MONTREAL - In the midst of playing their best hockey of the season, the Habs avenged their opening night loss against the Leafs with a dominating performance.
Max Pacioretty, who is never gun shy when it comes to putting pucks on net, is running hot with seven goals in his last six games. The left-winger produced an astounding ten shots on net during the game and was a force on special teams, notching both a power play and a short-handed goal.
“I like Pacioretty’s contribution, both offensively and defensively. He’s playing his best hockey of the season since we reunited him with Desharnais and Gallagher,” confirmed head coach Michel Therrien, who certainly played a part in turning the American’s season around with his line adjustments two weeks ago.
Inspired by the classic Saturday night Habs-Leafs rivalry, Pacioretty and his teammates roared out of the gates with ten shots in the first five minutes of play. With Carl Gunnarsson off for interference, Carey Price teed the puck up for P.K. Subban who hit Pacioretty with a perfect breakaway pass. Number 67’s first shot was stopped by a sprawling Jonathan Bernier, but the power forward took three more whacks at the puck and buried it into the net at the 58 second mark of the opening frame.
“With a rivalry like this and knowing what happened here last time, we wanted to show them right away that this is a different team than last time. The strong start helped us a lot,” admitted the New Canaan, CT native, who was clearly motivated by the opportunity to avenge the Leafs’ 4-3 win at the Bell Centre back on opening night.
Unsatisfied with holding just a one-goal advantage, Pacioretty helped double his team’s lead with an assist on P.K. Subban’s goal late in the first frame.
Twenty minutes later, another team effort provided the eventual game-winning goal. Daniel Briere toured the Leafs zone with the puck on his blade, slicing and dicing his way through Dion Phaneuf before finding Tomas Plekanec in the low slot. Having missed several quality scoring chances earlier in the game, the Czech wasted no time in depositing the puck behind a helpless Bernier. After the game, the 36-year-old veteran was asked about the reasons behind his recent success alongside veterans Plekanec and Brian Gionta, who are 31 and 35 respectively.
“It’s because we’re old,” joked the 16-year NHL veteran. “Actually, they are really intelligent players on the ice. Plekanec has terrific hockey sense both offensively and defensively. He gave our line several good chances to counter-attack tonight. Brian is always dangerous around the net and around the boards despite his size. I just try to take advantage of that when playing with these guys.”
Briere’s judicious use by his head coach has also contributed to the Gatineau native’s recent offensive outburst. While Michel Therrien freely uses the four-time 30 goal-scorer on the power play and in the opposing zone, the Habs bench boss replaces him with defensive specialist Travis Moen for the heavy duty task of protecting leads and shutting down the best opposing winger in the Montreal defensive zone.
“It’s always a thrill to play against the best players on the other team,” acknowledged Moen. “I really enjoy being put in these situations. We try to skate well, apply good pressure on the forecheck and spend as much time as possible in the other team’s zone close to their net.”
The increased pressure has shown up on the scoresheet, as an offensive resurgence helped the Canadiens average over three goals for per game and compile a 5-0-1 record in its past six tilts. On Saturday night, the Habs even added a short-handed tally thanks to Pacioretty, who streaked down the left wing, patiently pulled the puck around a backchecker and capped his team’s offensive outburst with a backhand tally.
“When we play the right way, good things happen,” underlined Pacioretty, who has earned a key role on the Habs’ stifling penalty kill unit this season. “It’s a matter of getting good bounces and getting confidence, and it was the case tonight.”
“We are managing the puck well, spending a lot of time in the offensive zone and playing solid defensively,” mentioned Therrien in the aftermath of the Canadiens' latest victory.
That being said, if his team keeps doing the little things well, the results will keep taking care of themselves.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game – November 30, 2013