After the Canadiens took care of business with a dominant win at the Bell Centre over the Senators on Tuesday they expected their bitter rivals from down Highway 417 would be prepared to give them a bigger fight.
“We know they’re going to be ready, eager to get back at us for last night’s game” said Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw before he and his teammates rode out of town on Wednesday.
It proved to be a feisty affair, no doubt. There were 73 hits between the teams. But the Senators, who lost Bobby Ryan to an upper-body injury in the first period and Matt Duchene to a lower-body injury in the second, couldn’t keep up on the scoreboard.
A win by the same score as on Tuesday night (5-2) put the Canadiens (14-10-5) six points clear of the Senators (12-14-3) in the standings and saw them leapfrog the Boston Bruins (14-10-4) and into the first wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
Here are our takeaways from the game:
The Shea Weber factor is real
Much ink has been spilled on the subject of Weber’s presence and with good reason.
On Thursday, for the first time since he returned from off-season surgery to both of his legs and a 345-day layover between games, Weber looked human. He was on for an even-strength goal against—scored by Mark Stone off a lost faceoff—and he ran into a bit of trouble moving the puck.
But the Canadiens out-shot the Senators 43-21, which was on trend with what’s happened since the big man played his first game against the Carolina Hurricanes in the last week of November.
The Canadiens lost 2-1 that night, but they out-shot the Hurricanes 49-22. Then it was a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers, in which they out-shot the opposition 41-22.
Last Sunday, they out-shot the San Jose Sharks 41-29 and ended up losing 3-1. Then they bounced back with their first win over the Senators, out-shooting them 41-30.
No coincidence Carey Price’s play has stabilized
Price’s play wasn’t up to snuff for the majority of the time Weber was absent. Now it’s right where the Canadiens need it to be.
He may not be getting tested quite as often, but he’s coming up with big saves at key moments now. That’s what Price did when he made a couple of huge ones on Magnus Paajarvi and Brady Tkachuk in the first period, as the Senators took advantage of some loose play in the neutral and defensive zones from the Canadiens while the game was 0-0.
Price’s best of the night came against Ryan Dzingel while the Senators were on a power play late in the second period. Colin White scored on the rebound to pull his team within one, but Price shut the door through to the end of the game—making solid saves on White, Stone and Zack Smith in the third period.
He has allowed a total of 11 goals in five games since Weber returned.
Andrew Shaw has silenced his critics
There were many of them at the beginning of the season, as Shaw returned nearly a month early from off-season knee surgery that was supposed to keep him out through most of October.
A lot of the criticism was justified at the time. He was a step slow and really struggling to find his place on a team that shot out of the gate at warp speed with a 6-2-2 start.
But the 27-year-old, who suffered a concussion and ripped up his knee in a March game last season, might have caught wind of some of the less justified talk around Montreal that he was “done.”
After registering 10 goals and 10 assists in 51 games last year Shaw came into Thursday’s game with seven goals and eight assists through 24 games this year.
On Wednesday, Shaw was talking about the sacrifices he made over the summer. He said he ate as cleanly as possible and cut out alcohol while he was recovering from surgery and the concussion. He added that he aggressively rehabbed, pushing himself through two-a-day gym sessions and skating at least five times a week.
“A lot of hard work,” Shaw said to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday morning. “Feels good. Lot of haters out there. Shut ‘em up.”
Yeah. And then he scored the game-winning goal at 15:42 of the second period. It was the 100th goal of his career.
“I like him with [Jonathan] Drouin and Max [Domi] because he does so much of the dirty work,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien told Sportsnet on Wednesday. “What I like most is that he constantly goes to the net.”
That’s how Shaw tipped home the pass from Drouin to put the Canadiens up 3-1.
Drouin getting to the next level
Here’s how Julien explained the disappointing 13-goal, 46-point output for Drouin last season in relation to what he’s doing now.
“Jonathan Drouin came here last year really excited about playing in his home town, in his home province,” the coach said on Wednesday. “Having grown up in the Montreal area and being a Habs fan, he thought it was great. As a young player, you realize how much attention is being paid to the hockey club here. Maybe when you compare to Tampa it’s a lot different. I don’t think as a young player that he was mentally ready for that. I don’t think he expected it to be that hard. But what he did is that he realized what he had to do and he did that this summer and he came in here a much better-prepared player, a much better-educated player as far as expectations. And also for his game, he grew from: ‘Wow! There’s no nights off around here without people talking about it.’ So he’s become a better player because of that.”
Another contributing factor: Moving away from centre and back to his natural position of wing.
And it goes without saying that it’s helped Drouin considerably to be playing Domi’s wing. After all, the new top centre for the Canadiens has 30 points in 29 games.
But Drouin really does deserve most of the credit for the fact that he has 10 goals and 26 points in 29 games. He got himself in great shape prior to the season and he’s reaping the benefits of that and the experience he’s gained.
The 23-year-old’s pass to Shaw on the winning goal was just one of many excellent plays he made against the Senators on Thursday. He was Montreal’s best player in the game.
Drouin was strong in his own end, too, boosting his plus-minus to plus-3 on the year. Last season, he was minus-28.
All hands on deck
Twelve different Canadiens hit the score sheet in this one.
Nicolas Deslauriers, who was scratched from Tuesday’s win, wasn’t one of them. But he kicked things off by stealing the puck and getting it to Kenny Agostino, who found Michael Chaput on the boards. Chaput sent the puck to Jeff Petry and Petry’s point shot tied the game 1-1 just 20 seconds after Stone put the Senators up.
That gave Chaput his first point of the season.
Paul Byron had two goals to bring his season-total to six. Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen assisted on one of them.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored his 14th point of the season starting the play that went through Drouin and finished with Shaw.
Brendan Gallagher tied a career high with nine shots and scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season (Domi also has 13), tipping a shot from Tomas Tatar.
And Weber, who was just human in this one, assisted on Byron’s empty-netter at 17:28 of the third period.