Nerves, excitement, anxiousness – whatever it was that cause the Habs to play a game with that little intensity after their strong performance against the Devils cost them a victory tonight. There seemed, at times, little cohesion in the play, a lack of passing ability, and no small amount of confusion as well. And all that’s a shame since we scored three on Nabokov, which tells me we could have had these guys with a strong effort on this evening.
I think it boils down to a lack of concentration amongst the team with news that Kovalev had been acquired and that the Habs were finally buyers and not sellers at the deadline. In retrospect, it might have been wiser for Julien to have inserted the Russian into the lineup instead of having the players think about it, but on the other hand, these guys are supposed to be professionals.
Finally, can someone indicate to the Sharks that the cameras for the games in their rink should not be located in the blimp outside? I mean, this was the first time ever that I actually thought the infamous Fox Puck might have had a use for real hockey fans – the television cameras are not meant to pick up things that small and that far away!
Theo: Erratic evening, I felt. He made fine saves at times, particularly on the breakaway, but at other times he seemed to have lost focus. The first goal was a result of terrible rebound control. That sharp-angled shot should not have been sent into the slot at all. Also, the fourth, and perhaps killer, goal on this night was one that he would have stopped 99% of the time. It was a snap shot from the top of the circle with no traffic, and I don’t care how precise it was, there are more times than I can count where a goalie will make a save on a shot that’s actually going to miss the net. B-
Bouillon: My first reaction immediately following the game was an over-reaction, however I don’t think it’s by that much – disastrous. Now, he ended up as a + on this night, but when you consider that three goals were scored on the powerplay, things change somewhat. He was dominated down low quite often tonight by a hard-working Shark crew, and lost the puck quite frequently. The third Shark goal had him out of position, trailing his marker on the play. All night he seemed to be fighting for control in his own zone, and that’s just not the Cube we’re used to seeing. C+
Brisebois: I believe Breeze-By made a showing tonight. Who else recalls Alex Korolyuk dancing by him like a light summer breeze? If anyone in San Jose finds his jock, please send it to Phoenix by Friday. Now, however harsh I was on him there, I have to admit he played a pretty good game tonight, and it’s pleasing to see that, along with going back to the basics, he’s been able to perform on a far more consistent basis to a level that helps the Habs. B
Komisarek: He’s still having troubles upstairs and holds on to the puck too long, thus leaving him open for hits and for the opposition to win it back. I think it’s become a mental thing with him now, and I would think that if you looked at him, you’d be able to see him over-thinking every situation. Now, it doesn’t help that his partner in the beginning of the game, Quintal, didn’t come and help him out, instead waiting on the other side of the rink and not even behind the net where he should have been. For Komi, I think what they need to do is have a special practice just for him where he’s given the puck, an opposition attacks him, and at the sound of a whistle, no matter what’s happening – whether he has time or he has someone on his back – he has to move the puck by making the correct choice. Either he chips it off the glass or he learns confidence in his teammates (and himself) by putting one tape-to-tape to someone in mild coverage (which everyone does all the time anyhow in breakouts), he’s got to learn this vital aspect of the game. D
Quintal: Perhaps one of the most brutal games I’ve seen him play. Aside from not helping his partners, he was making terrible passes, poor decisions, and was attacked with speed, and therefore beaten, on a consistent basis. D-
Rivet: Confusion more than anything else was his nemesis tonight. There were times I thought he was running around too much. However, it happened far less than when he was playing poorly, and overall his game was pretty good. He certainly dealt with the feisty Shark forwards much better than most others. B
Markov: Mildly inconsistent at times, however in the overall scheme of things he was far and away our best defender. What I particularly like is that, when he gets beaten, particularly on a pinch situation, he’s the first back to help on the two-on-one situations, and he’s become very adept at breaking up these types of plays. Combined with his ability to tie up sticks extremely well and his lesser-known but highly important shot blocking abilities, he’s rounding himself, with all his other attributes, into a very complete defender. That he’s not the most physical guy in the world is just fine by me. You don’t have to be physical to be effective, and as long as he’s paired with someone a little more physical normally, he’s bound to succeed. A-
The pairs: Tough to call since, with Komi sitting much of the night, it left everyone else rotating.
Langdon: On a night like tonight, I wanna see him out there more in the first two periods! Someone has to light a fire under posteriors! Instead, I have images of him sitting on the bench wearing a Tux, a towel draped over one arm and addressing his teammates as they come off in a British accent, “Evian with a touch of lemon, sir?” B
Kilger: At the beginning of the game, Pedneault was mentioning the word ‘showcase’. Perhaps you can all hear me snickering from here. 7:22 is not a showcase, it’s the hockey equivalent of putting in an extra quarter at the local peep show. C
Ward: Cube should take him under his wing and teach him how to effectively hit. He’s intense, don’t get me wrong there, and he hits tons more than most, however his timing is atrocious, and instead of punishing an opponent, he usually punishes himself and his team by half hitting and landing on his butt, or taking the worst of the hit….and landing on his butt. Tonight, as in the last game, I would have preferred seeing him on the third line, however. Dax is struggling right now and I think Wardo is the better choice. B-
The trio: When they did get out there together, they did better than the first two lines usually. Sad to say, isn’t it. B
Dackell: His intensity level has dropped just slightly below the base of the Grand Canyon these last couple of games. There were a few times that his lethargic clearances were easily kept in at the line, and no matter his decent positioning, he was getting beaten along the boards by Sharks who wanted it more. D+
Begin: Another great game for Mr. Energy tonight. As usual, he hit almost everything that moved, and as usual, managed a scoring chance, and tonight his was one of the few. I love him on the third line, and wish that he’d get a long-term shot at it instead of shuffling him back to fourth line duty when Sunny returns. A-
Juneau: Honestly, I didn’t notice him that much tonight. Now, I guess in one respect, that’s a good thing for a defensive forward, because if you get noticed a lot, it means you’re making errors. However, on the other hand, I’d like to see him create something substantial now and again, and he just doesn’t do that anymore. The ol’ legs have energy for one end of the rink generally these days. B-
The trio: They were pinned a couple of times, but in general, this line is better able to cope with situations like that. They can maintain a cycle to the boards until a mistake is made, at which point they turn it up the ice. Defensively, I can’t be other than satisfied, however the other end of the rink begs attention as well. One scoring chance a game for that line hurts overall. You need to have four lines contributing going into the playoffs. B-
Dagenais: On this night, on this line, Dags was completely and utterly outclassed. He was outworked by his two teammates, failed totally to get in useful positions routinely, and on the powerplay, he missed his assignment and instead parked himself so far to the side of the net as to be useless on point shots. Furthermore, he was a hindrance to our own defenders as, when the defence had the puck behind our own net, he would be curling lazily in the neutral zone, admiring the subtle shadow patters he made under the spotlights. At one point, Bouillon launched a desperate pass to him (as the others were covered), however he forgot the ‘two line pass’ rule and wasn’t even close to reception on our side of the blueline. I imagine it would have been amusing to have been rinkside as he and Cube exchanged heated words – certainly it looked amusing – Cube had some choice comments. Yet another frustrated with the Dagster… F
Ryder: And right to the other end of the spectrum is the incredibly hard-working, the super high-intensity Calder candidate – who incidentally needs a nickname. He finishes every check, works his butt off defensively, and when things aren’t going well for the team, attempts to make things happen himself – and he does this last seemingly in all the right moments, which is a real gift. Again tonight, he was implicated in every aspect of the game when he was on the ice, from almost scoring goals, to winning plays and setting up goals, to making some good defensive plays. Selfishly, I suppose, I’d like to see the Zed put back with Ribs and move Ryder up to a line with Koivu and Kovalev. What a way for the kid to learn. Slowly but surely, he’s starting to put a hand out for the Calder, and while Hunter and Raycroft desperately slap it back (with Pittsburgh’s Ryan Malone trying to sneak out of nowhere!), it seems he will not be denied, at least without a fight. A
Ribeiro: He’s got to be salivating at Kovalev’s presence. If the Russian gets put on his wing, gravy! If Kovalev goes to Koivu’s wing, all the defensive players will flock against that line, and he’ll get more space – gravy! Either way, gravy! Well, it was neither his best, nor his worst game. He struggled tonight, but I think that had less to do with anything he did as much as it had to do with the way the Sharks handled him. They’d obviously been well-coached for his play, and neutralized him frequently. It was nice to see the occasional dangle play, and he almost potted it on one, and it was even better to see him bank one in, however on this night, he would have been better served with two linemates and not one – full shame for Ribs. B+
The trio: Or ‘the duo with inflatable man’: While they did have trouble defensively at times, due in no small part to a deficient winger, they also created fairly well. I think it’s very clear to see that the Ribs-Ryder duo is fast outpacing the Ribs-Dags duo, and I feel it’s only a matter of time before Dags gets left at the pier, angrily swinging his stick for a puck that will never come. B-
Perreault: Once again, at the beginning of the game, Pedneault said ‘showcase’. This time, however, it was a good show. No independent flick here, this was a Hollywood feature with all the trimmings. He hit (don’t faint), he won board battles (take your heart medicine), and it seems he’s learning to play on Koivu’s wing fairly well. The goal he scored was pure goal-scorer, a deft wrister perfectly placed. If this was an audition, I would think the potential suitors will have a little to say after this performance. While he was nominated for Oscars for Best Shot In Tight, and Best Faceoff Man, surely the one that’s most pleasing is his win tonight for Best Player Impersonating a First-Liner. B+
Zednik: He completely failed to break out of the slump as I thought he might. In fact, I think he took the fact that his goal was a deflection and not a pure goal, and assumed it was akin to seeing his shadow – no more goals for six weeks! That said, he was brilliant on the boards a couple of times tonight, and the first goal was all him. Unfortunately, this kind of effort was little seen tonight, and this is one guy we need to break out. C+
Koivu: Extremely quiet game from Sax, and one wonders if he was a little disappointed at the failed materialization of Kovalev in the lineup, and I would guess, on his wing. Then again, he could be apprehensive and think that Ribs might get Kovy, but if that’s the case, he should fear not, because he’ll get Ryder back, and those two made for a dynamic combination anyhow. Then again, he could have been totally eager for exactly the same reasons I mentioned with Ribs. Whatever the case, he offered in a middling performance at best. He was hardly menacing, creating only a few small chances, didn’t have the zip in his game that we’re used to seeing, and was occasionally slow in his coverage. Time to reload. C+
Kovalev: Oh, he wasn’t on the ice, but if anyone thinks he wasn’t there, at least as a ghostly apparition in his new teammates’ minds, you’re horribly mistaken. He spoke with Pedneault and Houde (Houle?) at the beginning of the second period, and while he started out very cautious, he relaxed and eventually opened up a little to reveal a personable fellow. Theo makes the save on the break? That’s great save! Pedneault indicates he must do a review of the save? No, you’ve gotta see that! At the end of the conversation? Merci! Based on this brief introduction, I’m pretty pleased with his attitude – he looks forward to playing for a younger team, indicated he had no problems with the system, and I believe is looking forward to the challenge in Montreal. You could tell he was apprehensive of the famed “Montreal Press” however when he was very tight-lipped at the beginning – he’s been warned. Hopefully the game itself didn’t scare him off. A
Julien: I think on this night I would have put Begs on the second line instead of Dags as the latter was out to lunch (I hope it was good.) However, I really don’t see how he could have done a whole lot more for this one. True, it’s his job to motivate, however there were extenuating circumstances surrounding this one and I believe it would be hard to overcome the emotions in the room following such an acquisition. Unfortunately, the loss comes at a bad time as Buffalo somehow beat the Sens.
Power Play: We may have ended up one for four on the PP, however I’m a little concerned because up until that goal, we got almost nothing going. In general, the play where we ring the boards and flood the opposite side failed to work consistently as we were outworked for the puck routinely. When Sax changed that up with the simple aimed dump-ins for a designated chaser, suddenly the PP became a factor again. C+
Penalty Kill: You know that dog in Warner Brothers that is looking for things? Duh, which way did he go? Which way did he go? I think that about sums up our PK tonight. Our coverage was inept and our hustle very poor. Can’t win games when you let in three powerplay goals. F
Team as a Unit: As mentioned before, for whatever reason, guys heads just weren’t in this one. As a result, the system got trashed, and a series of stupid penalties finished the job. We’re going to have to be far more disciplined in the future, both in our mode of play and in the way we behave on the ice. C
Well, nothing like a good loss to bring everyone back to Earth and put the players back in their place. Perhaps, in the long run, a defeat like this will actually be good for the team as it’ll get them back to the work ethic that wins them games. I won’t say the loss is a shock, because the Sharks are a very good team, but when you consider the opposition we’ve beaten recently, surely this one could have been a tick into the win column.
And so we head to Phoenix on Friday to take on the ‘Yotes. We’ll have our new man Kovalev in the lineup, and presumably will have those jitters or anxious thoughts out. The ‘Yotes won’t be an easy club to beat, however, since they have a goalie that can turn in game-winning performances and a team that, while somewhat lower in skill, can make up for that in work ethic. Plus, they have a new coach, and under new coaches, teams tend to perform a little better. Except the Rag$. But that’s okay by everyone.