Michael Ryder is playing some great hockey for the Montreal Canadiens right now; a trend that will not only have to continue, but will have to spread violently throughout his teammates, much like the flu has these past few days. As the Habs prepare themselves for the ultimate bore tonight in Minnesota against the Wild, young Ryder’s offensively energetic game may be the key to success.
Often times during Tuesday night’s contest it appeared that the CH on his sweater was none other than a gigantic magnet, which drew your teary eyes to him every time his skate hit ice, one of the teams lone bright spots on this occasion. Ryder alone, though, can’t lead the Habs to victory. Other skaters need to step up, in the same way that Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov did in Buffalo. If ‘The Rookie from The Rock’ and his edgy style doesn’t inspire his teammates, than they may be in for another long night.
There will be no excuse for uninspired play. What shouldn’t be an entertaining game to watch (nobody likes the trapping Wild), is one that the CH will have to make fun. Hard skating, hard checking, and constant thinking and creating in the offensive zone need to be stressed. While this is still a good team, if we don’t give Minnesota something to work for, they, despite being the 11th place team in the Western Conference, will extend the losing streak until another day.
Although, while Jacques Lemaire’s crew likes to brag about their astute defensive play, which has them at ninth in the league in goals against with 2.25, their heads often sag when one mentions the other end of the rink. Minnesota’s dismal offence, which sits at a lowly 25th in the league with an average of 2.15 goals a game, lower than their goals against average, Andrew Brunette is having a good offensive year when one considers the talent he’s surrounded by (no disrespect to Marian Gaborik). The 30-year-old leads the Wild with 31 points, with three points in his last three games, and is the only man playing in this starving offence to have reached the 30-point plateau this season. For the record, the Habs have four players; Mike Ribeiro, Sheldon Souray, Richard Zednik, and Ryder, while Saku Koivu sits close having registered 29 points, to have reached the mark.
For all their success in the past weeks, the Habs’ key offensive weapons have been in hiding. After setting the league on fire, big Souray seems to be feeling a little bit caged right now, going pointless in seven games. And to be honest, aside from a couple of nifty plays, Sheldon wasn’t looking all that promising last night either. Recently named an All-Star, he’s too good of a player not to be performing like one…every single night.
Ribeiro, meanwhile, is writing the same story to a little different tune. The toast of Montreal in some minds over the past two months, ‘Ribs’ was looking rather unspectacular last night. Perhaps RDS pegging him as the team’s number one centre had a bit of an effect, but I doubt it. There were times when he looked brilliant, smoothly sliding the puck from backhand to forehand in the Sabres’ zone, but there were also ticks of the clock when he looked like he was much more interested in what was going on outside the arena.
In one case, Buffalo’s best player, forward Chris Drury was streaking in all alone on Theodore and managed to muster off a decent shot. Ribeiro was the third man in on the play, squeaking in behind the other Sabre attacker. It was here where the slick centreman needed only to take an extra step to protect Theo from making the second save, although he instead decided to halt up, relying on his goaltender on a play which could have easily seen the Habs drop further behind from the get-go.
As others in the Habs roster have decided to step down, different individuals will need to up their games. Whether it be the aforementioned struggling twosome, or someone completely different. There’s no lying down against Minnesota, especially for a team who’s recent play has made those trailing them in the Eastern Conference playoff race forcing smiles on their faces bigger than their CCM chinstraps.
And so, how does a team that was riding so high drop so low? Perhaps the answer is in net? No, probably not, but the goaltending story will be an interesting one for tomorrow. Minnesota’s offence should be making Jose Theodore should be quite happy, after all despite some good play he has allowed 10 goals in his last three starts, although that happiness may have to be displayed from the bench. While Coach Claude has yet to send word around on who will be his starting goaltender, do not be in shock if he sends his ever talented and always ready backup, Mathieu Garon into the cage. As was speculated, Claude Julien will give the nod to Mathieu Garon. The 26-year-old makes his ninth start of the year, in what will be his tenth appearance of the season.
With back-to-back games on the sked for this weekend, against the Bruins and Blackhawks, Julien may be tempted to give his number one a rest, although Theodore, I’m sure, is the type of goaltender who would gladly take to the goal in hopes of shutting down his opponent in what would be a bit of a bounce-back affair for him. If the crafty and controversial coach does go with Theodore tomorrow night, than it would be all but guaranteed that we would see Mathieu Garon split the weekend contests with Theodore, most likely taking to the ice on Sunday against the Hawks.
On the topic of playing time, look no further than the now versatile Mike Komisarek. Komisarek has impressed with his willingness to play forward, far out of position, and receive so little icetime (less than five minutes in Buffalo). While he doesn’t have much leverage, he may not find himself working on his game on the fourth line, but rather back at home on the blueline. Francis Bouillon took part in a nasty collision, and it’s unknown whether the little tank will take to the ice tomorrow night.
If Komisarek is to slide into Bouillon’s place, the hole at forward is all but recreated. Andreas Dackell is an unlikely replacement, as he is in Montreal receiving tests for his bum knee. Jason Ward, despite his obvious desire to play, would be wise to rest up his separated shoulder; at least until Saturday. At this point in time, he is providing too much to the hockey club to miss any more action due to reinjury. Steve Begin could return in a couple of games, and along with Ward would be a real physical treat to watch. A callup from Hamilton could be in order, although the Dogs are currently taking part in back-to-back games out in Newfoundland. It hardly makes sense to call up a youngster and have him play three nights in a row. While it is a common practice for Francis Bouillon to wear his heart on his sleeve, expect to see him playing no different than usual tonight, as any injuries sustained in his collision were not enough to keep him out of action.
Regardless of what transpires, you’ll have an extra hour to do whatever you like to do best tomorrow night, as the game starts a little bit later at 8:00. Perhaps it will also give the boys a little bit of time to reflect on what they need to do to come home with a pair of points. However, even if victory is not the verdict, a little bit more effort and some increased production would be a good way to get back on track. There will be no laziness on the ice, as the only passengers are those who were brutally tossed from the Habs’ bandwagon a few days ago.
Sit down Jose! Mathieu Garon will indeed be the man between the pipes tomorrow night according to Coach Claude Julien. This is perhaps to rest Theodore in preparation of this weekends big game in Boston, and should also enable him to suit up against Chicago the following afternoon. Also, Francis Bouillon will play, after he has not suffered any damage serious enough to see him watch this one from the stands.
Ward to Return?
According to Claude Julien, Jason Ward is a likely returnee to the lineup tonight. Ward’ shoulder injury is one that could have been potentially devastating for the winger. While he may be looking at some sort of offseason surgery, forget about that one for a little while, as he’s willing to put up with a little bit of pain while skating on the third line with Joe Juneau and Nik Sundstrom.
Also Read : A Wild Peek : By Colin Prichett, for a look at five things you should know when playing Minnesota.
Discuss the Match : In the Habsworld Game Thread