Canadiens’ win over Capitals a fitting tribute to Red Fisher

Max Pacioretty scored two goals as the Montreal Canadiens were able to top the Washington Capitals 3-2.

It was a game the Montreal Canadiens could’ve won running away, but winning it at all was all that really mattered.

Never mind that the home-side Washington Capitals were playing for the second time in as many nights. The talent discrepancy between them and the Canadiens is enough to make this a considerable feat for the visiting team.

And it wasn’t about the Capitals anyway; it was about Montreal proving it still had some fight to give after its most disappointing effort of the season in Boston two nights prior. The Canadiens came through by a score of 3-2. A loss would’ve made a dark day back home that much more sombre after the late-afternoon news of legendary writer Red Fisher’s death provided a crushing blow to spirits around the city.

The 91-year-old Fisher, who spent 57 years covering the Canadiens for Montreal newspapers Star and Gazette, would’ve had a few choice words for this year’s edition of the team. But he was a man who took great pride in being widely regarded as fair, and in living up to that reputation we have no doubt he’d have spun a colourful yarn, containing at least a bit of praise for the boys in bleu blanc et rouge who bounced back admirably Friday.

So, in Red’s honour, we’ll do our best with these takeaways.

Captain Pacioretty leads the way

With a power-play goal to get the Canadiens on the board, an assist on the winner and an empty-net goal to secure the game, Max Pacioretty did his part to restore some of the pride that appeared to be all but lost during a 4-1 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday.

The captain, who didn’t score in December, now has six goals in seven January games. But, for as important as his offensive contribution was, his effort on defence proved just as crucial.

A listless backcheck on Boston’s first goal Wednesday defined Pacioretty’s night. A couple of strong plays tracking back in Washington helped the Canadiens keep the edge in what looked like a game they should’ve won easily but ended up grinding out.

That’s what they needed from their leader in this one, and that’s what they got.

Chances missed made this close

The outcome could’ve gone in Washington’s favour if Pacioretty and his teammates had been discouraged by the opportunities they failed to capitalize on.

In the first period, a beautiful setup from Charles Hudon and Paul Byron gave Pacioretty a wide-open net he ended up misfiring on. The rebound came to Byron, who had an even cleaner look at a goal but dumped it into Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer’s glove.

Hudon, who hadn’t scored in 15 games coming into this one, turned a breakaway into a giveaway in the second period when he deferred to Byron from all alone in front of Grubauer. Capitals defenceman Dmitry Orlov swept the puck out of Byron’s reach.

Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher got a break moments later and rang the puck off the right post. Leading scorer Alex Galchenyuk struck iron twice on a third-period power play. And snake-bit Artturi Lehkonen, who is stuck on two goals for the season, hit the left post on a breakaway of his own in the third.

Credit Byron for sticking with it. When the puck came to him off a missed shot from Jakub Jerabek that banked off the back boards and landed on his stick, he shovelled it into the net and eased the palpable tension on Montreal’s bench.

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Antti Niemi came up big

Carey Price’s backup goaltender came up with huge saves and was only beaten by great shots from Lars Eller and John Carlson.

Carlson had seven more on net that Niemi pushed aside. The flailing Finn got his right pad on the one shot the normally-lethal Alex Ovechkin put on net, and it was a full-value save on Ovechkin’s patented one-timer.

Stops Niemi made on Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie stood out, too.

Anything less than Niemi’s best would’ve added insult to injury for a Canadiens team that couldn’t handle much more of either this season. Because he delivered, he could raise his arms at game’s end to celebrate his first win in 10 appearances this season.

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Jonathan Drouin giveth, Jonathan Drouin taketh away

The talented pivot made a brilliant pass to Pacioretty for the power-play goal that got the Canadiens on the board in the eighth minute of the second period.

But Drouin was sitting in the penalty box less than five minutes later — helplessly watching as Carlson tied the game 1-1 — following his selfish decision to chew out a linesman for tossing him out of a faceoff, circle which led to his unsportsmanlike minor.

Drouin’s brooding over the call seemed to disrupt his focus on his very next shift, as a slip on defence gave the Capitals another scoring chance. It could’ve cost the Canadiens, but ultimately didn’t.

It was a situation that appeared to be calmed by Gallagher on the bench a little later on. One that Drouin can stand to learn from moving forward.

For what it’s worth, the 22-year-old had a strong third period and added a 63 per cent faceoff efficiency to his assist on the scoresheet.

A win to honour Fisher

It was fitting that the Canadiens won on the day one of the greatest figures to have never have played a game for them was lost to the world.

It was a nice way to honour Fisher ahead of what’s sure to be a touching celebration of his life when the Canadiens welcome the Bruins to the Bell Centre Saturday.

Those of us who have followed on the path he paved will be sure to raise a glass of his favourite Chivas Regal before it gets underway. It’s the best we can do, knowing our writing will never quite live up to the standard he set.

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