The Habs are now off to the All-Star break after once again pulling one out of the hat and beating the Islanders at home by a score of 2-1. It wasn’t the most impressive of games, but the Habs played just well enough to win.
Mike Ribeiro opened the scoring on the powerplay in the first when he took the puck behind the Islander net and fired it at a scrambling Garth Snow for his 15th of the year. The Habs had dominated to this point, and the goal was the result of a lot of good work.
Unfortunately, the Canadiens stopped playing solid hockey, and combined with the Islanders starting to put together a good game, the score was soon tied up, again on the powerplay. With Richard Zednik off for four minutes for a high stick, Ken Jonsson found a streaking Justin Papineau between the defenders and his weak backhand somehow eluded Jose Theodore. The Habs goaltender would surely love to have that one back.
The winning goal was scored by Michael Ryder who received a perfect bullet pass from Saku Koivu to move in on a partial break and fire the puck home off Garth Snow’s glove. It was also Ryder’s 15th of the campaign and pushed him one point further up on Trent Hunter of the Isles who went scoreless tonight.
An image of the future on the Habs blueline was given just after the Habs first goal in the first period when Mariusz Czerkawski was attempting to break through Michael Komisarek and Francis Bouillon. The young Komisarek moved in and absolutely flattened the Polish Prince with a wonderful shoulder check that sent him flying.
Another pleasing factor to consider during the game was the play of Andrei Markov, who has continued his revival and once again put together a solid performance. Slowly but surely he’s regaining his form that made him the Habs number one defender last year. More importantly, he looks like he’s having more fun out there.
There were some disconcerting issues for the Canadiens, though, on this evening. Sheldon Souray, heading off the the All-Star game in Minnesota, seemed to lack concentration and routinely failed to correctly receive passes all night. He looked to be struggling with the puck, and worse, his game off the puck looked somewhat less convincing than Habs fans had grown accustomed to seeing.
Also frustrating for Hab fans and coaches alike was the complete lack of intensity shown for long stretches all night. While the Canadiens came out with the win, it wasn’t because they were necessarily the better team. Though the Islanders were struggling with intensity tonight as well, the Habs still managed to go through periods of time where they were completely dominated and barely left their own zone.
When Koivu sent Ryder in for the goal in the third, it was somewhat against the flow of play and probably shocked many, though the Koivu line had been the most dangerous most often of all the Canadiens lines.
Once again tonight, the penalty kill was beaten during one of three chances, and that’s got to be of some concern. Fortunately, the powerplay was moving the puck well, and indeed on one occasion when they didn’t manage to put the puck in the net, they were still all over the Islander zone doing everything but scoring.
Most pleasing for everyone associated with the Habs, though, is that they now go into the break with five points up on the Islanders. A little breathing room before they hit the home stretch.