Thankfully, the Canadiens managed to salvage the two points against the Canucks in the last game of their western swing to avoid a full-scale slide into panic territory. Here are a few notes as they move into the last quarter of the season, and approach deadline day:
-I didn't see the Vancouver game, but a careful review of the highlights and the stats page show a couple of interesting things. First, David Desharnais has some slick, slick hands. Second, Lars Eller is a centreman who plays best in his natural position. Third, Andrei Kostitsyn became the latest winger to be freed from the Gomez line and immediately score a goal.
-Also interesting was the evidence of Jacques Martin's total lack of trust in an offensive system. Going into the third period with a 3-1 lead, which quickly shrunk to 3-2 early on, Martin chose to keep the Desharnais line on the bench for the entire twenty minutes. He decided not to risk a bad matchup, despite the line's scoring the opening goal. It was more natural for him to bench potential offence in favour of throwing up a defensive wall instead. Similarly, given the choice to focus Subban's special teams ice time on the PP or the PK, Martin chose the PK. It was more important for him to defend the Canucks' power play than it was to try and generate goals. It's hard to argue the choice, considering the fact that it did bring in two valuable points. Then again, it's interesting to wonder what the team might do with an offensive-minded coach who played the guys most likely to score the most.
-It was notable that the only puck Carey Price has cared about preserving as a keepsake was the one from his win over Vancouver. A big part of his emotional reaction certainly stemmed from beating his boyhood favourite team in front of a large group of family and friends for the first time. Another source of satisfaction might have been knowing his teammates went the extra mile to get the win for him in a way they might not have in previous years. Price has played very well this season, and has done it with a newfound calm and maturity that's won him the love and respect of his comrades. After the game, he acknowledged their determination to win it for him, and he obviously appreciated it.
-There's lots of talk about the Canadiens picking up a couple of enigmatic Russians before the deadline. Alex Kovalev is a millstone around the Senators' collective neck, and the Flyers are dumping Nikolai Zherdev on waivers. The glow went off Kovalev a long time ago, and even the temptation of having him turn it on one last time for a Canadiens playoff run shouldn't make Gauthier bite. Even a low pick for him would be a waste of an asset. Zherdev would be a better bet. He's younger and, at this point, has the potential to be more dynamic. He's also free, if nobody else claims him first. It's easy to see either of them having trouble fitting into the Martin system, and therefore, the dressing room, though.
-Now that ties in the standings are looming as a distinct possibility, the stupidest new rule in the NHL might come into effect. The first tie-breaker is wins, minus shootout wins. This is unbelievably dumb, because the NHL is only reducing the value of shootout wins for tiebreaking purposes. They still count for two points in the standings and, unless there's a tie, will determine conference placing. For example, if the Canadiens end up tied with the Rangers, the Habs will get the edge because the Rangers' seven shootout wins will be discounted, giving the Canadiens a five-win advantage. Yet, if the Rangers finish eighth and the Canadiens one point behind them in ninth, the Rangers would take the final playoff spot because the shootout wins, in that case, would count. It's absolutely ridiculous. Either shootout wins count the same as any other win, or they don't. The league is just making things more confusing and unfair by devaluing shootout wins only in the case of ties.
-A lot of people are calling for the Habs to dump Andrei Kostitsyn for whatever they can get for him. That would be a mistake. AK is pretty much guaranteed to put up 20 goals a year without even trying. Given a good centreman and a couple of hot streaks, he can extend that to 25-30. That might not be top-line material for a contender, but there's nothing wrong with that kind of production in a second-line winger. How many teams have guys scoring more than that on their second lines? AK is maddening with his inconsistency, but he has value. As fans, we have to stop judging him by his potential and bemoaning what he doesn't bring and accepting what he does bring. Then, if team management decides they can't afford to pay him for that, fine. Dumping him for scraps, though, isn't the best way to manage an asset with marketable value.