DETROIT – The Motor City hasn’t been kind to visiting teams early on this season, but the Canadiens weren’t about to let Mike Babcock’s contingent stop them in their tracks.
On Sunday night, Michel Therrien’s troops rattled off their sixth consecutive victory, downing the Red Wings 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena. It was the first time the Canadiens have registered six straight wins since March 2010, and Montreal now sits atop the league with 29 points through 19 games.
“Before the game, we spoke about all of the excuses that we could make to maybe not come out with our best effort, but when you’ve played four games in six nights and you’ve won five in a row, it can be tough when you come into an opposing team’s building. That goes especially for this team with their system and just how well they play it, so we knew it was going to be a tough, grinding game. We just wanted to come out with our best effort,” offered P.K. Subban, who scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal at the 8:36 mark of the second period as the Canadiens scored the first three goals of the contest before surrendering Detroit’s lone tally 4:06 into the final frame. “It started with Mr. Tokarski in net. He’s done a great job whenever we’ve needed him to step in, and it`s not easy when Pricey’s playing so well to come in and do a job like that. But, he did a great job, and that’s why he was the first star.”
There’s no doubt about that. In just his fourth start of the year – and first since November 5th in Buffalo – the Canadiens backup turned aside 28 of 29 shots against to pace his squad to its league-leading 14th win of the year.
“I’m really happy. The main thing is the two points. The guys came in here and battled hard. They had no excuses, and we played a great road game,” offered Tokarski, who recorded his third victory of the 2014-15 campaign. “The guys were great. Everybody committed and blocked shots. We played the right way. It’s a big two points.”
Head coach Michel Therrien shared similar sentiments after watching his players put forward a solid effort from start to finish on Sunday night amidst a taxing stretch of challenging games both at home and on the road.
“We played well within our structure. After taking a three-goal lead, we could see the Wings make a big push to try to get back in the game. We could’ve had all the excuses in the world to have a tough game. When you’re playing four in six, the fact that we got in late the night before the game with a back-to-back against Philadelphia, and Carey not being in goal…We could’ve used a whole book of excuses, but we reacted the right way,” stressed Therrien, whose club was only the second team thus far this season to best the Red Wings in their own barn in regulation time. “We stayed focused and worked hard. That’s what I told them. They deserve all of the credit.”
So, what’s been the key to the Canadiens’ success through the first five weeks of the year? Aside from getting the power play back on track as of late, Brandon Prust says it’s all about committing to the cause and working as a cohesive unit at both ends of the rink.
“Everyone’s buying in and everyone’s doing their job. We’re not trying to do too much. We’re sticking to our strengths. We’re sticking to the game plan and it’s working. We’re not a team full of superstars. We’re just a lot of grit and guys that are working their butts off,” praised Prust, who opened the scoring for the Canadiens on Sunday night, registering his first goal of the season. “We just wanted to lay it all out on the line against Detroit, and make sure that we came to battle. We didn’t want to come in here and use the back-to-back as an excuse. We did a good job of it.”
Having outscored their opponents by a 23-7 margin during their current winning streak, the focus now remains the same heading into a week with games against the Penguins, Blues, Bruins and Rangers on the horizon.
“We’re working hard and things are happening for us. I don’t think we’re getting fortunate bounces. A fortunate bounce is when you bounce one in from the red line. The bounces we’re getting are because we’re working hard and doing the things we need to do to get to the front of the net,” stressed Subban. “There’s real estate around the net, and you’ve got to fight for it. I think we’re doing a good job of that right now. We’ve got to keep it up.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com
Highlights: Canadiens-Red Wing
The Numbers Game - November 16, 2014