Despite the look on Erik Cole’s face after the game (not an especially happy one) a win against the best team in the Eastern Division and in dominating fashion was an accomplishment. After the Habs 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers, Cole told the media he did not feel like they had accomplished anything as they are still out of a playoff place. Yes, he is being a realist, but at this point the team still has to keep their heads up if they have any aspirations to make the playoffs.
It has been a tough season with inconsistent play, trades, coaches being fired, and injuries. After 45 games the Montreal Canadiens sit in 12th place in the Eastern Division with 42 points. They are 8 points behind the 8th place Pittsburgh Penguins. Putting a positive spin on it they are only 1 point behind the 11th place Buffalo Sabres. Baby steps! They have to stop looking far ahead and seeing that there are 4 teams they have to leap over to get into a playoff position and 8 points they have to gain. That is too overwhelming. Day by day. Game by game.
Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is considered to be one of the top goaltenders in the world and the NHL. This season he has the third best goals against average in the league. For some reason whenever he plays against Montreal at the Bell Centre he doesn’t play well. His record in Montreal over his career is a pedestrian 4-5-2 with a 3.86 goals against average. The fact that he let in 4 goals on 29 shots last night is not going to make that any better.
It is not only Lundqvist who has troubles at the Bell Centre, it is the entire Rangers team. They were awful last night with many breakdowns in their own end and a lack of effort throughout most of the game. The Rangers are 0-5-1 at the Bell Centre in their last 6 games. Colourful John Tortarella must have been at a loss behind the bench especially since his team had thoroughly blanketed Toronto the night before in a 3-0 win.
For the Canadiens they won for a couple of reasons. Their compete level was high last night. They worked hard, won more than their share of battles along the boards and used their speed to transition quickly out of their own end. Second reason was the steady goaltending of backup Peter Budaj. The guy is a consummate professional. Randy Cunneyworth says he is first on the ice for practice and last off. Even there on optional days helping guys coming back from injury get practice in. Before last night’s game, his sixth of the season, he had not played in over a month. If he was rusty it didn’t show. Only surrendered 1 goal on 29 shots. Several sparkling saves including a glove grab midway through the 3rd to keep Rangers from thinking of a comeback. The third major reason was the David Desharnais-Erik Cole-Max Pacioretty line.
The Desharnais-Cole-Pacioretty line played a whale of a game. They almost beat the Rangers single handedly. The three scored 3 of the 4 goals, had a combined 9 points, were +9, had 5 shots on net, and basically skated circles around their opposition. Pacioretty scored the first and second goals with Desharnais scoring the final one off a nice long centering pass from Pacioretty that he just had to redirect into the net. Total domination.
They were so good on this night and have become so integral to the Habs offence that even though Cole was a little banged up in the 3rd he continued playing. Pain and all. Thank God he could tough it out because the Canadiens were down to 9 forwards in the 3rd period as Travis Moen and Tomas Plekanec left the games with injuries. Moen seemed to injure his hamstring or suffer a charleyhorse in the 2nd period. It happened after a knee on knee collision with a Rangers’ defenceman. He went to the bench in obvious pain. After trying it out for one more shift he packed it in for the evening. Plekanec was hit in the face with the puck in the 3rd period and did not return to the game. Neither seems like serious injuries as after the game Randy Cunneyworth stated that he expected both to be back to play the Habs next game Wednesday night versus the Washington Capitals.
The injuries allowed someone like Scott Gomez, who started the game centering the 4th line between Michael Blunden and Mathieu Darche, to get more minutes. And the Montreal fans’ whipping boy responded. He controlled the puck down low and did not get caught out of position defensively. Gomez even set up Blunden for his 2nd goal of the season. He almost had another point, but PK Subban’s shot hit the post.
Another Habs’ player I had my eyes on was new winger Rene Bourque. He was pretty much as advertised. Bourque had some speed, showed some grit by going into the corners and front of the net, he doled out four hits, and had three shots on net.
Though the team was disappointed after losing to the Senators on Saturday night in shoot outs, this past weekend has to be seen as a successful one. Montreal got 3 points out of a possible 4.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Paul Devorski and Mike Hazenfratz
Linesmen: Steve Barton and Scott Driscoll
-Goals: 1st Period:
2:39: Montreal Goal – Max Pacioretty assisted by Erik Cole and David Desharnais
12:49: New York Rangers Goal – John Mitchell assisted by Marion Gaborik and Derek Stepan
3:54: Montreal Goal – Max Pacioretty assisted by David Desharnais and Erik Cole
7:11: Montreal Goal – Michael Blunden assisted by Scott Gomez and PK Subban
12:18: Montreal Goal – David Desharnais assisted by Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 29
New York: 29
-3 Stars: 1) Max Pacioretty – Montreal
2) David Desharnais – Montreal
3) Erik Cole – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 4
New York: 1