Head coach Michel Therrien surprised more than a few when he opted for Duskin Tokarski as his goaltender Sunday night in Buffalo. Tokarski rewarded Therrien and his teammaates with a 29 save shutout performance as the Canadiens took a 2-0 win. Dale Weise and Brendan Gallagher scored goals 1:26 apart in the first period and Tokarski and the Canadiens made it stand up through the final two-plus periods. Buffalo starting goaltender Jhonas Enroth was hurt in a scond period goalmouth collision with Brendan Gallagher. Nathan Lieuwen, who was called up the Rochester Americans earlier in the day, finished the game stopping all ten Canadiens shots. Total shots on goal were 32-29 in favour of the Canadiens. The RDS three stars were Tomas Plekanec, Gallagher and P.K. Subban. In Buffalo they recognized Tokarski as the first star.
Adding It Up –
Feeding Off the Miracle – It was clear from the outset that, unlike their previous five games, including all but the final five minutes of Saturday night’s win over Ottawa, this was a confident looking Canadiens team from the opening faceoffs. Therrien rolled all four lines. Ice time tells the story. Plekanec led all forwards with 17:18. The fourth line averaged 12 minutes.
In Goal – Tokarski had to work for his shutout, especially when Sabres right winger Drew Stafford was on the ice. Stafford had five shots and he had four excellent scoring chances. He saved his shutout with less than 3 minutes left when he held firm on a clear breakaway by Cody Hodgson, in the end forcing him to miss the net. We’ve seen him in three game since he was called up and one can’t help but be impressed.
Still Waiting – Thomas Vanek played his first game against Buffalo since he was traded last October. He was good again. And again he was frustrated. He led the Canadiens with six shots on goal. He had that glorious chance in the third period. Vanek is going to fill the net one of these nights. He’s still looking for the right company or the right connections.
Help Wanted – The Canadiens power play was 0 for 3 on the night with only three shots on goal. Over the last five games they are 2 for 27. Both of those goals came with a two skater advantage. Since early December the Canadiens are operating at a 13 percent efficiency, one of the worst power plays in the league. You don’t want to enter the playoffs without a power play.
The Reality – Before we repopulate the bandwagon, remember who the Sabres are. Basically the Canadiens put together a dominating effort against the NHL’s worst team. This was the ninth time the Sabres were shutout this season. The good news is, they took this game seriously from beginning to end. I’ll curb my enthusiasm until we’re past Colorado Tuesday, Columbus Thursday and Toronto next Saturday.
Upward Mobility – In one day the Canadiens moved from seventh place to third in the Eastern Conference thanks to weekend losses by Toronto and Tampa Bay. There’ll be no catching Boston and Pittsburgh but the race for the final six Eastern Conference playoff berths is going to be intense. The Canadiens are a point ahead of Toronto after 69 games. Tampa Bay is two behind Montreal, Philadelphia-4 and Columbus-5. Each has two in hand over the Canadiens and Toronto
Also Worth Mentioning – …..Brendan Gallagher scored his 17th goal and wit his gung-ho play generally drove everyone crazy that he went up against. It’s seldom mentioned but Gallagher has a plus-8 rating which is one behind Tomas Plekanec for the team lead. ….Dale Weise is, and probably always will be, a fourth line player. He was especially noticeable in the first period and was rewarded with his first goal with the Canadiens by diving almost head first into the blue paint to make sure Alex Galchenyuk’s shot crossed the goal line. …..I don’t know whether the coaching staff turned him loose or he simply got tired of not being himself on the ice, but P.K. Subban had a sensational weekend. I didn’t much like that knee-on-knee check on Matt D’Agostini in the second period but other than that, he was superb. …..Fifteen of the eighteen Canadiens skaters recorded at least one shot on goal in the game. Those shut out include defensemen Mike Weaver and Jarred Tinordi plus David Desharnais. However, Desharnais’ linemates Vanek and Pacioretty combined for eight.
Moving On – The Canadiens returned home by charter right after the game. They’ll practice Monday morning in Brossard. The Patrick Roy circus, co-starring the Colorado Avalanche will be at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.