This team has bounced back on all but one occasion since the puck dropped on the season 19 games ago.
The thing is, this one came together in a completely different manner than the previous comebacks had.
It wasn’t due to the Canadiens outworking or out-chancing the Flames. It wasn’t because they buckled down in the neutral zone and tightened up play in their own end, either. It was purely because Carey Price played like the all-world goaltender he’s being paid to be.
Let’s dive deeper into that subject and get to some other takeaways from the game.
“It’s all upstairs.”
Those were the words Price used exactly one week ago to describe his struggles after the Canadiens lost 6-5 in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres.
He said them in response to a question that was offering him an excuse, suggesting that the new, smaller goaltending equipment could be blamed for his performance to date.
It might have inspired less doubt in Price’s ability to get his game in order quickly had he gone with that explanation. Suggesting his struggles were more mental than physical pushed the concern around Montreal into sheer panic over the two following games he watched from the team’s bench.
Price probably hasn’t resolved all of that with this performance, but what’s most important is that he put a building block in place for himself with the 43 saves he made in the game.
And when he watches the video of this one, he’s going to like the way he appeared in doing so.
Price was calm, square to the puck, and he was one step ahead of the play all night. All of that was a massive departure from what we had seen from him through the majority of his first 12 games, over which he went 5-4-3 and had a goals-against average of 3.07 and a save percentage of .892.
Price’s best saves of the night might have come on Sean Monahan, on two tipped shots from within five feet of his crease in the first period.
But then the second period got underway and the ice tilted towards Montreal’s net. And the saves Price made on Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau and James Neal were otherworldly — with the Flames taking 19 shots in the frame.
Price closed out the night with an outrageous save on Elias Lindholm, on one of 20 shots the Flames recorded from within 20 feet of his net.
It’s too early to make any bold proclamations that Price is back, but if he can string a few games together appearing as he did in Calgary, the Canadiens will be much better for it.
A power-play goal would help…
With only two goals in their last 35 attempts with the man-advantage coming into the game, the Canadiens were hoping their power play could find something against the Flames.
Their first try generated zero shots on net. Heck, they barely made it over Calgary’s blue line.
And after Backlund took an incredibly foolish unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as Artturi Lehkonen was scoring the goal that put the Canadiens up 3-2 with just under eight minutes to play, the ineptitude was on a whole new level.
This was a chance to bury the Flames and the Canadiens practically extended their arms and pulled them out of the grave. They slowed the pace down to a crawl on the zone entry, they couldn’t connect a pass, and their only chance at a goal was a missed shot from a sharp angle from Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
The Canadiens might not have the shooting options that the Tampa Bay Lightning do — Tampa scored four power-play goals on its first four attempts in a win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday — but they can surely do better than what they’re showing right now.
Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin have the skill to quarterback it. Jeff Petry has a shot from the point that can open up seams. And coaches Dominique Ducharme and Kirk Muller are known for the way they craft offence.
That the Canadiens haven’t mixed up their units aside from a single change here and there — Joel Armia was pulled from the first unit early in the season and Mike Reilly recently took Petry’s spot on the top unit before being scratched from Thursday’s game — is the most baffling thing of all.
The strategy hasn’t changed much, either.
Shea Weber, who appears to be getting closer and closer to a return to action, is going to help.
But Weber is likely still a couple of weeks away, and if the Canadiens continue to do the same thing over and over again while they wait for him, they can’t possibly generate the results they’re looking for.
Domi looking like an all-star
Domi extended his point streak to eight games when he notched an assist on Drouin’s game-tying goal in the third period.
He’s scored five goals and added seven assists over that time, bringing his season total to 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 19 games. That puts him in eighth place in the NHL.
All-Star Weekend is in late-January, but it’s not too early to suggest that Domi will be there for the Canadiens if he remains healthy.
A goal Mike Smith will have nightmares about
Maybe Smith got caught up watching the show Price was offering at the other end of the rink and lost his concentration. Maybe he lost an edge, or maybe the puck was tipped and nobody noticed.
Whatever it was, it was an absolute backbreaker when Lehkonen’s harmless shot from 40 feet away trickled through Smith’s legs and found the back of the net to give Montreal a 3-2 lead in a game it should have been losing 10-1.
If we’re being honest, Smith didn’t appear great on the shot that gave Tomas Tatar his eighth goal of the season and the Canadiens a 1-0 lead eight minutes in. And he was caught out of position on the goal Drouin scored to tie things up.
His goals-against average has slipped to 3.48 and his save percentage has dipped to .876.
A week off for Smith might not be a bad idea. It seems to have worked wonders for Price.