There have been times during the season, and in particular during this rather incredible stretch of eight wins in their last nine games, when the Habs have looked less like a playoff or winning club than one would care to admit. However, and this is key, this has truly become a team. When one player or group of players struggle, others come to the fore. The one consistent aspect has been the brilliant work between the pipes. Perhaps the outburst by Sax at practice did more for the team than anyone could possibly have imagined.
Tonight we forgot to appear for most of the first, but were the better team for the rest of the night. Our special teams were very good and while our defensive play probably wasn’t where it should be, at least we took care of business in the opposition end of the rink. For certain, this is one tired club; nine games in 15 nights will do that to you. Then again, the way they’ve found ways to win is become less surprising and more standard fare. If they continue to play this way, we’re in for a heckuva finish and an interesting playoff.
Theo: Stellar, no doubt. You could point to him on the first goal and talk about rebound control and that the slot is not where you want the puck to go, but you could also easily point out the game-saver at the end when he went coast to coast to block a shot – or indeed any of the other brilliant saves he made. We’re a playoff team without him and we could do damage with him. A
Bouillon: There were again instances of players getting open and getting shots on Theo when they had no right, but I didn’t notice any of those instances when Bouillon was in coverage. He played a great game, was even better on the puck and making his rushes, and I like the way he’s intelligent getting the puck out of the zone. He doesn’t panic, he makes plays. B+
Brisebois: I believe I have “NUTSO pass” written in my notes: you might remember the cross-ice from behind his red line to about the blueline where it was intercepted pass? Those, thankfully, are the lingering remnants of Breeze-by and things we don’t have to take heart medicine for much anymore. He was good with the puck and made some good defensive plays without it. B
The pair: Great puck moving duo here, and they have at least the positioning ability in their favour defensively. Add to that some solid stick control and you have guys who intercept plays before they are danger related. I feel they communicate pretty well also and that means less bonehead looking errors in the zone. B+
Quintal: He had a tough night. He was caught out of position fairly frequently, and when he was in position, the Ducks had a propensity to making him manoeuvre (an amusing sight) to try and make the defensive play. He’s good with his stick in knocking the puck off an opponents blade which helps, but I’m not sure why he plays as much as he does. One thing that drives me crazy is his hitting: he tends to hit just behind a streaking player, catching an arm or a leg instead of the actual body. That doesn’t stop a play, it just slows it down. C-
Markov: He’s developed elite poise, as far as I’m concerned. He doesn’t panic at all, instead changing the plan in motion and making a different (and usually very successful) play. He’s very good on two-on-ones, and even better one-on-one. When he continually wins battles on the boards even when out-numbered – particularly on the penalty kill – thus allowing the team to ice the puck he shows an ability that few have with his stick and hand-eye coordination. He’s very intelligent on the ice and makes opponents think one thing thus opening up space for something else, and he’s doing this on a regular basis now. In essence, he’s become a number one defender. Perhaps not in the elite class quite yet, but he’s still getting better. A
The pair: Consisted of Markov bailing out Quintal – except on the second Duck goal when the two were a tad complacent. I don’t like the pairing at all, but it makes sense if you need to keep Quintal on the ice. B-
Komisarek: He showed some scary things, including his easy giving of the blueline and subsequent failing to pick up his man on the first goal, however as the game progressed, he also started to show a little more poise, a few strong passes, and some nice defensive play and one-on-one wins. I’m a little frustrated with his progress, but I feel it probably won’t get much better this year unless he’s given closer to 20 minutes a game. B-
Rivet: Not his best night and at one point he left his man so wide open he wasn’t in the camera’s view – and his opponent was sitting at the side of the net whiffing on a perfect pass. I also found him far more scrambly than I’ve seen in the last few weeks. Hopefully this is just him having an off-game (allowed) rather than descending into a horrible play. Since I saw enough intelligent play and good recovery, then I’m inclined to call it a poor game. C+
The pair: Not the greatest pairing and I found them running around all night. The first goal was on their shift, and if not for Theo and a little luck, I feel it could have been a lot worse for them. Now, this isn’t to say this is a bad pairing, because I don’t believe it is, I just feel they didn’t perform to the level we need them on this night. C+
Langdon: The fight was nice to see, though I wonder if he did it to turn the momentum. Other than that, he played a shocking 8+ minutes and was fairly good doing exactly what you’d expect someone on the fourth line to do. B-
Juneau: I don’t think we have a third line and a fourth line so much as co-third lines that can be used for different purposes. Juneau is now able to take breaks against opponents bigger centres now and again, and on this night was able to take it somewhat easy. He played a solid defensive game, and a non-exsistant offensive one. C+
Dackell: Somewhat better game from Dax, as I noticed him starting to do the little things again – like hold the puck up consistently by himself for seconds at a time. He’s still not playing well in the neutral of offensive zones though. I wonder what happens when Bulis, Sunny and Kovalev get back? (Sheesh, when you think about that, we’ll be sitting some good players!) C+
The trio: Nothing spectacular; effective defensively, nothing the other way. Not what I’d call a winning trio at this point, but it’s only the second game together. C
Ward: I have to wonder if he’s another that might find his way to the bench when the injuries come back. He’s a hitter, but Bulis has been working on that aspect of his game as well and has been doing it more and more this year. Ward was good on this night, but not great. He finished his checks, played well defensively but was otherwise ineffective. C+
Dowd: Or is that Kovalev with a ‘do’? No points but it could have been at least three had he linemates who could put the biscuit in the basket. He’s a god-send on the PK, plays a strong game at both ends of the rink during regular shifts and finishes checks while playing a feisty Begin-style game. What a pick-up. B+
Begin: Yet another goal for the sniper as he sizzled in a laser from centre. Okay, no goalie, but he made the Anaheim player cough up the puck, and made a lot happen all night with his feisty play. He and Dowd together make for a mean and nasty line to play against. Super hustle. B+
The trio: Particularly the latter two, but also with Ward, they make a good line. They bang and crash, work hard consistently and make things happen. They’re also very defensively aware, and unlike Juneau’s trio, they also know where the other net is. A-
Dagenais: Right place, right time. And with that goal, the heat comes off his back despite playing an atrocious game, in my opinion. How many times was he passed the puck in the defensive zone only to cough it up? How many times did he shoot from Section 302, Row Z, Seat 22? One of those ended up in a breakaway…sheesh! Tonight he couldn’t receive or give a pass if his life depended on it. Now, he made a hit or two, was in the right position here and there, and certainly knows where to go in the offensive zone, but with his play, he’s lucky not to be a -34328. D+
Ryder: On the Dags goal, he did all the work and made the whole thing happen. He wasn’t hitting as much as I’d like to see, and I feel in the last three games you can see that he’s gotten perhaps a little tired, but even so, he still manages to do things you just don’t expect. One of the things I’ve noted is that he gets more and more patience with the puck, particularly in scoring positions. He doesn’t rush shots, instead showing true goal-scorers patience. His goal was a wonderful tip in front. B
Ribeiro: Didn’t show up at all for the first, but thankfully he decided to join the team for the final two periods. He started throwing his weight around (what little there is) and, while he was knocked off the puck fairly easily, at least continued trying to make things happen. One thing I think he needs to learn is to spread his feet more so it lowers his centre of gravity and gives him a better base on which to move. He’s still too easily knocked off the puck. B-
The trio: If we could get a little more out of Dags on a consistent basis I think this could be a good trio, but as it is, it’s an effective duo with a guy who appears occasionally. Both Ryder and Dags work well off of Ribs, and know where to go, and Ryder does a good job at doing the grunt work and freeing the puck for the other two. B-
Perreault: In some ways I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go tomorrow before the deadline, but on the other hand I can see Bob thinking his faceoff ability could really benefit us going into the playoffs. Tonight he continued his string of good games, playing well off the other two on his line. It was certainly not in the class of the other two games, but it was far better than his usual fare. B-
Zednik: Unsurprisingly, now that he’s broken out, he’s scoring in buckets. He’s making those plays against opposition forwards that get him in the positions to make things happen, and when he gets in position, he’s got the confidence to finish now. He made a brilliant play on Sax’s goal, and on his own, he found the opening – which is what he should be doing. Nice to see that his work ethic seems to be improving game by game. B+
Koivu: Tired, but pushing on as best he can – which is pretty darn good. He made a few defensive gaffes tonight, including missing his man on a couple of occasions, but his overall work was still at a very high level. He could have had another goal after undressing a defender and going upstairs on Giggy, but the latter made a pretty stop. I’m thinking the three days off will suit him just fine. B+
The trio: When Zed and Sax are on, they’re a dangerous combo, as many teams have come to note. Tonight those two were in fine form, and when Perreault adds some solid play, it becomes a pleasing trio to have. B
Julien: Good adjustments after the first – or was that good shouting? We came out and played much better for the rest of the game, and got back to the basics of good hockey. I like the way he’s set his final two lines as he can use each in various situations.
PP: Not many efforts, but on the second we punched it in rather quickly – and as everyone surely knows, it’s the special teams that can make or break a club. B
PK: Once again, we played much better on the PK, and no small thanks go to Dowd. Though, I think on this night the biggest accolades need to go to Markov who single-handedly iced the puck probably half the times Montreal did overall. A
Team: After a sluggish first, we came out and competed to the end, and did it fairly well. There’s still too much of a gap between the forwards and defence in our zone which leads to problems setting up the counter or even getting the puck out, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was last game. B-
Eight of twelve games back in the Bell Centre to finish off the season, and that has to look pretty good to everyone out there. The big question is, of course, will the team be different for the next game than it is today? I’m guessing after this road trip that there probably isn’t as likely a chance of anything getting done, however that depends on where Gainey sees us going in the Show.
A few days break before Florida comes to visit on Thursday. One of the toughest games in a schedule is the first one you play at home after a long road trip because players are back at home with the wives, families etc and they’ve become a little complacent. Add to that the fact that Florida will probably be loosey-goosey and looking forward to playing the spoilers, and it’ll be a tough match. Oh yeah, they have that kid Luongo in the net. I hear he’s okay.