Take this one to the bank: the Montreal Canadiens are for real. That system, which so many at the beginning of the season hated, felt was useless, and were dead-set against, once again served us well in a win against the might Colorado Avalanche. When you have players on the ice playing as a unit, that’s a tough thing to beat. I’m not going to call this a team of destiny, because even I have superstitions, however I will say that this team continually surprises me, and continually shows me what a real *team* can do.
Of course, the victory wasn’t without its worries. There were numerous little things that Julien is going to have to address in the coming days before the home-and-home against the Devils this Friday and Saturday night. Our team played well defensively as a unit, but once again there were holes on the defence itself. Some of those problems may be addressed when Sheldon Souray comes back to the lineup, but the timetable is still undetermined at this point.
The most pleasing thing to see, though, has to be the commitment and continual improvement of some of the players that many had almost given up on this season. Rivet and Brisebois are the obvious two. Perreault has had more detractors than a Siberian winter. Ryder has come from nowhere and seems to be headed to infinity and beyond. And who was that kid on the back line tonight? That kid wearing the number eight?
Theo: Won the game for us. He made a couple of completely astounding saves including the save of the night against Liles late in the third when the Avs defender broke in alone. This was an All-Star night, and indeed could be called an MVP night. He has precisely no chance on the second goal, and the first, while occasionally he makes that save, it’s about a 50/50 chance on a ripper from the point like that one was. Through the legs, yes, but at least he got across the net quick enough to give him the chance to get to the puck. A
Bouillon: I do believe that I saw him skate, untouched I might add, into his own net while trying to get into position for Breezer to give him the puck. However, that said, he did his job well and wasn’t pushed around by the smaller-than-NHL-average
Brisebois: Aside from one positively atrocious pass up through the middle from behind his own net (which I yelled at quite vociferously), he played a solid game. He was effective with the puck, but more so off the puck where he was positioning himself quite effectively. He did get scrambly a couple of times, but it was less than I thought would happen against a team of this calibre. B-
Rivet: Got a little scrambled down low as well, but he acquitted himself adequately most of the night. He’s another, like Breezer, that has to keep to the basics to be effective, and when he does, as happened for most of the evening, he’s a solid blueliner. B-
Komisarek: He made one completely bozon play where he passed the puck to Joe Sakic, of all people. However, for virtually the rest of the night, it was like watching a completely different player. Of all the nights to suddenly come to grips with the pace of the game and make proper clearances routinely, along with precise passes, having it be the Avalanche is particularly sweet. Heck, he even pinched once, made a brilliant play with the puck and almost potted one for his efforts. Tonight he looked like the confident, feisty, and mean defenseman that we’ve all been dreaming about and while he did have a couple of iffy moments, overall his play took a quantum leap. B+
Quintal: When Souray comes back, here’s candidate number one to have a seat in the pressbox to watch Komisarek get all that lovely playoff experience. He wasn’t horrible, by any stretch, but on this night he didn’t have as much to offer as did Komi. The fact the second goal falls heavily on his resume doesn’t help his situation either. Yes, he is usually a poised and positionally sound defender, but when you have the choice between him and a young kid who is quickly growing in confidence and is the future of the Habs on the blueline, which do you choose? C+
Markov: Another game where he was inconsistent, though as the game went on, he got better and better. In the beginning he made a few plays that would have most coaches going bald…oh wait…. By the end of the game he was infinitely better, making the effective play that neutralized the attack. Mostly tonight I think his timing was slightly off. With any luck, this is the result of playing with Quintal – which should end soon, and a momentary lapse in his steadily improving game. B
Langdon: I do believe I saw him at the end of the bench, book in hand, laptop at the ready. He’s taking university courses long distance, isn’t he!
Dackell: You know, when I saw that Dagenais was supposed to get the second line and that Dax was going to sit, I was pretty disappointed. I feel much better now. I’ll take Dax’s seven plus effective defensive minutes over fifteen of Dags’ scary moments. Anyday. Then agin, when Wardo gets healthy, I assume Dax is ticketed for the press box. C+
Begin: I think he played on every line but the second on this night. He was super-sub, was all over the ice, and even drew the critical penalty that eventually won the game. His play was inspirational and intense and over the course of the year more and more of his teammates have joined him in his hard work. If there was a better acquisition done in the NHL this year, I’d be surprised. A
Sundstrom: Welcome back. His defence was sorely missed, particularly on the PK. In fact, he looked much better tonight than he did for the entire first half of the season, and this is the first game since returning from a head injury. Had a couple of sniffs around the Avalanche net, but also gave one away deep which led to Theo’s game-saving play. B-
Dowd: Stellar night defensively and he added to this with a couple of really good chances in the offensive zone. While I hate to say it, he’s a step up on Juneau at this point since he’s still got the legs to pursue the elite Sakic-like talents in the game. B+
Bulis: Someone we missed a lot, despite our winning record, since his speed adds a dimension that we don’t get to see all that often. As usual he was a hard worker and as usual he created quite a lot of disquiet amongst the Avalanche defenders. I think he’s back where he belongs as well; on the third line. If he works at it, I think he can become the best defensive forward in hockey; he certainly has all the attributes. B+
Kovalev: There might have even been a little frustration creeping into his game at his lack of production, but tonight he worked harder than we’ve seen him work yet, and it was rewarded with a couple of assists on some nice plays. He added to that with some much harder work in both ends of the rink, and he threw his body around a couple of times as well. And who caught the puck movement his displayed right before Ryder’s goal in the first? No one, I assume, because nobody’s eyes can keep up with that pace. Incredible. B
Ryder: If he sets the bar any higher for himself… Another sublime night for the Canadien revelation. His goal was superb – typical of his season; hard work and second effort. There were also countless other times when he finished his check heartily, made something happen by himself or with a teammate (always seeming to make the right choice), and, quite honestly, leading that second line. In less than a year he’s become one of the most complete players Montreal has seen in a while. A-
Ribeiro: He starts the game by levelling a defender with a check, ends it with his 20th of the season (who’d have predicted that at the beginning of the year) and stuck a pile of solid play in the middle. He played completely within his means and has suddenly added that feistiness that takes Koivu from the good to the great level. My only worry is that his shift length was over a minute again, and that can’t be good. However, other than that, a great game. A-
Zednik: He may not have scored or even managed an assist, but he still played a great game, made things happen, and just missed on a one-timer that Sax fed him in the slot. Another solid game in what’s become a habit of solid games. A-
***EDIT Perreault: He played his best game in a Montreal uniform and did things that are usually reserved for only those who play ‘complete’ games. he was hitting, was incredibly hard-working, he made about five defensive plays, including a couple I felt had potential to really hurt Montreal. He was stellar in the offensive zone and not only did he check people off the pcuk to win it and make plays, but he positioned himself extraordinarily well. A+
(Of all the players to miss on this night…sheesh, too excited! -ACF)
Koivu: The Avalanche sent Blake out to cover him all night and he still managed a goal and an assist as well as a few spectacular plays that had the crowd chanting his name at one point. He levels a defender while going for the puck, makes a few fantastic back-checking plays – one which might have saved a goal, and was a feisty leader all night long. His early spin-o-rama in front of the Avs goal was stellar. His second spin at a defenders expense was incredible, and his second, no wait third, no wait fourth effort goal… A
Julien: As the game went on, he put out the two attacking lines more and more. Why? Because Colorado couldn’t handle them. I still question putting the Ribby line out at the end of the game, however it worked again for him. He’s worked Komi slowly and surely to the point where he was one of the better defenders out there tonight. His much maligned system basically won the game. Guess he’s doing a good job, eh.
PP: Two for four on the power play means they had a really effective night. Kovalev is starting to look comfortable and Koivu made sure of that on the bench after scoring on the wonderful Kovy feed. A
PK: The Avs score one to maintain their one in four rate. For the Habs, this mean a decent night. After the first goal, the unit adjusted and negated any further efforts by Blake from the point. B
Team: Again, this game was won by teamwork, not by any individual play. When the forwards come all the way back to help the defenders in starting the counter-attack, that’s good teamwork. A-
The Canadiens are 13 games above .500 at this point, and it’s been a long, long time since we could say that. We’re a mere three points behind both the Leafs and Sens who are supposedly two of the favourites for the Stanley Cup. We’re tied with the defending Cup champs. And yet, within the media at least, this club still flies under the radar, but that’s quite alright by me. The less known about us, the more we can surprise.
Well, here we go for the Friday and Saturday night home-and-home against the Devils in a series which could go a long way into determining our final position in the overall scheme of things. This team has to continue it’s present ‘lunch-box’ work ethic and it’ll continue to be competitive, so that has to be the number one goal. Key, of course, will be for our goaltending to be as good as that of Jersey and the outcome will take care of itself. It’s going to be a weekend to remember.
A Concerned Fan.