The first example began life as a shout for a stretch pass, which moments later resulted in an epic 175-foot backcheck to break up a play.
The next came just after the 12-minute mark of the second period, when he took a healthy run at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri, who had just clocked Montreal Canadiens defenceman Nathan Beaulieu with a hard, clean hit.
And at the waning stages of the third period, he was a one-man mob to welcome a still-smarting Andrew Shaw to the bench after the Habs forward had blocked a shot with his hand.
Much has justifiably been said and written about the importance of goaltender Carey Price when it comes to assessing Montreal’s championship potential. It’s time we talked about Alexander Radulov.
The league-leading Habs have won 42 per cent of the games Price hasn’t played this season; they’ve won zero per cent of those in which Radulov was absent.
Sure, it’s a tiny sample (two games this week while the Russian was battling a virus), but the Habs’ forward alignment looks decidedly off-kilter without him. The trickle-down of having Radulov on the top line creates match-up headaches and allows all sorts of possibilities, such as moving long-time top scorer Max Pacioretty to the second or third line.
The obvious benchmark for Radulov’s contribution is the point total – he has 16 in 17 games and set up both goals in Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Leafs, a 12th-successive triumph against Toronto that snapped a three-game losing skid.
But Radulov is beloved by his teammates – and Bell Centre fans, who need little prompting to chant his name – for more than goals and assists.
“All of us have been around people that have that energy … that upbeat, positive attitude, and I think guys feed off that. It’s not an act, it’s just who he is,” said defenceman Shea Weber, who also played with Radulov in Nashville (a less happy stage in the latter’s career).
Coach Michel Therrien joked the former Quebec Remparts forward even appears to love meetings (in hockey, as in life, nobody loves meetings).
By now, everyone knows about Radulov’s speed and offensive creativity. At one point in the first period Saturday he chopped at a pass up the middle with the heel of his stick and neatly directed the puck between his legs to onrushing centre Alex Galchenyuk.
Later, he threw a blind, spinning backhand pass through the Toronto slot that plainly caught his other linemate, Paul Byron, by surprise.
What’s less heralded in Radulov’s game is his defensive relentlessness, Jagr-esque ability to protect the puck and surprising physicality.
In a recent game against the Los Angeles Kings, he played a second-period shift that encapsulates his season: it started with a blocked shot, followed by a crafty pass to create a clean zone entry and some grinding corner play that ultimately resulted in a reverse check that sent defenceman Andy Greene sprawling, followed by a scoring chance.
Somewhere Peter Forsberg, Radulov’s former Predators teammate, nodded approvingly.
Asked this weekend if he revels in the rougher side of hockey, he said, “It’s hard not to enjoy it when you play in the Bell Centre in front of 20,000 fans every night.”
On the whole he’d rather talk about wins and losses and the team than himself.
That’s left to people such as Byron, who recently called Radulov a member of “the very elite of world hockey” and to Galchenyuk, who in mid-praise on Saturday yelled over his shoulder that Radulov owed him dinner for all the nice things he was saying.
Galchenyuk has come into his own as a bona fide first-line centre in his past 50 or so games, but has kicked into high gear with Radulov on his right side (going into Sunday’s games, he was tied for fourth in league scoring).
He referred to the 30-year-old Radulov, whose one-year, $5.75-million (U.S.) contract looks a bargain after 20 games, as “an energizer.”
Another word also comes to mind: indispensable.Report Typo/Error