Saying that Sunday evening’s match-up against the New Jersey Devil’s was the toughest test of their young season, would be an understatement.
The Devils arrived at Le Centre Bell with a perfect 3-0 record, and one of the best goalies that the league has ever seen sit between the pipes. Not to mention the fact that Martin Brodeur has basically owned the Habs during his career.
We all knew that the Canadiens had come off back to back wins, but the first was against a tired Florida Panthers team that had played three games in four nights. The second was a step up, winning against a struggling Washington Capitals team, still looking to secure their first win of the season (and in their own building at that).
But the truth of the matter is, Les Boys were steadily elevating their game. But could it continue with the first injury of the season being announced? Pacioretty out for several weeks due to what was originally announced as the flu, but was later confirmed to be appendicitis (with surgery needed).
Lars Eller would need to pick up his game and show a steady improvement, and there is no doubt that he did that. But the real story of the team on Sunday night became apparent quickly. It all came down to the players that produced that night, which became a “hold on to your hat” overtime victory by the Habs.
The goal scorers in regulation speak volumes to the changes made to this team. Ryan White, Brendan Gallagher, and Brandon Prust all notched their first goals of the year, and two of those were assisted by the young phenom Alex Galchenyuk. Moen and Emelin were the other two assists on the goals.
Not exactly your usual suspects, and it shows two things.
Therrien is doing a great job of turning this team into an offensive force and utilizing his younger talented players. He’s giving them a solid chance to show what they can do on the ice, and making sure they are being mentored off the ice appropriately as well.
He also seems to be coaching and pushing his veteran third and fourth line players, and allowing them to improve their skill-set and see some ice time with good line-mates.
There was a definite moment in the game where the momentum shifted in the Devil’s favour, and the Habs got caught on their heels playing more defensively. There was also some sloppy defensive play that lead to the two third period goals that eventually tied the match sending it to overtime (one being on the PP).
But in the end, La Flanelle held their own for the balance of regulation, played disciplined, and forced a powerplay of their own in the extra frame, which lead to Andrei Markov netting his fourth of the year.
All in all, this was a decent showing against such a tough team. Was it perfect? No, far from it, but it definitely showed the overall improvement that this team seems to be gaining with each passing game.
Tonight, the Winnipeg Jets will enter the Canadiens barn. Both teams have won three straight, and are separated by only one point (the Jets having one game in hand). One glaring difference between both teams comes in the Goals Allowed column. The Jets have given up twice as many goals as the Canadiens, so continued fore-check and aggressive back-check play will be imperative.
The Jets top points players will also have to have to be played tightly. Enstrom (D), Byfuglien (D), Ladd (L), Kane (L), and Wheeler (R) have an impressive combined 28 points this season.
Tonight’s test between these two Canadian teams should be a hard fought tight game. If the Habs can continue playing the way they have, they could come away with another two points, and advance once again up the ladder of the Eastern Conference.
Let’s just hope that they don’t step into the ice with too much confidence from the last three games, and lose a good opportunity.