You’re coach of a hockey team. You have two lines of players who can score goals and two other lines that rarely contribute to victory – on the scoreboard at least. You’ve got two of the more talented centres in the game, plus a few wingers who can make things happen. Yet no matter the score, even if the team is down by only a single goal with only minutes remaining, the victory or at least a tie still within grasping distance, you still roll four lines. I take issue with few things that Julien does, but this is a major one.
Anyone else feel like the ground is starting to sink beneath them? The loss of Souray is one thing – one that we can get over with solid play – but the loss of the system, the loss of effort, indeed the loss of everything else the team has achieved this year is quite something else. Make no mistake, this tiny two-game stretch, while seemingly small in the overall scheme of things, is going to have some serious repercussions on this team.
It’s not even that we lost both games, it the manner in which those losses came. Tonight, despite building a solid lead and playing like a team that can make the playoffs, we completely fell apart in almost every conceivable way and let two points – a vital two – slip away. All those who thought our 12-point gap was insurmountable should probably take a step back and have a deep look at things now. Look at the schedule ahead and ask yourself if we could have afforded to lose both games.
Theo: Inconsistent to say the least. Miracle saves in the third and that first goal through the wickets. Oy. Now, for the most part he had no chance on goals, however it’s still a downer to have that first goal enter the net. Having said all that, he’s the least of our worries. B+
Bouillon: A little confusion on his part tonight – understandable. Everyone told him he’d never make it to the NHL and that the closest he’d come would be as a spectator. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking on the LeCavalier goal where he spectated most wonderfully. There were a couple of other instances where it was obvious he wasn’t on his game tonight. Furthermore, he was pushed around more than I’ve seen in a long time. D+
Brisebois: Tough night to be paired with Bubbles for the first time in a while. Breezer did his best, and I felt he had a pretty good game, all things considered, however the sheer momentum the Bolts gathered by attacking Bouillon tended to overwhelm everyone else on the ice. B
Komisarek: Some huge moments of hesitation against a very fast opponent. When the opposition is slower, he can handle things fairly well, but against teams like this, he tends to get burned. Doesn’t help that he’s not shown much confidence at all. I mean, the coach will stick with Dags, but not with Komi. D
Rivet: Easily one of the best we had on the ice tonight in our own end. He played a very controlled game and I thought his work was some of the best of the year. Yes, it was lost in the pounding Tampa gave us, but he was a steadying influence much of the time – of course, he didn’t get much playing time. B+
Quintal: Unfortunate that, while cutting out the pass, the puck bounced into the net, but that’s an acceptable way to have a goal scored against you. There will be Hab fans out there on his back for that, but he did the right thing. Having said that, I can’t remember seeing any defenseman get beaten to the outside more often than he was tonight. And somehow…somehow he ends up a plus on the night. See how that stat has little bearing at times? C+
Markov: Souray out of the lineup and we see his best game of the year by far. Personally, I think he thrives on being the go-to guy on defence and perhaps he feels buried when Souray is there. Either way, he was tremendous tonight. From cutting out plays before they started to pinching at just the right times, he was great. His goal was a rifle and came as a result of his shooting more. His confidence is at a yearly high, for sure, and if this keeps up, we won’t be missing Souray half as much as anyone thought. A-
Langdon: Didn’t see much of him tonight – he was perhaps the only player who didn’t get to play in the final minutes…oh, there was Komi as well. N/A
Perreault: He’s become basically invisible now. On the powerplay, he plays the second unit, but that’s generally a minute at a time and it’s a wasted minute of his life since neither he, nor the rest of that second unit, can get any control on the puck. Other than that, he barely plays the game anymore, and when he is on the ice, he floats. C-
Begin: Some really costly penalties tonight. I love the enthusiasm, but there has to be some checks and balances with it. I know he’s trying to make things happen, however he’s got to do that with a little more intelligence in the future. C+
Sundstrom: Dandy pass to Bulis which sent the latter in alone on Grahame. Sunny’s defensive efforts were also exemplary. Still, he’s buried on that third line which generates as much offence as Audette does for the Habs these days. B
Ward: Defensively he’s wonderful, and for that reason he’s fine on that third line. However against a speedier team like that, he is prone to getting beaten on one-touch passes and his offensive game is useless since everyone and his turtle can keep up with him. B-
Juneau: Good both ways, though I’d love to see him use some of that intelligence in the offensive zone sometimes. Mind you, thank heavens he was out there in the final minutes as a calming effect on the Habs comeback attempt. B-
Dagenais: Here’s my other big problem with Julien these days. Dagenais is there because he can score goals, I think everyone agrees on this point. However, when the game is on the line and the Habs need goals, why then is he benched in favour of Begin? Or Ward? The very reason that Julien benches him at the critical time in games is the very reason he should be down in Hamilton allowing someone else the chance to make something of that spot in the lineup. If he’s here to score goals and is benched when we most need them, it seems to me that since the rest of his game is pathetic, he shouldn’t be here. When I saw Begin out on the second line near the end of the game when the Habs were trying to catch up, I just about flipped my lid. *This* is a serious gaffe. F
Zednik: Not creating enough, simple as that. I know he doesn’t get nearly as much chance on that line as when he was with Sax, however he has to make the best of things. He’s started trying that outside move constantly again. C-
Ribeiro: Not once, but twice coughing up the puck in his own slot. However, everyone makes those mistakes, and I’m not nearly so concerned with that as I am with the fact that the league knows how to play him now and his line has been reduced to periphery play and virtually zero chances to score. There was always a question of how he’d handle himself as the games got tighter moving to the playoffs, and if this is our first indication, it’s not looking good. C-
Ryder: He’s struggling a little bit these days; not getting into the same great positions that rewarded him before and not putting in that second effort that got him to where he is. Perhaps he needs to sit one out to regain his focus, or maybe he just needs a stern talking-to, but something needs to be done to get him back on track. C
Bulis: Tonight was a perfect example of how he needs to use his speed. Two plays in particular, the catching up and overtaking of Sunny and then receiving the breakaway pass and the goal he scored on the break-out pass from Sax showed the value of his speed when used correctly. And despite the fact he has trouble putting the puck in the net at times, there’s no doubting his effort nor his ability to cycle the puck at times. B+
Koivu: Great second effort on his goal in the first and a wonderful pass to Bulis for the Habs third. He played a typical Sax game – constant hustle and hard work. A-
Julien: I think over the course of this piece I’ve stated how I felt about what he did tonight. He’s a good coach, now it’s time to prove how good. Can he get the team back on track? Will he start shortening his bench when a victory is close? Will he and Gainey get rid of the crap in the lineup?
I hope no one is out there thinking we would have won that one had Souray been in the lineup. He’s a solid player, but he’s still got holes in his game, and on a night like this some of them would probably been exposed as well. Plus, one man alone does not make that big a difference, particularly when his replacement (Markov) is probably a better all-around player. This loss was all about a team collapse, and it’s as a team that an answer needs to be found.
To make matters worse, we head into Ottawa to Play the Sens next. The tale of two teams going in opposite directions: the Sens slowly working their way up the standings, and the Habs slowly sinking. It’s time for the boys to find their game now, and stop playing like a team that doesn’t deserve the playoffs in any way.
A Concerned Fan