If there are fans still sitting in the Bell Centre waiting for the Habs to come out on the ice to play the Tampa Bay Lightning, they can be excused. After a string of victories and solid play, the Habs left their intensity in the dressing room for much of the final two periods against the Sabres Tuesday night and again forgot to bring any game against a struggling Lightning squad.
From the opening shift of the game where Vincent LeCavalier was allowed to dance around four Habs and take a potshot at Jose Theodore, it was evident this was going to be a long night. Consistently the Bolts were first to the puck and all night showed an intensity that coach John Tortorella has probably been dreaming about as his GM has threatened major changes.
It wasn’t even that the Bolts played that great a game, because they didn’t. There were plenty of errors, but the Habs just couldn’t get any jump or spark into their play. It was a completely emotionless game, which is a shame because, more and more, the Canadien faithful have been making themselves heard early on.
Tonight they were silenced before a minute had passed in the second when, on a shorthanded play, Frederik Modin stole the puck from Sheldon Souray at the Bolt blueline and danced his way down the ice to put Tampa out in front. It was a disappointing gaffe from Souray, particularly since his last stretch of games had been exceptional.
The lead was short-lived, however as Pierre Dagenais, ever in the right place at the right time, picked up a rebound and swept home his seventh of the season before the power play was even done. Much of the credit has to go to Patrice Brisebois who corralled a clearing attempt and fired a precise pass to Francis Bouillon whose shot led to the rebound.
Three minutes later Martin St.Louis scored his 13th of the year on a nifty behind the back feed from LeCavalier and the Bolts never looked back. Earlier in the day St.Louis had been confirmed as a starter in the NHL All-Star game later this year. The goal itself was probably one that Theo would like to have back, as it was a shot that he would normally have stopped on his better nights.
At 13:42, Ruslan Fedotenko scored to send the Lightning up 3-1 and silence the crowd for good. It was another shot that Theo would surely like to see again, as generally he’s able to stop 40-foot shots with regularity.
The third was much the same as the first two periods from the Habs standpoint: there was virtually zero passion and it looked like they were more interested in watching rather than playing. Rarely were they first to the puck and frequently they were lax when attempting to make plays. Passing was painful both in accuracy and reception and the only intensity came from Claude Julien’s hard stares and harsher words.
Just before the four-minute mark of the third, St.Louis scored again on a shot that Theo should have stopped thus putting the Lightning up by three and sending any remaining awake fans into an uncomfortable slumber. Based on the last five periods work, a word used loosely, there has to be some concern as to the direction of things.
A bright spot, shocking to say, was the work once again of Chad Kilger. Again tonight he seemed to be all over the ice and was the only one continually winning battles, getting to pucks first, and working hard. His wake-up call seems to have really made a difference, at least in the short-term, and Hab fans can only hope it’s not a temporary improvement.
Unfortunately, one player at full intensity does not work in today’s NHL. If Montreal doesn’t find a way to get everyone going, the next few weeks could be as painful as the last few were pleasant.
Notes: Andrei Markov and Niklas Sundstrom were still out of the lineup with nagging injuries…Richard Zednik was one of the few other Habs who looked like he had any jump tonight as he continued his recent improvements…Michael Ryder, who was yelled at on the bench, and Mike Ribeiro might well have not shown up tonight; their cumulative –6 was dismal…Joe Juneau was back in the lineup after missing the final two periods against the Sabres with a mild groin aggravation.
Habs three stars:
- Chad Kilger
- Richard Zednik
- Andreas Dackell