Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Anderson (L), Auld
Habs goalscorers: Eller, Plekanec, Cammalleri, Leblanc, Subban, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Smith, Spezza
Ottawa started the game as if they knew they had lame prey. They pounced and pressed with full force and got their reward after barely a wait at all. When our best penalty killer was sent to the box for tripping the current Ottawa captain, the former Ottawa captain made a decisive call. He put benched Eller out for the kill.
Eller reacted like a lion just out of cage would. After Diaz's lucky clearance and Darche's timely tip, Eller saw puck and knew he wanted to taste possession. He turned on the stride, beat off a couple of challenges and put a strong wrist shot past Anderson right side. Changed the flow of the game and probably the Habs fortunes this night (and maybe beyond).
Eller showed us last night that one game of pain (benching) is sometimes worth it. He was better in this game than he has been in a long time, and that's not simply due to new linemates. As we saw on that first goal, he approached it with the hunger of the goalscorer that can sometimes get lost over a long season. Hunger restored for while it seems.
His unappreciated first penalty aside (actually it did provide the turning point in the end), he played a good 18 minutes. He was finding his determination on the ice again, and that was reflected in the very important second goal. Yes it was lucky in the end to go in, but to find the Canadiens winning a puck battle, feeding the point, providing two screens and tips at even strength early in a game is new for the past little while. Pleks was leading this kind of effort all night.
Cole continues to be a handful for opposing teams, and he showed that again in this one. His was reward for a lot that has gone by recently. But it was his assist to Subban that was the play of beauty for the night and the play that sealed the Senators fate.
The other benchee also found more of his old appetite. His one goal provided pleasure and relief. At 4-on-4 he made a costly error that left Emelin and Price with work to do, but instead of sulking (or being immediately called to bench by strict taskmaster) he turned around and skated to make amends. Some have started to talk in risk reward, and I'm not sure what they mean by it. But for me this is the risk reward of Subban. One doesn't get the very big rewards (goals like these) without accepting the risks (cough ups like that one). It would be a mistake not to at least attempt to find ways to work a system that can use his rewards -- one that was being made so far this season, I think.
He may be accused of luck when this game is viewed in the hard light of day. His first assist was perhaps not my favourite clearance method and left a lot of work to be done, his second (a shot) needed the help of deflections and crossbars. And his third was a very nice hack at the puck, but Louis skated a long way. But guess what? This is how players get a lot of points and look good to us all on stats ledgers across the league. Diaz put himself in some nice situations and did the rest of his job well. More and more looking like Gauthier stole this player from under the noses of all the other GMs.
Carey Price -Game Puck
The requisite early goal on the first composite chance of the game steeled him for the rest it seemed. As his team responded with commitment, so did Price and made some nice (and key) saves along the way. He kept the team in it early and was very solid throughout, saving 33 of 35 shots. The two Ottawa goals from close range during goal mouth skirmishes were not not at all his fault. He also adjusted his wandering tendency to allow his team to do their work, and it paid handsomely this time.
On another night 12 shots for and 2 goals against by 6:49 of the second period might have taken on a different feel. However, thanks to a little luck, and some new accountability coming to the rise out there, that Spezza goal was just a bump in the road to big victory.
I believe in luck and I can see it and appreciate it when it happens. However, I am more reluctant than some to throw luck (good or bad) down as the lone explanation for these kinds of games. All games have their luck, but it takes people doing the right things to take advantage. In this one, Plekanec pressing the net was required for the second goal, Darche following the squirming puck for that Diaz bounce out to count, and so on. When teams play well and win well you often see luck, and when teams lose and lose badly you often see misfortune. Let the Canadiens bask in this one because a) they need to and b) they deserve it more than some allow.
Having other commitments this Xmas (meeting my new nephew), I was unable to watch live and had to enrol the help of my Dad. But Dad, having taught me to watch sports the way I do anyway, was seamless in his views and notes to me. More importantly, he had asked me not to make him watch another version of the pre-Christmas games in its entirety, I assured him it would be different (assured meaning hoped). And look we were right. Our family having developed a good catalogue of superstitious methods to induce goals and wins form this team, are happy now to have found another. Reading notes on big wins works for me if it works for you.
A few more games on this road trip to build a win streak and turn the hardcore fans' holiday mood around. In addition, we have the rare treat of three Canadiens prospects lacing up for Canada in the next few days. Should be a good end to 2011. Enjoy.