It’s hard to drum up a lot of excitement for a Friday night in Raleigh when the building is about 60% full. The ravenous Montreal media descended on PNC Arena for the Hurricanes morning skate, sending about a two dozen reporters and three camera crews into the locker room. Kurt Dusterberg, an NHL.com correspondent who covers the Hurricanes, told me that the average morning skate has only a handful of attendees. Such is life under the francophone microscope.
The game’s developments, however, would provide top notch entertainment for many Blues fans with somewhat long memories. As this profile of Montreal on the road unfolds, keep the following in mind: Andrew Shaw is now a Canadien, and Andrew Shaw can only and will always do the things that Andrew Shaw does.
Montreal came into the game with the league’s best record, buoyed in large part by the world’s best goalie. To my moderate disappointment, all-world netminder Carey Price had the evening off, so all-Big Ten backup Al Montoya answered the bell. Montoya was the sixth overall pick (by the Rangers) in the 2004 NHL draft. The Canadiens selected Price fifth overall the following year. Apparently dropping out of the top five makes a bigger difference than many people think.
The Canadiens also had two of the most talked about acquisitions of any NHL team this past offseason. Enigmatic winger Alexander Radulov, who played his way out of Nashville twice, was injured for this game but has put up 21 points in his first 23 games this season. He’s been playing on a line with countryman Alex Galchenyuk, and their natural chemistry has greatly benefited both players.
The other headline acquisition, of course, also came from Nashville in the person of defenseman Shea Weber. Montreal gave up Norris Trophy winner PK Subban for Weber under a cloud of suspicion surrounding their motives, but the results have thus far been inarguable.
Blues fans have vivid memories of being shut down and bombarded by shots from Weber over his years in Nashville, and his play so far this season has been superlative. He has 18 points in 25 games, and the bright lights in Montreal have shone on him in such a way that most quarter season prognosticators expect Weber to be the runaway favorite for this year’s Norris.
With the emergence of other forwards has come the dimming of one of Montreal’s long-time reliable stalwarts. Tomas Plekanec, notable for his strong turtleneck game and his persistent presence in internet trade rumors around the Blues, has just 7 points in 25 games, including one lonely goal. For comparison’s sake, those numbers are, uh, identical to Patrik Berglund’s. Member when people thought Patrik Berglund could turn into Mats Sundin? I member.
Sitting at a table pregame with a group of local writers, I was somewhat shocked at the frankness of their criticism of both the Hurricanes and individual players. One of those players was Chris Terry, a fourth line forward whose uninspiring tenure in Carolina made him the butt of some jokes about the least likely person to score. When he walked down the wing and fired a laser off the post behind Montoya, I found myself wondering if other heads were soon to be snapping to attention.
The skill advantage that Montreal holds over Carolina is undeniable, and even an uninspired effort was enough to keep them in the game. Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward did his damndest to sell a goalie interference call preceding Jeff Petry’s goal in the second, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The Canadiens held a 21-8 shot advantage through two, and it looked as though a sleepy game would conclude without much struggle. The Hurricanes, though, fought back. Three goals in 5:50 of the third period gave Carolina a dreaded two goal home lead, and from there, the game was afoot. Or, perhaps more accurately, from there the Andrew Shaw Show began.
Blues fans will remember Shaw from his days in Chicago as he head hunted all over the ice and was suspended during last year’s playoffs for using the F word that we actually won’t print in Game Time. He’s also a relatively skilled player, especially in front of the net, and his goal at 15:29 of the third period seemed like it would be the start of a comeback.
Some stars, however, burn too brightly. Some burn too obnoxiously, and Andrew Shaw certainly fell into that category at the end of the game. With 12 seconds remaining and the Canadiens pressing to tie, Shaw committed a blatant hooking infraction against Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk. That call sealed the game for Carolina, and should have been accepted as a desperation move at the end of a close game.
Shaw, however, was having none of that. He went ballistic and threw a full-on temper tantrum that awarded him an extra unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as well as a misconduct. This bizarre outburst came seemingly from nowhere, as the officials had been relatively lenient throughout the game and the stick penalty was as blatant as these things get. (This video is of a similar incident a week ago in Anaheim. History tends to repeat itself.)
As Andrew Shaw was escorted off the ice, I knew that I would have an angle for this preview that would be sure to keep Blues fans engaged. Schadenfreude is a powerful force, and when it involves one of the most obnoxious Blackhawks of this recent span of the rivalry, the game gets a lot more entertaining.