Oh boy, did things ever look bad for the Habs in the first period last night?! Everything the team does wrong...every weakness it has...converged in an eight-minute sequence from hell. Aggressive Capitals forechecking had the Canadiens pinned in their own zone. The defence couldn't clear the puck, Price gave up a weak goal and the Habs fell into the dumb penalty trap. It looked like a recap of every loss from the first part of the season, compressed for your viewing displeasure.
That's when the captain took the team by the 'nads and shook it. P.K.Subban (who was really good on zone clearances) put it best when he said, "Our leaders lead."
Brian Gionta looked really good playing on Tomas Plekanec's wing. Pleks found him in the open several times, and Gionta didn't hesitate to shoot. Sometimes, you have to think it's a relief for a guy to get off Scott Gomez' line for a few games. Gomez has the speed to break into the offensive zone, but he so often does inexplicable things with the puck once he gets there, it has to get frustrating for his linemates after a while. Whatever the reason for the connection between Plekanec and Gionta, it made the difference.
The Canadiens, once again showing they're not a team to give up the ghost easily, managed to get their zone in order and play better defence after the Caps' initial onslaught. They also got their feet under them and began to skate. Price shut the door on the chances the Caps managed to get after the first two goals and the checkers kept Ovechkin and company from doing harm.
The win was a testament to determination. They could have panicked after going down by two so early. They could have started thinking ahead to another game the next night and tried to save something for that one. They didn't, though. Led by the gritty captain, they clamped down and ground out a win.
That's not to say everything was great after the first eight minutes of the opening period. The power play had opportunities, and managed to control the puck pretty well for long sequences, but nobody was shooting. Subban, in particular, seemed reluctant to let it fly. Neither he nor Wisniewski were threats, and with none of the forwards going to the net, the man advantage was effectively neutered. That has to change down the stretch, as games get tighter and results more important in the standings.
The latest rotation of Gomez wingers, Kostitsyn and Eller, looked like they didn't know what the hell their centre would do on any given play. Someone (Muller?) needs to show Gomez precisely what he's doing wrong...cutting himself off from his wingers and limiting his options on the rush...and shake him until it sinks in. The unfortunate truth is the Habs are stuck with Gomez for the foreseeable future, so it's in their best interest to get him going. The good news is he seems to pick it up as the games get more crucial, so we can hope to see better from him.
On the plus side, though, David Desharnais is looking more and more comfortable with Pouliot and Darche. He explained a couple of weeks ago that he's got a system for gaining acceptance, despite his size, at each new level of hockey. He goes in with a deliberate plan to play solid defence and do good work on the PP. Then, when he earns a spot by providing those pluses, he opens up and starts taking more offensive chances. That's exactly what he's doing in Montreal. He's playing a responsible defensive game and winning the majority of his faceoffs. He's also offering a creative option on the PP. It would be interesting to see him with Pacioretty more often to see if the pair could recreate some of the magic that had them first and second in AHL scoring before Christmas.
The two points were hard-earned last night, and proved the Canadiens aren't necessarily done for the night, even when they suck their way out of the gate. Still, the team can't come that close to the fire very often without getting burned some night. Better starts and more consistency throughout games are vital down the stretch.
One thing they don't have to worry about? The captain will show up and if the rest of the team follows his example, they have a chance to win against anyone.