Montreal Canadiens vs. Dallas Stars @ American Airlines Center – January 2, 2014

I think that someone was trying to impress the men behind the Canadian Olympic hockey team.  Just a day before winger Max Pacioretty had been named to the American Olympic hockey team and judging by the way he played I think PK Subban was looking to make it impossible for those selecting the Canadian team to leave him off.  There has been much talk about an overload of right shooting defensemen and that due to that plus some silly talk about his deficiencies defensively there has been some talk flying around that reigning Norris Trophy winner PK Subban would not be making the Canadian Olympic team.  Hogwash, I say!  And after sitting in wonderment watching him take over the recent Montreal game against Dallas I think that it is beyond silly if he does not make the team.

Michel Therrien made a couple of hard decisions even before the drop of the puck.  The easier of the two was to keep forward Daniel Brière in the press box.  It is obvious that aging player has fallen out of favour with the Montreal head coach and with trade rumours flying around he will probably stay out of the line-up unless there is an injury.  The more difficult decision was to not dress defenseman Alexei Emelin.  Emelin is thought of as a key component to the Montreal defensive corps and after he went down last season with a serious knee injury the team faltered.  He is one of the few defensemen that cause opposing players to keep their heads up for fear of his heavy bodychecks.  When he came back to the line-up in November he played brilliantly out of the gate.  But lately it has been quite labourious for the Russian rearguard.  Mistake after mistake has been made and goal after goal has gone in while he is on the ice.  The coach made the decision to give him a rest and inserted Douglas Murray, a man who does bring a physical element to the Habs, in his place.  We will see how long this “break” lasts.

The Dallas Stars are a good hockey team.  They have had at least 1 point in their last 7 games and ex-Hab Erik Cole had a very good month of December with 8 goals.  The Canadiens have been playing less than hermetic defense lately surrendering 18 goals in their last 5 games.  This was the second meeting of the season between the two sides.  In the first game at the Bell Centre the Habs won 2-1.

The game started off as Habs’ fans must have feared with Dallas dominating.  A mere 1:30 into the game Cole rushed in and flew past Josh Gorges.  His shot beat Carey Price, but luckily hit the post instead of going into the net.  When Habs’ captain Brian Gionta, who mired in a slump which has seen him score only 1 goal in the last 28 games, hit a post of his own and then made a good pass to Rene Bourque, a player who has no points on the road so far this season, it was an indication of the wide open type of game we were in for.

The 1st period was the quietest in regards to goal scoring with the two teams trading goals.  Dallas’ was scored by a man making his own argument to be on the Canadian Olympic team, Jamie Benn.  He notched his 14th of the season while Montreal’s goal was scored by U.S. Olympian, Max Pacioretty.  The goal was Pacioretty’s 18th of the season and featured a beautiful stretch pass from Subban that sent Pacioretty in on his own.  Pacioretty’s quick and precise wrist shot cleanly beat Dallas net minder, Kari Lehtonen.

What was obvious to anyone watching the 1st period was that Subban was controlling things whenever he was on the ice and that Carey Price was not feeling comfortable in nets.  In a season where he has been excellent this will not go down as one of his best efforts.  I have not seen Price flop around in goal as much as what happened Thursday night in Dallas.  He was all over the place and seemed to be panicked whenever the puck was around him.  In a season where he has bailed out his teammates on many a night it was good to see them return the favour for once.

The 2nd period featured a few more goals and a couple of fights, so on the entertainment scale it had it all over the 1st.  David Desharnais got things going early with a goal at the 1:35 mark.  His goal featured another great pass by Subban.  After playing the puck to himself between his own legs he feathered a pass over to Desharnais in the slot that implied that he might have eyes in the back of his helmet.  It was a play which showed all of what Subban brings to the Montreal Canadiens – speed, hands, creativity, and offensive flair that few others can match.

After a couple of fights between Ryan White (White did not return to the game after the fight and after the game Therrien said he suffered and upper body injury that would be evaluated when they got to Montreal) and Cameron Gaunce then Travis Moen and Antoine Roussel Dallas scored to once again tie the game on a penalty shot.  Gorges was forced to dive to try and stop 18-year-old rookie Valeri Nichushkin from going in unhindered on Price.  He did not manage to make contact with the puck at all and when his stick took out Nichushkin’s legs the penalty shot call was made.  Nichushkin scored on a wrist shot that seemed to surprise Price as he had come way out of his net seemingly expected the 6’4” Russian to try a deke.  Josh Gorges redeemed himself later in the game (not that he really had to) by making two goal saving blocks in front of Price.

Just over a minute after the Dallas goal who else but Subban gave his team the lead again on a great individual effort.  Once again making a play that very few other defensemen in the league can Subban went around a couple of Dallas players like they were peewee players and then showed patience in front of Lehtonen waiting until the goalie made the first move then wristing it by him.  Subban was putting on a show.  He made it look easy getting around Alex Goligoski.

At the beginning of the 3rd period, which was even more entertaining than the 2nd, Cody Eakin was given a high sticking minor putting the league’s 7th ranked power play to work.  Brendan Gallagher made them pay notching a goal on the backhand from his office in front of the net.  The boards at the American Airlines Center, especially the lower yellow part, are very lively and when an Andrei Markov shot from the point missed the Dallas net it came out quickly in front to find Gallagher able to react first.

A saying in the NHL should be that young players giveth and they taketh away.  No sooner had he done a good think then Gallagher took a silly roughing penalty after the whistle and Tyler Seguin scored on a howitzer of a slapshot at 7:42.  Seguin, who was traded to Dallas from Boston during the summer with talk of him partying too much following the young forward, has been great for his new team with 41 points in 38 games.  It seems like Dallas got the better of that trade.  A mere 47 seconds later defenseman Brenden Dillon scored on a slapshot from the blue line to knot the game up at 4-4 and it was shades of the 3rd period collapse in the previous game against Carolina.  This time, though, the team showed character and came out with the win.

Just past midway through the period Lars Eller scored the winning goal on another nice individual play.  Collecting the puck in the Stars’ end in the right corner, Eller came out and waiting for Lehtonen to come off his post just a smidge and then roofed a precise shot over the netminder’s left shoulder.  There wasn’t much room, but Eller didn’t need much.

Instead of sitting back to protect the lead Montreal kept pressing.  On one shift later in the period Desharnais had two glorious scoring chances, but could not cash in on either.  The Desharnais-Gallagher-Pacioretty line had a great night with 7 points between them.  They looked like a number one line.

With 1:21 left in the game Dallas coach (and member of the Canadian Olympic Hockey team coaching staff – hope he reported back to Steve Yzerman about the strong game Subban played!) Lindy Ruff called a time out with a faceoff in the Montreal end.  He pulled Lehtonen for the extra attacker.  It didn’t take long for Subban to do something else spectacular.  After collecting a loose puck behind his own net he saw Pacioretty breaking away and lobbed a perfectly weighted pass down towards the Dallas blue line.  A couple of strides were all Pacioretty needed to overtake the Stars’ defencemen and he sealed the victory with his 19th of the season into the empty net.

Montreal’s last game of its six game holiday road trip was the type that fans love and coaches hate.  It was entertaining and filled with goals, but also filled with plenty of mistakes by both teams.  Still with the win Montreal ended its road trip earning 7 points out of a possible 12, so all in all it was a success.  It was also an encouraging one for fans in that the team was led to victory by the young guns.  Pacioretty, Gallagher, Eller and Subban all had good games.  Bodes well for the future if these guys can consistently play the way they did last night.

The next game for Montreal will be within the friendly confines of the Bell Centre on Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Dave Jackson and Dean Morton

Linesmen – Derek Amell and Kiel Murchison

-Goals:  1st Period:

6:12:  Dallas – Jamie Benn assisted by Tyler Seguin and Kevin Connauton

11:00:  Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by PK Subban

2nd Period:

1:35:  Montreal – David Desharnais assisted by PK Subban and Brendan Gallagher

5:23:  Dallas – (ps)  Valeri Nichushkin

6:30:  Montreal – PK Subban assisted by Max Pacioretty and Carey Price

3rd Period:

3:30:  Montreal – (pp)  Brendan Gallagher assisted by Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais

7:42:  Dallas – (pp)  Tyler Seguin assisted by Cody Eakin and Kevin Connauton

8:29:  Dallas – Brenden Dillon assisted by Alex Goligoski and Rich Peverly

10:39:  Montreal – Lars Eller assisted by Travis Moen

18:56:  Montreal – (en)  Max Pacioretty assisted by PK Subban

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal – 28

Dallas – 32

-3 Stars:  1)  PK Subban

2)  Max Pacioretty

3)  Tyler Seguin

-Attendance:  13,007

-Final Score:  Montreal – 6

Dallas – 4

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