Saturday was one of those nights for the Montreal Canadiens where they had to be careful.
Expectations are always that a team desperate to win like Montreal is supposed to easily handle a carefree team like Buffalo, but everyone on the ice is professional and it doesn’t always play out as easily as those expectations.
Montreal, once again, was in desperate need of a victory in their push for a playoff spot.
Brendan Gallagher has set a new career high for goals in a single season. Gallagher has 33 on the year as he, once again, scored two from inside 10 feet. There was such fear when he needed a toolbox in his hand to keep going, as a hockey player after a Shea Weber slap shot broke it. But that fear wasn’t appropriate, because Gallagher scores just about every single time from close in. He is such a hungry, courageous player.
Gallagher got 31 on the season last year, and most thought that would be his career high. One year later, he’s beaten it and the season still has seven games left.
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The first Gallagher goal was set up by a simply tremendous effort from Phillip Danault. He stole the puck from talented rookie Rasmus Dahlin, then had to win a race to it, and wasn’t going to. So he dove to the ice flat on his stomach, stretched out his stick and curled it to the front of the net, where Gallagher fired it home.
Time and time again, Danault’s work rate there is the difference between success and failure in the NHL. It’s only by inches that you beat your opponent most of the time.
Max Domi was flying again in this one.
Domi is the best on the team in zone entries, thanks to his terrific stick-handling ability. Again, Domi came down the left side interestingly as he set up Andrew Shaw. Interestingly, because there’s a thought that Domi might not lose any of his skill set by moving from centre, he may actually be better suited to the wing, considering he’s not the best of the 200-foot players on the team defensively.
In the future, Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be better served as the top two centres, and with Ryan Poehling having a 200-foot game, it has been entertained with good reason that the future may see Domi at the wing. As he flew down the left side boards to set up Shaw, it seemed a solid proposal once again.
It’s a breakout season for Domi, with 67 points and 26 goals after nine last year. He’s the leading scorer on the team. What a hockey trade. What a remarkably good hockey trade. Alex Galchenyuk is doing all right as well, with 17 goals and 39 points, but he has followed up his abysmal minus 31 with Montreal with a minus 21 in Arizona. That minus 21 is the worst on the entire team.
Domi, however, was born to play in the spotlight. He’s found his home.
With 40 points in 56 games, probably no one thought that Andrew Shaw was going to set a career high in points this season. But what a remarkable comeback for a player who has been concussed for much of the last three years, including likely this year, when the club told the media that Shaw had a neck injury.
Shaw also issued a challenge to his team publicly last week to get it together, when it appeared the club was out of gas and going to simply stumble to the finish line in early April. The challenge was bold, but so far, it hasn’t backfired. When you tell your players to show some guts and keep going, you better be playing your best hockey yourself, or it doesn’t fly. Shaw is playing his best hockey.
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It wasn’t a terrific night for the defensive issues of Jonathan Drouin. Drouin was weaving at Buffalo’s blue line, trying to win the offensive zone. Which is fine; you have to let a creator create. There’s nothing wrong with the offensive try there. However, he can’t after he loses the puck, then proceed to lose the puck a second time, then lose that puck battle, then not skate beside the player he lost the puck battle with.
People are upset when Drouin loses the puck. It’s not that, though. Players lose pucks; it happens a thousand times a game. It’s not a big deal.
It’s not even that he loses the puck battle after. That’s not a big deal, either, as it also happens a hundred times a game. The big deal is after you lose that puck, and after you lose that puck battle, that you are not still skating down the ice fighting to get back in the battle. Drouin was out of the play and not defending for the next 100 feet as the puck moved up ice toward Carey Price. Drouin has to stay in the hunt. The lost puck, the lost battle, and most importantly the not competing for the next 100 feet up ice eventually led to a goal.
Now for a word about the bad Andrew Shaw after some praise for the good Andrew Shaw. The game was in control at 5-3 Montreal halfway through the third period. The Sabres were basically on life support, but then Shaw didn’t just take one minor penalty because he couldn’t control his anger. He took a second minor penalty, allowing Buffalo four crucial minutes to get back into a game that should have been over.
You cannot do this.
When the entire season is on the line, you have to think about the bigger picture more than your desire to get even. Pick another moment to get even. You can even pick a moment with 45 seconds left in the game, just don’t give the opposition a second life. They took advantage when Jack Eichel scored before Shaw could get back into the play. It was 5-4, and the game had changed. It should have been over.
The playoffs are on for many Habs prospects, but one moment is more noteworthy than all others so far on the opening weekend.
Centre Ryan Poehling crashed into the boards and hurt his neck on Friday night, and didn’t return for the game that the Saint Cloud State Huskies won over Minnesota Duluth. The next morning, the word was that it wasn’t serious, but he’ll be sidelined for precautionary reasons. Poehling did not play in game two of the series. Saint Cloud State has advanced to the final 16 next weekend to decide the final four in Buffalo in mid-April.
Leaving Minnesota for Boston, Cayden Primeau is probably the best goalie in the entire country in college hockey. An absolute steal as a 7th round draft choice, Primeau has been stellar for Northeastern, almost winning games by himself. Northeastern played Boston College Saturday night in a one game winner takes the Hockey East title. Primeau was outstanding as he held strong as Northeastern beat BC 3-2.