MONTREAL – Two weeks off can help players recharge, but it can also lead to a little accumulation of rust.
From the time the final buzzer sounded in Raleigh on Feb. 8 to the opening puck drop against the Red Wings, 17 days, 23 hours and five minutes had passed. Battling through jetlag for some and two weeks’ worth of rust for others, the Habs spent the first 40 minutes of Wednesday’s game working on rekindling the rhythm that saw them head into the Olympic break ranked fourth in the East.
“You could see with the majority of guys tonight that the execution wasn’t on point,” admitted Michel Therrien, whose lineup included six Olympians with Carey Price sidelined with a lower body injury. “Both teams played solid defensively and there wasn’t much room out there. We managed to earn a point, but it’s just too bad we couldn’t get the second one.”
With 17 Olympians between them – including five silver medalists from Sweden in action for the Wings and Canadian gold medalist P.K. Subban suiting up for the Habs – both teams spent the early minutes of Wednesday’s game re-adapting to smaller rinks and old linemates. Despite spending the last week back in Brossard trying to get back into the groove, the Canadiens struggled to hit their stride, finally getting on the board thanks to a Brian Gionta backhand with 29 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
“We worked hard to avoid it and put a lot of effort into that, but practices aren’t like games,” described Therrien, whose final crop of Olympians only arrived back in Montreal from Sochi on Monday morning with their shiny souvenirs. “It’s going to take some time and the more we play, the faster that cohesion will come back. The more games we play, the better our execution will get so I’m happy we’re flying out tonight and playing Pittsburgh right away.”
Getting back on the ice after a longer absence than the rest of his teammates, Alex Galchenyuk returned to action after breaking his hand on Jan. 6 against the Panthers. The 20-year-old finished with two shots, three hits and plus-1 differential and ended the game playing alongside veterans Gionta and Tomas Plekanec.
“In the third I finally started feeling good. I got my legs under me but the biggest thing is the timing,” explained Galchenyuk, who played 15:15 against Detroit. “You can practice and bag skate as many times as you want but until you get games under you it won’t make sense. The longer the game went on, the better it went. The good thing about hockey is you can lose one and then you can get it back tomorrow. We have to regroup and refocus and forget about this one and start thinking about the next one.”
Returning from Russia and getting the start between the pipes for the Canadiens, Peter Budaj stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced, helping keep the Habs in the game even while they managed to fire just two shots on Jimmy Howard in the second period.
“That’s what [Budaj and Price] have done all year for us. They’ve given us a chance to stay in games and get points,” shared Gionta, who scored his 12th goal of the season on Wednesday. “It’s no different than what they’ve done all season. It definitely wasn’t a good two periods we had there. It wasn’t what we wanted, but we were able to come back in the third and pressure a bit and get a point out of it. It would have been nice to get two.”
About to get his first back-to-back start of the season with Price on the shelf, Budaj will look to continue what he and his teammates started in the final 20 minutes of Wednesday’s game when they hit the ice in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“We played well in the third period. That’s a positive, but we have to be better for 60 minutes,” stressed Budaj, the lone Hab on Slovakia’s Olympic roster. “Everyone was working hard at practice, but Detroit played a good game. They won the battles and we didn’t. It comes down to details. We have to look at that and just get back at it tomorrow.”
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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