Habs hunt down and humiliate Canucks in 5-1 domination
Published Thursday, March 11, 2021 10:41AM EST Last Updated Thursday, March 11, 2021 12:13PM EST
Montreal Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi, centre, celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Shea Weber (6) and Brendan Gallagher (11) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
MONTREAL -- Shortly after being appointed the interim head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Dominique Ducharme spoke about how his team’s goal was to chase perfection knowing that most nights they would be unable to achieve it. Well, his players turned in one of those few and far between performances last night as the Habs rewarded their fans who stayed up late with a 5-1 beat down of the Vancouver Canucks.
In Saturday night’s 7-1 victory over the Jets, the Canadiens capitalized on an extremely poor showing from the Winnipeg Jets by playing a solid game and getting fortunate on a few bounces that are probably still haunting Winnipeg backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit. Last night was the polar opposite, as the Habs played the dominant brand of complete hockey their new coaching staff has been waiting for as only some goaltending heroics by Thatcher Demko prevented the scoreline from approaching double digits.
The Canucks were bad but they were made to look bad by a team that hunted them down in packs while demonstrating the quality and finishing that had been lacking on Monday night.
“I thought it was our best game”, said Ducharme post game. “…we were relentless in everything we were doing… we could counter, we could go onto offence and again bring our speed because we were connected”.
The puck support the new head coach has been preaching was once again fully apparent last night. What was different from the previous six games of his tenure was the seemingly boundless energy his players exuded both offensively and defensively as they played the type of winning hockey that should have most fans grinning from ear to ear. When Jeff Petry scored his league leading 10th goal of the season by a defenceman (he’s on pace for 22, by the way), there was still over 13 minutes left of the game that was altogether done and dusted. Did the Canadiens coast their way through the final quarter of the game? Not at all. The Habs stepped on their opponents throats in the offensive zone and played with desperation in their own, blocking shots and paying the price to prevent even a consolation goal by the Canucks.
Manning that goal was a newly in form Carey Price, who seems back to his machine-like best. Price impressed in a different way last night. On Monday night it was his athleticism that was on display with a couple of highlight reel saves. Last night it was his puck tracking through traffic that really made the difference. With Canucks obstructing his view Price seemed to be made of velcro, every puck sticking to him with no opportunity for rebounds and second chances. It goes without saying that if he can return to just being a top ten goaltender in this league, the Habs will be a force to be reckoned with the second half of the season.
And yet the re-emergence of their franchise netminder was not the most encouraging performance of the night. Jesperi Kotkaniemi seems to be growing from strength to strength and finally picked up a thoroughly deserved goal to snap an eight-game goalless skid. The young Finn’s emergence on the powerplay has been well documented since assistant coach Alex Burrows got his paws on him. But last night Kotkaniemi brought that level of control and confidence to his entire game at even strength. Defensively, he tracked back well in the neutral zone and was physical on Canucks forwards below the goal line. With the puck on his stick he owned Vancouver’s zone, leading to long periods of domination that had their opponent’s heads spinning. And the addition of Brendan Gallagher in place of Josh Anderson worked even better than expected as he found instant chemistry with his new linemates.
“I think we worked really good today,” said a smiling Kotkaniemi of his line with Gallagher and Tyler Toffoli, who were equally superb on the night. “My job is actually really easy there. Toff is really good with the puck and he always finds the guys wherever they are. And everyone knows Gally is working really hard…it’s really easy for me”.
And finally, the cherry on top of the sundae was Phillip Danault scoring his first goal in more than a calendar year late in the third period to put an exclamation point on the game. “I think there was more than one monkey,” said Danault of his demonstrative celebration after his goal. “I threw a bunch of monkeys off my back.”
If you weren’t able to stay up until almost 2 o’clock in the morning and are trying to visualize what last night’s game looked like, just picture sharks in a feeding frenzy. Never satisfied. The Canadiens were consistently aggressive on both the forecheck and the boards. When that ferociousness led to possession, the Habs circled the Canucks net relentlessly with control, firing pucks at Demko and then recovering rebounds to do it all over again. More than once the team looked like they were on an eternal powerplay, despite five Canucks players being on the ice.
The good news for the Canadiens is that they have now picked up points in six straight games under Dominique Ducharme and now have a comfortable 5 point lead over the Canucks that could stretch to 15 if they were to win all of their five games in hand. The tough news is that a little more than 19 hours after as close to a perfect performance as could be expected the Habs will be back in action facing a highly motivated and physical Calgary Flames team playing their first game for their new boss, Darryl Sutter. Confidence is clearly high but will the team have the physical capabilities to go again so quickly? It’s too early in the morning to worry about that. Habs fans should just bask in the temporary glory of a sublime showing from their club.
Carey Price – 8/10
He has now only allowed four goals over his last four starts. His one miscue was a potentially hazardous mix up with the puck on his stick behind the net. In his crease he was confident and assured, swallowing up the majority of the pucks directed his way. Timely stops as well. A performance to continue to build upon.
Shea Weber – 8/10
Not often you see that level of emotion from the captain after scoring a goal. Also not often you see him score on the powerplay anymore. An absolute rocket to the top corner killed any chances of a Canucks comeback. Aggressive and yet not out of position on the penalty kill. Distribution was better too. A welcome sign.
Ben Chiarot – N/A
Does not look good for the bruising blueliner. Knew he sustained a serious enough hand injury after he connected with JT Miller’s face. Won’t play tonight and most likely will be out for the foreseeable future.
Jeff Petry – 8/10
He has busted down every obstacle in the way of a Norris trophy nomination. For now. Another perfect shot for his 10th of the season to lead the league in goals at his position. Always willing to jump into the rush and now that the shackles are off under Ducharme he’s thriving even more. Imagine if Bergevin hadn’t signed him this offseason? Rang one off the post for good measure.
Joel Edmundsson – 7/10
Highlight of the night for him was the primary assist on Danault’s goal. Physical and impressive on the penalty kill. +4 on the night and now leading the NHL with an otherworldly plus/minus of 26. He and Chiarot were probably the two biggest worries when Ducharme altered the defensive system. No worries anymore.
Alexander Romanov – 7/10
Wasn’t the way many would have hoped to see him alongside Weber but thrived after Chiarot’s injury. Thought he was extremely careless with the puck in the first period but then settled in to the game with an increase in ice time. Shone defensively rather than offensively last night. Laid some bone crushing hits for good measure. Simplified his game next to the captain. Expect him to start there tonight.
Brett Kulak – 7/10
His best game of the season so far. Took the high sticking penalty that led to the Canucks lone goal but it was only a small blemish on a solid night’s work. Like Romanov seemed to grow in confidence with more ice time. Hardly put a foot wrong offensively or defensively. Wil be counted on even more now that Chiarot is out.
Nick Suzuki – 6/10
Not bad, just alright. Solid on the forecheck and kept the puck continuously moving in the offensive zone. Stick was disruptive defensively in both the neutral and defensive zones. Another difficult night in the dot. But did a lot of positive things without the ultimate results. Seemingly always came out of traffic with the puck on his stick. Played his part.
Jonathan Drouin – 6/10
A rather quiet night from Drouin. But when called upon his cross ice pass into Weber’s wheelhouse on the powerplay basically killed off the Canucks comeback hopes. He’s definitely shooting much more often than before which is encouraging.
Josh Anderson – 6/10
His shooting was erratic throughout the game. Stopped in tight by Demko late on. No real clear cut chances for him and never drove to the net with his usual vigour. But he was consistently physical in all three zones and was a beast along the boards. He strangely seems ill-suited to the powerplay. So far.
Phillip Danault – 7/10
How could you not feel good for him after that long awaited goal? Especially after getting caught between two minds on a partial breakaway. Did his best work on the penalty kill where he kept the Canucks constantly off kilter.
Joel Armia – 7/10
Had moments where he had the puck on a string. Like Danault kept the pressure on the Canucks on the penalty kill. Forechecked very effectively. Surprisingly led the forwards in both shots on goal and hits.
Tomas Tatar – 7/10
Really shocked he didn’t get a point on the night because the quality of his play deserved one. Has been the perfect foil to Kotkaniemi on the powerplay. Had several one-timers stymied by Demko. Probably the veteran forward who has improved the most under Ducharme. Confident.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 8/10
Ran the show. Deserving of the first star by quite a margin. Took a stupid boarding penalty and double clutched when surprised with so much space in the slot. But after his one-timer found the back of the net he just played with freedom and was the best player on the ice when he was out there. Instant chemistry with Toffoli and Gallagher. Terrific cross ice pass to Petry for his goal. Best faceoff man as well. In the middle of a break out.
Tyler Toffoli – 8/10
Harassed the Canucks constantly. He and Gallagher formed an extremely effective forechecking partnership that led to Kotkaniemi’s goal. Stopped on a breakaway by Demko and just missed a slot shot. Deserved a goal for his play. Don’t know if it was Gallagher rubbing off on him but he was a dog on a bone. Second star on the night.
Brendan Gallagher – 7/10
Not credited with an assist on Kotkaniemi’s goal but his determination made the entire play happen. I was unsure how he would fit in with he and Toffoli. Fit like a glove. If that chemistry continues, his addition to that trio will create two clearly defined offensive lines for the Canadiens.
Jake Evans – 7/10
One of the more intense performances from him we’ve seen in quite some time. Defensively well positioned and intense on the forecheck. But the highlight of his night was a 50 foot jailbreaking saucer pass to Byron that led to Perry’s goal. Really difficult night for him on faceoffs.
Paul Byron – 7/10
Speaking of that pass, how about taking it down in stride and then threading one through to Perry. Another surprisingly physical night from him. Worked his behind off all over the ice.
Corey Perry – 7/10
What hands the old man continues to demonstrate. And at a crucial time in the game as well. His disruptive nature in front of the net consistently creates multiple opportunities on rebounds. You can also tell he’s growing more comfortable into his role as a leader in a forward corps that really needs one.
Dominique Ducharme – 9/10
Spoke about the relentlessness of his team after the game. He’s pushing all the right buttons right now. Sure, Boeser scored on an unstoppable shot on the powerplay. But other than that the special teams were effective and momentum building once again. Putting Gallagher with Toffoli and Kotkaniemi looks like an early stroke of genius. All four lines were rolling. His team played with such crispness and determination. Danault scores and Price looks back to his best. Might even be forced into playing Romanov with Weber going forward. He was right postgame: his team’s best performance to date.