Michel Therrien yesterday reverted to one of his favourite maxims when harried by the press about the swoon his team was mired in the last six games. After practice, he again intoned that every team has to face adversity, the important thing is how you react to it, that when you're down on one knee, you don't put the other knee down, you have to get back up.
This bromide has become his lucky rabbit's foot, every time he whips it out, the Canadiens halt a slide with a win against a strong team. As they did tonight, handing the Islanders a 3-1 loss on the backs of the usual workhorses: Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and P.K. Subban.
Tomas opened the scoring on a nice 3-on-2 with linemates Alex Galchenyuk and P.A. Parenteau. Other than his struggles in the faceoff circle, he played a strong leader's role and was his usual difference maker.
Max scored a shorthanded goal for the second game in a row, and was a constant menace. He's continuing his career season, amassing points but also adding a leadership component, as well as a strong defensive game, as evidenced by his leading the league in the +/- column.
P.K. played 28 minutes and killed penalties, was strong in his zone, and didn't commit any glaring errors, try anything too fancy and assume too much risk. A couple of times I cringed when he had the puck and was rushing it up-ice, but he quickly dished off to a teammate, and the play progressed. Nice going P.K.
We've run out of superlatives for Carey Price. He made a save that will be on all the highlight reels this weekend, when he last-gasped at a puck that stone-handed Matt Martin (who says that these types of players don't hurt their own team) flubbed in the crease. Still, he stopped 35 of 36 shots, and that's the difference he makes. No mistakes, plus one or two miracles a game.
Good on Lars for potting an empty-net goal to seal the win, after the Islanders made it close with a powerplay goal. I had feared a repeat of the loss against the Oilers, in which Tomas Plekanec had failed to score on an empty net, habitual practice for les Glorieux this year. Again tonight, Max backhanded a shot at the empty net but missed, and now the Islanders had the puck back with around a minute to play. But our boys forechecked them hard and didn't allow them to get set up, and they turned the puck over to Brendan Gallagher, who smartly found Lars with a quick pass.
Good on Lars also for again celebrating his goal in a sober fashion, not tigerwilliamsing it. These gimmes may not seem like much, but hopefully they serve to settle him down, feel more a part of things, gain in confidence, and get going in time for the playoffs. Added to his assist on Max's shorthanded goal, Lars is contributing in a tangible manner, and that's great.
Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu didn't do too badly. One play I noticed was when Carey made his miracle save on Matt Martin, Greg stepped up and pushed back on an incoming Brock Nelson after the whistle. There was a potential for escalation, but Greg, uhm, insisted, and the Isles forward didn't push it, he actually backed down. Which I appreciated. Greg's a grown man, big and strong, and he can stand up to opponents who want to start up something to get Carey off his game. Brock Nelson is no waif, but he wasn't too keen on fronting Greg.
I was worried that the Canadiens may have spoiled the good chemistry in their ranks with the trade deadline acquisitions, whether some feathers had been ruffled, so we can hope that this win is evidence that this isn't the case. The panel on L'Antichambre made the point that a few other teams at the top of the standings are having difficulty right now, including tonight's opponents, but also the Ducks, the Predators, the Blues... The Canadiens aren't the only ones stumbling a bit.
Chantal Machabé repeated that this may be the most close-knit group she has ever witnessed in all her years of covering the Canadiens, forever teasing and pranking each other. She said that they're a young team, and you can tell by their ebullience and highjinks, but everyone gets along, there are no cliques or oddballs.
When the discussion dealt with the use of the defencemen, about how Nate has been playing, what happens when Alexei Emelin returns, what will become of Sergei Gonchar, and why Greg Pateryn is getting icetime now instead of a rested, available Mike Weaver, Jacques Demers made the point that no decision on the Canadiens is made in a vacuum, nothing is improvised. He says that the GM and his advisors, as well as the coaching staff, work hand-in-hand in making these kinds of decisions, as they did last season when they chose to play Dustin Tokarski instead of Peter Budaj. If Greg Pateryn is being used, it's not desperation, it's to figure him out, showcase him, get him ready for the playoffs, whatever, but it's not a Hail Mary.
So anyway, if I had my druthers, put me down for a series against the Islanders in the Conference Finals, pretty please. We have their number, and Tomas Plekanec seems to like playing against them, whereas John Tavares has a difficult, whiny time of it. I'll take that matchup over any involving the Pens or the Rangers.