If the word ‘lucky’ comes to mind after watching that win by the Canadiens over the Black Hawks this afternoon, then you’re probably right on the money. If not for two poor goaltenders in the Chicago net, this was a win by the far more hungry visitors against a Montreal team still struggling to find anything close to the game they’d been playing during their long successful stretch after New Years.
It certainly started off with a bang, when Patrice Brisebois popped home his second of the year on a brilliant pass from Niklas Sundstrom. It was the Habs second shot before the first minute was out, but after that a certain complacency set in. One was left wondering if the Habs believed it was going to be an easy afternoon the way they played after that. The rest of the first was marginally in favour of Chicago as they outshot and outworked the home side.
Midway through the frame, Saku Koivu managed to gain a little space in the high slot and fired a wrist shot high to the glove side of Steve Passmore, however the goalie made a wonderful save. After that, the Habs were mostly silent until the final minute when, with the third line holding control of the play, an open Sheldon Souray was spotted at the point on another fine pass from Sundstrom, and he broke his mini-drought blasting home his 15th of the season.
It looked like the Hawks were going to push the Habs back on their heels early in the second when Steve Sullivan flew around the net with speed and tucked home a wrap-around attempt a mere 31 seconds into the frame. The Hab defence was left flat-footed on the play, and Stephane Quintal chose to chase around the net rather than maintain position.
Fortunately, the Canadiens caught a break about four minutes later when Koivu found a streaking Jan Bulis to his left. Bulis fired a low shot, completely inoffensive, which somehow snuck between the pads of Passmore. It was a horrible goal, but they all count.
Just after the ten minute mark of the second, Steve Begin won a foot race against the Chicago keeper and dove to chip in his second of the year and first since coming back from injury Saturday. It was a hustle goal from one of the only players on the night to put in any second effort.
It also spelled the end of Passmore’s night as he was replaced by Craig Anderson before the faceoff.
Late in the period, the Canadiens were once again recipients of a gift from the Hawks as Mike Ribeiro’s weak backhand in front of the net on a powerplay somehow snuck through to give the Habs a 5-1 lead. On the play, Koivu had made a nifty couple of moves to keep the puck in before dishing to Ryder who’d found the unmarked Ribeiro at the edge of the crease.
The third was one of the poorest in recent memory for the Habs, as they completely folded up shop and let the Hawks dominate with inferior talent but far superior effort.
First the Hawks scored on a nifty deflection in front of the net on the powerplay by Kyle Calder. In fact the plan for Chicago seemed to have been to get as many players in front of Jose Theodore as was humanely possible, because on the play, there were three Hawks posted right there.
Soon after, Chicago scored again when a brutally lazy shift from Koivu’s line allowed two Hawks to bang the puck home from the top of the crease. On the play, Michael Ryder decided to play the puck rather than hit his man, which would have stopped the scoring chance dead in its tracks.
Bad went to worse as Chad Kilger was called for a tripping penalty on a blatant call in the offensive zone. It was a lazy play, and it could have cost the team. Fortunately, hard work from Sundstrom bailed Kilger out when the former was hauled down while on the penalty kill.
As Kilger came out of the box, he picked up a deflected pass from Begin and moved in alone on Anderson, however his attempt through the wickets failed.
Sullivan scored his second of the game when five Habs played a game of you-take-it and let two Hawks carry, and then fire the puck home setting up a thrilling finish that should never have come to pass. Indeed, looking at the Habs, it was easy to see that positionally, the crew had lost its game and were chasing the puck and looking lost on the ice, so another goal from Chicago seemed a perfectly viable thing.
As with the game against Boston the previous afternoon, however, the better team wasn’t rewarded with a victory, and Sundstrom dumped home the winner into an empty net to seal the deal. Hardly a convincing victory, though, and one which will not sit well with the coaches.
The Canadiens have two days to figure out what’s wrong before they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Pens. It’s another must-win, yet one begins to wonder if these players are ready to pay the price and play all out for 60 minutes. The task grows larger for Julien as the points become more crucial.
Pray he finds a way to get the team working hard again.