MONTREAL – Thursday’s game was a microcosm of the Canadiens’ 2015-16 campaign.
Nine different players factored in on the scoresheet against the Islanders, all but three had at least one shot on goal, no one played fewer than 11 minutes, the power play connected to open the scoring, while the penalty killers remained perfect on home ice, going 3-for-3 on the PK to bring their season total to 23-for-23 at the Bell Centre on the season. And the three stars of the night? Jeff Petry, Dale Weise and David Desharnais.
Riding a balanced lineup to the top of the NHL standings while racking up 25 points in 15 games, the Habs are currently leading the league in both goals for and goals against, and the team counts five players among the league’s Top 20 point-getters.
Turns out, it’s hard for opponents to devise an effective defensive strategy when they can’t figure out which line is the most dangerous.
“That’s been the strength of our team all year, the way we roll four lines. We’re able to come after teams line after line and play the right way and wear them down,” explained Brendan Gallagher, who deflected the insurance marker past Jaroslav Halak in the third period en route to an eventual 4-1 win over the Islanders. “We have a lot of good hockey players and a lot of guys who understand how to contribute to a team’s success.”
Renowned for his ability to inject energy into the lineup, Dale Weise earned the 2014-15 Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy as the Canadiens’ unsung hero last year by contributing to the team’s win totals any way he could. Based on his play out of the gates, he may be angling to give Carey Price a run for Molson Cup honors by the end of the season.
Opening the scoring with the man advantage to pot his eighth goal of the campaign, Weise is not only two goals shy of his career-high just 15 games into 2015-16, he’s also leading the Canadiens in scoring and sitting just two back of Jamie Benn for the league lead.
“We’re trying to eat the same thing he eats in the morning to maybe get on the same routine as him,” cracked Gallagher, only half-joking. “He’s got a hot stick – we just have to feed him the puck. When you look at all the stuff he does for us and how he contributes, everyone is happy to see it. We all knew he could score goals, but the pace he’s scoring at now, it’s great to see. He’s earned everything; he works so hard, he plays the game the right way and plays an honest-style game. You can throw him on every line and he’ll find a way to contribute.”
Unsurprisingly, the Canadiens have been racking up wins thanks in no small part to the play of the man between the pipes, who is currently leading all NHL netminders with a 1.60 goals-against average. What may come as a surprise to some is that those game-stealing performances are coming from a goaltender not named Carey Price.
“We obviously know what Pricer means to our lineup and in our minds he’s the best player in the world. You can’t replace a guy like that, but that said, Condo has stepped up and done everything he could,” praised Gallagher of rookie netminder Mike Condon, who is undefeated in regulation in his Canadiens career, owning a 5-0-1 record in six starts in relief of the injured Price, and has yet to give up more than two goals in a game. “He’s made some big, timely saves. We believe in our group. When one guy goes down, it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and take on a little bit of a greater role. Condo has done that and we feed off that.
“We like the makeup of our group, we like coming to the rink and working together and we like seeing each other have success,” concluded Gallagher. “It’s fun to be at the rink right now and it’s fun to be a part of this team. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
- Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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