First let me start by saying that I believe my review on Dags’ game against the Flames to have been a little harsh. When I went back and watched a little more, I felt I’d missed a few things and now that I’ve had a long look, I feel he played a much better game than originally thought.
Tonight against the Habs, the Canadiens had a problem. It was not Garon, who let in only one questionable goal of the three before he was pulled. It was not a lack of offence, though that was certainly a factor in the early struggles. It was not poor coaching or a weak game plan. It was the loss of the two best defenders. Dykhuis is a quality replacement, but it was his first game so he had to get used to things.
Other than that, it was very obvious that the defence and offence had significant troubles working together for more than the first half of the game. Errant passes, bad reception of passes, terrible gap control and poor decisions down low all cost the Canadiens early in this one. This was a case of the Leaf team taking advantage of an obvious deficiency on the Habs backline – and kudos to then for picking it out and getting on it right away.
I’d like to address the Brisebois slash for a moment. I must admit, when it happened I was a little confused, much as was Breezer. It was certainly not a hard slash and I think the only reason it was called a slash is because the player, Owen, went down hurt. In fact, reading the official rules, incidental taps to both the pants and shin pads are all acceptable uses of the stick on an opposing player.
This was a harder than normal tap, though I highly doubt, after watching replay after replay, that it was a horrendous slash. I think it just caught a bad spot (groin) and probably the stick worked its way, unfortunately, under the protection provided by the pants and the jock. Certainly, looking at the play a few times, there was no intent to injure on the part of the Breezer, however the tap was in a vulnerable area and as such the penalty probably deserved.
Garon: As Scotty Bowman said, it was hardly his fault, those three goals. The first was a blunder in the corner where he made the original save. The second was a man alone in front. The third, while through the legs, was a breakaway of sorts. His teammates left him out to dry tonight. B
Theo: Tough to come in to a game, but I felt he handled himself well. It’s a shame we had to use him at all, since I think he still needs a lot of rest, however I feel the move sparked the Habs – even if it was a delayed spark. Nothing he could do on the Sundin goal, and the two-on-one had him against the Leafs two best players. B+
Bouillon: He has trouble against the Leafs whenever we play them, I feel. He was dominated down low and in the first two periods made more giveaways than I’ve seen him make in the last 10 games combined. He was scrambly, positionally unsound, and just not on his game tonight. C-
Brisebois: One of the worst games I’ve seen him have in a while. Unfortunately, this goes to show that he really is not a number one defender because, when the pressure is on for him to lead the crew, he falters. He made a series of poor plays in the defensive zone and added to that a few poor pinches and bad decisions. Getting Markov back quickly will be a key and the faster Souray can get healthy the better. C
The pair: They were used the most overall and when you have two struggling guys as your number one pair, you know you’re in trouble. I felt they were scrambly together, and although they ended up in the positive column, I don’t think it was a measure of their overall play. C
Komisarek: No sense crying over that first blunder, it’s a rookie mistake – taking his eyes off the puck before sending it. He didn’t play a lot after that, though I felt he gathered himself admirably well considering the beginning of his game and was more physical and smarter with the puck. He has issues going up the side boards and making decisions, and I feel at this moment this is his Achilles heel. C-
Rivet: That’s the best fight I’ve seen all year long. He buckled Marchment’s knees and bloodied the guy rather nastily around the eye area. However, while he’s there to fight once in a while, his first job is defence. And tonight, I thought he was our best at the back. He covered well for Komi, and only made a couple of glaring boo-boos himself. B-
The pair: Hard to judge them as a pair when Komi didn’t play half as much as did Rivet, however when they were out there together, I feel in general that they’re a good pair. Tonight they seemed to have good communication, and when one made an error, the other was there to help. Of course you can’t be there all the time, hence the first two goals. B-
Quintal: Age is creeping up on the old vet, and every time I see a speedy player attacking him, I cringe knowing that he’s probably going to let something happen. He was okay tonight, but he was beaten by that speed. Certainly, he plays his position well and knows where to be, but challenged directly, he can be made to make mistakes. B-
Dykhuis: I know there’s going to be a lot of whining going on about his play, however he was much better than most might think looking at his game casually. Yes, he was the same panic defender that fires the puck when worried, however he also knows how to play the position, was able to take out his man most of the time, and didn’t make horribly glaring errors all night. Consider that it’s his first game of the season in the NHL and the speed difference is rather large, and I think he deserves kudos for playing as he did. C+
The pair: Tough situation for both having one brought up from the minors, however they handled it fairly well. There were a few times they didn’t seem to be on the same page, but as both are experience vets, they recovered much better than you’d expect for a rookie and in the end the pairing was fairly decent. B-
Juneau: Has he really lost his place to Begin, or was he inserted here because he’s got a Charlie horse? And on the matter of Langdon briefly, why on Earth was he taken out of this one unless it was for injury? Juneau played fine enough on the fourth line, and in fact I felt they had more jump perhaps because he’s a bit of a playmaker. Still, the old legs just aren’t there like they used to be. C+
Perreault: You could tell the first couple of shifts that he really wanted to impress the old teammates, however after a short while, I think he wanted to hide his face based on the overall team performance. His wasn’t particularly great either, and after the Flame game, I think we can be forgiven if we’re a little miffed at his lack of effort tonight. D+
Ward: Put his heart into almost anyone else’s body and you have a winner, however most nights what you have with Wardo is hustle and not much else. He wasn’t much else tonight, that’s for sure, though he did buzz the net a couple of times. Not dangerously, mind you, he just won pucks and did it. B-
The trio: Nothing convincing from the three on a night when they needed some real offence. In fact, though I’ve got them listed here as a fourth line, they were really the third line for this evening in terms of ice time. Can’t say I’m impressed if that’s the case. C-
Sundstrom: Here’s my problem: while he plays a positionally good game and is intelligent both on and off the puck, when he is in a position to make something happen or he is shielding the puck, or even when he’s going in to a 50/50 play, he gets shoved off with the greatest of ease. Two or three times in a row I saw someone on the Leafs simply stick out their butt a little and that was enough to win the play. Not good enough. C
Dackell: The first period was much better for him than the rest of the game, shame he was one of the two or three that showed up for the first. When he gets that chance to shield the puck or work the boards, he’s brilliant, however in the neutral zone particularly, I thought he was gobbled up by the bigger Leafs. B-
Begin: As usual, he was there start to finish and was probably the best overall player for the Habs tonight. In the first he was the other of the two really working his butt off, but in his case, he continued it for the entire game. His goal, while weak, is well-deserved in terms of the work ethic thing. A
The trio: Easily the best in the third and probably the first half of the second until Sax woke up, it was and is a group that works well together. For once Julien shortened his bench in the third, however he gave the extra time to what I would call the fourth line over this line which was much better – at both ends of the rink. B
Dagenais: You know, as much as I’m not fond of his style of play, there’s a lot to be said for someone who has the right instincts to get in the right place at the right time to get his shot off. His goal, and subsequent reaction to that goal with Koivu, were both impressive. He also threw his body, *won* battles in the corners here and there, and was using his body to advantage for the second game in a row. Honestly, while he’s not my favourite player, I begin to see where he has his use. B
Ryder: Trent Hunter has been all that and a bag of chips because when the Isles need a line to pick it up, *he’s* the person they use to pump everyone up. Ryder is becoming that way as well. His work ethic is incredible and he’s really picked up that second line. In fact, when they aren’t working well, you can generally assume that at least one person will make things happen if he has to. From ECHLer last year to what I call one of the most important people on the team this year. A
Ribeiro: For the first time this year, I didn’t watch RDS and instead watched the Hockey Day in Canada coverage and let me tell you, I loved it. I mean, I don’t like Bob Cole who barely knows anyone but his precious Leafs, but it was so pleasing not to hear all the bowing from the French media over Ribby. He had a tough first and the first part of the second was as well tough, but as the third wore on he found his game. Unfortunately, he was easily pushed off the puck tonight for much of the time, which leads me to believe he’s going to have troubles down the stretch if he doesn’t adapt. He’s a wonderful passer, no doubt, however as they games become more tense, he’s going to have to step it up. B-
The trio: It’s an odd thing to say in Montreal this year, but the leader of this trio tonight wasn’t the centre. I thought Ryder gave the impetus to everyone and his work ethic was the one that pushed this line in the right direction. Sadly, it was a little too late before the other two caught some fire, and in fact Dags caught fire on the other line first. B-
Zednik: Somehow he’s going to have to find the net because right now this slump is really eating him. He was well checked tonight and didn’t get much going at all because of the coverage, however if that’s the case, he has to be like Ryder and make things happen himself. I feel he’s giving up too easily and where a second and third effort would reward him with a goal, he’s just barely making the first effort at times. Time for a benching, I think. C-
Bulis: He was skating well and played with a fire, however tonight it was a confused and misguided fire. More than once there were communication problems with him and someone else and that led to turnovers. I don’t know if it was necessarily him, but overall it certainly wasn’t his game. C+
Koivu: He had a tough first period and was the reason for the second goal when he fell leaving Fitz open in front. The second was a struggle as well until about half way through when he had two shifts in succession where he was about the only guy on the ice it seemed. He did all the work for the Habs first goal and almost scored a shift later – but the goal was called back because the whistle had blown. The third was on and off, but I feel in his effort to make things happen, particularly at the end, he tried to do too much at once and really blew it. Interesting to note, he made every effort to get the puck to Ribs as much as possible, and in fact that cost the Habs once on the PP when he tried to force it in there. He’s playing with too much pressure right now because of recent incidents and it’s crept into his game. He needs to stop thinking and get back to playing – that’s when he’s at his best. B
The trio: Largely ineffective most of the night and barely ever got anything going at all in the offensive zone. In fact, when they did it was either Koivu on his own or it was a combination of him and someone who hadn’t made it off yet, like when Dagenais scored. (Combination for the future?) Tonight these guys didn’t have it at all. C-
Julien: Well, he shortened his bench which is something we haven’t seen in a long time. He also worked to get the matchups he wanted and in fact it was then that Sax got those two great opportunities (including the Dags goal) in the second. On the other hand, leaving Langdon out was a mistake unless there was injury.
For the Habs, a little bit of good news in that they didn’t give up. Conversely, they should have started the game with the fire they ended with. On the other hand, the Leaf fans have to be concerned since that’s yet another time when the team has dropped back into something of a shell instead of pushing home their advantage. For Montreal, though, it’s yet another case of not playing a full 60 minutes.
Critically, it’s the Rangers on Monday in New York. If Montreal wins, I think the Rags throw in the towel on the season and start to see who’s interested in their players. If the Rags win, that gap closes and it gives the Rags something to hope for, and giving hope at this time of year is never a good thing. As they’ve said in the presses, the Habs are still in the drivers seat for the playoffs. They control their own destiny – it’s up to them to put it together.