Rabid Habs

Postgame: Habs Top Bolts 2-1 in Shootout

I took a bit of an unexpected hiatus from these postgame columns.

At the same time, the Canadiens took a hiatus from hockey.

After starting 2018 the same way they ended 2017, the Canadiens had a players only meeting before taking on the Lightning. If one thing was said in that room, as a fan, I hope it was “If we can’t be good, let’s at least be interesting.”

If that was the mantra, mission accomplished.

The first period was Montreal’s best period of hockey in weeks. Every player skated hard and Montreal got their fair share of scoring chances. The period started with a two-on-one with Phillip Danault carrying the puck over the blueline. A pass to Max Pacioretty resulted in a grade-A scoring chance and a goal line pad stop from Andrei Vasilevskiy. We’ve seen this story before. Pacioretty gets an excellent scoring chance early in the game, gets robbed, and doesn’t do much for the remainder of the game.

That wasn’t the case against Tampa Bay.

When the second period started, both teams had a player in the box resulting in a four-on-four to start the period. Just off the opening faceoff, Pacioretty made a poor giveaway resulting in an early chance for Tampa Bay. With the crisis averted, Pacioretty made good on a Mikhail Sergachev giveaway. Picking off the clearing attempt, Pacioretty buried his first goal in an eternity. His ninth of the year gave Montreal a 1-0 lead.

The lead didn’t live for a minute.

On the same four-on-four, somehow Karl Alzner was matched up against Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov managed to confuse three Canadiens by skating through coverage. Firing the puck through a few bodies, Kucherov created the equalizer just 44 seconds later. You want to read some ridiculous numbers? That goal was Kucherov’s 26th. The two assists belonged to Stamkos (33) and Victor Hedman (26). That’s a ton of offense. 1-1.

Despite the tie score, I didn’t get the impression that the Canadiens were lucky to be in this situation. After two periods of play, Montreal held a one shot advantage over the Bolts and they seemed to enjoy the challenge of playing a juggernaut.

In the third, both teams traded chances. By no stretch of the imagination was this a track meet of a game and that might be by design from Tampa Bay. If you watched their last game against Toronto, you saw the game turn into a chess match after the first period. Mistakes will result in goals, as Tampa seems content waiting for their opponent to do themselves in. They certainly have the roster to play the waiting game, as any one of their four lines can capitalize on a mistake.

The waiting game expired and this game went to overtime where Carey Price stole the show.

Giving up a bad rebound to Ondrej Palat, Price rolled and flailed in his crease robbing Palat of a winning goal. An absolute stunner and a candidate for save of the year. An overtime that went both ways solved nothing, so we went to the shootout.

The lone goal from Paul Byron proved to be the winner and the Canadiens disposed of the Lightning in their most inspired effort in quite some time.

So let’s get into it a bit more.

Alzner

At this point in the season, this is less about Karl Alzner and more about Claude Julien’s deployment of Alzner. I know he’s paired with Jeff Petry, the de-facto number-one defender with Shea Weber sidelined with an injury, but Alzner cannot share the ice with Stamkos and Kucherov. He was on when Kucherov tied the game in the second. He then coughed up a puck to Kucherov who got a breakaway from Laval.

I’m not sure what’s worse: Alzner being a bad defenseman or Julien thinking he’s a top-pairing guy. I supposed Julien is just working with what he’s got, but David Schlemko and Jakub Jerabek are both better suited to deal with fast teams.

Pacioretty

I can’t say he played a whole lot different than he has over the last few games. He just got his measurable result. We knew he would score again, but now the question changes: When will he get his next one? He can’t have another slump like his most recent lull. Right?

Right?

Drouin

He can’t be too pleased with his game as of late. On most nights, Jonathan Drouin is outshined by his linemates.  Alex Galchenyuk has been Montreal’s most consistent scorer as of late, and Artturi Lehkonen hasn’t missed a beat since returning from injury. Drouin often looks like he’s trying to play around his wingers instead of with them. Too many individual efforts that fail, too more “last resort” passes after getting covered by defenders. It’s something he’ll have to pick up with experience. He’s only played 200 NHL games, and only 36 of them have been at centre. He needs time and a team that doesn’t stink.

Jerabek

Thursday night’s game felt like Jerabek’s coming out party. Playing 19:56, Jerabek saw the first shift of the overtime and was confident with the puck. He has a knack for the stretch pass, but isn’t a liability in his own end. Would like to see him used more as the season continues. He’s Montreal’s best left-handed blueliner at the moment and it would be nice to see him used that way.

Alright, that’s it for me. Montreal’s next game is a rare Sunday night contest, as the Vancouver Canucks come to town for revenge. Hometown Hockey! Neat!

Go Habs Go.

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