solid drubbing the Habs took at the hands of the Rangers on Friday, eh?
Were you as surprised as me? Surprised that the Montreal Canadiens, who were missing eight regulars, rolled into Minnesota and over the Wild with an 8-1 trouncing?
Surprised that a team with one of the lowest goals-for in the league managed to score eight times with six different players getting goals? Surprised that the usually defensive-minded Canadiens scored 30 seconds into the game and never looked back?
Ya, so was I.
And so in destroying the pitiful Minnesota Wild 8-1 last night "the little team that could" continues to surprise everyone except for themselves.
Granted the Wild are a team in a tailspin, extending their losing streak to six straight games, so the Canadiens weren't exactly playing the cream of the crop. Still, Montreal's offensive explosion, including a Gordie Howe hat-trick by Ryan White—a goal, an assist and a fight—and a normal hat-trick for P.K. Subban, was just what the doctor ordered for this team.
As much as the Wild looked disorganized, demoralized and disjointed the Canadiens looked like a tenacious, hungry team who was intent on getting the two points from the drop of the puck. The Canadiens received contributions from throughout their lineup with only six players failing to register a point.
Hopefully for Montreal, the scoring frenzy will help ignite their offense going forward because with games this week against the Sabres, Bruins and Capitals, they have much bigger fish to fry.
Final score: Habs 8 - Wild 1
Habs scorers: Ryan White (1), Andrei Kostitsyn (19), P.K. Subban (9, 10, 11), James Wisniewski (10), Travis Moen (6), Tom Pyatt (2)
Wild scorers: Mikko Koivu (17)
Three stars: 1. P.K. Subban, 2. Ryan White, 3. Benoit Pouliot
1. Ryan White is a true sparkplug for the Habs.
The more White plays the more he reminds me of a faster Aaron Asham.
Fast, gritty, always mixing it up physically, will never back down from a fight, has decent offensive instincts and, like Asham, isn't the biggest guy in the world. At 6'0" 198 lbs, White is not exactly a small guy but he is certainly not a heavyweight. But also like Asham, White bring a never-quit in-your-face style that can be catalytic to a team's success.
White is the type of bottom-six player that all teams covet come playoff time, and last night he got the game rolling for Montreal along with linemate Benoit Pouliot.
White opened the scoring only 30 seconds in on his first career NHL goal off a beautiful feed from Pouliot. If that wasn't enough to set the tone, shortly after his goal with the Wild's Clayton Stoner running around a bit, White challenged him to a fight after a big hit on Aaron Palushaj.
It was a pretty even fight with both players landing some good shots, but it sent a message that Montreal wasn't going to be pushed around. After Stoner came out of the box, he was quiet and stuck to playing hockey rather than going for big hits.
That sounds like a job well done by White and his presence in the bottom-six makes the Canadiens a much better team.
If David Desharnais is the straw that stirs the drink on that line, White is the ice cubes. The drink just isn't the same without them.
2. What's Auld the fuss about?
CBC's coverage of the game started with them implying some kind of mystery involving Montreal's decision to start Alex Auld in place of Carey Price.
This was more than a little surprising to me since every indication prior to the game yesterday was that Auld would play. And why not?
Price has already played 64 games this season. In addition, with huge matches against the Sabres, Bruins and Capitals this week, yesterday was the only opportunity for Montreal to rest Price for a long time, perhaps even till the end of the season.
In addition, the game against the Wild was an inter-conference match meaning that its outcome could not negatively affect the Habs' standings, except for potentially failing to pick up two points.
If that wasn't enough, the Wild are a non-playoff team who was on a five-game losing streak so starting the backup made perfect sense.
I don't know about you but it sounds like a pretty open and shut case to me.
Perhaps the CBC needs to hire someone who actually knows something about the Canadiens to do their research, because the only thing mysterious about Auld starting was their angle on the story.
3. Pouliot followed the script.
Just like the hero in a Disney movie who overcomes adversity, Benoit Pouliot played exactly the way you hoped he would in his first game against his former team.
He got the party started by making a nice fake then dishing off to Ryan White who put his first NHL goal past Jose Theodore only 30 seconds in.
About six minutes later, after Andrei Kostitsyn was flattened in the offensive zone by a Wild defender, Pouliot grabbed the loose puck and chipped it free for AK46 who blasted it past Theodore from the high slot. But Pouliot wasn't done yet, finishing off his night with an assist on P.K. Subban's spectacular first goal of the game, making it 3-0 Montreal.
On all three plays and for the entire game, you could see that Pouliot wanted to prove himself and he played with a determination and focus that has been lacking far too often from his game.
If he could show that kind of drive on a consistent basis, he could be a top player for the Canadiens. I guess the fact that he hasn't or isn't able to explains why he is better suited in the bottom-six.
Pouliot finished the night with three assists, a plus-4 rating, one shot on goal and 12:17 of ice time.
4. Holy offense!
The fact that Montreal had five goals before the 12 minute mark of the second period and eight on the night, speaks as much to the Habs' tenacious play as it does the ineptitude of the Wild.
No disrespect to the Wild, but they just looked horrible last night in extending their current losing streak to six games. Whereas they have a bunch of talented players, it was apparent that they were all pulling in different directions. This lack of cohesion meant that their goaltenders were largely left to their own devices.
Still, you have to give credit where credit is due with Montreal playing their strongest offensive games of the season. With teammates feeding off a determined performance by Pouliot and a great fight by White, even slumping forwards like Michael Cammalleri—who hasn't looked good since returning from injury—got into the action, collecting two assists on the night.
Moreover, the blowout win was the perfect remedy for their six-goal shellacking at the hands of the Rangers on Friday.
Montreal scored eight total goals by six different players, with assists going to nine different players. That the Habs continue to get things done despite icing a lineup that looks more AHL caliber than NHL, it truly amazing.
5. Subban should get Calder consideration.
P.K. Subban, who has been one of the most talked about players in the league this season, just seems to be getting better each game.
We have seen how well this kid can play defensively while under the tutelage of Hal Gill, but what is often forgotten is his all-world offensive skills.
Last night after getting the puck from Pouliot in the corner, Subban skated the puck around and through the Wild's zone with Cal Clutterbuck shadowing him. Subban displayed his excellent puck protection, mobility and stick handling skills as he bobbed and weaved for a good 20 seconds before taking it to the net. He flipped the puck at Theodore from the side and it deflected off the Wild defenseman's skate and in, only 51 seconds into the second period.
Then with Montreal leading 5-0 and about four and a half minutes to play in the second, Subban took a James Wizniewski pass and blasted it past Jose Theodore to make it 6-0. But he wasn't done yet, picking up a free puck at the blueline in the third and blasting his third of the game past Niklas Backstrom to make it 7-0.
The goal marked his first career hat-trick and gives him 35 points (11G, 24A) in 68 games, 24th overall among defensemen—one point behind Zdeno Chara and one ahead of Jordan Leopold. Moreover, his 11 goals puts him only four behind Guy Lapointe—he scored 15 in 1970-71—for most goals by a Habs rookie defenseman.
Subban finished the night with four points (3G, 1A), four shots on goal and a plus-3 rating. Despite being hated by opposing fans and players, he is on his way to becoming one of the very best defenseman in the league.
Keep in mind that this wunderkid is only 21!
So while I don't expect Subban to beat out either Jeff Skinner or Logan Couture for the Calder Trophy, I think that he should definitely get considering for rookie of the year.
Standings and Next Game
The victory gives Montreal 40 wins on the season with a 40-26-7 record, good for 87 points and sixth overall in the East. The Habs inch ever closer to the idle Bruins who have 88 points but two games in hand.
Montreal is also only two points back of the Lightning, who have 89 points and are in fifth overall in the East.
Behind the Canadiens in the standings are the usual suspects: the Rangers with 82 points, the Sabres with 79 points and one game in hand and the Hurricanes with 76 points and one game in hand.
With nine games left in the season Montreal now embarks on their most pivotal week of the season.
The Habs have a Tuesday night Bell Centre tilt against the Sabres, a Thursday night grudge match against the Bruins and a Saturday night game in Montreal against the red-hot Capitals.
This week could very well determine if the Canadiens can overtake the Bruins for first overall in the Northeast or are destined to finish in fifth or lower.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)