Call of the Wilde: Canadiens’ vital signs still kicking with 2-1 win over New York Rangers

The glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your viewpoint.

If it’s half full, the Montreal Canadiens have won one of their last two games. If the glass is half empty, they have won one of their last 10.

However a Habs fan chooses to perceive the glass, there is consensus that Montreal desperately needs victories. The Canadiens at Madison Square Garden took on the New York Rangers, with Montreal scoring a late one for a 2-1 win.

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One thing is consistent in this otherwise wildly inconsistent season — the play of Brendan Gallagher.

The diminutive winger is on his way to another 30-goal season at the current pace. Gallagher opened the scoring for Montreal to move to 13 goals on the season already. It was a gorgeous goal from the Habs’ number one line. The initial pass came from Tomas Tatar, who fed Phillip Danault. His no-look fake pass to Gallagher was sublime as he had a simple tap in.

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A million words have been said about Gallagher’s work rate, and it’s 10 million fewer than he deserves.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens end losing skid vs. New York Islanders

Heading into the contest, the save percentage for Carey Price was .899. That’s a lower number than he has concluded an NHL season with in his career. Two years ago, Price had his worst-ever season, counting a .900 in a year that was abysmal for everybody as the club was so bad that they drafted third that summer.

However, in this one, Price seemed to be back on form.

He looked sharp, tracking the puck beautifully.  During a second-period power play for the Rangers, Price stopped five shots to hold the Habs in the contest after two periods, keeping the score at one apiece. Any hope at all has Price hot for the rest of the season. He can’t be anything less than .925 the rest of the way, and this one made that look possible.

Price is one of the best in the NHL on north-south shots, but he’s abysmal on east-west shots. Those are the stats, so make it easier for him by taking away the lateral passes as a defensive corps, making it possible for Price to be good.

In this one, with a tighter D, he was good.

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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Boston Bruins hand the Montreal Canadiens another loss

The head coach has made it known recently that he’s felt that Max Domi has been playing too much on the perimeter this season, and that’s why his goal and point totals are down from last season. So the challenge is to get in the dirty zones for Domi, to be more engaged.

Perhaps it was the line change, or perhaps Max wanted to impress his father at the game in New York City, but it was a night when he created more. Along with Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, and though it was a low-event contest, Domi was able to create enough changes to get another look, with Jesperi Kotkaniemi sidelined for at least a week with a concussion. Domi benefitted from the change more than Nick Suzuki, who had an extremely quiet night back at the centre position. Late in regulation time, Domi made an outstanding pass to a streaking Jeff Petry, who almost got the game winner in all alone.

It’s the type of play Domi made regularly last season. Any revival that the Habs have has Domi at centre stage.

Fans may lament the lack of excitement with the Habs putting defence as the priority, therefore closing down the game, but the result is the primary objective — and on the road, the Habs got the result that they so sorely needed.

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They hung around in this one and then they got the break they needed with a minute remaining in the game. It was Nate Thompson who had the puck simply bounce his way to score basically into an empty net. Considering the bleeding that this one stopped, this, perhaps, was the biggest win of the year. The Habs simply could not go back into the same style of slump that they just ended. Now, it’s two wins in the last three — it could be a corner turning.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens lose in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers

Certainly, it was a different kind of Habs club than the one that slumped. The Habs were sloppy at least 10 times a game during the losing run. During the recovery Friday, they allowed one breakaway, and it was an unlucky one suffered by Leskinen. Keep it tight, and you have a chance. It may not be as fun, but it is going to have to be this way. It sure didn’t look like the players were disappointed that they weren’t having as much fun offensively. They know only one thing that counts, and it’s the ‘W’.

It’s been said many times that the Habs have to get to 98 points to make the playoffs, which is basically impossible, as they have to finish the season with a 33 and 19 record. That isn’t achievable for this club. However, the other path to the playoffs doesn’t have any consideration of points. The Atlantic Division is feeble so far this season. With the win, the Habs moved into second place in the Atlantic, passing Florida — though by percentage, the Habs are behind not only Florida, but also Buffalo and Tampa Bay.

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But it’s extremely close. The point, moreover, is that the path to the playoffs may not be an 98-point path. It could be considerably less, with the only vision needed to be one of the Atlantic standings, meaning the intra-division games will be the key to success. Beat the Panthers, beat the Sabres, beat the Lighting and beat Leafs. Do that and they have a chance of the playoffs, even with a 90-point season.

We’ll see, but there’s hope in the oddity that is the NHL playoff system.

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Claude Julien is having a hard time giving any of these fringe defenders ice time, so when they tried a new one from Laval this week, Otto Leskinen, you knew his leash was going to be short.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Canadiens make it six straight losses, falling 6-4 to the New Jersey Devils

So what happened?

Murphy’s law happened. Leskinen had a simple play to handle at the blue line — a pass from a teammate moving about five miles per hour. It bounced off his stick, allowing Brendan Smith a breakaway from about 120 feet out. Naturally, he scored, and also naturally, Julien lamented the fact that he has only three defenders that he trusts on the regular.

The mistake could have happened to anyone. It happened to Leskinen in only his second game. That’s the way it is going these days.

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Keith Kinkaid was sent to the minors to find his game again. It was promised that he would see the ice a lot, considering the belief was that he’s struggling because he isn’t playing enough.

His first of what appears to be many in the AHL was against Syracuse, and it did not go well. Kinkaid allowed a goal on his first shot in his first minute for the Laval Rocket. After that, he didn’t get much relief, as the Rocket were flat. By the end of the first period, the Crunch had scored four times on 11 shots. The good news here is that it can only get better than a save percentage of just better than .600 in the first period.

Kinkaid ended up allowing five on the evening as the Rocket were abysmal, losing 5-2.

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