The same night Montreal Canadiens legend Patrick Roy made his Bell Centre debut as an NHL coach, Thomas Vanek made his debut as an impact player and the kind of performer the Canadiens thought they were getting at the trade deadline.
With all due respect to Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Georges Vezina and Bill Durnan, Roy is the greatest goaltender ever to wear the red, white and blue of the Canadiens. So it’s always a big deal when he makes a return to Montreal for any reason. Many Habs fans believe Roy should have been behind the home bench, but he instead chose to turn around the fortunes of the Colorado Avalanche. And he has done that with his young team, one that is not afraid to play the game on the edge.
“We won’t play defensive hockey,” Roy promised after the morning skate.
Give the man credit for knowing his team. The Avs are 26th in the league in shots against with 32.8 per game and were true to form in surrendering 36 in a 6-3 loss to the Canadiens Tuesday night. Five of those shots came off the stick of the newly acquired Vanek. And for a change, three of them went in.
It’s not as though Vanek was playing badly in the five previous games he played for Montreal after being acquired at the trade deadline. Despite averaging about 17 minutes a game and playing with top-line players, Vanek came into the game against the Avalanche with just one assist. But he had been getting his chances, registering at least five shots in each of his previous three games.
The Canadiens are hoping now that Vanek has finally scored, a lot more of them are on their way. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Vanek finally broke out, particularly given the fact that the Avalanche defensemen, much to the visible chagrin of Roy, didn’t seem terribly interested in making life the least bit difficult for him in front of the net. Vanek’s first two goals were scored from the prime scoring area on plays orchestrated by the crafty David Desharnais. The hat trick goal was a testament to Vanek’s skill level. After all, there aren’t many players who can basically reach behind them to tip a slapshot out of the air.
Vanek and Desharnais took care of the contribution from the uppercrust of the lineup, but it was also some fine work by the foot soldiers that led to the win. The Canadiens got a goal from each of their fourth-liners – Travis Moen, Dale Weise and Brandon Prust – giving the Canadiens 13 goals in their past three games.
Speaking of the past three games, they might represent a huge turning point for the Canadiens. Saturday night against Ottawa, the Canadiens were less than four minutes away from a four-game losing streak, but are now on a three-game winning run. One of the biggest reasons for that is their ability to score goals in bunches. Down by three goals to the Ottawa Senators, the Canadiens tied the score in the last 3:22 of the game, capped by Desharnais’ goal with less than a second left to tie it before winning in overtime.
Against the Avalanche, the Canadiens turned a 3-3 tie in the third period into a 6-3 lead in the span of four minutes and 15 seconds. One of those goals was an empty-netter, a couple of others Roy almost certainly would have stopped during his prime with the Canadiens and Avalanche.
Roy certainly didn’t look pleased with the play of his defensemen or some of the goals surrendered by Montreal native Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who idolized his coach as a boy when Roy played for the Canadiens.
All in all, it was a sentimental night. But Vanek and the Canadiens usual tough guys, well, it appears they’re not big ones on being warm and fuzzy.