While losing to the Maple Leafs and the Devils may not be the worst thing in the world, it’s troubling how the Canadiens went down to defeat in those games. Now along come the Sabres, and instead of a solid team effort and a reprisal of good play, we see much the same effort from most players and a loss against a team that we need to beat. We’ve got a favourable schedule before the All-Star break, but if we can’t take advantage of those games, we’re in big trouble, because after the time off, we come back against much better opposition.
This loss has to be worrisome, not just for the lack of effort and team play, but also because the Bolts have bolstered their lineup, the Thrashers are gaining back Heatley, the Islanders are playing much better hockey, and even the Rangers are going to start looking better with Jags (it’s hard to look much worse). If we can’t find our game as the team we are right now, then Gainey will have to make the decision about whether or not these playoffs are important enough to go out and tweak the team. The problem he’s got, though, is where to tweak? On nights like this, there are too many guys just going along for the ride, and no one change is going to make a difference.
Of course, Coach Julien has his problems as well. That’s three straight games where, either the team hasn’t been properly prepared, or they’ve just played so horrendously that it’s making the coach look bad. While you could never say he was out-coached against the Sabres, what you can say is that suddenly the team isn’t playing at the level they were just a week ago. Even the special teams are looking less than stellar in the last couple.
Theo: Time for a rest, I think. He’s been relied upon too many times in a row and needs to sit down, catch his breath and find his game. Goals like the Drury debacle just can’t happen for this club. His terrible play behind the net which almost led to another goal is something else that can’t continue. And while it was a tough shot, that third goal is one he may have had on nights where he’s on his game. Sure, he saved a breakaway attempt and the rebound, but the game is won over 60 minutes, not five seconds. B-
Bouillon: He got hurt on the play, but it was a terrible pinch and it cost the Habs. Sure, they were fighting from behind, but you still have to be intelligent when choosing your spots. Also, I felt he really over-handled the puck and was less effective than usual down low. C+
Brisebois: I’d like to ask why he turned to face the other way on that last goal when the pass was to his man – clearly streaking across the net. Did he actually think Drury would miss the pass? Actually, I don’t think I do want to ask the question, I’m afraid of the answer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only error in his game tonight. Basics, man! C+
Rivet: The return of Traffic Cone 52 as he was blown away by Derek Roy leading to the Afinogenov goal. Then again, to be fair, he was really solid the rest of the night, and if that’s his one major error, I’ll take it while he’s still on the road to a better game. B
Markov: We’re seeing more and more elements of his game last year. Other than Koivu and Ryder, he was probably the best Hab in the first period. He was cutting out plays before they started again and his positioning was much better than it’s been most of this season. He was still pushed around later in the game, but I’m going to grasp to those positive elements and pray. To be honest, actually, his game looks much better than it did before the injury. B-
Quintal: Credit where credit is due, he’s been very consistent lately and right now is the rock on defence. When you know what you’re going to get game in and game out, that’s a good thing. B
Souray: Somehow he ends up as a plus tonight. He was positively horrid! Can we please make a complaint to whoever is in charge? When Markov is on, Souray is off and vice versa. What’s with that? His passing was dismal, he made turnover after turnover and his game has taken a swan dive lately. C-
Langdon: He chooses to fight when we didn’t need it. We had the momentum. I don’t get it, he’s a pretty good fighter, but his timing just isn’t there. Well, at least he had one. B-
Kilger: He was even disappointing on the PK. No effort tonight, just wandering around the rink. Send him to Hamilton if no one wants him already. F
Komisarek: Still not used to the speed of the game. In one of his few shifts he held on to the puck way to long and had it stripped whilst close to the Hab blueline, and that’s unacceptable. Still, patience everyone, patience. D+
Sundstrom: That line had a couple of good runs in the opposition zone and played pretty well in the defensive third too. Sunny made one heck of a defensive play on a two on one at one point. B
Perreault: Predictably, in the offensive third he was fine and in the defensive third it was nail-biting time. Here’s another who probably needs to get out of town to find himself. He’s lost virtually all confidence, and even when he has it, he’s absent defensively and not a ‘system’ player. It’s nice that he was surrounded by better players for once, but it still displeases me to see him out there. Keeping him on the roster for his faceoff abilities is certainly a stretch as well. C
Juneau: Still some life in those hands. He had a couple of really slick plays with the puck, had that one chance where he was totally robbed by Biron (nothing he did wrong at all on that play) and played a good defensive game as usual. B+
Zednik: Man did he whiff on a few opportunities. Of course, the face he had them was a good indication. In the first half of the game he was the only player on that line doing anything useful, and in the second half, while he wasn’t quite as good, at least he wasn’t dismal. B
Balej: Another player whose game was divided into two. The first half was tentative and you could almost feel his nerves and his fear of making mistakes. The second half was an NHL-calibre player who was incredible along the boards, was lightning quick in his moves with the puck, and who made things happen consistently. The only reason he doesn’t stick when Dags comes back is the chemistry Dags has with Ribeiro. B+
Ribeiro: Hello?!? Anyone out there? Did anyone notice him other than when he was swatted like a gnat? He barely did anything tonight at all. He was by far the worst on that line and he was lazy and being beaten to the puck all night long. Unacceptable. C-
Bulis: While not quite in the same boat as his linemates this evening, he nevertheless was an integral part of the Habs only attacking line. Tonight his prowess at cycling and his speed were in evidence and it was happy days again. B+
Ryder: He continues to amaze me. Tonight he was everywhere and was dominating the offensive zone. His work with the puck is getting better and better and he’s still improving off the puck as well. The goal was a result of his hard work, and that effort almost gave that line another two or three at least. A-
Koivu: After two bad games where the trade rumours festered like bad Michael Jackson songs, he once again came out and *dominated*. Virtually every shift had him creating something. It was said before the game that he’d been consulting with the trainers a lot recently which would lead me to believe he’s been playing somewhat injured. Well, he looked more than fine today. A
Julien: While the game itself didn’t have him out-coached, I have to wonder what he’s going to do to get the troops back on task. It’s been a dismal three games, the worst since the first twenty of the year when he and Gainey were learning and teaching. Let’s hope he can lay down the law in the next couple of days before we face Minnesota.
I guess the good part about losing three in a row is that the Habs are still five games over .500. Still, it’d be nice if the offence came alive again, three in four games will never get you far, particularly if your goalie is putting in sub-par performances.
Off to Minnesota in two days where the Habs will face a Wild club that, while not having a stellar year, is one that is always on its game plan. This is going to be a tough contest for the Habs, and we’re starting to work into the realm of must-win games. This is a sub .500 team, and if we want a playoff birth, we need to take this type of game.
A Concerned Fan