It's a great feeling to wake up on Sunday morning after a Habs win. It's an even better feeling when there's not another game until Thursday, and we can spend five days comfortable in the knowledge that the Canadiens' first five games were a success. The two points gained last night, with none surrendered to division rivals, will go in the bank and help build a staircase of games that will hopefully ascend to the playoffs six months from now. The way in which the two points were secured will build something else a little less concrete, but just as important for the post-season.
The win helped lay a foundation of trust between Carey Price and his teammates, and perhaps cemented a sense of self-belief within Price himself. The moment it happened came at 18:15 of the second period, less than a minute after Andrei Kostitsyn's second brilliant goal of the young season tied the game at three. The Senators' Peter Regin broke in on a two-on-one, knowing perfectly well that all three Sens goals had come high, glove side on Price. Being no dummy, the kid fired a laser right where the other goals had found twine behind the Habs goalie. This time, instead of dropping and giving them four, Price stood his ground and neatly snagged the shot. It was a moment for which Habs fans have been waiting since early last season.
Last winter, Price would have been dwelling on the two goals he'd allowed in less than a minute earlier in the period. He'd have been a bit sulky at himself and mad at the extremely questionable defence that had allowed the Sens to have clear access to the Habs' net. His concentration might have been a bit off, and he very well might have given up the backbreaker. It happened so many times last year, when the game was close, or the team had fought back from behind, and Price let in the goal from which the team didn't recover. Last night he made that crucial stop to preserve the hard-fought tie in the second. The team regrouped during the intermission, then came out and smothered the Sens in the third. Plekanec and Kostitsyn sealed the deal and the Sens handed over the two points.
The win is worth two points in the standings, but those intangibles the team gained from it might be more valuable. Josh Gorges said in training camp that when a goalie is having a tough night, the team changes its style of play and tries to get back and help him out more. That means there are players in places they shouldn't be and confusion reigns. When Price made that save on Regin, he sent the message, "Don't worry, I've got this." He freed his teammates to play their game because he showed them he's mentally tough enough to recover from a couple of quick goals. He couldn't do that last year, and it cost him his job.
The thing with building a winning team is that even one guy's heroics aren't everything. That was true last night. Andrei Kostitsyn played a helluva game and made Trevor Timmins feel a bit better about that 2003 draft. Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta scored a couple of beauties. Halpern did a great job on the PK and everybody was skating. The Habs impressively outshot the Sens 40-19 and discipline continued to be pretty good, with only two non-coincidental minors taken. The team was winning a lot of its battles and Plekanec went 21-for-30 in the faceoff circle for a very impressive 70%. None of it would have mattered if Price hadn't made that save and given his teammates the green light to leave him in charge of the net and go try to win the game.
It could have been a little easier for Price if a few other things had been working. The power play was blanked again, despite five opportunities. It may improve when Andrei Markov returns, but there's still the issue of who'll shoot from the right side. It won't be Subban, because he's a right-handed shot, so Markov will still have nobody to set up. That shot has been a major factor in the PP success for the last five years, and the team has shown no sign it's found a new solution. Cammalleri, too, looks a bit off. He shot a lot last night, but when he's on he would have buried at least two of those chances. Gomez, Pouliot and Eller need to finish as well. Those guys will be an important part of future wins, hopefully by more than one goal.
It's still early, and there's a lot of building that needs to happen as the season goes on. Last night gave us an indication that construction has started. Carey Price might not be the foreman on the job, but he's the crane operator, and nothing lifts without him. That he's showing he might be really ready for that job gives us five days of satisfaction before the next challenge the team will face.