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Taking control

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Michel Therrien’s troops couldn’t solve Calvin Pickard early on Saturday night, but P.K. Subban wasn’t about to let the rookie netminder leave La Belle Province with his first career NHL victory.

The 2013 Norris Trophy winner lit the lamp twice in the second period, including a highlight-reel tally that sent the Bell Centre faithful into a frenzy, to lift the Canadiens to a 3-2 win and their second straight victory. It was also the Habs’ fifth win in their last six games to start the year.

“I think that we just stuck with it. They got a fortunate bounce early in the game and they scored early, but I think we did a good job sticking to the game plan. We’ve done a pretty good job of that all year. Not every game is going to go the way you want, but I thought collectively as a group we played a pretty solid game,” offered Subban, who registered his second and third goals of the season while logging just over 21 minutes of ice time against Colorado.

Subban’s second marker, which proved to be the eventual game-winner, came just 12 seconds after the six-year NHL veteran had finished serving a minor penalty for holding Avalanche centerman Nathan MacKinnon. Despite turning Pickard inside out with what will surely go down as one of the most memorable moves of the 2014-15 campaign, Subban couldn’t help but address the need for him to play a more disciplined brand of hockey on a consistent basis going forward.

“I was still ticked off that I took a stupid penalty. I’ve got to stay out of the box. I’m taking penalties every game. It’s fine now that we’re winning, but I’ve got to stay out of the box. It’s great to get the goal, but just because you do one thing wrong and then do one thing right doesn’t kind of even things out,” confessed the 2014 Olympic gold-medalist, who leads the Canadiens with 14 penalty minutes through six games. “If you’re going to be a leader on the team, you need to set the example. I haven’t done a good job of that. I was happy to get the goal though, for sure.”

And, the Canadiens’ bench boss was certainly happy for him, praising Subban’s all-around effort in a game that saw both teams play a run-and-gun style from start to finish.

“We’ve been talking about discipline a lot as a team lately. The players are aware of it. But, I think P.K. played a solid game,” offered Therrien, whose club now sits atop the league with 10 points. “He’s been a lot more responsible with and without the puck. He also scored two goals, including one spectacular goal. I really liked his involvement against Colorado.”

That applied to the team as a whole, too. Not only did the Canadiens get off to a good start, outshooting the Avalanche by a 17-11 margin in the first period, but they also dominated in the takeaway department and blocked 23 Colorado shot attempts along the way.

“We’re avoiding mistakes and turnovers, and putting more of a focus on getting pucks to the net and getting shots, winning one-on-one battles and winning races. We’re focusing on the small steps that it takes to be successful. They’re consistently coming through more and more now,” explained Manny Malhotra, who won 72 percent of his draws on Saturday night, coming out on top 13 times in 18 opportunities. “I think our overall game on a nightly basis is getting better. We’re playing a more straight line game which is what we need to do to be successful consistently. We have to play like that.”

That’s something Carey Price expanded upon after picking up his fourth win of the season.

“I thought this was our best game of the six we’ve played. I thought we played a pretty complete package,” offered Price, who stopped 32 of 34 shots against to up his record to 4-1-0 on the season. “The fact that we’re tightening up defensively just stems from our tenacity in the offensive zone. That’s the type of hockey we were playing at the end of the season last year and really what made us successful. We’re starting to execute our system better, and we’re bringing that tenacity.”

Which, as we as all know, is the first sign that this edition of the Canadiens is gelling as intended.

“The more we continue, the more I get the sense that we’re playing better and better hockey. We played with a lot of energy and we put a lot of pressure on the opposing team. Without those big saves by Pickard, we could’ve taken a bigger lead,” concluded Therrien. “I really liked the way we started out the game, and I liked the way we were engaged.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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