Stubbs: Desharnais has found his game

 

 
 
 
 
Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, left, celebrates with teammates David Desharnais and Andrei Markov after his second-period goal Monday night.
 

Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, left, celebrates with teammates David Desharnais and Andrei Markov after his second-period goal Monday night.

Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette

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MONTREAL — David Desharnais had a wonderfully mottled look going, a handlebar moustache getting lost in the whiskers on his chin, cheeks and neck.

But with awareness- and fundraising Movember now behind us and most of his teammates having choked dressing-room drains with their razors, the hirsute Desharnais is grubby against the grain.

It is not, little Davey said Monday night after the Canadiens’ 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, a moustache that has him playing his best hockey of the season.

“I just like the look,” he said to laughter after his two-assist, first-star effort.

Desharnais had one assist in the Canadiens’ first 21 games of the season, having played 19 and been a healthy scratch in two more.

But in his last seven, the 27-year-old has two goals and six assists, a whirling dervish centring Brendan Gallagher and his best friend on the club, Max Pacioretty.

“Yeah, but it’s a long season,” Desharnais said, wearing a thin smile with his emotions mostly in check. “The first 20 games didn’t go my way, but there are still 60 to go. I’ve played eight good games, but the rest aren’t good. It’s not good enough. I just want to keep it going.”

The Canadiens have earned points in each of the past seven games, coincidentally — or not — the same span during which Desharnais has rediscovered much of the special touch he has demonstrated previously.

Six wins and a shootout loss have the Canadiens gathering a nice head of steam as they forge ahead into a busy week, in New Jersey on Wednesday, home to Boston on Thursday and at the Bell Centre vs. Buffalo on Saturday.

The Habs victory put a small dent in the record of Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, the future Hall of Famer who brought his stunning record against Montreal — he was 44-18-8 going into Monday’s action, with nine shutouts, a 1.83 goals-against record and .930 save percentage.

Brodeur had dominated the Canadiens on Montreal ice, going 19-8-1 at the Molson/Bell Centre (1.62, .941), having won twice and lost four times at the old Montreal Forum.

It was a difficult night emotionally for the 41-year-old veteran of 1,236 regular-season games, who leads virtually every statistical category for goaltenders. Brodeur was playing in his hometown for the first time since the Sept. 26 passing of his legendary father, Denis, lost to brain cancer after a 19-month battle.

Brodeur was beaten twice on goals in which Desharnais figured largely. No matter how the wee Canadien lets it show, and he’s wearing a pretty good if hairy poker face now, Desharnais must be terribly pleased with how his game has turned around from the barren stretch that had criticism coming his way from, well, high places.

Let’s just say this Montreal taxpayer is not in danger of being shipped one-way to Hamilton.

“It’s just having some fun,” Desharnais said, asked how he refocused while times were as tough as they’ve been in his professional career. “I’m back with Max. I love playing with him and Gally. They’re great players, they help me a lot, too. It’s a lot of fun right now.”

From his fallow fields, Desharnais had talks, in a way, with Pacioretty, the winger who has taken very personally — even bitterly — some of the shots levelled at his friend.

“We don’t really have to talk,” Desharnais said. “I know Max knows. I want him to have success. We want to have success together. I want to help the team have success. We wanted to play together, and when we finally did, we knew we had the chance to put up some points.”

During the past seven games, Pacioretty has scored eight goals and added an assist, awarded the Molson Cup Monday night as the Canadiens’ player-of-the-month for November.

Gallagher, meanwhile, has a goal, two assists and 387 bruises by unofficial tally to show for his crashing the net, plowing into corners and generally being a battering ram on his line.

Desharnais, an advertised 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, has done his share of going to the crease, taking a pounding when he’s arrived there.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said with a shrug. “The puck’s on the ice. If you’re tall or not, it doesn’t matter.”

For a time, Desharnais was so far down the Canadiens’ depth chart, he practically needed scuba gear. He was a fourth skater on the fourth line, the odd man out in practice, and while he worked diligently to turn a difficult corner, his pride was stung.

“It’s tough when you’re not playing, when you don’t feel that you’re part of the team because you’re not having success, when you’re not helping the team to win,” he said. “You don’t feel you have a role, and that sucks. …

“(Confidence) is a big thing but, at the same time, how do you get that?” he asked rhetorically. “You say confidence, but it’s hard work. It’s how you evaluate yourself. I set some goals for myself. I was trying to respect those goals for myself, and the results are there right now.”

Head coach Michel Therrien praised Desharnais’s effort of Monday, the byproduct of playing the game whose three-pronged plug, somehow, had been knocked from the outlet.

“He’s making some good plays, but for me, he battled to the puck,” Therrien said. “He’s strong on the puck. If there’s a loose puck, he wants to be first on it and he makes good decisions.”

Desharnais’s strong work, combined with that of defenceman Andrei Markov, led to Pacioretty’s 10th goal of the season late in the second period, coming on the power play.

“This is what we want from David and that’s the David that we know,” Therrien said. “And his work ethic brings the confidence. Pretty simple.”

Maybe not as simple as the coach has it figured.

But the resurgence of Desharnais has been a joy to watch, and the Canadiens are on a roll in good part because of it.

dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: Dave_Stubbs

 
 
 
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Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, left, celebrates with teammates David Desharnais and Andrei Markov after his second-period goal Monday night.
 

Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, left, celebrates with teammates David Desharnais and Andrei Markov after his second-period goal Monday night.

Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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