Forward lines and defense pairings:
Pacioretty – Plekanec – Gallagher
Eller – Galchenyuk – Carr
Fleischmann -Desharnais – Weise
Flynn – Mitchell – Byron
Beaulieu – Subban
Markov – Petry
Barberio – Emelin
Scratches: Devante Smith-Pelly, Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn
Injured reserve: Brendan Gallagher, Carey Price, Tom Gilbert
This game provided a tailor-made perfect opportunity for the Montreal Canadiens to pull themselves off the mat and re-establish themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the NHL. It was a game on the international stage against their most bitter rival set in a football stadium packed with hostile fans. If you can’t get up for a game like that?
Mike Condon had the background that presented the perfect narrative for writers: a young american goalie who grew up just minutes from the site of the 2016 Winter Classic. A fan of the Patriots, the regular occupants of Gillette Stadium, Condon included images of the NFL team on his mask specially made for the January 1st game. But to complete the storybook ending, Condon had to play the game of his life.
And perform he did disappointing the majority of his fellow Massachusetts residents. “I don’t think you could script it any better,” said Condon post-game. Indeed!
And while Condon played extremely well, particularly under all that pressure, he was not the primary reason for the Canadiens Winter Classic win.
Brendan Gallagher was writing a rather different chapter of a storybook. The right-winger had been sidelined for about six weeks with two fractured fingers courtesy of a slapshot off the stick of former Bruin, Johnny Boychuk. Gallagher had a goal and an assist in 18:12 of icetime after a 17-game layoff.
Condon said that Gallagher “certainly provided a spark” to the team and spoke about how irritating he can be to goaltenders.
And while Gallagher played extremely well, particularly in his first game back, he was not the primary reason for the Canadiens Winter Classic win.
Friday’s game also featured the return of the Canadiens regular trios. Certainly having Gallagher back in the lineup helped reunite the most effective top line but there really was no logical reason that Michel Therrien dismantled the rest of the combinations. With chemistry returned to the lineup, the Canadiens were once again able to use their speed to neutralize an opponent, something they were unable to do for the entire month of December.
And while the Canadiens could have found a way to cope with the absence of a top line winger and their most valuable player in goal, they were unable to do it at the same time that the lineup was turned upside down. With new the lines being ineffective, confidence plummeted and already existing problems were exacerbated. The perfect ingredients for a long slump. And Therrien proved to be the mad chef.
Players spoke about how they had been instructed to simply their game to counter the effects of unpredictable outdoor ice. The strategy seemed to work. If only the coach had simplified his approach to the game in the preceding weeks and had resisted the temptation to tinker with the lineup while missing two of their key players.
The truth is that we have not seen this Canadiens team since November 25th when they beat the New York Rangers by the same 5-1 score. It was the first game following Brendan Gallagher’s injury. Devante Smith-Pelly filled in quite nicely on the first line scoring twice for the first multiple goal game of his career. In that game Carey Price picked up his 10th victory of the season but left the game after the second period with an injury. Sven Andrighetto, banished to the press box for the last few weeks of December, opened the scoring with his first goal of the season.
The lines were torn apart a few games later on December 3. The Habs promptly lost to the Capitals and the December losing streak was underway. Hopefully some stability can help the Canadiens continue on the right track until their best player, Carey Price, returns.
Max Pacioretty had struggled throughout the losing streak, his play being dragged down by a third-line winger and a centre not worthy of the first line position. Reunited with his regular linemates for the Winter Classic, Pacioretty had a goal, an assist, six shot attempts and a plus-2 rating.
The Habs head back to Montreal on Friday night and will return to the road for their next game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.
▲ Mike Condon, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller, Alexei Emelin, Daniel Carr, Mark Barberio