So this is what it’s like to have a really good hockey club. For too long the Canadiens have struggled to ice a competitive team, and were over-achievers over the last couple of years, I believe. This year, however, we can roll four real lines, and have a stable defence and solid goaltending core. Combine that with obviously impressive coaching, and suddenly these Habs are for real. Sure, they’ll struggle at times, but this is by far the best edition of the Habs in over a decade.
Tonight was a tour de force. Sure, there were still mistakes made all over the ice, but the simple fact is that we played an extremely solid team game. Weak opposition, you say? Perhaps, but there’s not ignoring the fact that we were strong. As usual the PK led the way, but add to that three out of four lines that performed extremely well and a defence corps that looked very solid and positionally very strong, and you get the kind of dominating performance we saw.
Danis: Absolutely remarkable game. If you haven’t seen this kid play, boy will you be shocked and surprised. There’s ice in his veins and he positions himself extremely well. That was the best goaltending performance I’ve seen in a while – he made his saves look easy because he was in the right place at the right time. He also managed to make a few really tough saves as well, and controlled his rebounds fairly well in the process. This kid has a huge future. A
Komisarek: Wonderful stick position all night, and on the few times that he went for the hit, he was mostly successful. He played a controlled game and looked fairly strong. Still a few indecision problems with the puck, but I think it’s coming around. B
Rivet: A mostly strong game, but there wer a couple of glaring errors including one where he tried to panic a puck behind the net and instead hit the post causing a few concerns… and heart palpitations. B-
Dandenault: It’s his defensive coverage that is improving and is worthy of comment. Everyone knows how he can push the game to the other end fast, but few realize that, when he’s on his game, he knows how to take a man out efficiently. B
Bouillon: Another stellar game for the Cube. There aren’t that many in this league who really excel one-on-one, but the Habs have two, and Frankie is the other. If you ever want to learn timing on hits, this is the man to ask. A-
Souray: This is one fellow who should talk to Cube about timing. His hits always barely nail the guy he’s after, thus allowing the opposition to keep the puck. There were a few silly mistakes again tonight, but he’s cutting them out as each game goes by. I’m more impressed with his improvement than in his actual game. B
Markov: What can you say? A more quiet night, but still the best defender on the Habs. The man is absolutely brilliant with his stick and somehow manages to always come out with the puck. Stickum on the tape? A-
Begin: Phenominal. But what do you expect. Dives in front of a shot, leaves the ice without putting any weight on it, then comes back a few minutes later to continue to dish out punishment. He’s becoming a real threat on the PK as once again tonight he created chances. A
Plekanec: This is one smart kid. He had yet another great game, and there can be no doubt now that he’s starting to challenge Ribeiro. He plays both ends of the rink and creates quite a few chances in the offensive zone. B+
Higgins: Strong game again, particularly on the boards tonight. I’m really impressed the way he gets in there and wins pucks. He knows hot to muck with the best, and still has the skills to make things happen. B+
Sundstrom: Easily his best game of the year. Not only was he his usual defensive self, but he chipped in with a much improved offensive game. B+
Bonk: Everytime I type this, I have to fix his name, since I have this prediliction to calling him Bonkers. One of his better efforts tonight. A strong defensive game and a smart game up front. He’s lerning not to try to do too much, rather he gets the puck and makes the smart play. B
Dagenais: We’ll sum up his night like this: While the Habs were on the power play, he took an incredibly stupid penalty, and subsequently tried the rest of the game to get into the coach’s good books by FINALLY hitting. Still, he was a non-factor. D+
Ryder: I’m praying this is all related to his ankle injury, but he’s been exceedingly disappointing this year, despite the goals. He’s just not putting in the same effort as he did last year, and his defensive game has taken a large step backward. C
Ribeiro: Hit and miss as usual. One good shift for every three or four poor ones, and that isn’t going to cut it. His was the only line that seriously struggled against the Thrashers, and I’m not sure they created more than a chance or two all game. Extremely disappointing start to the campaign. C+
Perezhogin: I shall call him Waterbug, or Bug for short. Prez the Bug. While he makes rookie mistakes still, there’s no doubting that he belongs on the club and on one of the two top lines. His speed is incredible and he really does know how to play the boards much better than many would have thought. Kid’s got a future. B+
Kovalev: I felt he did too much tonight, and he also stayed on way too long on numerous shifts, thus reducing his effectiveness. Yes, he has superior talent, but unless he uses it properly, it’s not going to be that much use. For him, this was a below par game. B-
Koivu: There comes a time when I feel I’m just repeating myself every night. I will not tonight. He showed strong leadership taking Danis aside and having words with the kid after the game. Other than that? Typical game from the captain. A
Julien: He made good changes to the lineup and looks like a genious now. The insertion of Komi was smart. He had to insert Dagenais to give the guy another chance, but one has to wonder if Dags might be on his last legs in Montreal. Or one might pray…
PP: A little disappointing, honestly. There was a lack of movement once again, and the only thing that seemed to be constant was the exchanging of the puck between Habs defenders.
PK: Brilliance – and is really becoming a threat as well.
There are two things I’d like to point out here.
First is the team speed. The Canadiens can skate with anyone in this league, and with the new regulations that makes them contenders on any given night. The addition of Higgins, Plekanec, and Perezhogin added to the already quick Bulis, Begin, Koivu et all, gives this team the ability to counter constantly. The opposition must always be aware of that, and it therefore limits some of the things they can attempt. This is an incredibly important point in today’s NHL.
The second is the smarts on the team. All the additions to the club have an extremely good sense of the game, and rather than seeing panic plays continually, like we have in recent years, we see smart hockey players doing smart things. The PK is immeasurably improved because players like Higgins, when controlling the puck, don’t necessarily always look to dump it in deep. Rather, if there’s an opening, they’ll pass it all the way back to our defenders, thus allowing us to kill off more time. It’s this type of small thing that takes a team from the average to the elite. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we finally have the horses to get us there.
A rematch with Toronto on Saturday night awaits us. The falling Leafs will certainly be looking for revenge after our victory last week, and will also be looking to turn around a rather slow start – despite the victory against the Flyers. If the Canadiens come out like they did tonight, though, I wish those Leafs good luck. They’re going to need it.
I take that back. I just can’t, in good conscience, ever wish the Leafs good luck. Continue to flounder Toronto. Looks good on you.
A Concerned Fan