Pick an adjective.
Sensational? Stellar? Terrific? Tremendous?
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen, in keeping with the theme of the night, had the answer after his 45 save performance gave the club their first win in San Jose in 22 years.
“I thought it was a crucial game for our group, to be honest,” a relaxed Allen told reporters after his team’s 4-0 win over the Sharks. “I know it’s early but we’re obviously in a funk. I thought it was an important game to get our momentum going and finish this trip on the right note.”
Crucial sums up pretty succinctly what Allen did for the fragile team in front of him last night. The Montreal Canadiens starter for the foreseeable future finally got some of the run support he desperately needed from his teammates.
The truth is that the Sharks nearly doubled the Habs in high-danger scoring chances, 27-14. So for all the marked improvements that were apparent in the Montreal Canadiens game, it still took a Herculean outing from their goalie to get their first road win of the season.
But at this point for the club, a win is a win.
Allen was solid if unspectacular early on. The Habs goaltender made stops on Logan Couture in tight, Radim Simek off the rush and several screened shots on San Jose’s first of three power-plays.
Here comes the cavalry!
It was Shark-killer Mike Hoffman who got the road team going. After setting up Nick Suzuki alone in front for what should have been his first of the season, the Habs winger scored his third in as many games. Hoffman picked up a juicy rebound off of Sharks goaltender Adin Hill in the slot. Showing off some sick mitts, he calmly slotted home the team’s first of the night. Make that 24 points in 22 games for Hoffman against San Jose.
Cut back to the Allen show. The Habs goaltender made a sprawling save on Andrew Cogliano on a 2-on-1 to hold his team’s slender lead early in the second period. Another slot save on Rudolf Balcers quickly followed, as did the Habs second goal of the game.
It hasn’t been a particularly good start to the season for Alexander Romanov. But he was duly rewarded in his best game with his first goal of the year and second of his NHL career. Jonathan Drouin beat Brent Burns to a loose puck off the faceoff and sent it back to the point. Without hesitation, Romanov unloaded a seeing-eye one-timer past Hill to give the Habs a rare two-goal lead.
Just four minutes later, some quick puck movement and good fortune had the Montreal Canadiens up 3-0. And on the power-play no less! Brendan Gallagher bounced the puck off the back boards to Suzuki. Already with one point on the night, the young centreman threw a quick 15-foot pass to Josh Anderson’s left skate. The Habs big winger just turned and wildly fired the puck in the general vicinity of the Sharks net. The puck struck a net-bound Gallagher and fluttered past Hill to let the road team breathe just a bit.
All hail Allen!
After that, Allen put on a goaltending clinic. Before the second was over, the Montreal Canadiens netminder just got enough of a blocker on Jonathan Dahlen’s shot on a 4-on-2 to preserve the three-goal lead. That stop was part of a six-save penalty kill just before the break that could’ve given the Sharks the shot in the arm they needed to inspire a comeback in the third period.
Whatever San Jose did end up throwing at the Montreal Canadiens goaltender the final twenty minutes quickly became a moot point. Nothing was getting past Allen. Kevin Labanc’s chest-high tip just outside the crease was met by Allen’s left pad. Rookie William Eklund’s curl and drag shorthanded found the right one and then his blocker on the rebound. An athletic stretch by Allen denied Dahlen’s drive past Kulak to the forehand. The Sharks last chance at a shutout buster was Nick Bonino pouncing on a rebound just outside the crease that the he casually swallowed up.
Josh Anderson’s empty-netter moments later sealed a huge win for a team short of confidence going into Northern California. Clearly, all the Montreal Canadiens problems weren’t solved last night despite the scoreline. But it was a step in the right direction before two big games in Los Angeles this weekend starting with former teammate Phillip Danault and the Kings on Saurday.
Even though it’s early, the Habs prospects for the post-season aren’t great. Only two teams in the past 10 years have qualified for the playoffs after six regulation losses to start the year. But hey, the Canadiens hadn’t won in San Jose in more than two decades! Strange things do in fact happen.
“I though tonight was a big night,” deadpanned Allen to reporters. “Especially with you guys talking about how we haven’t won here in so long. I thought it was important to put that stupid little myth behind us.”
Point taken, Jake. Point taken.