Michel Therrien was asked a question at the end of last week during his time on “Tout Le Monde en Parle”, as the teams headed into it’s second back to back series of the season. At the time, the team was 4-2-0, and the question posed was whether the team would be 4-4-0, 5-3-0, or 6-2-0 by Sunday evening.
He didn’t bat an eye. He just responded with even tone. The Habs would win both games. And the team did not disappoint.
Many a fan was wondering how the team would react to the dismal showing against the Senators from the previous Wednesday night, when they took a solid beating in a 5-1 loss. In that game, Les Boys never found their rhythm, with sloppy puck handling, slow skating, and very few redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Buffalo was a .500 team coming in, with Vanek being on fire, and Miller showing his usual solid skills between the pipes. Plus, it was a matinee game which usually leads to teams starting slow and sloppy.
But it became apparent right out of the gate that this was a different team than the one that took to the ice in the nations capital a few days earlier. There were distinct changes to the line-up, as the Canadiens dressed seven defensemen and eleven forwards. The notable defenseman of the evening being PK Subban, making his 2012-2013 debut.
All lines contributed, and they seemed to have their legs back. They consistently controlled the neutral zone, cycled the puck strongly in the offensive zone, and back-checked consistently, giving Price less work than had been pushed on Budaj in the previous match. They outshot the Sabres 15-1 in the first frame.
It was also a night of monkeys being torn off players backs. David Desharnais was visibly relieved when he potted his first goal of the season, halfway through the second period, giving the Habs a 2-0 lead. He would find the back of the net once again in the third, and looked like a much more relaxed player throughout the afternoon. Rene Bourque was rewarded once again for his trips to the front of the net, as he beat Miller to open the scoring with a mere eight seconds remaining in the opening period. Eller managed to turn on the goal light for his first of the season, and Gallagher chalked up his third on a beautiful 2 on 1 break with Galchenyuk on his right wing.
Th difference was palpable. Montreal played a full sixty minutes of hockey, never letting up on the gas pedal. Not once did they sit back and try to protect their lead. Instead they just kept pushing – looking for that next goal.
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The following day, with another 2pm matinee scheduled, the Habs welcomed the chance to make things even or extract some revenge on the visiting Senators. To say that they had something to prove would be far from accurate, but it definitely wasn’t the exact same team from the previous afternoon.
They seemed slower again, and not as crisp in their passing game. They were often kept to the outside portions of the ice in the offensive zone, and weren’t as capable in shutting down the neutral zone against the larger Sens.
Miraculously, Max Pacioretty was back in the line-up after being out just a week after emergency appendicitis surgery. Although Ottawa drew first blood, less than a minute later, Pacioretty made his presence felt, feeding none other than Desharnais for his third of the season. A little over mid-way through the first, Erik Cole scored the game winner from Bouillon and Subban.
One of the things that can be attributed to the success of La Flanelle this year sits squarely on the shoulders of Head Coach Michel Therrien. He has implemented a system that’s conducive to the players – not the other way around. He’s also mentoring a “team first” attitude, ensuring that it can never be about one single player. He’s managed that not only by preaching the philosophy, but by ensuring it through great ice time management, and solid line selections.
The back to back wins have put Montreal solidly into fourth place in the conference, with a chance to take over top spot in the Northeast Division with a victory against Boston on Wednesday.
Wednesday will be the true litmus test for this team. It will be interesting to see how the Bruins react to Therrien’s new system. They will have to deal with a much larger, tougher Canadiens team, that hasn’t relinquished any of it’s speed, but has evidently deepened their talent.
Montreal can’t win them all this season, but we all know how sweet a victory would be walking onto the ice Wednesday, and electrifying the Bell Center crowd with a huge win against our arch rival, taking over first place in the Division.