The Montreal Canadiens hosted the suddenly floundering New York Rangers at the Bell Centre on Saturday, with their last game being a spirited comeback against the Boston Bruins. With Boston having lost to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the day, the stage was set for the Canadiens to start putting some much-needed separation for the Northeast Division lead. The Canadiens held a 2-0 edge for the 2013 shortened season; having won 3-1 in New York on February 19th and then shutting them out by a 3-0 score at the Bell Centre on February 23rd. With the suddenly limp New York Rangers coming off a 3-0 shutout to the Ottawa Senators in their last game, the NHL’s lowest scoring team faced a formidable challenge – beating the Montreal Canadiens at home, where they’re 9-4-3. I, very fortunately, got to catch this game live at the Bell Centre (and interestingly, I was at the 3-0 shutout of the Rangers earlier this season) and was quite impressed with the game overall and certain players in particular, which I’ll elaborate more on later.
The New York Rangers turned to Martin Biron, who was an interesting choice as a starter. He was also the starter on February 23rd, and he’s seen the Canadiens shut out his team in his last 4 starts since 2011. The Canadiens, as expected, started Carey Price; a sign of confidence in the net-minder despite giving up 4 goals in the second period of the last game (though by all means that was a team breakdown!). The game started off with a bang – taking advantage of a terrible Rangers line change, Michael Ryder banked the puck off the boards to himself open in the slot, and he put one past a stunned Martin Biron to open up the scoring 47 seconds into the game, with the lone assist going to P.K. Subban. The Canadiens would keep on the pressure for the rest of the period, but had a lot of near misses. Their cycle game was quite good and they did an excellent job of boxing the Rangers players to the outside. The Canadiens would score again in the last two minutes of the period, with Tomas Plekanec capitalizing on shoddy defensive coverage to get a 2 on 1 break with P.K. Subban. Plekanec kept looking towards Subban, yet unleashed a hard shot that beat Biron cleanly at 18:11 of the first. The period would end with the shots as 17-10 in favor of the Rangers, but the major scoring chances belonged to the Canadiens for the first part. Carey Price, however, made an excellent stop on Marian Gaborik who managed to break in alone behind the Canadiens defence while on a power play.
The second period was more of the same, with Brendan Gallagher in particular getting multiple chances to score a few goals. Every line on the ice for the Canadiens seemed to create pressure on every shift, and it was particularly interesting to see how adept even the 4th line was at breaking into the Rangers zone with short, well-placed passes into corners and neat deflections. The Canadiens pressure in the neutral zone was also more obvious from my vantage point and the Canadiens were good at clogging up passing lanes and getting the puck moving the other way very quickly. Speaking of Brendan Gallagher, he would put the game out of the reach with a hard battle in front to pop in a rebound just past Biron, who was scrambling. Oh, and guess who got an assist on the play? P.K. Subban for his 3rd of the evening. Up 3-0, the Canadiens were quite content to close out the rest of the game. Carey Price did face some excellent chances in the final 40 minutes, notably frustrating J.T. Miller on a few occasions. He was making initial saves quite easily and made even difficult ones look simple, all the signs of a confident and in-the-zone goaltender. He earned the shutout, his 3rd of the season (and 2nd against the Rangers) and made 34 saves.
My Three Stars of the Game:
1. P.K Subban. He’s been putting himself into Norris Trophy contention this season. He has 27 points in 28 games, and is utterly dominating at both ends of the ice. He was absolutely fantastic to watch live – his ability to make tape-to-tape passes almost effortless from behind his own net to someone about to break into the Rangers zone at full speed is absolutely noticeable in person. He controls the flow of the game every time he’s on the ice and he is a master on the powerplay.
2. Brendan Gallagher: I feel like he’s always on this list but it’s deserving. He was relentless in the offensive zone and got a well-deserved powerplay goal for his 11th of the season. Possible Calder?
3. I would normally put Carey Price here, particularly with a 34 save shutout performance after a difficult outing last Wednesday, but I think Nathan Beaulieu is deserving of a mention. He played 17 minutes and saw time on the powerplay, where he seemed tentative at first but grew a lot more comfortable as the game went on. Made some great plays offensively and defensively and might just prove to be the missing link on the 2nd wave PP with the prolonged absence of Raphael Diaz. I’m excited to see how he does over the next few games, but the future definitely looks great with this kid.
Honourable mentions: Brandon Prust with a huge shot block that stung him in the 3rd, and then kneeling to block a 2nd one on the same shift. He’s a leader in every sense of the word for the Canadiens and hopefully his presence can spark some offensive production for Alex Galchenyuk, who seems to hitting the wall in terms of goals/points, but is playing pretty well overall. My second big honourable mention goes to the quietly effective season Brian Gionta is putting together with 19 points in 34 games. He was tenacious on the forecheck and his line has incredible chemistry. They were dangerous on every shift.
Dishonourable mentions: How long does John Tortorella have as coach of the Rangers? I say he gets fired in the next few days. Can’t have a team with that much money invested in good players performing so listlessly. And to think they entered the season as a definite contender for the Stanley Cup…
That’s a wrap folks. Excellent win and now a 3 point lead over the Boston Bruins for 1st in the Northeast. The next game is on Monday, when the Canadiens host the Carolina Hurricanes.