Forward lines and defense pairings
Max Pacioretty – Phillip Danault – Alexander Radulov
Paul Byron – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk – Andrew Shaw – Artturi Lehkonen
Dwight King – Steve Ott – Andreas Martinsen
Andrei Markov – Shea Weber
Brandon Davidson – Jeff Petry
Nathan Beaulieu – Alexei Emelin
Jordie Benn, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn, Michael McCarron, Nikita Nesterov, Al Montoya
The Montreal Canadiens have clinched a spot in the 2017 playoffs. Post-game, Max Pacioretty said that the players decided at the end of last season that this would do just that.
Sitting on the sidelines was a bitter pill for the captain and his teammates. And of course, faithful Habs fans.
But despite Pacioretty’s declaration, getting to this point was not a lock. After a strong start, the Canadiens experienced adversity. Thoughts returned to the lost season of 2015-16.
Remember last season? Rather than finding ways to meet the challenge, Michel Therrien panicked. His decisions directly undermined the strengths of his team. Rather than cushioning the blow, the head coach exacerbated the situation, sending the team into a death spin from which they never recovered.
So when the struggles started happening again this year, we knew that the Habs were in trouble. They did not have the coach capable of making the necessary moves to stem the tide. And players knew what we knew.
Confidence in their coach and themselves plummeted. They looked like a very different team than had started the season.
Marc Bergevin was handed a gift from the hockey gods. More correctly, the gift came from the Canadiens most-hated rival. The Boston Bruins not only fired Claude Julien just in the nick of time, they gave permission to Montreal to talk to him.
There is no question that Marc Bergevin waited too long to fire Therrien. About 13 months too late. Bergevin got lucky, extremely lucky, that he was handed a solution.
Claude Julien didn’t have much time to install his systems and to repair all the damage done by Therrien. But with five games left, we are seeing signs that Julien has made pretty good progress in the challenge left to him.
Tomas Plekanec scored tonight and centred the line that powered the Canadiens win. The trio of Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron recorded eight points and were a combined plus-12. And the first line chipped in with four points.
Montreal has upped their shots per game to just under 31. Julien has solidified the defence and improved the penalty-kill.
Perhaps, most importantly, the players are believing in themselves again. And that is directly attributable to coach Julien. Byron said so, after tonight’s game. Julien brought a positive energy that had been missing from the team. And it engendered confidence.
So the goal set sometime after the 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 9, 2016 has been accomplished. And Max Pacioretty is the captain of a playoff team. It’s now time to set a new objective.
▲ Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec, Paul Byron, Alexei Emelin, Dwight King
▼ Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Davidson