The buzzword last spring when newly-minted Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin gave Michel Therrien his second bite at the Bell Centre apple was culture change.
There needed to be a shift in tone after a last-place season (which came barely four years after the last dressing room culture change, in the summer of 2009, when nearly half the team was let go.) Now there is a firmer sense of what that means on the ice.
Therrien is known to have old-school instincts, and is an unapologetic believer in frontier justice.
Which is why he was heartened at the reaction on Tuesday night when Florida Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann hit Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges from behind and into the end boards.
It wasn’t the most violent check, and Gorges wasn’t hurt, but it was a dirty play.
So forward Ryan White steamed in, grabbed Fleischmann, and started raining blows on the Czech forward.
“It’s something we do as a team, is stick up for one another,” said White, who earned an instigator penalty as well as a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
White acknowledged he went overboard - Fleischmann had made it plain he didn’t want to fight and White clearly didn’t know who he was dealing with when he piled in - and while Therrien didn't like that White left his team short-handed, he nevertheless praised his instincts.
“You want to send a message to the other team,” he said.
Before anyone heaps too much praise on the Habs for the deployment of meat-head tactics, it’s worth asking how useful a message it is when a player who had seven fighting majors in 20 games last year starts feeding punches to a guy who has never fought in the NHL according to hockeyfights.com (and had 26 minutes in penalties in 82 games last season). After all, the Panthers have behemoth tough guy George Parros, who was underemployed on the evening - other than a mid-ice collision with Gorges earlier in the game that several Panthers took exception to (it was hip-on-hip but looked like knee-on-knee, Gorges was assessed a penalty on the play).
That’s not to say Therrien’s over-riding point is entirely devoid of merit: the team clearly rallied around White, the Panthers didn’t get a sniff on the power play.
“I could feel on the bench that they wanted to kill that penalty,” he said.
The incident, in Therrien’s view, revealed something about team toughness and the unity and spirit he is working to instill in the dressing room.
It’s early, as everyone keeps pointing out, but he’ll take Tuesday’s game as the first sign of green shoots.