A Pyrrhic victory tonight, as the Canadiens outclassed a putative rival for the Eastern crown, but lost their best player for an undetermined period. The Canadiens dominated the Rangers and won going away 5-1, after New York coach Alain Vigneault had groused that his team had received "a lesson of hockey" in their previous matchup, a 3-0 loss in October.
The fly in the ointment is that Carey Price evidently re-injured himself during the game. This was caught early by RDS' superb Marc Denis, who was at ice-level and alerted his colleague Pierre Houde and the audience that he was moving awkwardly after executing a save, and provided commentary on the replays shown, showing the little stumbles and difficulty Carey had in getting up. Carey tried to fight through it, finished the second period, but Mike Condon started the third. Carey, ominously, wasn't even on the backup goalie's chair when the puck dropped, being attended to in the dressing room by the Canadiens therapy staff.
There was a lot to cheer about prior to that point. Sven Andrighetto continued his strong showing in his second game subbing in on the second line right wing spot, scoring the opening goal, displaying his speed and ability.
Lars Eller seemed to respond well to his new linemate, manufacturing this goal by heading right to the net and screening Henrik Lundqvist, earning an assist on the play. He also made a strong play on the puck on his next shift that led to a good scoring chance, again acting hungry and like he wanted the puck.
The Devo experiment got off to an encouraging start. Devante Smith-Pelly most probably got his marching orders, got shown video of Brendan Gallagher going to the net and causing havoc, and got told to go out there and do exactly that in his stead. He potted two goals from at most five feet out like Gally does. Like he vowed, he worked the corners and the front of the net, allowing Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec opportunities. Tomas picked up three assists, and Max a goal and an assist.
Mike Condon was solid in relief, blanking the Rangers in the third. Alexei Emelin was shunted to the third pair in his return to action, Michel Therrien unwilling to break up the promising Jeff Petry-Nathan Beaulieu pairing, weaving all over the ice as they do currently, baffling and overwhelming opponents with their mobility.
Alex Semin didn't finish the game, and the RDS boys were stumped as to what could have happened, whether he was benched or hurt, until word came of a 'lower-body injury'. They fretted some more, and wanted to go over the tape to see what could have befallen him. I was pretty sure I'd caught it though, when we saw Jarrett Stoll, for some strange reason as if transported, in an ecstatic state, frenetically crosschecking Alex in the back when he was down. Another NHL defensive play that the refs didn't see, or which didn't trigger them to act. So it goes.
Aside from that, a refreshing change was that after whistles, players got their man and shielded their goalie, but there was none of the tedious intimidation attempts, the headlocks and facewashes and crosschecks after play is theoretically stopped, that teams like the Blues and the Senators and the Bruins traffic in. It was a skating, up and down affair, with few stoppages in play, exciting and entertaining to watch.
Another encouraging aspect was how the Canadiens, who sometimes in a 'measuring stick game' can lay an egg, came out ready to play, storming the Rangers zone. And when the tide seemed to shift halfway through the second, and the Rangers found their legs and got within one, the Canadiens righted the ship and got two quick goals at the start of the third to put the game away. Nice killer instinct this year, with these insurance goals and the empty-netters. Last season, that was a lacuna.
So the Canadiens sit at the top of the league with 36 points, slapped down the impertinent challengers from the Metro, and asserted themselves as a power in the league, not just a flash in the pan, as some would imply during the nine-game initial winning streak.
And the boys now have to show they can keep up the pace with Mike Condon, who I think will have settled down after wilting near the end of his stint in lieu of Carey. And I bet that this time, Carey doesn't get back in nets until he's absolutely completely 100% ready to go. Maybe 101%.