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Martin St-Louis defended Brendan Gallagher more than Arber Xhekaj last night

Last night was Patrick Roy night in Montreal. The return of #33 as head coach of the New York Islanders caused quite a stir, if you hadn’t noticed.

And far be it from me to trot out a cliché, but there was a playoff atmosphere in town and in the Temple.

Roy did what he could to keep the evening from becoming a distraction for his flock, but the fact remains that the visit of the last of the Mohicans to town caused quite a stir.

And with good reason.

I liked the Canadiens’ idea of honoring the New York Roy during the Canadian national anthem. The club settled the matter before the game started, so as not to give the Islanders any gas.

Clearly, the strategy worked. After all, following three hard-to-watch performances, the Habs finally showed they were capable of playing inspired field hockey, and the club’s top players took matters into their own hands.

Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield(what a beautiful goal, by the way) and Sean Monahan quickly gave the Habs the lead, forcing Roy to take a time-out and forcing the cameramen to do their job as cameramen in such circumstances, i.e. film the substitute goalie.

Things were going well for the Habs and the crowd was happy. After all, you couldn’t ask for more than a tribute to Roy and a hot start from the Habs to fuel the crowd.

Not that the Islanders had necessarily started badly, but the CH simply looked like they’d eaten the lion.

After that, the Islanders quietly began to work their way back into the game. The club limited the number of turnovers (a major challenge for the New York driver over the past week) and scored once to keep the game within reach.

The Habs helped the Islanders a little by letting the club shoot en masse, by being less intense than in the first period and by showing indiscipline, but nothing opened the door for the visitors more than this.

Adam Pelech, who really didn’t look good after Brendan Gallagher’s hit, was the victim of a dirty hit. There’s no other way, in my eyes, to describe it this morning.

Gally will have to answer for his actions the next time the two teams meet.

Gallagher stuck out his elbow after Pelech got rid of the disc. The CH player raised his skates. He aimed for the head. It was a dirty thing to do and it’s not acceptable.

Expect the department in charge of suspending players to drop a line to Brendan Gallagher (who didn’t finish the game) today. And don’t be surprised if he’s offered the chance to explain himself in person, opening the door to a suspension of more than five games.

But getting back to the game, that’s what opened the door for the Islanders, who wanted to avenge Pelech. Two goals were scored (Mathew Barzal, Kyle Palmieri and Noah Dobson) to tie the game… and the boys celebrated with their elbows.

Good thinking.

Sean Monahan finally gave his team the win (4-3 ) later in the game. Yesterday, he did nothing to reduce his market value.

And that brings us to the end of the game.

Asked about Brendan Gallagher’s clearly bastard move, which got the Habs in trouble late in the game (it happens to him a lot, albeit on a smaller scale) and will put the CH in hot water in the next few games, Martin St-Louis refused to throw his veteran under the bus.

The coach said he understood Gally, saying that players who aren’t intense never get a penalty.

St-Louis said he’d have to review the gesture, but he understands that Gallagher is a veteran who gives of himself and plays on the line. The #11, who has never been suspended in the past, is tiring, but is not a bastard player by nature… and that came across in the coach’s comments.

Clearly, MSL didn’t want to throw its veteran under the bus.

However, there was a fine line between saying he’d have to reconsider the gesture and defending his striker’s gesture. And Martin St-Louis, out of respect for his veteran, was ready to do just that.

Patrick Roy was content to say that the matter was in the hands of the league. Islanders players, meanwhile, were astonished that such a move would come from Gallagher.

But what St-Louis wasn’t afraid to say was that Arber Xhekaj didn’t take good penalties. Asked about his three penalties in two games since his return (including two yesterday), the coach said he didn’t like it. He didn’t add anything.

For a driver who never really criticizes his guys publicly, let’s just say that said a lot.

After all, when you take the time to look at it, you realize that St-Louis defended Gallagher, who got his team in trouble and made a dangerous move, more than the Sheriff.

Remember that the former is a veteran and the latter a youngster returning from Laval.

We were already wondering whether Xhekaj had been sent to Laval to send him a message, but last night’s press conference was a hint to that effect.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gally and WiFi didn’t play on Saturday… but for different reasons. #Suspension #LaissezDeCôté

But hey. That’s not all we have to remember about this game, which was possibly the most exciting regular-season matchup in the history of Canadian/Islanders duels. For me, anyway, itis.

What else can I take away from the duel?

1. The presence of Patrick Roy (who has lost his last two games) raised the stakes. It had been a long time since the Habs had played a game where, for many reasons, the club absolutely had to win. And they did.

The best were the best… and that includes Samuel Montembeault.

His saves early in the game set the tone for the club and gave wings to the club’s big forwards, who took charge tonight. Monty may have conceded twice late in the game, but there wasn’t much he could do about it, let’s say. #PunishmentDeGallagher

Montembeault redeemed his horrible performance against the Bruins. He looked like Patr- ah pis laissez faire.

2. Patrick Roy looked moved by the Bell Centre fans’ tribute. He was in a city that’s important to him, and to see that he wasn’t forgotten like that clearly warmed his heart.

He thanked the Canadiens organization for the video during the national anthem, and the fans for their warm welcome.

Now he can move on. He must have been looking forward to this game, surely still on the high of being back in the best league in the world.

He’s got one more game at home tomorrow, against the Panthers… and then he’ll have a break to settle in properly in New York and get comfortable in Lou Lamoriello’s organization.

3. In the first two periods of the game, the Habs took five penalties, including three in the second. Arber Xhekaj has two of his own, but Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Jayden Struble and Jake Evans have also been punished.

And of course, there was Gally’s.

Questioned on the subject, Martin St-Louis said that the Habs played with fire and that the club almost got burned. And he’s right, since all three Islanders goals were scored on the power play. The first was on a five-on-three and the other two were on Gally’s game-tying penalty.

The CH is 2-in-5.

4. Revisiting Roy in the NHL, we inevitably learn to rediscover his tendencies. And clearly, his best elements are playing a lot. Gally’s late-game penalty changed things, but hey.

Forwards Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal played more than 26 minutes each. Noah Dobson played over 30 minutes. Imagine if there had been extra time…

5. For the Habs, you had to keep an eye on Nick Suzuki, who was surprised to play “only” 21:47 the other night against Ottawa. At three centers, he expected to play more.

But yesterday, against the Islanders and with four centers, he played for 20:58.

That’s one minute more than Jake Evans and three minutes more than Sean Monahan. Everyone was in their seats last night, and the many minutes of power play changed the game.

Lucas Condotta played just six minutes and 36 seconds.

Among defensemen, Mike Matheson played more than 26 minutes. Kaiden Guhle (who played on the power play) and David Savard played at least 21 minutes each, while Johnathan Kovacevic and Jayden Struble were in the 16-minute range.

As for the Sheriff? 11:42. He didn’t have an easy game.

6. After one period, it was 13-12 for the Habs in shots. The problem? After that, the club was playing to maintain its lead and took only 13 shots in all in the last 40 minutes of play.

The Islanders, on the other hand, took 34 shots in the final 40 minutes. It ended 46-26 on shots, and the visitors’ first-half turnovers sank the club. That… and the performance of Monty, who didn’t get a star at the end of the game.

7. At the end of the first half, things got a little shaky. I wonder if Roy wanted to do what he did in the duels between Colorado and Detroit and have a bit of fun, hehe.

But all that to say, I enjoyed seeing Juraj Slafkovsky get a little angry.

8. Alexander Romanov was back at the Bell Centre. I know that time has flown by, that he’s already back and that most of the talk this week was about Patrick Roy’s return, but we can all agree that the Russian’s return was buttery.

That’s all I have to say on the subject.


The Canadiens head to Pittsburgh today for their final game (tomorrow) before the All-Star break and festivities. But of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on Gallagher.

Will a CH player be suspended for the first time this season?

Note that if there is a suspension (which is highly likely, let’s say), the Habs won’t be able to recall Joshua Roy or any other Rocket player. The club will have to roll with 22 guys instead of 23 on the active roster.

And since the club has three goalies, that leaves only 19 healthy skaters.

I therefore expect to see Jesse Ylönen take Gally’s place tomorrow and, inevitably, to see an extra defenseman. In my opinion, it will be Arber Xhekaj, opening the door to the return of Jordan Harris, but we’ll see in due course.

We’ll also see about the goalkeeper, but I’d go with Montembeault, personally.

If Gallagher is suspended, it won’t be the end of the world, as Ylönen is here and there’s only one more game before the break. But as the suspension is likely to be for more than one game, we’ll see what effect it has on the club in due course.

Right now, it’s too early to know how the club will look on February 6.

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