Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien has to be extremely pleased with his team as they jumped all over the Atlanta Thrashers from the drop of the puck and dominated until the final whistle. Equally pleasing for the Hab coach is the successful experiment placing Saku Koivu between Andreas Dackell and Niklas Sundstrom as the line was at times dominant in the offensive zone, all the while remaining extremely strong defensively. If that weren’t enough to bring a smile to the coach’s face, he can look at the scoresheet where no less than eleven Habs were involved; including players from all four lines.
Management had to be pleased with the crowd in attendance which was comprised significantly of younger fans taking advantage of a rare afternoon game. The weather seemed to affect the broadcast at times, but not the enthusiasm in the crowd.
Jan Bulis opened the scoring in the first when his shot was deflected by a defender between the legs of Thrasher goalie Byron Dafoe. Much of the legwork was done by rookie Michael Ryder, whose two points in the game brings him to within a hair of the rookie scoring lead in the NHL.
Ryder made a wonderful pass to a streaking Richard Zednik for the second Montreal goal, the latters shot bouncing off Dafoe’s shoulder to slowly trickle into the net.
Despite the 2-0 lead going into the second, however, the star of the period was Russian Ilya Kovalchuk whose end-to-end rushes and scintillating play at both ends of the rink had the young afternoon crowd on its feet consistently. Fortunately for the Habs, Jose Theodore was at the top of his game and made more than a few stunning stops.
Just before the ten-minute mark of the second, Francis Bouillon made a precise cross-ice pass to Mike Ribeiro who was standing alone at the edge of the crease. His simple tap-in put the Habs ahead by three and brought out the nasty side of the Atlanta game as things began to get rough with numerous hits being exchanged by both clubs.
Only seven seconds were remaining when Joe Juneau’s hard work in front of the Atlanta net allowed Sundstrom to score his fifth of the year. The third decended into a virtual fight-fest as no less than six fighting majors were handed out by the officials.
After responding to a hack to Theo, Sheldon Souray took exception and received for his services a full nine minutes of penalties, thus depriving the Canadiens of their best defender for half the period.
At the 15:10 mark of the third, Chris Tamer plucked a puck off the boards that Pierre Dagenais had missed and fired a rocket past Theo to break the shutout. Patrice Brisebois’ stick-slamming gave evidence to his frustration at the error on the side boards.
However, with a two-man power play at the end of the game, Brisebois started the final goal with a pass to Souray who’s rocket shot slammed off the post to a diving Juneau who slid home his second of the year and capped off an excellent afternoon.
Special teams were again strong as the penalty killing unit killed off all six opportunities and the power play scored on one third of its attempts; yet another positive sign for the Habs staff.
Notes: GM Bob Gainey had a quick word with the media before the game to indicate that while Donald Audette had been bought out, it was not because of his work ethic nor his attitude, only that with the youth arriving, he didn’t seem to have any place with the Canadiens anymore…Yvon Pedneault from RDS indicated that Chad Kilger had been placed on waivers today…Koivu seemed to suffer no ill effects from the elbow he’d received from Marc Savard in the previous encounter between the two teams and which had caused him to miss the game against the Stars; Savard was booed by the crowd everytime he touched the puck.