Led again by another outstanding performance from captain Saku Koivu, the Canadiens tonight sunk the Islanders by a score of 4-3 in Montreal. Along with a goal and an assist tonight, Koivu was a constant menace, smacking one off the post while short-handed, and barely missing out on numerous other opportunities.
Just before the half way point of the first, Koivu collected his goal when Alex Perezhogin found the captain alone in front of Rick DiPietro on a Montreal powerplay. With enough time to take the puck from his backhand to forehand, he easily flipped the puck over the sprawling Islander goalie.
Certainly the most pleasing point coming out of this game is the resurgance of the second line. Despite their scoring points last game, as opposed to none this time around, they played an infinitely better contest, dominating for periods. Furthermore, they weren’t penned in their end for long stretches as they have been.
Particularly pleasing was the play of Mike Ribeiro, who looks to have found his game. Not only was his vision extraordinary, but he was getting involved in the play rather than resting around the perimeter. He also looks to have had some work in protecting the puck and being stronger on his skates as he was much tougher to push around tonight.
The Canadiens jumped out by two a little later in the period when Alex Kovalev blistered a shot from the high slot through traffic and low past DiPietro. It was another wonderful play from Koivu, though, that made it possible. After struggling with a faceoff, Koivu had the presence of mind, and agility, to twist and kick the puck back to Kovalev, who had time to circle and take his shot.
One disgruntling thing for Claude Julien will be the way his team finished periods tonight. In the third it was a bit of lazy play and a silly penalty by Craig Rivet. In the second there were plenty of mental mistakes in the final few moments.
In the first it was a goal at the end of the period by super-hot Miroslav Satan. With deft hands, the Satanic one deked poor Jose Theodore out of his socks and tucked in a very pretty goal to pull the Isles within one.
Despite the relatively close score, however, this was a period dominated in large part by the Canadiens. Their infinitely superior speed harried a somewhat slow Islander defence, and Jan Bulis and Steve Begin, in particular, were continual threats. Typically, while killing a penalty, they had another two-on-one, and although they didn’t score, they put the visitors on their heels.
Radek Bonk thought he’d scored his first of the year and the third for the Habs on this night when he tucked in a puck early in the second. The refs called it back, however, because the whistle had blown because they had lost sight of the puck.
Late in the second, those aforementioned mental mistakes cost the Habs again. Once again it was Satan with a long rifle who roofed it past Theodore to even the score.
The power play was having some troubles tonight, despite scoring two goals. If they were outside the zone, they had a terrible time gaining control once behind the Islander blueline. Shoot-in after shoot-in was easily handled and the Habs wasted opportunity after opportunity while going back to the same strategy instead of mixing things up. When playing against a puck-handling whiz like DiPietro, there has to be no chance for him to get the puck, or he’ll burn you.
While taking a shift on the third line for Bonk, Chris Higgins put the Canadiens ahead again with 6:32 left in the third. While using speed again, the Habs broke out of their own zone with Bulis leading Begin and Higgins. Begin gained the blueline and tossed a rolling pass across to Bulis, who was unable to get to the pass slightly behind him. However the slightly trailing Higgins showed great skill to get the puck from his skates to his stick before shovelling it under a committed DiPietro.
Unsurprisingly, the Isles managed a late period goal once again. This time Theodore was the goat as a missed clearance was picked up at the point and shot on net. Alex Yahin tipped it, but there was still no reason for the puck to slide through Theo’s legs with such ease.
All was not lost, though, as once again the team rallied behind their goalie and gave him the win. After intercepting a clearance from DiPietro, Bonk slid the puck to a wide open Begin in the slot. This time it was the Islander goalie’s turn to whiff on a shot, and he allowed Begin’s wrister between his arm and body to trickle into the net.
With four lines now looking like their rolling, it seems the Canadiens are really starting to find their stride. The defence is playing a bend, but don’t break game which, thus far, has been fairly successful. Theodore looks far better than he did a week ago as well, which certainly as well. It just remains to be seen, now, if this team can take this strong start and continue it against heavy hitters Philedelphia and Ottawa during the next week before a home and home against the Rangers Saturday and Monday.
If they can manage some solid return in that type of week, then this team is for real.