The Montreal Canadiens faced off against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Centre, fresh of last night’s and uninspiring losing effort against a Philadelphia Flyers team fighting for its playoff life. The Winnipeg Jets, losers of their last 4 games, were trying to keep a hold on the division lead for the excruciatingly weak Southeast Division in the face of from the suddenly surging Washington Capitals. Having swept 3 of the SE division teams this season, the Canadiens went with Peter Budaj for the start, a nice gesture for the incredibly solid backup who had family visiting for the game.
With Tomas Plekanec out for the game, Michel Therrien juggled the forward lineup a little bit. The Desharnais line stayed together, but Lars Eller became the centre for Brandon Prust and Brian Gionta. On the third line, Alex Galchenyuk moved to centre to be the pivot for Michael Ryder and Travis Moen. Ryan White would return to the 4th line of Jeff Halpern and Mike Blunden. The D pairings would stay the same.
The Canadiens would show a bit more jump than their last game in the opening period, but Ryder and Davis Drewiske had some confusion over d-coverage, leaving Alexander Burmistrov alone to put the puck into an open. Ryder would make up for it by scoring his 14th of the season on the powerplay, with assists from Gionta and Eller. Less than 3 minutes into the second, Ryder would pot his 2nd of the game, and 15th on the year, with the lone assist going to P.K Subban. That Cole trade is looking genius isn’t it? Since the trade that brought him back to Montreal, Ryder has 15 points in 17 games with the Canadiens, while Erik Cole has only 4 points in 16 games with Dallas. Brian Gionta would score his 11th of the season a few minutes later on the powerplay, deflecting Eller‘s shot, with a secondary assist going to Subban. Yes, Subban with another 2 point effort tonight.
It was more of the same in the third, though the Canadiens were starting to show some signs of fatigue. Galchenyuk would be rewarded for an absolutely dominant offensive performance with his first goal in 19 games, assisted by Moen and Ryder (3 points!!). That would be enough to finish off the Jets and cap an excellent bounce-back game for the Canadiens against an opponent that they should have had no trouble beating. The Canadiens ended the evening maintaining their lead for the Northeast against Boston, who won 1-0 off a goal by Jaromir Jagr.
My impressions? An excellent all-around effort against one of the those teams you need to beat. It was great to see Budaj go onto the first 6-game winning streak of his career, which is even harder to do as a backup. He’s been an excellent counterpart to Carey Price and I hope he gets rewarded with an extension. I thought Lars Eller was fantastic offensively and I thought Galchenyuk deserved that goal more than anyone tonight. He made some dazzling plays tonight to set up his line mates and it was great to see one go in. One thing that still concerns me is that I’m not sure that the Canadiens have the depth to sustain a long-term absence from Plekanec, and I really don’t have the utmost confidence that Desharnais and Eller can cover all of the defensive facets of the game that Plekanec does by committee. Galchenyuk doesn’t seem to be ready to be playing centre on a regular basis either at this point in his very young career. On the bright side, Plekanec is day-to-day and should be back soon. Another major positive – the play of Michael Ryder. He’s been fantastic since coming back to Montreal and I’m excited to think about the offensive depth of this team once Rene Bourque comes back in (he’s scheduled to participate in regular practices as of tomorrow, so should be coming in fairly soon if no setbacks occur). On D, I think Markov‘s minutes need to be cut back a little more – opposing forwards are taking it by him with speed several times a game. He doesn’t quite have the stamina or mobility anymore to stop those, so Gorges-Subban need to start taking on the more difficult match ups at this point. Speaking of Subban, with another 2 points tonight, he takes over sole possession of highest-scoring d-man from Kris Letang with 30 points in 31 games. Combined with the fact that he’s defensively solid, a +12 so far, and his marked improvement in all facets of the game this year, is he a Norris Trophy nominee this year? I have to believe so.
Come back for a guaranteed wild hockey matchup on Saturday evening when the Canadiens take on the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre with the Northeast Division lead at stake! The puck drops at 7:00 pm EST.