Here’s something you don’t often hear in the Bell Centre these days, never mind five minutes into in the second period: a burgeoning chorus of ‘Na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey, gooooooodbye’.
The fans in attendance at Wednesday’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings can be forgiven for getting carried away - their 13th-placed team was up 6-0 on the league leaders at that point.
Excess enthusiasm notwithstanding there are, of course, a couple of ways of interpreting Montreal’s triumph (it ended 7-2).
Fans of the team will be tempted to see signs of a club waking from a long slumber - the Habs have now outscored the East-leading New York Rangers and Detroit 10-3 in the last 10 days.
Cynics might take a different view, namely that the Habs are so bad that they’ve become a banana-peel team that others don’t take all that seriously.
Both viewpoints will take evidence from this game to buttress their arguments.
Yes, the Canadiens exhibited “directness”, in coach Randy Cunneyworth’s words, and yes, they cashed in on mistakes.
Oh, there were lots of mistakes - almost all of them from the men in red and white.
To the point where Wings coach Mike Babcock had this to offer after the game: “I’m not going to look at video on this at all. I’m going to go have a drink, actually, is what I’m going to do. We were awful, I don’t know what else to tell you. We were that bad, but the night’s over with, and thank God. The clock couldn’t run fast enough. Let’s move on.”
It seems churlish to single out one player for an all-systems failure like Detroit experienced, but starting goaltender Jimmy Howard let in a pair of stinkers late in the first period to turn what might have been a manageable 2-0 deficit into a 4-0 desperate cause.
The first came when Montreal centre David Desharnais squirted through an attempted check at the blue line and swept in on a two-on-one with defenceman Raphael Diaz.
As he neared the net with Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall back-checking furiously, Desharnais lost control of the puck, which slid slowly through Howard's legs. A goal, then, without a shot.
“When you go to the net, sometimes good things happen. It’s not about how, it’s about how many,” said Desharnais, who would later add a second goal and an assist.
Then, with 27 seconds to play in the first, Howard misplayed Rene Bourque’s slapshot, and the rebound came out to Tomas Plekanec, who dumped the puck into the net for just his second goal in 12 games.
After the game, Montreal goalie Carey Price admitted to sparing a thought at that point for his opposite number, who had given up four goals on 11 shots.
“Don’t get me wrong, you’re happy to have the lead. But you feel for the guy,” he said.
Bourque is the one who got this party started, with help from resident whipping boy Scott Gomez, around whom a cottage industry of wiseacre websites has sprung up as he approaches Feb. 5, the first anniversary of his last goal.
Gomez grabbed a puck in the neutral zone - to loud boos - sped up the left side and swung a pass toward the goalmouth that went in off Bourque’s shin pad for the Albertan’s first goal on home ice as a Hab.
Funny how quickly jeers can turn to cheers.
“I didn’t notice (the boos).” said Bourque, “He played good tonight, I don’t know what they’re doing with that.”
Bourque’s goal came five minutes into the first, and six minutes later defenceman Alexei Emelin earned a thunderous ovation by hammering a slapshot through a crowd past Howard.
It was the Russian’s first NHL goal.
Six minutes or so after that marker came the evening’s other main talking point.
With the Habs on the power-play, Detroit’s Daniel Cleary ground Montreal’s P.K. Subban into the boards on the forecheck, and the 22-year-old defenceman - himself the subject of fan and pundit ire - jabbed back with his forearm and elbow.
Up went the referee’s arm, into the box went Subban.
Two minutes later he skated back to the bench, and there he stayed until the third period.
“Generally speaking, we have to be more disciplined. We’re on a power play and we can’t be reacting like that. He had the guy beat . . . and turned back into him and that’s why the collision occurred. It’s about discipline and doing the right thing at the right time, he’s not the only one,” said Cunneyworth.
There has been considerable talk among the talk show experts who parse every statement and analyze every move in the Habs’ locker room about Subban as a grating presence.
They will be interested by what Price had to say when asked about his teammate’s sojourn on the bench.
“It’s something you need to make clear on this team: if you’re not going to have your head in it, or make mistakes without thinking, you’re going to sit. And I think that’s something that our coaching staff has really started to instill in our team. Accountability is really huge on a hockey team, because if you don’t have it, you have guys on their own page doing their own thing, and teams don’t win like that,” he said.
The second period saw the Habs turn the screw a little tighter - first Max Pacioretty batted a loose puck past backup goalie Ty Conklin just 1:52 into the frame.
Then Desharnais scored on the power play on a set-up from Pacioretty and Tomas Kaberle (who had two assists) to make it 6-0.
Detroit’s Jiri Hudler got the Wings on the board 21 seconds into the third, and added a second goal five minutes later.
But that was as close as the visitors got to extending their seven-game win streak.
Montreal’s Erik Cole scored his team-leading 19th of the season on a nice pass from the impressive Lars Eller with under two minutes to play.
Though they are mired in a 6-9-2 stretch, Wednesday was the third time in a month that the Habs have scored at least six goals in a win, and when Cunneyworth was apprised of that fact he smiled wryly.
“Can we spread ‘em out a little more?” he said.
So the Habs are left with some good feelings to carry into the all-star break - they are 3-1-1 since Jan. 15, Wednesday's win lifted them to 11th in the East - while the Wings will try to find a way to improve on their sub-.500 road record, the one blemish in an otherwise solid season that has them atop the NHL leaderboard.
One thing is already evident.
“You can’t play like that,” said Babcock, a McGill University alumnus who will ditch the ‘lucky’ school tie he wore behind the bench.
“I imagine I’ll wear another one, but this one’s got to be given away for sure.”Report Typo/Error