MONTREAL- When you pit a world-class defense against a world-class offense, defense wins nine out of ten times. The Canadiens had limited the Rangers to a paltry three goals in seven previous tilts at the Bell Centre, but on Saturday night, the Habs got a taste of their own medicine.
Despite not allowing an even-strength goal and conceding just one tally, the Habs dropped a 1-0 decision at home against New York. Rookie netminder Cam Talbot picked up the first shutout of his career, while Ryan Callahan scored the lone goal of the game when he tipped home a Brad Richards slap shot on a power play in the second period. The win upped the Rangers’ record to 10-9-0 on the year, while the Habs fell to 10-9-2 on the season.
For head coach Michel Therrien, the loss was certainly a disappointment. In a defense-oriented league, however, one often lives and dies by the same sword.
“The Rangers capitalized on their power play. We also had some chances on the power play but we weren’t able to capitalize. There’s no room out there; the coaches and goaltenders are well-prepared these days in the NHL,” related the Habs bench boss. “I felt our guys worked hard. If we keep working hard, then good things will happen.”
For the home team, the biggest story was the return of defenseman Alexei Emelin. The Russian rearguard was taken out of the lineup 224 days ago by a devastating knee injury. Drawing back into the Habs’ third defence pairing, the newly re-signed 27-year-old put in a solid day’s work.
“Emelin gave us 16 minutes of solid hockey. For a first game back, he was impressive. I liked his performance a lot,” acknowledged Therrien.
Emelin had a good scoring chance late in the third frame, blocked two shots, and handed out three hits on the night. The first one, a solid shoulder-on-shoulder collision against New York’s Chris Kreider, sent Emelin to the ice, but he was quick to get back into the play much to the relief of everyone on the home bench.
“We all remember how he got injured, on a very similar hit,” offered Therrien. “I was happy to see him get back up afterwards. It was a good boost of confidence to see him get involved physically early on.”
The time away from the rink allowed Emelin, who relied on a translator to communicate with the media in his first season in Montreal, to further acclimate himself to the North American environment and improve his mastery of the English language.
“I felt good for a first game. It wasn’t too bad. I feel really strong. I didn’t have any problems tonight,” revealed Emelin. “When the team loses, it’s really bad. We need to create more pressure and have more shots.”
Emelin also gave credit to Kreider for standing his ground, and admitted that it was a challenge to get back to his aggressive ways after injuring his ACL and MCL last spring.
“I tried the same hit as last year, but he’s a strong man. It wasn’t too bad for a first time this year. I remember that hit on [Milan] Lucic all the time,” confided the 6-foot-2, 219-pound blue-liner.
Another man happy to have Emelin back was goaltender Carey Price, who gave his team every chance to succeed on Saturday night by turning aside 33 of the 34 shots he faced. Despite not getting any goal support from his teammates, Price still had words of encouragement for the guys playing in front of him.
“I was able to pick up the puck pretty quick. My guys in front of me are playing very, very well which allows me to see the shots coming,” praised the Anahim Lake, BC native, who now boasts an impressive 2.06 goals-against average. “We put in an honest effort. The guys played really hard.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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