I’m not sure anyone would have predicted us coming out of the first three games, two against massive rivals, with six points. There were so many questioning this team, particularly with the use of so many rookie players, and the thought was that Montreal was really going to be a sink or swim team. Well, thus far we’re looking like pretty strong swimmers. The game was fast and furious at times, and while there were areas of concern, the simple fact is we came out with another big W.
Perhaps one of the greater areas of concern has to be between the pipes. Yes, we may be 3-0, but it’s almost despite Theo. Okay, overall he’s been very good, but one soft goal in game one and at least three tonight? That’s a lot of poor goals for a goalie making the money he is, and a guy that’s supposed to be The Man.
Theodore: Ugly, ugly game. He was overcommitting and oversliding. He was playing the pass rather than the shot – which should always be his primary concern, and quite frankly, he looked amateurish in the net. On the first goal, he cheated to play the pass and got burned on a shot he should have saved. On the second he whiffed on a Domi wimp shot. The third he way overshot his mark on his lateral push and Stajan had a completely open side in which to deposit the bisquit, and on the fourth, even though it was a tough play, he should have been able to cover the puck in his crease. F
Streit: Inserted in the place of Komisarek and, quite frankly, he played a very solid game. He played it simple in his own end, and made some good plays up the ice. Honestly, he didn’t hesitate as much as Komi. B
Dandenault: Good rushes tonight as he turned a defensive situation into a great attack a few times. I was a little disappointed with him down low, though. He seems to want to play that clutch and grab game and doesn’t know what to do with his stick all the time. B-
Rivet: I think he was nailed in the leg with a shot at least two times if not more. If he can walk tomorrow, I’m duly impressed. I’m not so impressed by his work on the last goal however. He was caught looking for the puck rather than clearing the crease of Leaf forwards – which should have been his first priority. When the going gets tough, he also has a tendency to chip the puck out rather than take an extra half second to see the open guy. B-
Bouillon: Another solid game, though not nearly as spectacular as his first couple. Still, he didn’t make mistakes in his own end that cost, and he played positionally very well. B
Souray: Glimpses of the Sheldon who knows how to play hockey tonight. He kept it simple and made the smart play rather than trying to be the superstar at the back end. He still had a tendency to go for the hit, and sometimes gets beaten around the side and can’t catch up, but he looked infinitely better positionally tonight. B-
Markov: Aside from the game saving stop with his face at the end of the game, along with the game winning pass to Ribeiro, which, I have to tell you, is a pass that very few in this game could even come close to completing, he once again draped a blanket over the Leaf forwards. It’s early in the season, but I think Markov is really coming into his own now. A-
Ivanans: Well, he looks big on the ice. Not much else you can say with a guy who plays so little. N/A
Plekanec: Honestly, the biggest loser in the lineup shuffle since, instead of playing a far more consistent shift with Higgs and Begin, he played a lot less and had less flow to the game. To his credit, he still put in everything he had and played a solid game. B
Begin: I think this guy is the kind of player that Gainey dreams of stocking the club with, at least in terms of his work ethic. Look at all the kids who have made the team this year – they all play like Begin, with constant fire. What an example. Great scrappy goal, too. A-
Bulis: I felt he was tentative tonight. He didn’t look like he wanted to muck things up like he usually does, and he kept to the perimeter. Not his best game at all. C+
Bonk: Despite his wonderful pass to Sunny on the latter’s goal, his game was, quite frankly, putrid. Maybe it’s years of playing for the Sens and having a mental block against the Leafs, but he wasn’t able to be successful much at all. The best aspect of his game tonight was along the boards, where he rarely loses a battle. C+
Sundstrom: Nice goal, though the pass to Bonk immediately preceding it was horrid. He played a typical, controlled defensive game. Now that he has more offence and better players around him, it’s easy to see why Julien loves keeping him around. Dependable. B+
Higgins: Once again all over the ice giving second and third efforts on everything. It’s my opinion that he woke up Ribs and Ryder and pulled them up to a higher level by himself tonight. It certainly rubbed off on Ryder who easily played his best game. Higgins is going to have a long career ahead of him, and he’s going to be one of those guys you just love to have. Board work is excellent, knows how to keep and what to do with the puck. Knows where to go. A-
Ryder: Worked his butt off tonight and while he didn’t score, he finally looked like he belonged out there. He created far more than in the other two games combined, and was finally finishing checks. B+
Ribeiro: Julien apparently took him aside in the video room and went over a few of the things that were ailing his game. That, and having Higgins on his line, seemed to make a difference. It wasn’t his best game, by far, but he looked good – quite good at times. There was still a lot of inconsistency, and there were more than a few shifts where he was dominated and struggled out there, but he got himself into better positions and played far more aggressively. B
Perezhogin: Waterbug. He gets that puck and he just wants to go, go, go with it. He made some brilliant plays tonight, and also a few selfish ones that lost him the puck. However, I don’t mind someone who works like that making a mistake or two, because he does his best to make up for it immediately. This kid has some serious skills. B+
Kovalev: Another who looked much better tonight. I wouldn’t call him stellar in his own end, but he mostly got the job done. However, he controlled the puck far more everywhere else, and at times controlled the flow of the game by himself. No goals so far, but a lot of really smart plays. B
Koivu: Best news of all, he looked like the Koivu of old tonight. He was all over the place and this time was aggressivly attacking the Leafs. On Begin’s goal he had some poor defender looking for his jock while twisting around the net and almost scoring on his own. He got into much better position, and was moving the puck like the skilled player he is. A-
Julien: I question, to some extent, taking Komisarek out and putting Streit in. I realize that it was the logical choice in terms of who to take out of the lineup, however Komi’s size might have been useful. Still, Komi seems mildly hesitant out there – like he’s playing with just slightly less confidence than he needs to have.
A special note on Doug Jarvis here: The three kids who were under his tutelage and who have made the lineup are superb, and know how to play in their own end as well. More than that, they have Jarvis’ work ethic. Anyone who ever saw him play will know that Jarvis never mailed one in. Huge Kudos to someone who will be a head coach in the NHL one day.
PP: Much better night tonight. The puck was being moved around much better, and rather than being static, the players were moving too. It was obvious it was a focus in practice.
PK: Aggressive and effective as usual. Nothing to worry about for the Habs here.
As I see it, there are a few things to look for over the next two or three weeks. The first is the consistency in the kids. If they keep up where they are right now, we’re looking really good. The second is Theodore finding some consistency. If he can’t, were going to have our problems. The third is the status of Dagenais. Presumably Zednik is going to be ready to come back and that means that Perez will get pushed down the lineup. Dagenais has to be extremely anxious since the logical place for Perez will be on the second line. There are others who have to watch out as well. It’ll be very hard to put Higgins back down on the fourth line, even if we aren’t really considering calling it the fourth line, rather than another second line.
There are some serious questions coming in the next while, and for the first time in recent memory, they’re good questions rather than bad ones – like where do we place Juha Lind and Johan Witehall. This is an organization on the rapid incline, I think, and those marginal players are going to have to either step up, or step aside.
Ottawa next, and it will easily be the biggest test of the year so far. The Sens have a loaded roster and are one of the favourites to win the Cup. It’ll be interesting to see what lineup changes Julien makes for that game, and how he employs his lines to deal with the potent Ottawa attack. Even more interesting will be seeing how the rookies deal with a far more pressing game than any they’ve seen so far.
A Concerned Fan