WASHINGTON — The season is young, but Canadiens captain Brian Gionta believes the team has taken giant strides toward establishing an identity.
“That’s what we want our identity to be, blocking shots and making those sacrifices that go with a full team effort,” Gionta said after the Canadiens defeated the Washington Capitals 4-1 Thursday night at the Verizon Center.
“We had a couple of big penalty kills and (defencemen Alexei Emelin) had a couple of big blocks on those kills, so that’s what we want our identity to be.”
Blocked shots played a major role in the Canadiens’ second consecutive win. There were the blocks when the Capitals had the man advantage and there were also two key blocks by Raphael Diaz when Capitals were pressing to get on the scoresheet after falling behind 2-0 in the second period.
“After the blocks, I was on the boards and I saw Gio going down the ice and I just wanted to chip the puck out,” Diaz said. “It had been a long shift for (Josh Gorges) and me and we going were going off the ice for a change but (Rene Bourque) used his speed to get the puck and get it to Gio.”
Bourque, who was a disappointment last season after he was acquired from Calgary in a trade for Michael Cammalleri, has been a different player this season and he showed his determination in running down the loose puck.
“That’s the difference this year, the little things like (Bourque) just powering through the guy and winning the battle,” Gionta said. “The good thing is that we’re playing on our toes and we’re forcing them. When we gave (the Capitals) a little bit, we started to back off, but we’re trying to work toward that 60-minute effort. The last two games, we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
“We see on the ice that we are supporting each other, offensively and defensively,” said Diaz, who could laugh at the fact that he’s the team’s leading scorer with five assists. “It’s a lot of fun to play like that. The forwards are coming back to help and that makes it easy for us on defence. Pricey played a hell of a game again.”
Carey Price is reclaiming his spot as one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders. He has allowed only four goals in three games and has erased any concerns that he would be rusty after not seeing any meaningful action during the lockout.
“He’s been phenomenal since Day One and he reported, first of all, in great shape,” coach Michel Therrien said. “He gives us a huge chance every night to win the hockey game and he’s playing terrific.”
Diaz, who is in his second season in the NHL, said the players are determined not to repeat last season, when the Canadiens were dead last in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we learned a lot from last year,” Diaz said. “We stick to the system and we play from period to period. There’s still a long way to go, but we’ve improved from game to game.”
There were also questions about Andrei Markov’s health after missing most of the past two seasons, but he said: “I’ve never felt better.”
His play on the ice reflects that. He had a goal and an assist on the power play and has three goals in the past two games.
“It’s good to score, but more importantly it’s another team win,” Markov said.
Therrien is a great believer that special teams win games and he was happy to see the two power-play goals in the second period.
“We were also pretty solid 5-on-5 and at the time we needed the penalty kills, guys sacrificed themselves to kill those penalties so it was a good team effort," he said.
Therrien continued to try to give rookies Alex Galcheyuk and Brendan Gallagher the best chance to succeed. He used them sparingly in the first period and increased their ice time after the Canadiens took the lead.
“I don’t have the last change and I didn’t want to have them matched against the Backstrom line,” Therrien said. “I want to put them in positions where they can develop their confidence.”
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette