NEW YORK – Injuries to some mean opportunities for others.
Blessed with good health as the least-injured team in the NHL in 2014-15, the Canadiens haven’t been quite as lucky through the first quarter of the current campaign. Carey Price (8 games), Alexei Emelin (5), Torrey Mitchell (3), Devante Smith-Pelly (1), and Brendan Gallagher (1) have all spent time in the team’s clinic this season, but those absences have given some of their teammates a chance to step into the spotlight.
When the reigning Vezina, Jennings, Ted Lindsay and Hart Trophy winner went down with a lower-body injury in October, it gave Mike Condon a chance to step up. He responded by going 6-0-2 in his first eight NHL starts, becoming the third netminder in Canadiens history to win his first four or more games.
After Mitchell went down with a lower body injury on Nov. 19, Sven Andrighetto got the call he had been working for in St. John’s all season. In his two games since being recalled from the farm, the 22-year-old has dished out four hits, scored his first goal of the season – the opening marker against the Rangers in his first career game at MSG – and posted a plus-2 differential alongside Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk.
Greg Pateryn filled in admirably in his five games of relief action for Emelin before the Russian blue-liner made his return on Wednesday, and with Gallagher missing indefinitely after taking a slap shot to the hand that required surgery on two fingers this week, Smith-Pelly was promoted to first line duties, and he ran with his new role against the Rangers, potting two goals in New York, including the game winner.
“Our depth is our biggest asset right now,” confirmed Max Pacioretty, who slipped his 12th goal of the season through Henrik Lundqvist’s five hole to end the All-Star netminder’s night in the third period. “The most important thing is that the guys who are stepping up for injured players all have the right mindset. They’re coming to work every day and they’re staying patient and doing the right things and being good team guys. They’re making sure that when their number is called, they’re ready to pitch in and play the right way. It’s so nice to see them get rewarded because they haven’t been able to show their stuff the whole year. You never want injuries, but it’s nice to see those guys get rewarded.”
While the Canadiens managed to skate away with a 5-1 win over the Rangers to move into the top spot in the NHL with 36 points, the victory came at a cost for the best team in the league. When the puck dropped to start the third period, the Habs had a little more room on the bench than usual, with both Alex Semin and Price missing from action after suffering lower body injuries in the second.
Re-aggravating the injury that forced him to miss eight games earlier in November, the four-time All-Star won’t be in the lineup on Friday, but that just means Condon – who was already slated to get the start in New Jersey – will have a little more time to shine between the pipes.
“Everyone is ready for their opportunity,” confirmed Pacioretty. “A lot of times on teams when a guy has to wait for his chance to step in, you’ll see some guys pouting or not doing the right things or just not being great teammates. We don’t have any of that on this team.
“That’s something in my eyes that’s the most rewarding part about tonight,” he added. “These guys have come in every day and done the right things and been great teammates and when their number was called, they got rewarded. It’s next guy up.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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