Rabid Habs

Postgame: Plekanec’s Strong Effort Propels Habs over Devils

Without looking at the Canadiens’ calendar, thinking about Thursday night’s game at the Bell Centre as the Habs’ last home contest of 2017 is odd. Claude Julien’s troops needed to take advantage of their fleeting home ice, as they wouldn’t see it again until January 2 – seven games from now. The impressive, but injured, New Jersey Devils stood in their way.

I’m not the biggest fan of narratives. They have a way of clouding the way I watch the game. I am, however, a big fan of finding trends and patterns in the way teams play.

One pattern that has gotten plenty of air-time this season is the Canadiens’ starts to games. They’ve been inexplicably bad all season. Is it a preparation issue? Focus?

I can’t answer that. What I do know is that Thursday night’s contest against New Jersey started about as well as a car with a bad battery.

On the second shift, with the Habs’ anticipating the first penalty call of the game, the Devils countered with very little resistance from Montreal. Stefan Noesen (pronounce NAY-sen) finished off a nice passing play and beat Carey Price on the first shot of the game.

The good news? Montreal didn’t do the thing they usually do – give up another one in mere seconds. In fact, they tied the game before the end of the first frame. On an impressive redirect off a Jordie Benn point shot, Andrew Shaw potted his eighth of the year. Phillip Danault also picked up his 13th assist of the year on Shaw’s tying goal, with Benn’s blueline helper counting for his fifth assist of the year.

In the second period, we didn’t see any scoring, but we did see the Canadiens carve a path from their bench to the penalty box. Montreal took three penalties in the second period, two of which created a two-man advantage situation for New Jersey. Montreal killed it off on a great shift from Tomas Plekanec (more on that later) and some expert-level flailing from Price.

It was important that Montreal had a perfect penalty kill, because their powerplay was pretty bad. A bad powerplay is a lot easier to swallow when the chaser is a good penalty kill.

The third period was classic Devils hockey – not this new fun hockey we’ve been hearing about lately. Both teams got their chances, but it was a bit of a snooze fest. Off to overtime, where we tweeted this out from the Rabid Habs account:

In a potential change of heart, Julien didn’t start the extra frame with his workhorse. Instead, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin started the overtime. In a play that probably made the coach feel better about the decision, Drouin forced a turnover in his own zone and created the Habs’ first chance of overtime.

Similarly, the second shift didn’t feature Plekanec either. Alex Galchenyuk centred Paul Byron, won a faceoff in the offensive zone, and forced a turnover that let the Canadiens go back the other way. And when they went back the other way, Charles Hudon, pinned against the wall, made a one-handed pass to Plekanec before number fourteen beat Cory Schneider for the game winner. 2-1 Habs.

Montreal, now 14-14-4, picks up a crucial win on a night where the Boston Bruins fell in regulation to Washington.

Tomas Plekanec

In the second period, Plekanec put together his best defensive shift of the season on a lengthy five-on-three. As best as he could, Plekanec made life difficult for Sami Vatanen at the point. I get frustrated with Claude Julien’s desire to use him in all situations, but Plekanec playing the entire extended penalty kill in the second period illustrated (at least to me) how much they need him. Montreal doesn’t have another natural centre they can lean on to kill crucial penalties. Byron Froese is fine, but he’s not exactly a work horse. Plekanec can still be that for the Canadiens.

I counted three good scoring chances for Plekanec against the Devils, and I’m glad he finally buried the overtime winner. Probably his best game of the season. Good news as the Habs head into their lengthy road trip.

Claude Julien

I have been very critical of Claude Julien’s overtime decisions (In fact, you can read all about my awful opinions in an upcoming edition of The Forum). His borderline compulsion of playing his “checkers” in overtime was starting to drive me insane. It should be comforting to Habs fans to see Julien recognize that something isn’t working and change it accordingly. Sure, it took him a little while, but better late than never. Also, kudos to Drouin and Galchenyuk. Julien scratched their backs and they scratched his by playing responsibly in overtime while still trying to play offensively.

That will do it for me. Check back in after the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday when the Habs take on the Senators.

Go Habs Go.

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan and follow @RabidHabs for more updates!