Canadiens Game Day: Time to start believing after 5-2 win over Jets?

Impressive performance by the Canadiens and Jonathan Drouin as they fire 53 shots on goal and dominate against the third-best team in NHL.

If you haven’t really believed in the Canadiens up to this point in the season, you might be more of a believer after Thursday night’s impressive 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Centre.

And if you haven’t really believed in Jonathan Drouin, you might start believing in him after he scored twice and added two assists to go along with a plus-3 and a game-high nine shots on goal.

Speaking of shots, the Canadiens outshot the Jets 53-34, the most shots they’ve had in a game all season. This against a Jets team that has the third-best record in the NHL (34-17-3) and was 7-2-1 in its previous 10 games. Shea Weber, Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi also scored for the Canadiens.

The Canadiens are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and improved their season record to 31-18-6, moving into third place in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Boston Bruins, who hold a game in hand. The Canadiens are only one point behind the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs, who hold two games in hand and will be at the Bell Centre Saturday night.

The only thing that might have been more surprising than the final score against the Jets is the fact it easily could have been 7-2 or 8-2 for the Canadiens, who dominated the game. Drouin alone could have had three goals in the first period instead of only one. Drouin now has nine points (3-6-9) in his last three games and has 17-29-46 totals in 55 games, matching his point total from 77 games last season (13-33-46). Drouin is now one point behind Max Domi (17-30-47) for the team lead in scoring.

“He was flying tonight,” Brendan Gallagher said about his linemate Drouin. “I think that was pretty evident early on. He had his legs and he had jump. He’s a special player, he’s a special talent. There’s not a lot of players in the world with the ability that he has. It’s always fun when he’s feeling it like he was tonight to watch him.”

The line of Drouin, Gallagher (0-2-2) and Danault (1-3-4) combined for 10 points. Not surprisingly, Drouin was named the game’s first star, Danault the second and Gallagher the third.

Looking back at trade

Drouin is starting to make general manager Marc Bergevin look good for the trade he made two summers ago that brought him to the Canadiens from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.

After posting 9-31-40 totals last season with the Lightning, Sergachev’s production has dropped to 2-16-18 this season and he has been made a healthy scratch five times.

“First of all, I think at the end of the day when we made that deal I think we considered it a hockey deal,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after Thursday night’s game. “Some deals are based on who’s going to win, who’s going to get the best of the deal. I think we knew we gave up something good, but we also knew we were getting something good in return. At the same time, you have to work with those guys. He’s a young player. The other guy we gave up was 19-20, this guy was 22-23. So either way, we had a young player and we just worked with him.

“We saw the potential, we saw his skill level,” Julien added about Drouin. “Even when he was in Tampa, he made some really good plays and he was an exciting player to watch. Maybe it got tarnished because we had a tough year last year. When you go through a tough year, nobody looks good. It really doesn’t. So I think at the same time, he probably didn’t have the kind of players that he’s got this year to play with as well. So everything is going in a much better direction and those guys start flourishing when those things happen.”

Said Weber about Drouin: “He’s a difference-maker and, obviously, he’s flying right now. He’s playing with a lot of speed and space and he’s getting himself in position and, obviously, making good plays to set other guys up as well.”

Playoff atmosphere

Thursday night’s game was very entertaining and had a playoff atmosphere with the Bell Centre fans really getting into it, chanting “Olé! Olé! Olé!” and singing “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye!” in the third period.

It’s been a long time since the atmosphere was so good at the Bell Centre and the fans so excited.

“I think they knew it was a playoff type game and they were ready and we were, too,” Danault said. “So it was a great atmosphere.”

Said Gallagher about the Jets: “We know how good this hockey team is. It’s a team that’s going to be right in the thick of things, competes for the Stanley Cup at the end of the year. I think everyone’s really aware of it and it’s pretty easy to motivate yourself to get up for a game like that. It’s a lot of fun. I think guys came to play. That was probably one of our more complete games of the year and we got rewarded with a good result.”

Added Weber: “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy challenge and we know that Saturday’s not going to be easy, either (against the Leafs). Every night’s a new challenge and we can enjoy it for a couple of minutes and then get ready for Toronto on Saturday.”

Price earns his seventh straight win

Canadiens goalie Carey Price stopped 32 of 34 Lightning shots to record his seventh straight victory, while allowing only 10 goals during that span. Since Dec. 1, Price has a 16-6-0 record with two shutouts and for the season he is now 23-13-4 with a 2.52 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts. Price has already won seven more games than he did all of last season when he finished with a 16-26-7 record, a 3.11 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

While the Canadiens enjoyed a day off on Wednesday, Price spent time at Brossard’s Bell Sports Complex with three youngsters from Aboriginal communities in British Columbia through his involvement with the Breakfast Club of Canada. The fifth edition of the Shooting for the Stars event allowed Arianna (Westbank, B.C.), Lashawn (Anahim Lake, B.C., where Price is from) and Sireasha (Williams Lake, B.C.) to travel on an airplane for the first time to come visit Price and they will also be in the stands at the Bell Centre for Thursday night’s game. The three winning students were chosen based on their positive attitude, good behaviour, and overall commitment to school.

Price and his wife, Angela, have been ambassadors for First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNI) communities on behalf of the Breakfast Club of Canada since 2014.

“For these children, we know how much a spark can change their lives, or even that of their entire community,” Price and his wife said in a joint statement. “That’s why dreaming these kids is especially important to us, and we’re extremely excited to be able to play an inspiring role in their lives through the Shooting for the Stars event.”

Kotkaniemi scores again

Kotkaniemi scored a goal in his fourth straight game against the Lightning, giving him 10-17-27 totals for the season. Kotkaniemi becomes the first 18-year-old to score in four consecutive games since Sean Monahan did it with the Calgary Flames during the 2013-14 season.

All 10 of Kotkaniemi’s goals have come at the Bell Centre.

Lehkonen doesn’t score again

Artturi Lehkonen failed to score against the Jets and has now gone 17 games without a goal and has only one in his last 23 games.

After scoring in the Canadiens’ season-opening 3-2 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto, Lehkonen also went 17 games without a goal. For the season, Lehkonen has 7-17-24 totals and is plus-12.

Domi doing job at both ends of ice

There has been a lot of focus on Domi’s offensive production and rightfully so since he leads the Canadiens in scoring with 17-30-47 totals despite being held off the scoresheet against the Lightning. Domi is one goal shy of equalling his total from the last two seasons combined with the Arizona Coyotes.

But Domi has also been getting the job defensively as a centre with the Canadiens, posting a plus-7 after playing mostly on the wing in Arizona, where he was a combined minus-16 over the last two seasons.

“I think there’s no doubt (he’s improved) because he’s been playing that position all year for us,” Julien said after Thursday’s morning skate. “There’s no doubt you become a little bit more comfortable.

“Every team plays differently,” the coach added. “We scout teams that play man-on-man in the D zone and we’re more of a zone team. We like to really squeeze teams and close quickly, so he’s had to adjust to that. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable. Having said that, like every player, we’re still wanting him to improve in that area just like we’ve seen improvement in Kotkaniemi and we want him to get better. Down the road, those guys have an opportunity to play even bigger roles and in even more important situations by the way they play. Whether it’s offensive zone or D zone or both, I think that’s up to them.”

Domi has struggled in the faceoff circle, winning only 44.2 per cent of his draws. He went 2-9 in the faceoff circle against the Jets (18 per cent).

McCarron’s season is over with Rocket

The Canadiens announced that Mike McCarron had surgery on his left shoulder on Wednesday and that he will miss the rest of the AHL season with the Laval Rocket.

The Canadiens selected McCarron in the first round (25th overall) at the 2013 NHL Draft. In 32 games this season with the Rocket, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward had 7-14-21 totals and 46 penalty minutes. The 23-year-old played 69 games over the previous three seasons with the Canadiens, posting 2-6-8 totals.

The Canadiens signed McCarron last summer to a one-year, two-way contract that pays him $70,000 with the Rocket.

What’s next?

The Canadiens have a practice scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard as they prepare to face the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) in their last of five straight home games.

The Canadiens will have the day off Sunday, then practice Monday (11 a.m.), Tuesday (11 a.m.) and Wednesday (10:45 a.m.) in Brossard before hitting the road for games against the Nashville Predators next Thursday (8 p.m., TSN2, RDS), the Tampa Bay Lightning next Saturday (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) and the Florida Panthers next Sunday (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

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