MONTREAL – Rolling with the changes – line changes, that is – is a necessity most players learn to adapt to throughout their careers.
For Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk – who had been paired with one another for the past four games alongside Brandon Prust – the addition of 12-year NHL veteran Erik Cole to an already dynamic duo yielded almost instantaneous chemistry Saturday night, as the newly formed trio led the Canadiens to a 3-0 victory over the Rangers at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens bested the Blueshirts for the second time in four nights, and maintained their position atop the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 12-4-2 through 18 games.
After Cole broke a scoreless draw with his third goal on the year just 80 seconds into the second period, the Eller-Cole-Galchenyuk line proceeded to showcase the grit, poise and creativity head coach Michel Therrien had envisioned when he assembled the unit of dynamic power forwards.
Galchenyuk proceeded to register his third goal of the season, while Eller notched his second of the year, a power-play goal, to cap the scoring for Montreal in the second frame.
Through 40 minutes of play, the trio had accounted for a combined six points - one goal and one assist apiece - against a Rangers defense that appeared incapable of handling their quick puck movement and relentless puck pursuit.
“[Cole] is a veteran, and we’ve always had confidence in him,” said Therrien, praising the 34-year-old Oswego, NY native who figured on the scoresheet for the first time since February 3. “I had confidence that he’d get his touch back. Sometimes, you make changes and they’re fruitful, like we did placing him with two of our younger players, Eller and Galchenyuk. Offensively, it was them who produced the most.”
Eller and Galchenyuk have fed off one another for much of the 2012-13 campaign, most notably over the course of the last four games, with each amassing four points during that span.
“We seem to be clicking really well,” said Eller, noting the chemistry between himself and the Canadiens’ third-overall selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. “We’re feeding off each other and making room for each other on the ice. I really enjoy playing with him.”
Galchenyuk too shared a similar sentiment regarding the 23-year-old Dane.
“We’re playing pretty good,” said the 19-year-old rookie sensation. “We seem to know where each other is going. It’s fun to play with him. He’s big, fast and strong, so it’s not hard to play with him.”
Moving Galchenyuk to the wing, according to Therrien, was a tactic designed to afford the upstart forward more opportunities to express his offensive creativity and remove some of the defensive responsibility that comes with playing center.
As for Eller, the Habs bench boss explained that the third-year NHLer has steadily been earning promotions with consistently strong efforts of late.
“Lars earned the right to play on the top three lines like this,” said Therrien. “I gave him a little time on the power play, a little time to kill penalties. He’s an important player for us.”
While the line change paid immediate dividends on Saturday night against New York, similar team efforts will be both needed and expected as the Canadiens will play seven of their next eight games on the road, beginning Monday night against the Senators in Ottawa. Matt Cudzinowski is a writer with canadiens.com.
Game highlights: Habs vs. Rangers
Boxscore: Habs vs. Rangers
The Numbers Game - February 23, 2013