Mr. Automatic all season long when taking draws with a league-leading 59.9% face-off efficiency, Malhotra has been a big part of the Canadiens’ improved puck possession this season. On Saturday night against the visiting Maple Leafs however, he was also a big part of win No. 41, scoring his first of the season on the way to a 4-0 decision.
“He doesn’t score often, but tonight he scored the game-winner. We all saw the way the players reacted to it. He brings a lot to this team,” offered head coach Michel Therrien, who even saw All-Star netminder Carey Price skate over to the Canadiens bench during a TV timeout to congratulate the 34-year-old center. “He’s a veteran player who works hard and says the right things in the dressing room. We’re all really happy for him.”
Happiest most of all had to be the man himself, who was all smiles in the Canadiens dressing room after finally getting the monkey off his back.
“I waited long enough,” cracked Malhotra postgame. “Obviously it’s nice to contribute on the offensive side of things. It gets more and more frustrating the longer the games go by and you’re not scoring, but it came at a good time and fortunately we’re continuing our winning ways. Everyone was happy for me. In a dressing room like ours, we’re all pulling for each other.”
The Habs have made a habit of practicing what they preach this season, and you didn’t have to look far to see a team that was all for one and one for all on the ice.
“Dale [Weise] made an incredible play. He had the opportunity himself but sucked the defense to him and gave me a free walk down Broadway,” praised Malhotra, who opened the scoring exactly five minutes into the game. “It was a great play by him – very unselfish hockey – and I think that’s been kind of our trademark this year. You saw on the empty net goal [Max] Pacioretty didn’t go for it himself; he went for the smart hockey play unselfishly and let [David] Desharnais get the goal. That’s becoming a part of our DNA here.”
Although Malhotra’s first goal of the season comes with just 20 left on the 2014-15 calendar, the six-foot-two, 207-pounder hinted more could be on the horizon.
“We’ve been spending more time in the offensive zone recently. That’s been key for us,” described the 17-year NHL vet. “Earlier this season we were spending a lot of time in our own defensive zone and it’s hard to score goals from there. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
Named the game’s third star with a 61% efficiency in the circle on the evening to go with his tally over 12:46 of ice time, the Mississauga-native did well to impress his peers on the nightly honor roll, including the principal benefactor of that reduced defensive zone play.
“It’s awesome,” praised Price, who was named the game’s first star after picking up his 31st career shutout and sixth clean sheet of the season with a 30-save performance on Saturday night. “It’s really good to see a guy who works so hard, who’s so committed to playing on the defensive side of the puck get rewarded like that.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
The Numbers Game: February 28, 2015
Talent on display
Feeling the love
Just about good to go