We’re not going to pretend hope for the Montreal Canadiens’ season died on this night.
Granted, a win in Philadelphia on Thursday would’ve put them just seven points behind the Flyers and just six back of the idle Columbus Blue Jackets in the race for wild-card positions in the Eastern Conference, which certainly would’ve made two meetings with Philadelphia between now and Feb. 27 that much more compelling.
But it was the Flyers who predictably got the better of the Canadiens on Thursday. Two quick strikes in the third period secured them a 5-3 win — and saved us from delving into that revival narrative.
Hope for Montreal’s season fell by the wayside weeks ago, if not months ago. A different outcome in this game would’ve only inspired something totally misguided for the team’s fans.
So we can leave that all behind us and just focus on takeaways from what ended up being a pretty exciting game.
Claude Giroux rejuvenated
To gain a true appreciation for what Giroux is doing this season, you have to review the adversity he’s been through over the last year and a half.
It was in May of 2016 that Giroux had hip surgery. He went through an aggressive rehabilitation to get back in time for the 2016-17 season and managed to play all 82 games.
But Giroux admittedly didn’t feel himself until March rolled around. He finished with 14 goals, 58 points and a minus-15 rating. It was nine points less than he had the year before. A clear disappointment by his standards.
Then when Giroux came to training camp this past fall, he was told he’d be moved to left wing. The right-shooting playmaker was being moved to his off side after playing his whole career at centre. You’d think that would be a difficult transition for him.
But the 30-year-old has turned back the clock and put together a masterful season to date. Giroux now has 16 goals and 45 assists for 61 points in 54 games after recording a goal and two assists against the Canadiens.
He was absolutely dominant in this one — scoring on a laser of a shot from 50 feet out and throwing seeing-eye passes to Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek for goals. It was just another sample of what has led to him being recognized as one of the best stories in the NHL this year.
About the guys facing Giroux…
We were somewhat surprised to see them together on the road after being assembled for this past weekend’s matinee games at the Bell Centre. They are three offensive-
minded players. Young ones likely to be exposed by Philadelphia’s top lines in the matchup game.
Here’s what you have to like if you’re a Canadiens fan: Coach Claude Julien stuck with Galchenyuk, Drouin and Scherbak and played them a fair bit after they all made mistakes to allow Konecny to open the scoring 42 seconds into the second period.
There was a danger they’d play it a bit fancy — and if throwing a between-the-legs backhand pass through the middle of the neutral zone (like Galchenyuk did to give away the puck) isn’t fancy, we don’t know what is. There was a danger that they might cheat offensively and not hustle hard enough defensively, and it was realized when Scherbak got caught ahead of the play and Drouin got caught puck watching instead of covering Konecny on that goal.
But Julien kept pushing them over the boards until the game was over. Galchenyuk and Drouin finished minus-3 and Scherbak was minus-1, and surely all three of them learned something about playing top opposition.
If not, the video sessions will be helpful.
Lehkonen goes post and in…
Post and out was starting to become Artturi Lehkonen’s trademark.
But something changed over the weekend for the sophomore Finn, who had only managed two goals in 36 games before finally catching breaks for two goals against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
It was in the second period of Thursday’s game that Lehkonen stole the puck from Voracek at the offensive blue line and came barrelling in on a half-breakaway against Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott. He then uncorked a perfect snap shot, right off the post and in to tie the game 1-1.
Lehkonen was dynamite in the second half of last season and even better in the playoffs. Expectations were that he would build on that this year, but a 16-game absence from a nagging back injury — and some real bad luck to start the season — nudged him off course.
Scoring in consecutive games isn’t going to fix all that, but perhaps Lehkonen has turned the corner. If he has, that’ll be a big positive for Canadiens fans to focus on from here to the end of the season.
Canadiens’ power play a force
It was late in the game, with Flyers forward Scott Laughton looking on from the penalty box and Canadiens goaltender Carey Price looking on from the bench, that Brendan Gallagher scored on a 6-on-4 advantage.
It was the ninth goal Montreal’s scored in its last 29 power-play opportunities, keeping the Canadiens seventh in the NHL in the category.
How they’ve managed to jump up to that position in Shea Weber’s absence is somewhat perplexing, but it’s also quite impressive.
And the big defenceman is nearing a return from his left foot injury after resuming skating for the first time since December on Wednesday.