MONTREAL – “Good athletes, when they’re on the top of their game, love the challenge of playing against the best on the other team. Day-in, day-out,” offered Michel Therrien after the Habs’ unexpected 3-2 win over the Devils. He was no doubt referring to P.K. Subban and Carey Price’s continued excellence, but also to the outstanding contributions of David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk.
The Canadiens found themselves in dire straits in the first period of the match. The home team, coming off an energetic win against the Leafs on Saturday, started flat and were peppered with eleven shots in the first twenty minutes. Steve Bernier deflected a point shot past Price, and the Devils would have had another marker minutes later if not for Subban’s goal-line stand. All in all, it was a period to forget for the Habs, who seemed hypnotised by the New Jersey passing game and only managed five shots on goals against Martin Brodeur.
After the final buzzer, coach Michel Therrien saw his team’s languid start in a rather more philosophical light.
“It was a really tough game to play for our team. Saturday was such an emotional game, and it’s tough to come back and perform. Passion is a big part of hockey and we didn’t see that at the start of the game. It was tough to get involved,” the Canadiens’ head coach admitted.
One of his star players was somewhat more self-critical of the way the first frame unfolded.
“We weren’t ready to play in the first period. It could have been 4-0 for the Devils, but Carey [Price] kept us in the game. We owe it to our goalies to step up when they bail us out,” opined Max Pacioretty, who would make good on his words later in the game.
Indeed, despite only producing four total shots in the second period, the Habs offence made the most of its limited opportunities. With eight minutes elapsed in the second stanza, center David Desharnais fed Rene Bourque in the slot, who cut toward the goal and beat Brodeur short-side to suddenly bring the Bell Centre crowd back to life. Less than ten minutes of play later, Desharnais would come up big again, directing a broken play toward Andrei Markov, who served Max Pacioretty with a perfect cross-ice pass. The American met the puck square with his stick blade and one-timed an unstoppable shot past Brodeur, who was still camping on the goal-line.
During the post-game interview, Desharnais’ coach was not short on praise for the game’s number one star.
“[Desharnais] competed hard for the puck and created chances because of his effort,” insisted Therrien. “He wants to be the first on the loose puck and that’s the David that we know. We tried many things to get him going, but ultimately the credit goes to him for working hard and getting out of that slump. We’re very proud of him.”
The main beneficiary of Desharnais offensive resurgence also added his compliments.
“He’s a great playmaker,” offered Pacioretty, who has eight goals in the past seven games, all of them spent on number 51’s wing. “He’s the most generous player I know, and he’s always doing his best to make you look good on the ice.”
While former Hab Michael Ryder tied the game at two apiece with a slap shot at the start of the third, the Habs once again moved ahead, this time for good, thanks to another player who has just emerged from the shadows. Alex Galchenyuk, the dynamic sophomore winger and the Habs’ third-leading scorer, was confined to the Montreal bench for the entire third period of Saturday night’s win against the Leafs after taking a bad penalty and being on the ice for two goals against.
“Even if I didn’t play at all in the third, I wasn’t feeling that low after Saturday. It’s part of hockey, and I just put it behind me after the game. I was definitely excited about this game,” insisted Galchenyuk. Indeed, on Monday night, he took his regular shift alongside Lars Eller and Rene Bourque, made four shots on net and tipped home an Alexei Emelin point shot – the eventual game-winner – with ten minutes left to go.
“We put him out there late in the match to show our confidence in him,” explained coach Therrien, looking pleased about the way his prized prospect reacted to his temporary demotion. “I thought he bounced back well. I’m sure he’s feeling really good about himself.”
“All in all, I give credit to the Devils for playing a good hockey game, and I appreciate that we found a way to win. That’s what matters,” Therrien concluded.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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