Depth and defence.
Those were the keys Saturday night as the Canadiens defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at the Bell Centre.
“The biggest difference (from a 4-3 loss to Toronto in the season opener) was our defence as a five-man unit,” coach Michel Therrien said. “Our first game, we created a lot on offence and it could have gone either way. We competed, we skated, we were first on the puck, but tonight we concentrated on defence as a unit of five.”
The result was that the Canadiens limited the Flyers to 23 shots on goal and Carey Price had a shutout until Vincent Lecavalier scored a power-play goal midway through the third period.
Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens’ leading scorer the past two seasons, missed the game with a wrist injury, but the offence didn’t miss a beat.
Therrien gave Lars Eller’s The Kid Line some additional ice time and was rewarded with two goals, while Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque each had a goal and an assist.
“The strength of our team is the depth of our scoring,” said Gionta, whose first-period goal gave the Canadiens the early lead. “I know Patch is out, but we have three lines that can score goals.”
And that, Therrien said, is an ideal situation.
“We have internal competition, and the players know that if they play well they’re going to get more ice time,” the coach said.
That was the case for the Eller line, which has the 24-year-old Dane playing with 21-year-old Brendan Gallagher and 19-year-old Alex Galchenyuk. They were on the ice to start the game and they continued their early season success as Eller and Gallagher scored early in the third period to put the Canadiens ahead 3-0.
Therrien tried to monitor the ice time for Gallagher and Galchenyuk last season, but he seems open to having the youngsters play a larger role now. Any why not, since they’ve accounted for five of the Canadiens’ seven goals this season?
“Those young men got better as (last) season went on and they picked up where they were and they’re still getting better:” Therrien said. “They’re competing and they’re more responsible at both ends of the ice.”
Said Eller, who has three goals and two assists: “I’m not surprised by the way we’re playing, but I didn’t expect we’d be scoring two or three goals a game. Some games the pucks are going to go in. You can’t expect that every game, but good things are going to happen to us if we play that way.”
Gallagher, who has a goal in each of the first two games, said he wasn’t concerned about his limited ice time in the season opener.
“Ice time is something that has to be earned,” he said. “When you get a chance to start the game, you want to start well. You’re trying to earn the coach’s trust.”
Added Eller: “We all know Michel well enough that if you play well, you’re going to get the ice time.”
Gallagher said Eller is the key to the line’s success.
“He’s playing really good,” Gallagher said. “He makes it easy for us wingers because he works hard and sees the ice well. We struggled in preseason, but we’re going good and we have to continue. We lost the first game, but we wanted to get that first win before we go on the road.”
Galchenyuk has four assists on the season and combined with Gallagher on a 5-on-3 power-play goal Saturday.
“It was a great pass,” Gallagher said. “It was easy for me. I just put my stick out and the puck rolled in. I would have felt bad if I missed it.”
With Pacioretty out, Brandon Prust joined David Desharnais and Daniel Brière, but the line had a reduced role. Brière earned bragging rights over his former teammates, but never seemed to get his rhythm. He took a couple of hooking penalties and won only three of 10 faceoffs.
“There were a lot of scrambly plays with the puck bouncing all over,” Brière said. “I was happy when the first period ended, especially being up 1-0. The Flyers are tough to play against from behind because they’re relentless. They keep coming at you and attacking. When you’re down, you start cheating, you force plays, and that’s when they can hurt you. It’s different when you take the lead on them.”
Brière said he had some sympathy for the Flyers’ Vincent Lecavalier, who was booed throughout the game because he spurned an offer from the Canadiens this summer.
“I know what it feels like because I was that guy,” said Brière, who chose the Flyers over the Canadiens in 2007. “We have great fans here in Montreal and it’s lot better to have them cheering for you.”
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Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher, right, celebrates with teammate Alex Galchenyuk, left, after scoring against Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Ray Emery, centre, during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, October 5, 2013.
Photograph by: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS