Perhaps the Canadiens went into this one expecting newcomer Alexei Kovalev to be in the lineup and were therefore disappointed when he didn’t show up. One way or another, though, the team came out with far less intensity than it showed against the Devils and as a result lost to the San Jose Sharks 4-3.
It was a fairly convincing start for the Sharks and they were rewarded just shy of the seven minute mark when a Theodore rebound was picked up by Brad Stuart and promptly deposited in the net on the powerplay. Unfortunately, it was a sign of things to come for the suddenly inept penalty kill and equally from Theodore, whose rebound control on this play was less than stellar.
Now, while the Habs didn’t play the best game, certainly credit has to be given to Ron Wilson and his system implemented with the Sharks. Not relying on the typical Western run-and-gun game, he’s instituted a tight and controlled checking game with a strong counter-attack element to create offence. Interestingly, this is the game the Habs are best at when they play well. And therefore, while the final shots in the first period were even, the tilt to the ice was clearly in favour of the home side, and only a couple of good powerplays made the Habs look even remotely competitive.
The second continued the nonchalant play from the visitors, including a plethora of clearance attempts which were poorly executed. The Habs weaknesses defensively were in obvious view as well, tonight, as the Sharks, in attacking with speed and size, won battles and dominated play down low.
Against the flow of play, however, Richard Zednik managed to win a puck along the neutral zone boards and stride into the Shark zone. One deft pass later and Yanic Perreault had lifted the Habs to a tie despite being outplayed.
Just before this point in the game, Kovalev (pronounced, in Russian, Ko-va-lyev) joined the broadcast crew to answer a few questions. While most of the conversation was typical hockey ‘small talk’ it was interesting to see how the newest Hab loosened up as he started to feel a little more comfortable. When Theodore made a wonderful save on a breakaway, he piped up with a, “That’s great save!” When Yvon Pedneault indicated he would have to review the replay for the viewing audience, Kovalev’s response was, “No, you’ve gotta see that.” Enthusiastic words to be sure. He ended the quick chat with a, “Merci,” and a laugh and a better meeting with the
Sadly, though, the game was continuing in the background, and it was shortly after Kovalev left that Francis Bouillon failed to tie up the stick of the man in front of the net. Vincent Damphousse therefore scored his first goal of the year at home through Theo’s wickets.
Showing resiliency, the Habs fought back again, unsurprisingly due to the hard work and determination of the Calder candidate and revelation of the year, Michael Ryder. His intensity behind the Shark net won him the puck, and his feed to Andrei Markov (surely pleased to have a fellow countryman join the team) led to a laser through traffic to even the score once again.
However, the continually faltering penalty kill let down the Canadiens one more time only shortly thereafter. Marco Sturm was left alone parked in front of the net, and the two defenders on the play were completely out of position when the Shark tipped home a Damphousse pass to put San Jose up again.
A minute and a second later, Niko Dimitrakos zipped in on the left wing, fired a shot from the top of the circle, and somehow beat Theodore to put the Sharks up for good. Surely the Habs goalie would like this one back as, though the shot was accurate, it was hardly a laser, and Theo’s saved tougher than that this season.
A consolation goal was found by Mike Ribeiro as he picked up a rebound and fired it off Evgeny Nabokov’s pads from behind the net to bring the Habs within one, but this one was never really in doubt as the Habs failed utterly to mount any kind of serious challenge.
Hopefully Kovalev’s insertion on Friday against the Coyotes will instill some spark in a somewhat lethargic Hab side. Certainly it will, if he was indeed what they were waiting for.