The Montreal Canadiens stormed into the Air Canada Centre with the bitter memory of the 6-0 drubbing by the Toronto Maple Leafs no doubt still fresh in their minds. Although the game was a few weeks ago, it served as a turning point for the Habs, who have played consistent hockey since. During the 5-2 victory over the Leafs on this night, the Canadiens would continue their sharp play and excel at pretty much every facet of the game.
It had been an eventful previous 24 hours for the Canadiens, who acquired forward Michael Ryder and a third round pick from the Dallas Stars in exchange for unproductive forward Erik Cole. Although the trade should benefit the Canadiens, one is hard pressed to explain why the Dallas front office would even consider giving up so much for potentially so little.
The Maple Leafs drew first blood at 13:44 of the first period when Frazen McLaren scored on a strong backhand move to the net. The puck would end up deflecting up and over Habs netminder Carey Price.
Montreal tied the game 1-1 on a re-directed slapshot from the blue line by Alexei Emelin. The puck appeared to have eyes, as it struck Leafs Tyler Bozak and then went through the pads of goalie Ben Scrivens. The Habs had deployed an extra skater on the play, with a delayed penalty against the Leafs being signalled by the official.
With 37 seconds remaining in the first period, those meddling zebras, who have been known to ruin their share of games, would once again make their debut. Leafs forward Mike Brown was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct penalty on what appeared to be a nudge against the boards to Josh Gorges, who was not injured on the play. Maybe if Brown had gone after Gorges’ head, drawn blood and taken the Habs defenseman out of the lineup for several games, he would have escaped with a two minute minor.
Speaking of Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, on the ensuing five minute Habs power play, he had an excellent opportunity to score from in front of Scrivens. However, his effort, which would have been great if he was was chipping onto a green, fluttered harmlessly over the net. However, six seconds before the long power play would end, Pacioretty’s luck would change for the better.
With the extra man advantage winding down, Habs defenseman P.K. Subban shattered his stick on a slap shot from the right point. Scrivens saved the shot with his pad, but the rebounding puck nicked off of Pacioretty’s shin in front of the net and past Scrivens. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
The Canadiens were playing extremely well, taking the play to Toronto in an energetic fashion. In no way did Montreal’s slim 2-1 lead reflect their domination, having out-shot the Leafs 21-4 up until that point and beating them to virtually every loose puck. Toronto was attempting to take the body, but were having a difficult time keeping up with and lining up the faster and more energetic Habs.
With 8:15 remaining in the second period, the Leafs Mikhail Grabovski drew a rare penalty shot when he was tripped by Emelin on a rush to the net. Since Grabovski did not appear to have a clear uncontested breakway, a two minute minor should have been called instead. Grabovski’s feeble forehand attempt on the penalty shot dribbled softly off Price’s pad for an easy save. A golden opportunity for Toronto to tie the game had slipped away.
However, the Maple Leafs would not be denied for too long in their efforts to score the equalizer. With approximately four minutes remaining in the second stanza, Clarke MacArthur, on a cross-ice feed, shot the puck past Price. The threat was allowed to materialize when Price misplayed what first appeared to be a harmless 55 foot wrist shot by the Leafs Franzen.
Two minutes later, Emelin came close to scoring for the Habs when his shot from the point deflected off a Toronto defenseman and struck iron. After hitting three posts in Ottawa, the Canadiens unlucky engagements with the goalie’s best friend would continue in Toronto. After outplaying Toronto for two periods, Montreal could certainly not have been happy with the 2-2 score after two periods…and not feeling very lucky.
However, as unlucky as the Canadiens have been with shots pinging goal post, their good fortune with officiating this season would continue into the third period.
At 9:08 of the third period, Brendan Gallagher scored the go-ahead goal for the Habs on a tip in off a faceoff win. The goal was not without controversy, however, as the referee apparently dropped the puck when the Leafs Tyler Bozak was lifting his stick and not ready for the draw. The official’s error in prematurely dropping the puck had practically gifted the faceoff to the Canadiens in the attacking zone.
A little over five minutes later, Pacioretty would add insurance on his second goal on a wrist shot from a very sharp angle, where Scrivens failed to position himself properly. Brian Gionta added a late empty netter for Montreal, and this game was in the books.
In his first game back as a Canadien, Ryder was had no shots on goal and was minus one in 14:34 of ice time. The Canadiens face the Pittsburgh Penguins at home Saturday.