There are three things that have lifted the Habs from retread wannabes to Conference leaders. Item number one is Bob Gainey, but I think that one is indisputable. Item number two is an increase in player talent, and once again, there won’t be many debating that point. Item number three, however, is one that will probably be overlooked a fair bit by some, and that’s coaching. This team does all the little things very well.
Consider a situation when there are three opponents surrounding a Canadien player. Where, last season, they would have turned and launched a rainbow in panic, this year they know where each player is supposed to be, and they’ve obviously been drilled constantly on how to deal with adversity. Instead of launching that puck, they make two or three quick passes and suddenly they have control, rather than the other team.
Oh yeah, there’s a fourth item: brains. Just watching the PK should give evidence enough of that. If there’s a chance to look back and send it to a defender safely, then rather than the once-automatic icing, suddenly we retain possession of the puck and kill off more time.
Theodore: Note his base positioning and his butterfly style. He’s more upright, doesn’t overslide, and is virtually always squared to the shooter. Melanson has taken a goalie who was struggling and put him back on his game. He did everything right tonight and gave his team the chance to win. That’s where we need Theo. A-
Komisarek: If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s why we’re using him less than 15 minutes on average per game. Yes, the Flyer attackers are fast, however I see Komi making some good progress. Then again, I’m not there on the bench to hear reactions etc. (Can anyone get me a bench pass?) N/A
Streit: Very disappointing evening. He routinely made bad judgement plays while on the power play, either rushing a shot, or just plain firing it into the shin pads of a defender. He didn’t have a bad game, by any stretch, but if he was brought over to spark the power play, he did a lousy job of it tonight. C+
Bouillon: A solid, solid game from the Cube. I particularly liked his work on the power play, actually, as he was in motion and making things happen. We didn’t gain the zone much, but when we did, it was generally with he and Markov at the back. Next time you watch him, pay particular attention to the way he rubs out attackers. No direct hitting, he goes slightly in front so that, even if the player isn’t fully stopped, he’s slowed enough that the puck generally trickles away. Unfortunately, the first goal against was all him as, when Dandy overpursued, he didn’t maintain his position. B+
Dandenault: Habs coaching is paying dividends with Dandy. Note his first period stick check when he saved an obvious scoring chance. A few games ago he would have either taken a penalty trying to stop the guy, or the scoring chance would have occurred. Anyone else get the feeling that, with his promotion to assistant here for the Habs, Dougie Jarvis brought with him some wonderful defensive skills for the Habs to learn? B
Souray: Static on the power play, and sometimes even in his own end, if beaten cleanly. At the very least I didn’t notice him much, and I like that. He kept his game relatively simple, and while that means he’s not going to be overly creative on the power play, it also means he isn’t going to do anything scary on the back end. B-
Rivet: Now, if I were to say we were getting our money’s worth for him, I wonder how much hate mail I’d get. But the truth is, we are. He’s a leader in the dressing room and he’s a leader on the ice. He’s a robust defender who is strong in his own end and wins most of his battles. He’s also the perfect partner for our budding defensive superstar. B+
Markov: You may call bull on this, but he carries himself differently on the ice these days – he’s far more confident. As usual, he made brilliant plays in his own end, and followed that up with solid offensive support. He’s on the edge of taking the step towards being an elite defender in this league. A
Higgins: A couple of shifts with better lines was nice to see, but with all the injuries, I feel he’s something of the forgotten man out there. I wish he was given a few more chances with another line, because, at the rate things are going, I see him possibly returning to Hamilton to get more ice time. B
Dagenais: Went to the net and scored the goal. Kudos on finally doing the right thing. Two points here. First one, go back to the game tape and look at his stride going to the net on the play: weak and knock-kneed. Second point, which is more of a question, is that one play enough to keep him on the ice when Zed returns? My guess is no since we barely saw him the rest of the game. N/A
Bonk: The resurgance continues. Another very solid game where he produced at both ends of the rink. Sure, no points from it, but he finally looks at ease here in Montreal. B
Bulis: Greased Lightening. Hopefully he doesn’t read this because it would put me off being compared with that movie! Typical game from the Bulis-meister. Love all the hard work. B+
Begin: It’s a true rarity to have a guy like Begin. One who can really do it all. Sure, not the best scorer, but he makes his chances, and takes them whenever he can. You want good shot blocking technique kids? Watch closely as he sets, throws the shin pads out there with perfect timing, and covers his vitals. Yeah, he took one on the inside of the leg (to save a goal), but that’s all part of the game for a true competitor. How many other guys make diving stabs three times a game while leaving absolutely everything he has out there on the ice? A
Ryder: Invisible for stretches once again, however I still feel he’s slowly coming back to his old self. He’s starting to shoot more, which is also pleasing to see. B-
Plekanec: Quite easily the rookie’s worst game this season. Aside from a couple of individual plays, he made some bad passes and some boneheaded plays. Having said that, if that’s the worst he shows us, we’re looking pretty darn good. I know he made that pass in OT to Ribs for the game winner, but let’s be honest here, that pass was brutal and we’re lucky that Ribsy was able to corral it and do something with it. C+
Ribeiro: For two periods and a bit, Mike, while not being brutal, was not particularly great. He made some plays and moved the puck well, but he was pushed off it constantly, he loses almost all his battles, and despite knowing how to protect the puck, is unable to do it because of his lack of strength. Now, at least he has the skill so that, when it comes right down to it, he can produce. This is where Ribsy is looking good for us. As long as we can surround him with defensively aware guys, he won’t kill us. And, if they have some offensive prowess, then when he does wake up, as he did, he can light it up. I remain unconvinced that he’s the second line centre we can really rely on long-term. B+
Perezhogin: Here’s my question: was he benched for the bulk of the third for throwing the vicious elbow on Primeau, or was it something I missed? For two periods he played excellent hockey, and his driving to the net really creates opportunities. Watch him closely next time because you’ll see a guy who has leg strength close to that of Zednik. He held off a couple of giants and stayed on course. B
Kovalev: He was good, but not great on this night. Beat a couple of defenders once and had a nice scoring opportunity in the second, but, let’s be honest, that line had tough assignments all night. B
Koivu: For two periods he was terrific, and for the third he was merely good. It wasn’t his best night, but there were still chances created. I found his passing to not be up to his usual standards, actually. B+
Julien: Obviously his line matchups worked since Gagne and Forsberg were kept off the scoresheet. In fact, at five-on-five, I think Montreal was the better club on this night, so Julien obviously was on the ball.
PP: Dismal until Markov and Bouillon were on the point. Our biggest problem is gaining possession in the zone, and when we do, it doesn’t help that we have two posts at the point. Markov and Cube move, the rest don’t. No dynamism.
SH: All in all, it was a decent night, actually. While we were scored on twice, one was on a five-on-three where one of the players was hurt, and the other was on one of the few miscues that we made. Next time we play down two men, watch Koivu work and cut out passing lanes. He’s an incredible force in that situation.
And so to Ottawa we go…or rather, they come, since that’s where I am. The Sens are coming off their first loss of the year, and by Thursday they’ll be itching to avenge it. We lost to them last time we met, but it was a close game. As long as we stay tight at the back, and with Theo back to his ‘A’ game, I think it’ll be an excellent contest.
Until then, though, we Habs fans can sit back with a very satisfied smile. Sure, we haven’t even hit the 10-game mark yet, but I think it’s safe to say that, with the calibre of play we’ve seen from the club so far, the Habs are back. In a big way.
A Concerned Fan