Like the 2-0 win against the Sabres recently, this 4-1 win against the Panthers seemed pre-ordained, according to what the standings and common sense told us, but it wasn't easy, and didn't quite feel in the bag until David Desharnais' empty-net goal late in the third, which sealed it. The Canadiens passed the puck at will and seemed to spend the first period in the Panthers' zone, and came off the ice with a 2-0 lead.
In the second though, they seemed to take the foot off the gas and rely on Harlem Globetrotter moves to add to their lead. Like in the recent 2-0 win in Buffalo, there wasn't this apparent desperation to win, as we saw in Boston, the boys seemed to want to coast to the end, without having to sacrifice too much. Their shot totals went from 11 in the first to 5 to only 3 in the third period, whereas the Panthers increased their intensity and fired more shots from one period to the next, and eventually tallied 37 against Carey Price.
While I watched and cringed, I was reminded of the classic horror movie trope, where near the end the hero puts the monster/Jason/rabid bear/mean-girl-with-a-crush out of commission, and all the tension drains as he checks on the heroine, who was about to be dispatched but was saved in extremis. Except that's the wrong move, as attractive and disrobed as the heroine is. Instead he should grab the rail gun/kitchen knife/shot gun/skillet and put a lasting end to the danger. Not brush hair out of the heroine eyes and whisper sweet nothings. He should finish the job. But he doesn't. And inevitably, accompanied by a sudden salvo of music, the antagonist rises, revived, angrier, meaner, for another five minutes of mayhem before the kill shot. Because the hero didn't, in the first place, finish the job.
Which the Canadiens didn't/couldn't/weren't prepared to do. They missed passes and flubbed clearances and were unable to deal with the size of some of the Panthers' forward, guys like 6'6", 220 lbs Jimmy Hayes and 6'6", 215 lbs Nick Bjugstad, who took up residence near Carey's crease and refused invitations to depart.
Carey was cool and calm throughout, didn't go all Hasek and flip out on his teammates, he made 36 saves and cooled things off repeatedly. The only goal he allowed was tucked in as tight as possible top corner, in essence a perfect shot. I took comfort in the fact that while it was glove side, he wasn't down on his knees in the butterfly already, he stayed in his crouch when the shot came. He seems ready to go, getting stronger game by game.
One allowance I'll make for the Canadiens is how they are down to their last reserves at forward, due to Tomas Plekanec's absence for family reasons, which piled on top of injuries to Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Dale Weise, meant that George Parros drew in the lineup. George is a sympathetic figure, but has a deleterious effect on our team at this point, being unable to contribute in terms of hockey, and preventing Ryan White and Michaël Bournival from being effective.
Further, he was invited to a dance by Krys Barch and accepted, and wrestled him to a draw, as I cringed some more, hoping that the Panthers enforcer wouldn't be able to get a clean shot off. As they skated off the ice, Mr. Barch was given an earful by the Canadiens bench, who according to RDS' Marc Denis thought he should have held off the unnecessary staged fight, in light of George's concussion woes recently. Which effectively shows that George isn't trusted to contribute in that area either.
So our depth is being tested, and our resolve as well as the march to the playoffs continues. The boys will need to focus not only on the 'big' games, like the tilt against the Lightning coming up, a classic four-pointer. The gimmes against the Sens and the Islanders coming up are also going to count in the standings.
The Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek line piled up seven points, and our expectations are already rising. I want more. Especially during power plays against the worst penalty kill in the league, I want results. I want to ride that Vanek pony as hard and as long as I can while we have him. Max scored twice, once on a beautiful pass by Thomas Vanek, to bring his season total to 35. He also smartly and unselfishly passed to David Desharnais with the Panthers net empty so that the latter could put the game away, while the inclination might have been to shoot himself and complete the hat trick. Max has a realistic shot at fourty goals this season, with the way his line is going.
The kid line, which we anticipated so much from based on previous success, had much more muted results. Gaston Therrien on l'Antichambre pointed out that all three right now are struggling to a degree, so putting them together isn't necessarily a recipe for success. In any case, it's not like the coaching staff had many options. A game against the Panthers was as good an opportunity as any to try something with the kids.
Until Josh Gorges returns, we're getting yeoman work out of Mike Weaver, Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon. Francis had a tough game in Detroit along with his partner P.K., but all three of our veteran defencemen are hard workers, they don't shrink from contact, and can hold down the fort while the kids learn their craft in Hamilton. They're a bit of a motley crew, none of them is unblemished or strong in all areas, but they're getting results, and putting all-out effort on the ice, which is all we can ask for.
Let's hope that all goes well for Tomas Plekanec, and that he can rejoin the team for the showdown in Tampa on Tuesday.