Last night was one of those mixed-emotions kind of games. The relief that someone (anyone!) scored a goal was like the air flapping out of a too-tight balloon. Then, eleven seconds later, another goal allowed a return to normal breathing patterns that had been suspended for more than a week. In the moment, it didn't matter who scored as long as someone did. In the moments since, it has to be slightly concerning that the two goals were scored by a pinching Roman Hamrlik on his fifth whack at it, and by the workaday Mathieu Darche.
While it's great to see the Canadiens finally break the persistent goose egg that's been following them around for ten days, the fact that the expected goal scorers are still slumping isn't good. Mike Cammalleri missed a breakaway, James Wisniewski hit the post on the PP and Brian Gionta got robbed by the goalie. Some of those have to start going in, if the team is really to turn things around.
On the plus side, the team looked much, much livelier than it did on Saturday. Andrei Kostitsyn was throwing his considerable weight around effectively and he got rewarded with the empty-netter for his 20th of the year. Tomas Plekanec was skating hard, forechecking effectively and moving the puck well. Lars Eller looked good too, even if he didn't get a point to show for it. Cammalleri and Scott Gomez got assists on Hamrlik's and Darche's garbage goals, and Gionta worked his butt off. There are good signs there, but they won't mean much unless those guys start actually scoring, starting with the game tonight.
The defence looked better than it did on Saturday as well. P.K. Subban made his usual sharp, accurate outlet passes. Wisniewski was better on the breakout as well, and Hamrlik made a nice recovery from one of his least impressive games this season. If not for an errant, uncalled high stick that cut Hal Gill and jerked him out of the play, the D played well enough to support a shutout for Carey Price.
Price was his usual reliable self in goal. He reaffirmed, if there was any doubt, that the team will go as far in the playoffs as he can take it. In a way, that's a comforting thought. His play has been so consistent, we don't worry about what he's doing back there. You do have to worry a bit about how he looks in the room after games, though. Where, early in the season, Price was standing tall in post-game interviews, now he's white-faced and hollow-eyed and generally exhausted-looking. We have to hope there's a well of energy on which these guys can draw before the real season starts.
In the end, the team won a game it really had to win. That's the main thing. If it wasn't a resounding victory or one dictated by the Canadiens' best players, it's still two points after a fairly devastating losing streak. It's easy to say it was "just the Thrashers," but that team has enough weapons to hurt if the Canadiens had let it. Instead, they went out and picked up their game when they needed to. Even on a morning of mixed feelings, there's some comfort in that.