Big Hit, Early Ugliness Leads to Habs Loss in New York
If you were to take a quick glance at the box score from tonight's tilt at Madison Square Garden, you would probably have to assume that the New York Rangers had their way with the Montreal Canadiens. 5-3, heavy advantage in powerplays, faceoffs, and (especially early) in shots, everything on paper screamed out that this was the Rangers' game.
But of course, stats can sometimes be misleading. You see, despite a relatively horrendous first period, for many reasons, the Montreal Canadiens may have actually been the better team on the ice tonight.
The chances definitely went in the Canadiens' favor, as did the hits and the shots in the last two periods. Even the goals scored against them were near perfect plays that the Rangers couldn't really repeat for the rest of the game. As a matter of fact, I'd go as far as to say that if it wasn't for one single unfortunately incident early in the game that led to a questionable 5-on-3 for the Rangers and their first goal of the game, we might very well have been talking about the Habs' fifth win a row right now.
At 4:18 in the first period, Michael Blunden jumped off the Canadiens' bench, and proceded to firmly plant his shoulder in the chest of a streaking Brandon Dubinsky. The hit itself was huge, and for all intents and purposes, clean, but the Rangers would take offense, with both Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan jumping Blunden. While the hit was clean, the circumstance was a little questionable, as Erik Cole, who was coming back to the bench, hadn't left the ice yet, and Blunden may have jumped the gun on his shift. Here's the video from the incident:
The end result would be a boatload of penalties to both teams, but with the extra two going to the Canadiens, one for too many men on the ice, and one for interference to Blunden, the latter of which is questionable at best. You have to figure they had to give him something, but it was an odd play to say the least. Still, Blunden was then jumped by two players, so you have to wonder whether the referees are ever going to decide to start calling that dreaded instigator penalty that everyone keeps complaining about.
Whatever you may have thought about that hit, it happened, and it led to the Rangers first goal at the hands of Erik Christensen, off a perfect pass from Derek Stepan that Price had no shot on. The Rags would make it 2-0 off a screened Dan Girardi shot, and finally 3-0 late in the period on a play that saw Michael Del Zotto come out of nowhere to score his second. The shots where 16-6, thanks to four separate powerplays for the Rangers.
But the rest of the game would be a different story. The Canadiens would waste no time getting back in the game in the second period. Max Pacioretty would contribute his fifth of the season only 24 seconds into the period, as would Andrei Kostitsyn 12 minutes later (Tomas Plekanec would assist on both goals). The Rangers would make it 4-2 late in the period on a deflating goal by Brad Richards, but overall, the Canadiens would dominate the period with 13 shots to the Rangers 6, and most of the scoring opportunities.
The same could be said about the third period, with a similar differential in shots (12-7) and scoring chances, but the only goals would come with less than two minutes in the game, with Brian Gionta making things 4-3 with his third of the season, but Ryan Callahan finally putting things away with his sixth via an empty net.
The end result, a 5-3 loss for the Canadiens, but one that you won't find this writer too upset about. Sure, the team didn't exactly have the best first period, but it's difficult to get any momentum going when you spend most of the time in the box. David Desharnais was the main culprit here, taking two back-to-back penalties halfway through the period, but you can't discount the effect of the ugliness early in the period.
That said, it's hard to really blame Blunden for anything. He saw an opportunity for a big hit, and he took it. He was obviously a little early on the draw, and that probably won't do him any favors with the coaching staff, but that kind of moxy is exactly what the Canadiens need. What's unfortunate is that was the first time I ever noticed Michael Blunden in his six games with the team.
What I didn't like, however, is how Jacques Martin decided to bench Blunden. Blunden admittedly may have made a mistake coming off the bench early, but he did was he's paid to do, and that's hit and be physical. Nokelainen would get kicked out of the game for his fight with Sauer, and I'm not really sure why. It certainly didn't help the team, as they would go on to lose 62% of the night's faceoffs.
The real story of the game, however, is the perseverance the team showed after all the adversity they faced early in the comeback they weren't able to complete. Time after time, if they weren't reducing the deficit, they were amply beating goaltending Henrik Lundqvist, if only to be stopped by the post, by a defenseman or even just pure bad luck, unable to finish on their many chances.
There was a lot of bad for Habs fans to take in tonight, but also a lot of good. I may be the guy who said fire the coach no less than a week and a half ago (and as you can probably tell a few paragraphs above, I'm still feeling some of the hatred), but I can recognize that every team has to lose. And it's not about simply losing or winning, it's about how you do so.
Two weeks ago, the Canadiens were not losing the right way. They weren't putting forth the proper effort, they were sitting on one goal deficits for some reason, they weren't playing the proper players. Now, after a four game win streak, it finally seems as if they lost the right way for the first time this season, as odd as that may sound. You can't really fault them for the goals they let up or frankly even a first period that left little to be desired, and you couldn't really have asked any more from them for the rest of the game.
Again, we have to wonder whether the Canadiens can keep it up. They clearly got over the rust from their week off, but now it's a matter of maintaining the momentum through a busy schedule that will see them return home to face the Oilers, before road games in Phoenix and Nashville just next week, and then eight games in two weeks after that.
For now, we'll take the loss in stride. Just don't let it happen again.
Habs Three Stars:
- Tomas Plekanec: With assists on all three of the Canadiens' goals, Plekanec was no doubt the team's best player.
- Brian Gionta: Gionta's goal late in the game was what we like to call clutch. The captain may not be having the best year, but he had a good game tonight, with two points and 3 shots.
- Josh Gorges: Mr. Consistent led the team in ice time with 25 minutes as PK Subban seemingly flirts with the dog house, adding 3 hits and a +1 ratings in a quiet but effective performance.