due” to lose after arriving into Montreal with an 11-2 record in their last 13 games. Others would say that New York just can’t “buy” a win at The Bell Centre.
Well, I am choosing instead to give credit where credit is due. Montreal is starting to play in a manner commensurate with the level of talent that exists on the team and the results are, naturally, starting to show. This shift began over the course of the Habs-Bruins game on Thursday, accelerated visibly last night despite the loss vs. Ottawa; and the momentum that is being gained was used to outclass the team that sits at the top of the NHL standings. Is it a coincidence that the team’s “compete level” has grown exponentially since the departure of Mike Cammalleri? Does the return of Scott Gomez have anything to do with the improved on-ice intensity that the fans are privileged to observe? To what extent is newly arrived Rene Bourque responsible? Will this be a case of too little too late or will this team pull off a near miraculous turnaround after a catastrophic first half? Never say never!!
Granted, I may have too much faith in this squad, but I do take offence to those who trivialize the team. I certainly take exception to the headline posted on NHL.com post game expressing: “Habs Handle Rangers 4-1 For Unlikely Win”. It is my opinion, and probably my opinion only as a heated Habs Fan that the writer, in this case Arpon Basu (who i genuinely like, respect and admire), erred in making a comment of that nature. We have seen many, many times before in the NHL that any team can beat any other team on any given night. The comment, in my opinion, belittles the Montreal Canadiens; and while this headline might be appropriate coming from a New York media writer or even from one who writes for the Montreal press, a slant of that nature should not stem from a supposedly neutral source. The creator of the article in question, in that specific context, might avoid offending other fans in the future by avoiding the “writing off” any team in the NHL.
Certainly the stats favoured the Rangers who boast 20 more points despite having played 2 fewer games than the Canadiens. Still, I insist that an insinuation or assertion that one team is better than another from the NHL media is unacceptable. Yes, the Rangers have a goal differential of +35 in contrast to the -10 achieved by Montreal in that same category but does that really imply that New York is favoured to win this game? Even if it does, it should not be expressed by a neutral third-party which wants nothing other than to achieve parity in the league. Further, a statement of that nature does not take into account that some teams play better against certain teams than others. Finally the poster of the comment fails to recognize that this is the third game in the regular-season series between these teams which split the first two matchups. The Montreal loss was a close game (5-3) while their victory was a 4-0 shutout. Perhaps I am overly passionate as far as the Habs go, but I cannot ignore the comment despite conceding that it was definitely not written with the intent to upset me.
Forgive me for I digress! While the game was slightly less entertaining that Saturday`s match vs. the Sens, no Habs fan is going to complain about the outcome. Having suffered through 7 losses in the past 10 games, we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that our team finally managed to earn 2 points. Despite the win, Montreal remains 12th in the Eastern Conference, 8 points out the final playoff berth with Pittsburgh Penguins this time holding 1 game in hand.
What should have been the lead story of the night, namely the debut of Rene Bourque sporting Number 27, played second fiddle to the awesome play of the Desharnais-Pacioretty-Cole line. The trio contributed three of the goals with Pacioretty scoring 2 and Desharnais netting the other. Eric Cole managed an assist on each of these three tallies demonstrating the extent to which these skaters are playing as a unit. In total, the linemates accumulated 9 points and MAN was it fun to watch!! It is my fervent hope that these players be given every opportunity to continue playing together despite the incessant line-juggling on the part of head coach Randy Cunneyworth. Mike Blunden scored the other Habs goal.
While Rene Bourque did not contribute to the scoresheet, he was a physical presence. He was placed on a line initially with Plekanec and Blunden. Benoit Brunet, analyst for RDS was taken aback by this combination and his skepticism proved justified when Blunden was eventually replaced by Andrei Kostitsyn. This move, however, may have been sparked less by Brunet`s comments and more by the fact that AK46`s linemate Lars Eller was benched for the entirety of the 2nd period after failing on a defensive assignment in the first that led to the only Ranger goal.
Carey Price finally got a break. Not only did the Canadiens win, but colleague Peter Budaj started his sixth game of the season and played well. Budaj demonstrated excellent focus and determination in stopping 28 of 29 shots against him; many of them being from point-blank range. Carey Price had made the nine previous starts including participation in the game vs. Ottawa the night before.
Scott Gomez, playing in his 2nd consecutive game since returning from a groin injury seemed energized and had a strong performance including a beautiful assist on Blunden`s goal (his second in the NHL). The underachieving centreman displayed serious commitment this evening and more of a competitive spirit than we have seen from him in a long while.
Chris Campoli was returned to the press box. He was joined there by Petteri Nokelainen. Alexei Emelin, after being removed from the lineup on Saturday was thrown back into the mix against The Rangers.
Montreal faces some stiff competition over the course of its next few games. The Capitals make their way into Montreal on Wednesday. The Penguins, Leafs, Red Wings, and Sabres round out the opposition for the remainder of January. As a fan, I could not ask for a better stretch to get the Habs going. They generally play at their best when facing teams ahead of them in the standings (and conversely underperform when facing teams that are struggling). As mentioned above: Anything can happen. Go Habs Go!