Following a tumultuous start to his NHL coaching career, Randy Cunneyworth has finally collected his first big-league win.
The struggling Canadiens snapped a five-game skid last night, defeating the host Ottawa Senators by a score of 6-2. The game was something of a homecoming for Cunneyworth, who spent three seasons captaining the upstart Senators between 1995 and 1998.
As important as the two points are at this point in the season, it is the character of the win which seems to be resonating most in this morning’s post-game analysis.
After falling behind quickly on Zack Smith’s goal less than two minutes in, the Canadiens struggled to find momentum during the game’s opening minutes and it appeared Habs fans were in for yet another long night in the nation’s capital.
The tides turned quickly however, when Lars Eller stripped the puck at his own blueline and broke in shorthanded to loft a weak wrister over the glove of Craig Anderson at the 5:08 mark, tying the game at a goal apiece.
From there, the Canadiens didn’t look back. Despite being out-shot by a margin of 35-28, they were able to control the play for much of the night, keeping the Ottawa attack to the outside and shutting down the middle of the ice in typical Habs’ fashion.
Not only was the team able to take advantage of a weak outing by Anderson, who was pulled after allowing three goals on just seven shots, but points were coming from all the right players at exactly the right times.
Following a miserable December, Mike Cammalleri registered a goal and an assist in the win, as did Tomas Plekanec and recent healthy scratch PK Subban. Given the offensive expectations placed upon these three players heading into the season, the collective exhale from Habs nation easily explains this morning’s blustery winter conditions across la belle province.
Youngster Louis Leblanc showcased his trademark speed and tenacity, also posting a goal and an assist and appears to be settling comfortably into a third line role with the big club. With Raphael Diaz picking up three assists and Lars Eller chipping in a short-handed goal, Canadiens fans were treated to what they are hoping is a glimpse of the not-too-distant future.
With Erik Cole establishing himself as a force on the power play, Max Pacioretty displaying the sandpaper expected from the club’s top power forward and Carey Price standing tall in goal…the Canadiens finally appeared to be firing on all cylinders.
Although a single game rarely provides insight to the direction of a season, this is a Canadiens squad that has been is in free-fall following the Cunneyworth coaching controversy.
After being brought in at what was essentially the worst possible point during the season, Coach Cunneyworth finally had the opportunity to work with a group of rested players who had been through several practices with their new coach.
Two slumping scorers and a slumping offensive defenceman broke out of their funks to register a goal and an assist each.
Louis Leblanc was actually given ice-time on a consistent basis…and picked up a goal and an assist.
Penalty-kill specialist Lars Eller was given the green-light to open up his game and scored short-handed.
Power-play specialist Erik Cole had two points, including a goal with the man advantage.
And tight play in the defensive end allowed Carey Price to look comfortable between the pipes for the first time in weeks, turning aside 33 shots and earning first star honours.
If the guy wasn’t an Anglophone, you’d swear he was a good coach…but all joking aside, last night’s victory represented an entire row of empty hooks to a team that has been desperate for something upon which to hang its hat.
Sometimes a team needs a lucky bounce to break a slump… but last night was simply not one of those times. A win based upon solid goaltending, strong defence, and special teams dominance is a not only win which was well-earned, but a win which was well-coached.
With a quick trip through Florida to face the Lightning and Panthers up next, the Canadiens will hope to return to the pressure cooker that is Montreal next week with some much-needed momentum.
While the coaching controversy will undoubtedly continue to rage on over the coming months, playing with depth and consistency will go a long way towards reminding fans and media alike that whether you’re interested in earning two points or deux points, method of getting there is exactly the same;
Play the way you did last night.