First of all, I haven’t written about the Habs all year so pardon me while I shake off some rust. I haven't felt I had a feel for this team. I still don't but I'm starting to get some ideas.
The Habs impressive post-Olympic run continued last night with a win over the Rangers in New York. It was Montreal’s sixth straight victory, the most games they’ve won in a row since 2006. Bob Gainey's science experiment has lost only once, to the mighty San Jose Sharks, since the Olympic break.
Glen Metropolit got his 16th, a career high and his 10th on the power play. Metropolit LEADS the Canadiens in power play goals.
Sergei Kostitsyn had the game winner and Tomas Plekanec scored on an empty net to ice the win.
Perhaps even more impressively, the Habs allowed only 20 shots against a team fighting for their playoff lives so Jaroslav Halak wasn’t busy while picking up his 23rd win of the year. Halak hasn’t lost an NHL game since February 13th. Before Canada ever won a gold medal on home soil. Before the Hurt Locker achieved Oscar glory. Before Justin Bieber became the worldwide phenome... You get the idea.
How about the guys in contract years? SK74, Halak, Plekanec and Metropolit are all free agents at seasons end. All will get raises.
The Flyers lost last night so the Habs leapfrogged the Flyers into 6th place in the East although the Flyers hold three games in hand.
The Senators lost as well so Montreal now sits just just one point behind the Sens for 5th place. Ottawa has just three wins in their last ten games and Alex Kovalev hasn’t scored a point in over a month, right around the last time Jaro Halak lost an NHL game.
That loss came against Philly, right before the Olympic break. It looked very likely at that moment that Montreal would miss the playoffs.
What a difference a month, really two weeks, makes.
Jacques Martin gave his team a well-deserved day off today and they have some time to prepare for their next test, Saturday night in Toronto.
Martin had a revelatory moment late in the game last night, after Plekanec’s empty netter, when the RDS camera caught him leaning in to talk to some players and grinning like a Cheshire cat. We’ve seen that grin in postgame press conferences a few times but never on the bench.
When he was hired, many said he was unpopular among players and he’d have trouble getting along with the guys in Montreal. That has never been my impression in the locker room (with a few younger exceptions, notably Sergei, who is now thriving with Dominic Moore and Travis Moen).
I think the veterans appreciate the structure he provides. There’s no ambiguity about the gameplan with Martin. He’s not learning on the fly at the NHL level like several Canadiens coaches before him. He doesn’t panic when his team falls behind and that calm is evident on the bench.
He looks like he’s having fun after those dismal years in Florida with the Panthers. Those years may very well have taught him to appreciate times like these. His players are having fun too.
Go ahead and smile Jacques, somewhere in this city, Bob Gainey is watching sports on his HDTV and smiling too.
The question now, and I’m sorry for asking it, but was Rejean Tremblay right (gulp!) about Mike Cammalleri?