The Montreal Canadiens faced the hungry Dallas Stars in their first game back from the All-Star break. Four points out of a playoff spot and desperately needing the W, the Stars’ game plan was simple; rock them then shoot the puck. Carey Price took the brunt of it being constantly pushed in his crease by Dallas players and ultimately faced 42 shots. As both team traded hits – 21 for Dallas and 19 for Montreal -, high sticks, and slashes. Special units were the norm. Both teams went 1-5 on their power play chances, trading power play goals in the second.
Bad Move, Worse Call
Alexei Emelin as played better and better hockey in games of late. Ever since his ice time went down to under 18 minutes, Emelin as been much more efficient in his zone. His positioning alone has improved, at the right place at the right time, he denied Mike Ribeiro a game winning goal in the last minute of the third period against Nashville.
Emelin was off to a good start once again against the Stars. After the Eller line circled the offensive zone for almost a minute, Jiri Sekac opted not to shoot on a beaten Kari Lethonen and passed it to Brandon Prust who was standing in front of an empty net. The puck bounced off his skate and went wide. The Hockey Gods are always fair; seconds later, Emelin scored a one in a million goal as he dumped the puck in the corner, bounced off Cody Eakin, by Trevor Daley who fanned on the clear, through Kari Lethonen’s pads.
Things went awry for the Russian defender. At 14:42 of the second period, Alexei Emelin was thrown out of the game for a boarding call on Jason Spezza. A lot like his $11,021.51 hit on Brian Gionta on November 28, Emelin was victim of his playing style on a vacuous forward.
Jason Spezza, since his rookie season, has carried a reputation of not being the deepest thinker on the ice. This hit is a good example of it. With Emelin on his trail since the faceoff circle, Spezza decided to suddenly stop and turn his back on the play. Emelin coming with speed put his stick, without shoving or charging, on Spezza’s lower back which lead to Spezza losing his balance, getting a face full of boards, and cutting the bridge of his nose. A little blood goes a long way, Emelin was ejected of the game. Apparently, in the referees’ minds, the Emelin hit was worse than the Clayton Stoner hit on Max Pacioretty that went unpunished.
The Kid’s Winging It
Since being put back on left-wing, Alex Galchenyuk scored three goals and an assist. His last goal scored last night despite being kept to only 13:31 of ice time, penalty killing keeping him on the bench. A great individual effort after a clearing pass from Nathan Beaulieu.
The Montreal Canadiens are a better team offensively with Alex Galchenyuk on left-wing and David Desharnais at centre. Galchenyuk his putting numbers closer to his talent now than he has while at centre ice. In his last 10 games at centre, Galchenyuk has five assists and a single goal. Same goes for David Desharnais, since being back at centre, Desharnais has a goal and two assists in three games. In his last 10 games on wing, he notched but a goal and an assist. Desharnais’ playmaking ability and puck possession skill make him a natural at centre. To force two players in your top 6 to play out of their comfort zone when both are more productive when at the position they were at originally is a waste of time for everyone.
The experiment has been made but the results inconclusive. Yes, Alex Galchenyuk used to play centre in Junior, yes he can play centre at the NHL level but, for the time being, not as successfully. Some members of the media surrounding the Canadiens keep flogging the dead horse. It doesn’t matter if you were scouted as a goalie, if you’re only one out of two players to play at a point per game level on left-wing in the NHL, on a team that has 6 centremen (add Galchenyuk and Bournival to the regular 4), then you’re a left winger, simple as that.
Be Wary Of A Man Not Wiser Today Than He Was Yesterday
This isn’t a matter of what if anymore. The results are in and it’s time to move on. Alex Galchenyuk is 20 years old, David Desharnais is under contract for the next two seasons. The decisions made this seasons aren’t forever. Galchenyuk has – health permitting – another 20 years of career ahead of him, maybe more if advancement in training and nutrition keep that pace. Alex Galchenyuk is a competitor, he wants to score, he wants to win. Just put him in a position that allows him to do that. For the 2014-15 season, that position is left-wing.
This is the make up that makes the Montreal Canadiens a successful team, the goal is to win and win soon, not stubbornly losing games for the sake of symmetry.
Rubber Match on the Hudson
The Canadiens are going back to the Big Apple to face the New York Rangers. Both teams hold an at-home win against the other in the series so far this season. With lingering grudge from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, these two teams want to beat each other and make it a statement. In the first game, the Habs took it 3-1. In the return match in New York, the animosity was in full force. In a 5-0 Rangers win, three cross checking minor were handed out as well as two fighting majors.
Battle of the 8s
In game three of the Eastern Conference Finals, Brandon Prust laid a nasty late hit on Derek Stepan, breaking his jaw. The off-season did nothing to lessen the Rangers’ anger. In both games against New York this year, Brandon Prust fought Kevin Klein. The former Ranger has had the upper fist on the current Ranger in both fights. Remains to be seen if Klein has had enough or will the Madison Square Garden see yet another fist fight.
This game will be a tough challenge for the Montreal Canadiens. The New York Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL before the All-Star break. Since December 1st, the blueshirts only loss six out of 22 games, averaging 3.04 goals per game in that stretch. However the Rangers seem to be slowing down a bit. In their last five games, the Rangers are 3-2 and averaged 2.2 goals per game.
With the advantage of home ice, the Rangers are 14-6-3 this season. Playing for .644 this season. They averaged 29.5 shots per game but almost allowed as much, 28.1 shots. At home, they have a 51.3 CorsiFor% at 5v5 and 50.0 CF% at 5v5 Close. They have 47 goals for and 38 goals against and are boasting a 101.6 PDO. The blueshirts are successful enough both on the power play, 19.57%, and the penalty kill, 82.01%.
Canadiens vs Rangers like Ali vs Frazier
Prior to losing their last game on the road to the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens, playing for .681 this season, had won six straight games away from home to boost their road record to 14-8-1. Only two points behind division leading Detroit with two games in hand, they will try to resurrect that streak against the Rangers. As per usual, advanced stats aren’t kind to the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. They have a RoadCorsiFor% of 48.5 at 5v5 and 48.7% at 5v5 Close. They have 37 goals for and 35 goals against and have a road PDO of 101.2. The Habs’ power play has been better of late, now at 17.14% but will face their first real challenge in the Rangers, the first team to have a PK% in the 80’s since facing the Ottawa Senators on January 15.
Evidently they will have to keep a close eye on the league’s best goal scorer Rick Nash, PQ natives Martin St. Louis and Derick Brassard who always play a strong game against the Habs. However one of the most dangerous Ranger against the Canadiens has been Carl Hagelin. Hagelin scored 2 goals in the series against Montreal last year and a goal in each game against the Habs this season.
Original Six Battle For Top Four
The Rangers losing their last game is good news for the Montreal Canadiens, only thrice have the blueshirts followed a loss with a win. Six times this season have they loss 2 or more straight games.
It should be a very interesting hockey game by two of the strongest teams in the east. Two of the best goalies in the world on each end of the ice. Of course the history between the clubs as a whole, including the coaches. The Rangers trying to shake off a 4-1 loss against the Islanders and the Habs no doubt want to avenge their 5-0 loss back in November and extend their winning streak to four.