Last year during the playoffs, I realized that the Canadiens were no longer just the plucky team that halaked its way past stronger opponents, that knew just the way to beat the Bruins, but was actually formidable, when Lars Eller and René Bourque were playing like the big skilled players they can be, and when Alex Galchenyuk was finding increased confidence in his abilities.
Last month I felt when watching the Habs against the Oilers that we were the clearly better team, and it gave me pause, since I couldn't remember the last time I felt we were dominant, on paper and on the ice. Was it back when Chris Chelios was on defence and Patrick Roy was in goal?
During the first period, I didn't feel that sense of superiority. Les boys were tight, probably feeling pressure due to their recent insuccess. Again, as they've done so often this season, they found their legs as the game progressed and the shots and the goals came, later, in a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild.
A great example of this was P.K. early in the second period getting a pass from David Desharnais in the offensive zone inside the blue line, and nothing in front of him except for a dogpile right in front of the Minny goal. Instead of walking the puck in and making something happen, P.K. just cranked it from there. Not a bad play, but suboptimal, and probably precipitated in part by the antsy crowd at the New Forum lately.
P.K. did show good awareness on this sequence though, holding off on his shot for a second while P.A. Parenteau picked himself up off the ice. It gave him time to get in position for a deflection or rebound, and more crucially, to get his noggin out of the line of fire.
The revelation tonight was the play of the Sekac-Eller-Prust line. Jiri Sekac and Lars Eller both scored, and all three had two points on the night. On both goals, they set themselves up with some strong play along the boards, digging for the puck and cycling it among themselves until they could make a strong play on net.
Lars' goal came when the puck came to him in the slot, and I wondered whether he shot instantly because he was too tired to try anything fancy. And I hoped that the lesson would sink in, to take the puck towards the net is more likely to turn out well for him than his stickhandling escapades. Sure enough, in the third he had a relapse, taking the puck along the boards away from the net, and dangerously along the blue line. Nothing catastrophic ensued, but I guess Lars is into progressive rather than epiphanic learning.
So when Jiri was left out of the lineup, Habs fans were patient at first, then anxious to see him back playing as the healthy scratches accumulated. We can guess that he'll now be in the lineup for the foreseeable future. He drew compliments from analyst Greg Millen, who noted what we all see, that he is a big guy who skates well and has a nose for the net. So we won't get carried away with this latest Lars Eller line, it may be a flash-in-the-pan like Dale Weise on the #1 line, but let's ride this pony and see how far it takes us.
And while I've brought up Greg Millen, I have to note how annoying Bob Cole is, an incessant drone of sentence fragments and bafflegab. "Oooooh, and it was too long, ... this opportunity,... the pass from Eller, couldn't... be completed. By Prust." His excited nonsensical patter made me realize another reason why Pierre Houde is so good: he speaks in complete sentences.
Another gem, after the Jason Pominville goal to make it 1-1: "The game started as a tie. Scoreless... then Gallagher scored..., and now..."
And this one: "The pace continues at a brisk pace."
As for a brisk pace, David Desharnais was at it tonight, skating well and making plays, dishing off to his teammates for scoring opportunities, and even ringing a shot off the crossbar on a 2-on-1, probably freezing the astonished goalie by not choosing to pass. Later on, he created the fourth goal, scored by Max Pacioretty, with a behind-the-back blind drop pass to P.A. Parenteau.
Which led me to wonder, how does a David Desharnais-denier celebrate such a goal? Is it like the Wicked Stepmother would celebrate an achievement by Cinderella? Like I would a meaningless late touchdown by the Chargers if it meant that frigging guy won the office pool? Like a CEO attending the Christmas party at a branch he's going to close in the new year?
Generally, do you root against the player specifically, but for the team to do well, or for the team to fail so as to prove your point about the player?
Nathan Beaulieu had a good night, in that I didn't notice him except when I really paid attention, and he and Tom Gilbert seemed to play well together. On one sequence, he had the puck behind his net, no one was rushing him, and he took a couple of seconds to survey the scene. David Desharnais wheeled around behind the net to 'launch' the play, faked picking up the puck but left it for Nathan, who then didn't hesitate and fired the puck to his right where Tom Gilbert was waiting in the corner, and they were off out of the zone. And I couldn't help but think that Jarred Tinordi would have overthought that, he would have looked for a stretch pass for some reason, and hesitated, and eventually would have caused a turnover.
Another thing Nathan didn't overthink was when Stéphane Veilleux came poking his nose in his business, after Nate cleared the front of Carey's net after a whistle with an enthusiastic crosscheck. Mr. Veilleux approached as if to obtain more information on the matter, and Nate shook his gloves once, quickly dropped them, then dropped the Minnesota forward with an emphatic right, and then added a couple more for good measure.
Now, much like Homer Simpson evaluating mayoral candidate Sideshow Bob in the voting booth, I went through a mental arithmetic: "Hmm...I don't agree with his Wild-maiming policy, but I do approve of his net-clearing policy." [votes for Nate]
So a big win, one we were meant to have, at home against a Zach Parisé-less team that Ottawa had just easily handled. We can hope it rights the ship and we accumulate the points during the rest of this homestand.