That felt like a strange one, didn’t it Montreal Canadiens fans?
In this case, strange in a good way as the Habs beat the Detroit Red Wings with ease 3-0 to improve to 3-8 on the season.
Steady as she goes.
Strange in that the Montreal Canadiens seemed to play on cruise control all night long. The moments of impending doom didn’t come. Even with a slender lead for most of the night, there weren’t any egregious turnovers or missed assignments.
The Montreal Canadiens simply played straight line, effective hockey in all three zones. There were lulls that might have been jumped upon by a better team. But without Tyler Bertuzzi or Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s best players were a 19 year old Swedish forward and a 20 year old German defenceman. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider will likely give the Habs all kinds of problems in the future. But they don’t have the reps or the confidence to carry their team to a win. Yet.
Strangely, the Canadiens didn’t just try and survive the first five minutes and settle in to the game like they have all season long. The Habs were the aggressors on the night, setting the tone for the rest of the period by keeping the Red Wings hemmed in their own zone for two full minutes.
Seconds later, the Canadiens were on the board thanks to their much maligned young star. Centreman Nick Suzuki took Sunday’s loss to the Ducks on the chin. He was extremely critical of his own game, calling it one of his worst of the year in a depressed tone that would have made a nihilist sound like an 18 year old on spring break.
As Detroit tried to clear the zone, Jeff Petry climbed the ladder to keep the puck in. He found Tyler Toffoli in the middle and he exploited the Habs numbers advantage heading towards the net. Toffoli laid the puck off to Suzuki who cut in from the right on the backhand. Alex Nedeljkovic made the initial save but Suzuki didn’t even let the rebound touch the ice. He whacked the puck out of mid-air on the forehand past the Red Wings goaltender for an early 1-0 lead.
The Habs didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal and continued to dominate the puck. Jake Evans in particular should have finished off a pretty passing play only to be denied by the outstretched Nedeljkovic. But the injury bug claimed another victim in leading point scorer Jonathan Drouin. Brett Kulak’s shot from the point hit Drouin in the left ear and with his equipment strewn across the ice, he hurriedly made his way to the locker room and did not return. The team announced afterwards that Drouin was transported to the hospital for further evaluation.
The powerhorse takes over
Credit to the team left on the ice, they didn’t miss a beat despite the lines being constantly juggled. The Canadiens played like they knew they were going to win, a phenomenon we have hardly witnessed so far this year.
Josh Anderson certainly played like he knew he was the best player on the ice. And he was. Despite the team’s struggles, Anderson has been one of the few who has played up to his capabilities. The difference was he finally finished off one of his trademark drives to the net. Off a change, Anderson, found himself behind the Detroit defence. It was as easy as a bounce pass off the board from Suzuki to spring him in all alone. He wired a quick snapshot between the glove and left pad of Nedeljkovic to double the home team’s advantage.
It wasn’t just Anderson though. Perhaps it was the opponent, but several players in bleu, blanc et rouge played like we know they can. Jeff Petry skated better than he has most of this season. Brendan Gallagher was a pain in the you know what. Tyler Toffoli’s feet were moving as he set up several players for goal-scoring opportunities. Jake Evans should have scored at least one. Best of all, it didn’t matter whether his linemates were Artturi Lehkonen, Joel Armia, Alex Belzile or Michael Pezzetta. They all played with hunger down low and along the boards.
There weren’t many moments to write home about in the second or the third to head coach Dominique Ducharme’s delight. The Habs stifled the Red Wings in the neutral zone and kept them to the outside in their own end. The closest Detroit came was a Filip Zadina rip off the post on a second period 5-on-3. But that was a one off chance in the grand scheme of things.
The Montreal Canadiens needed a matter of fact win like that, if anything just to settle the nerves of everyone on the team. Not to mention giving their fans a game they could truly enjoy with minimal fuss. Oh ya, and the overtaxed Jake Allen didn’t have to do much.
Brendan Gallagher, fighting through a core injury that forced him to the dressing room at least once, had a moment to feel good about himself as well. He put his second of the season into an empty net to give Suzuki and Toffoli a three point and two point night respectively.
The Habs will have a much tougher test when the New York Islanders roll into town on Thursday night.