What we saw Saturday night at Madison Square Garden wasn’t the same old, same old December-January version of the hockey club.
Let’s start with this.
When is the last time a Canadiens team dominated one of the NHL’s top teams as physically as they did in the 4-1 win against the Rangers? With three of the four newcomers in the lineup they won 80 percent of the puck battles and outhit New York 35-22.
The Canadiens played the type of game we came to expect with the Boston Bruins over the last few years. But then again, look who’s behind the Canadiens bench. The first of Marc Bergevin’s February move was the hiring of Claude Julien. And in just over two weeks, the “Julien-effect” has taken hold. But Bergevin didn’t stop there. And the player acquisitions have had their own impact.
TRUE GRIT –
We suspected after Friday’s practice that Steve Ott was going to make his debut. When Alexander Radulov came up with that ankle injury, Andreas Martinsen got his chance. Julian put them on the fourth line with Torrey Mitchell and the line was terrific. Ott gave the team all of the grit we’re used to seeing from him. He led both teams with seven hits. Three shot attempts, one on goal. He won the face off that led to the important first goal. He won 6 of 13 faceoffs. And as important, it was Ott who gave the Rangers J.T. Miller a serious talking to after he decided to cause problems for Carey Price late in the game.
There are only two Norwegians in the entire NHL and both of them were in this game. We are well aware of Mats Zuccarello, but Andreas Martinsen?
The public reaction when the Canadiens announced they had acquired him from Colorado in return for Sven Andrighetto ran the gamut from ho-to-hum. Who the hell was Andreas Martinsen?
What an eye-opener was his Canadiens debut.
Excellant skater. Very strong. Hard on the puck. And he is 6 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Andrighetto. He used that size to create two great scoring chances. and he owned the left wing boards all night. Great first impression. He didn’t hit the scoresheet but he could have been one of the game stars.
The Rangers had their moments in this game, especially in the second and third periods. Carey Price was there again when it counted. He stopped 26 of 27 shots.
In his seven starts since Julien took over the team Price has allowed 10 goals. His goals against average is 0.94 over the seven games with a save percentage of .949.
THE ROOKIE –
Despite his 17 game goal scoring drought, there has seldom been a disparaging word about the way Artturi Lehkonen was handling his first North American season. Like many rookies, Lehkonen was having trouble capitalizing on the chances his hard work were giving him.
Lehkonen had five shots on goal in the first two periods of this game. The goal he scored was a terrific quick-release shot that went under Lundqvist’s arm just inside the post. It turned out to be the game winner. He was on a line with Galchenyuk and Dwight King.
….More signs that Brendan Gallagher is coming out of it. He replaced Alexander Radulov on the top line and was the game’s hardest worker. He took six shots, three on goal and chipped in with three hits.
….Also some good work from the Plekanec/Byron/Shaw line. Plekanec won six of eight faceoffs. Shaw put the game pretty much out of reach by hustling after his own rebound off Lundqvist’s facemask and circling the net to score.
….Two assists each for Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. Pacioretty now has 43 points over his last 42 games; three goals, three assists his last five. Galchenyuk now has 3 goals and 7 points in his last five.
MOVING ON –
Ottawa beat Columbus Saturday night so the Canadiens lead in the Atlantic Division remains six points with the Senators holding three games in hand.
Now it’s on to Western Canada and we’re well aware of the traditional difficulties the annual B.C-Alberta road trip presents. Over the last 37 combined games in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton the Canadiens are 11-23-1 with two ties. They’re in Vancouver Tuesday, Calgary on Thursday and Edmonton Sunday. Next home game will be a week Tuesday against Chicago.