It’s easy for terms like “culture change” and “character” to become completely vacuous.
But every once in a while, something leaps out to show buzzwords can have a deeper meaning.
When Montreal Canadiens’ tough guy Brandon Prust was crunched from behind by six-foot-six Winnipeg Jets forward Nik Antropov in the third period of Tuesday’s game with the Montreal Canadiens, he was immediately confronted by an unlikely belligerent.
Habs centre David Desharnais, who is 11 inches shorter, wasted no time in dishing out a couple of cross-checks before the cavalry arrived.
“That’s good to see, that’s what we have to do in here. Everyone’s got each other’s back . . . he’s going after a guy a foot taller and not backing down,” said Prust.
That’s one aspect – and not a terribly original one, sticking up for teammates is a job requirement in the NHL (and Desharnais, who doesn’t appear to be on speaking terms with the puck at the moment, is doubtless looking for other ways to contribute).
What’s qualitatively different about this year’s Habs – in the early going, at any rate – is a spirit of resiliency.
To wit: Desharnais was sent to the penalty box for roughing, and Prust was sin-binned for embellishment (“I got hit from behind and fell down, apparently that’s diving these days,” he said.)
At that point the Habs were leading 4-3 – having blown a 2-0 lead by giving up three straight Winnipeg goals – and the Jets were making a big push.
But the Habs killed it off – in fact, there was something approaching a feeling of inevitability that they would.
“We have some bad shifts, or bad parts of the game, but we’re able to come back stronger with another shift and stay on the course,” said centre Tomas Plekanec, who banked a shot off Winnipeg defenceman – and former Hab – Ron Hainsey’s ankle to score the winning goal.
Character doesn’t mean much without skill, and since dropping their season opener to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadiens have demonstrated they have both.
Though the Jets were winners of three straight coming into the game, it was the Habs who extended their three-game streak to four, thanks largely to a rapier-sharp power-play and the continued brilliance of a couple of kids.
The Habs’ man-advantage, which was 28 in the league last year, has been ticking just north of 27 per cent in the first five games of the season, and 8:04 into the first period, it struck again.
With Paul Postma in the box for interference, Rene Bourque slapped his first of the year past Ondrej Pavelec. Teammates Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz earned the first of their two power-play assists on the night – they also logged helpers on Plekanec’s tally, the eighth power-play goal the Habs have scored in five games.
The Habs doubled their lead six minutes later when 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher batted down a puck in his own zone, exchanged passes with 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk, then steamed down the right wing before wiring an wrist shot past Pavelec’s glove.
And they say Galchenyuk’s the one with the big-time shot.
It was Gallagher’s second goal in as many games.
Then the Jets went to work on the man advantage. With Markov off for hooking, Blake Wheeler beat Carey Price, who has often looked better. In the second, Antropov fired a loose puck past a wrong-footed Price, and then the visitors took the lead when Olli Jokinen confounded the Montreal goalie with a shot from the left circle.
But Montreal came back to tie things when Erik Cole poked home his first of the year from a goalmouth scramble created by the strong work of Gallagher and Galchenyuk – the former has four points to show from his first four games, the latter has five from his first five.
So how does it feel to be a point-a-game player and the game’s first star, Mr. Gallagher?
“Whoa. It’s only four games,” he laughed.
True. But a culture shift has to start somewhere.