MONTREAL – Thursday’s game may not have gone according to plan, but the end result was exactly what the Habs were hoping for.
Heading into the game against the Wild, Canadiens head coach Randy Cunneyworth was stressing the importance of team toughness and the need to play desperate hockey. The Habs racked up two fighting majors, one instigator minor and four roughing penalties on the night, but with scrums and facewashes taking place after nearly every whistle, the real display of the team’s new identity won’t show up on any stats sheet.
“Everybody is taking a little more of a physical approach. I like it,” praised Cunneyworth, whose team still managed to score three power play goals despite spending 34 minutes in the box. “Maybe I’d like a smattering of discipline in there, too, but I like that fact that we’re standing up to someone who whacks our goalie a couple of times in there. It’s about sticking together. We had all our guys battling.”
While the Habs-Wild rivalry isn’t generally one for the ages, Thursday’s game had all the makings of a classic. Dropping the gloves off the opening faceoff, Ryan White and Stephane Veilleux set the tone for what turned into a wild night at the Bell Centre with melees and scrums forming all over the ice throughout the game.
“I just tried to get a spark going in the rink. It was an alright fight but I was just trying to do my job and get the team going,” explained White, who later jumped Veilleux for a second time after the Wild forward took some liberties with Carey Price. “I was just sending a message: don’t be whacking Pricey like that. I don’t think that’s going to be happening too much to this team anymore.”
At 6-foot-3, Price has never had a problem protecting himself in the crease, but the 24-year-old All-Star is more than happy to let someone else do that dirty work for him.
“That’s something we need. Those guys are warriors,” shared Price of White and newly-acquired tough guy Brad Staubitz. “Whitey is a pretty tough character and he’ll stand up for anybody. I really appreciate that they’ll do that for me.
“We had a lot of guys who were sticking up for each other out there and that’s really key,” he added. “It lets you play with a little more of a chip on your shoulder if you know you’ve got four or five other guys behind you.”
The Canadiens’ gritty new persona seemed to be paying dividends, creating space for snipers like Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais to work their magic on the ice to the tune of a 4-1 lead in the third period. That’s when things really got interesting, with the Wild roaring back with three goals in a four-minute span to force a shootout.
“It was a strange one. I don’t even know where to begin, really,” admitted Cunneyworth with a laugh about whether that was the oddest game he had been a part of in Montreal. “You end up with games like that over the course of the season. But it was a ‘W’ and a [win] is a [win]. I know it wasn’t textbook – it was far from it – but those things happen. There are things we need to work on and get better at, but I’m pleased it was a win and that’s the bottom line.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Postgame comments: Cunneyworth | Price | Subban | White | Staubitz
Numbers Game - Mar. 1, 2012
How well do you know your Canadiens?
Carey Price earns Molson Cup honours for February
Toughness and tactics