Canadiens Nix the ' Nucks
To say that it was a complete team effort would be somewhat fair. To say that the defensive unit deserves the accolade for pinning two more points into the "right" column would be more accurate.
But no matter how you look at it, the Habs came out of the night with a much needed win. One that many a Canadiens fan didn't think they could acquire.
Coming into the night - the Vancouver Canucks seemed like a fearless opponent. They had won their last six straight; and as many of us reported, it was the depth of their third line (Maholtra, Torres, and Hansen) that would command as much respect as the Sedin twins, and the rest of the team.
But as I mentioned in my own pre-game report, the key to this match would be getting to Luongo early. He has been far from strong this season; and if rattled early, the chance to post one in the win column was more than justifiable.
Enter the Habs defensive unit.
Only 06:53 into the first frame, Andrei Markov did just that. Heading to the blue ice, Marky pounced on a simple rebound given up by "Bobby Lou" and beat him through the five hole to make it a 1-0 lead. But the seven minute mark of the first period is far too early to call a game, especially when you're used to simply trying to "hold on" to a single goal game.
But the Habs continued to look strong and disciplined throughout the first. The one thing that they knew going into this game, was that they could not afford to give up shorthanded minutes to the best Power Play in the league. Yet that unraveled quickly close to the 18 minute mark of the first. To begin with, Spacek took an unnecessary tripping penalty to put Vancouver up by a man. But in a strange shot down the ice, Plekanec (who is one of the strongest penalty killers on the ice) iced a puck over the glass at the far end of the ice, bringing on a Delay of Game penalty.
But the Habs PK continued to amaze, even without Pleks. And they managed to finish the first , as well as begin the second, by killing off big penallties.
But enough about the praises of the defense tonight. Early in the second period is where the Canadiens had their best chance to bury their opponent, and show a flair of offense. Just 2:21 into the second frame, Andrew Alberts took a streaking Matthieu Darche out with what could easily be considered "intent to injure", but was fortunate to only receive a 4 minute double minor for high sticking.
But on the ensuing power play, the beleaguered Habs found the net only 2 times, with no serious threat against the Canucks, and it seemed that the tide may be turning in the visitors favour.
Adding insult to injury, Lapierre took a terribly undisciplined holding penalty - the type of penalty that has cost the Canadiens wins all season long. And just as that was fought off by the special teams - who clearly were a huge portion of the night - Darche was called for charging in a situation where he was clearly just trying to finish the play.
Once again, the Montreal PK unit was forced to begin a period behind the 8 ball. But once again, they forced the play, held the zone, and gave Vancouver very few chances at Carey Price - who to this point was mostly unchallenged.
It was early on in the third that things changed. Under three minutes into the final frame, Alberts took his second penalty of the match as he flipped the puck up over the glass for a Delay of Game minor. Most Habs fans thought nothing of it as their Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge have not been able to capitalize often on the Power Play.
But with a mere 3 seconds remaining on that power play, Spacek fed Cammalleri, who slammed a slap pass off the end boards, fooling Luongo - and leaving Hamrlik alone with the empty netter ... 2-0 Montreal..
The beauty of the night came in many forms. Not only did the team not sit back on a lead, they charged to maintain the win. Yes - there were moments when they looked like they were playing the traditional Habs style of "Protect the Lead", but those moments were fleeting.
Despite the fact that the offense put up very little as far as points go, they showed a grit and determination that truly kept them in the match. And the defensive unit owned this game. They shut down the Canucks for the majority of the night, and made sure that the number of shots Price had to face were at a minimum.
It didn't end quite as simply as that though. Somewhere nearing the middle of the third period, the Vancouver offense found their game, and brought it to the defensive zone of the Canadiens. But Carey Price shut them down time and time again, with some spectacular saves (especially in the last minute), earning him his second shutout of the season as well as the games first star.
So - in retrospect - should we be happy with the two points that the Habs gained in tonight's victory? You bet we should. Regardless of the fact that the offense still isn't producing solid scoring numbers, we saw a solid team effort tonight that earned them a victory. They took a hot streaking team and shut them down. They stopped one of the best power plays in the league, and held them to nothing.
There is no better way to head into Thursdays Divisional rival match against the Bruins, than with what was accomplished tonight.
Was it perfect. God no!
But will we take it?