Montreal - November 30, 2014 - All of a sudden the Monday night match up in Denver against the Cplorado Avalanche to kick off a Western U.S. road trip takes on added importance. The Montreal Canadiens will take to the ice at the Pepsi Centre having lost three straight while scoring a total of four goals.
Montreal got beat by a hot goaltender in this one. On the other hand, they had a one goal lead on home ice with 6:45 to play, against one of the worst teams in the NHL.
How you view the loss likely mirrors how you view the team through nearly one third of their schedule.
I like this team. But I'd like them a lot more with a functioning power play.
Alex Galchenyuk. Did everything but put the puck in the net. The way he played is what we should see for much of the rest of the season - with a better finish.
P.K. Subban. That's more like it. He needs to be a dominating player, not merely a good one.
Lars Eller. Made up for lacklustre effort in Buffalo by firing a game high 7 shots on goal including - with help from the skate of Nikita Zadorov - his 7th goal of the season. Habs need to at least take a longer look (0:28) at Eller on the PP. And not necessarily at the expense of #51. Tomas Plekanec has yet to score a power play goal this season.
David Desharnais. Finally took some shots on goal. In fact his four shots (two of them on the same two on one) equalled his total number of SOG in the previous six games. But beyond that, he looked like the Desharnais (skated hard, drew a penalty) we saw over the final 60 games a season ago.
Max Pacioretty. In the right place at the right time - where he usually is in the offensive zone - to score his 11th goal of the season. Missed several shifts getting stitched up after getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time by the stick of P.K. Subban.
Dale Weise. It was his shot that resulted in Enroth's only misplay of the night as the Sabres goalie couldn't control the rebound. Weise now has 10 points - as many as Eller and Markov - in just 22 games. If you're looking for a bigger body in front of the net on the PP (Knuckles Nilan) Weise certainly has the hands to pop in a few loose pucks.
Brandon Prust. Did most of the work on the Eller goal with a terrific job of cycling the puck below the goal line.
Brendan Gallagher. If anybody has earned - in every sense of the word - a longterm contract at the tender age of 22 it's Gallagher. And of course he scores the night the deal is announced. Even if he had to celebrate while sitting on the bench.
Andrei Markov. Looks like he's hit his first bad stretch of the season. Got caught pinching on the game's opening goal (and didn't exactly rush all the way back), then with the Habs pressing deep he missed an open net and was robbed by Enroth after failing to elevate the puck. Late in the game he was turned inside out at the Montreal blue line by Brian Gionta. And about that power play...
PP only had two opportunities but it stalled against the 6th worst PK unit in the NHL (77%).
Buffalo's second goal. After Gallagher's shot was blocked by Marcus Foligno the puck bounced to Chris Stewart who, in the words of Mitch Gallo, looked like Pavel Bure as he blew by the defense pair of Bryan Allen and Mike Weaver and beat Dustin Tokarski high on the stick side. Cue the inevitable "Where is Tom Gilbert" questions. We had already heard the "Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi can do better" chants.
Buffalo's third goal. Vintage Brian Gionta. He outworked Gallagher and Alexei Emelin to eventually feed the puck to Brian Flynn who easily beat a too-deep-in-his-net Tokarski to tie the game just 49 seconds after Pacioretty had given the Habs their first lead in a game since they beat the Bruins 2-0 in Boston on November 22nd.
TVA Three Stars of the game were Flynn, Pacioretty and Gionta. Non-star Jhonas Enroth made 41 saves. And stopped five skaters in the shootout. TVA types blinded by giddiness over Peladeau's run to the head of the PQ.
Michel Therrien. Tomas Plekanec in the shootout? Does he actually give this any thought? Plekanec is awful in shootouts. Who doesn't know this? How awful? He hasn't scored in a shootout in three years. In his career he is 4 for 29 or 14%. But Therrien goes to Plekanec while Gallagher might have capped off a most newsworthy night. And what about Subban? Or Jiri Sekac? Weise, Markov, Gonchar...anybody but Plekanec (except Pacioretty who, it appears, will have to be pushed over the boards in a shootout).
Which is worse - getting hammered 6-2 by the Leafs. Or losing two consecutive games to Buffalo?