It was a statement game for head coach Guy Carbonneau and his Montreal Canadiens.
Carbonneau made his statement even before the Habs took to the ice Wednesday night at the Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings, by putting Ryan O’Byrne on the ice for the team’s opening shift.
You remember Ryan O’Byrne, right?
Forty-eight hours earlier, O’Byrne put the puck in his own net late in the game against the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre, which allowed the Islanders to get back in, and eventually win, the contest.
After some good-natured ribbing on the part of Carbo and the rest of the team on the flight to Detroit Tuesday afternoon, The Coach gave his young defenceman a vote of confidence by putting him out there for the opening faceoff. O’Byrne responded with 17:13 of some pretty solid ice time. Yes, he was turned inside out, not once, but twice, by Johan Franzen of the Wings midway through the third period. On the same play, no less. And it resulted in Frazen’s 10th goal of the season. But by that time, the Canadiens had already made THEIR statement, by coming up with their best performance of the season.
From the drop of the puck, the Habs matched the defending Stanley Cup champions stride for stride, outplaying the Red Wings through the opening 20 minutes, despite the fact that they failed to beat Ty Conklin in the Detroit net.
The hard work and perseverance paid off early in the second period when Maxim Lapierre, who clearly didn’t like the view from the press box as a recent healthy scratch, went hard along the boards before dishing the puck out in front of the net. Finally, some good luck for this Habs‘ team as it went off a Red Wing skate and past Conklin for a 1-0 lead.
Some seven minutes later, the Canadiens connected on the power play when Tomas Plekanec, who skated miles in Monday’s loss to the Islanders, converted a lovely tic-tac-toe play to make it 2-0 Montreal at 12:17 of the middle period, the assists to Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev.
A power play goal, to boot.
Then 80 seconds later, the Canadiens took advantage of a Detroit turnover in Red Wings’ end, with Saku Koivu delivering a lovely backhand pass to Chris Higgins, who backhanded one off a Red Wings’ skate past Conklin to make it 3-0 Montreal. Like Plekanec, Higgins skated miles against the Islanders on Monday night. And, like Plekanec, Higgins was finally rewarded for his efforts with a goal.
The goal by Plekanec was his first in nine games. The goal by Higgins was his first in eight.
Welcome back, gentlemen.
A couple of scary moments last night for the Habs. Just 2:16 into this one, Alex Tanguay is creamed along the boards by Brad Stuart and leaves the game. Then early in the third, defenceman Josh Gorges takes a slapshot off the knee and goes down like a ton of bricks.
The injury to Tanguay forced The Coach into line-juggling mode for the rest of the game. However, when it was over, Carbonneau emerged from the dressing room to say that Tanguay appeared to come away with nothing more than a sore neck and should be okay for Friday night’s contest in Washington.
As for Gorges, he limped off the ice but returned. Good news indeed for both Gorges and the Canadiens, as the young defenceman continues to contribute quality major minutes along the blue line: 22:33 of them last night, in a plus-1 performance.
As for the Red Wings, owners of the most effective power play in the NHL, they only had three opportunities to play with the man advantage as a result of a disciplined effort by the Habs. Mind you, the Wings got revved up in the third period, as witnessed by their 16-4 shot advantage over the final 20 minutes. But you never really got a sense that the Canadiens were going to let Detroit get back into this one.
And they didn’t, thanks to the work of goalie Carey Price.
End of statement.