Is there anything better than Saturday night hockey? In this season’s first instalment of HNIC, the Canadiens took on the Flyers in a game that had some interesting sub-plots. For starters, they had both dropped their season opener to the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you watch the Canadiens feed on RDS, you couldn’t possibly have missed the endless discussion of Vincent Lecavalier and his choice over the summer to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers over the summer rather than “come home” to play in Montreal (this narrative is based on the assumption that the Canadiens were interested in him, had a roster spot for him, made an offer and he spurned it – but I digress). It was also the first game against the Flyers for former boo-bird target Daniel Briere; who took a 2-year deal with the Canadiens this summer after spurning them in 2007 to sign a mega-deal with those same Flyers. I don’t understand the love affair with a tiny, declining player like Briere – and I definitely don’t understand why he was chosen to receive the torch during the opening ceremonies last Tuesday before even playing a regular season game with the Canadiens over several other core players. (There is a fantastic post on The H Does NOT Stand For Habs blog on this very issue that I suggest you take a look at – she’s spot on in her observations about the ceremony as a whole)
In any event, the Canadiens were looking to pick up some points tonight and level the still-young season at 1-1. In terms of important absences, Max Pacioretty missed the game as a result of an injury picked up on a hit by Colton Orr in the season opening, while George Parros is out indefinitely due to a concussion. The D pairings remained largely the same and Carey Price would get his 2nd start of the season.
The game started off fairly well for the Canadiens, with a goal in the opening 10 minutes. Tomas Plekanec won an important face-off and Rene Bourque threaded a pass to Brian Gionta across the crease for a relatively easy-looking tap-in past Ray Emery. The Canadiens got a bit of a break over an early whistle a short time later- Matt Read had scored off a puck stuck in Price’s feet, but the referee had already lost sight of the puck and blown the play dead. The Canadiens would maintain the 1-0 lead through two periods and were able to add to their lead in the opening minute of the 3rd period. Lars Eller (who else??) backhanded a puck past Emery only 12 seconds into the period, and Brendan Gallagher added a 3rd goal off a pretty play between P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk. The Flyers would put on the board, spoiling Price’s shutout bid at the 9 minute mark of the 3rd, and it wouldn’t be anyone else but Lecavalier at that point. The Canadiens would add another insurance marker when Bourque would complete a gorgeous passing play with Gionta off an odd man rush situation. The game would end 4-1, giving the Canadiens an important first win in game 2 of the season. The Flyers would drop to 0-2.
Special times were a huge part of the game – the Flyers were particularly indisciplined and gave the Canadiens 9 opportunities with the extra man (they went 2-for-9), while the Flyers got 5 opportunities (they went 1-for-5). The shot clock was in the Canadiens favour, carrying a lead of 34-23, and they controlled the play for a large portion of the night. The second period in particular was sloppy for both sides, but the third period was definitely in the Canadiens favour in terms of possession and zone play.
The Standout Performances:
– I thought Carey Price played much better this evening. He seemed square to the shooter, calm and made several key point blank saves when it was 1-0. He ended the night with a 0.956 save percentage.
– The EGG Line. The young guns were fantastic again – as they were in the opener. Both Eller and Gallagher put up 1G 1A each, while Galchenyuk put up 2A. Something that stood out to me – for the first time, Eller got a good 5 minutes of ice time over David Desharnais. Though this line is theoretically the 3rd line, it’s probably the 1st or 2nd line right now. They deserve the power-play time and even strength minutes since they’ve largely been carrying the play since the season started. They’re a joy to watch – don’t look now, but Eller is sitting pretty at 2nd on the scoring leaders list with 6 points in 2 games.
– Rene Bourque: my unsung hero prediction for him is looking pretty good after game 2 at least. He’s been playing as if last season’s resurgence isn’t a fluke, crashing the net and using his speed to get around opposing D. He looked great last night and picked up 1G 1A in the process. He has some good chemistry with his linemates.
The Not-So-Standout Performances:
– Andrei Markov might still be an offensive wizard on the power play, he is looking terrible on D 5-on-5. He’s slow, isn’t anticipating the play well and I really don’t think he should be playing 25 minutes a game anymore.
– David Desharnais and Daniel Briere: Granted, they were playing with Brandon Prust last night, but I still think this line is a major problem. They’re both pushed off the puck too easily and I’m not sure that there’s any chemistry between these two. There were a few fleeting moments where it looked like they might connect to score last night, but Desharnais missed both times. Briere was largely invisible besides picking up 2 minor penalties on the night.
– The Flyers. I’m surprised at how listless, undisciplined and lazy-looking this team has become. Just a couple of years ago, they were contenders for the Cup but now I’m not even sure I see them as a playoff team anymore. Claude Giroux is still fantastic at hockey and Wayne Simmonds is someone I would trade almost anyone off the Habs to obtain but otherwise I don’t see it. Maybe a coaching change is in order to spark them?
Looking ahead, the Canadiens have a big week ahead of them with a road trip out West. Hopefully they can string together a few wins and make a dent in the Atlantic Division standings.