In what was surely a nightmare return to the rink for Zednik, he delivered victory to the Senators with two painful giveaways, one early in the third, and the second in overtime. Now, having started out on that sour note, the reality of the situation is that the Habs could have easily won this one, and can be called the equal of the Senators despite losing two games against them this season.
Even better than that news, however, is that Montreal can really now roll four lines (once Sundstrom gets healthy) as the second line put in easily their best performance and has started contributing at a solid rate. With the like of Koivu facing the opposition’s best lines, having Ribeiro and company step up and take some of the heat will only make Montreal that much better.
Theodore: How do they say it? He was unconscious? Two stops in the first against Heatley on the break – fantastic. The diving grab against Neal in the third – nothing short of miraculous. He faced 42 shots and a very high percentage were quality. A
Streit: If it looks like a dog and barks like a dog… terrible first period, and I don’t think he sniffed ice after that. F
Komisarek: Here’s what I don’t get: five minutes and change against the Flyers, a slower team, and almost 20 against the high-flying Sens. Doesn’t matter, I’ll take it. And so will the team, as he was extremely solid. From the beginning to the end of the game you could see his confidence level rising. By the end he was getting solid time on the PK and even had a shift on the PP. B
Bouillon: Victimized in front of the net a couple of times as he was unable to move his opponents other than by grabbing and spinning them. On the other hand, he was typically strong down low, and his first pass was spot on. B
Dandenault: More and more I appreciate his defensive game, and I would have to assume that’s what he’s been told to focus on as he rarely jumps into the rush. In fact, he’s picking his spots very well and isn’t getting caught out of position. B
Souray: He’s taking solid strides towards a simpler game, and while he’s still making mistakes – take his whiff on Spezza on the winning goal, he’s at least being more consistent. Suddenly, though, his mental mistakes take on a new light as we begin to hear trickles from outside the rink. No matter who you are, when life gets like that, it’s going to affect you. B-
Rivet: A *painful* first period where he did just about everything imaginable wrong. However, after that he tightened up and was supremely solid for the rest of the game. He even jumped in the rush when necessary, and the fact he works so well with Markov earned him time on the PP, where he acquitted himself very satisfactorily. B-
Markov: I believe in soccer they would call his game sublime. It’s a shame he’s not managing any points (he deserves far more than he has with his play) because he’d easily be one of the top-five defenders in the game right now. How many guys know when to stop dropping back to step up and intercept passes? It’s one of the most rare plays in the game from defenders, in fact; generally they’re told to only slow up at the blueline, and that’s just to slow the attack. A
Higgins: In limited icetime – and away from Dagenais – he showed that spark that was impressive early in the season. His PK work was virtually without flaw and his shifts were excellent as well. Once again he proved, against a very strong Ottawa defence, that he can protect the puck against highly talented guys and make things happen. B+
Plekanec: More limited ice time here as well, but that should change when Sunny gets back in the lineup. Again, though, the rookie showed his spark and came back from a sub-par game to prove that he belongs. His dazzling speed and smart play is wonderful to watch. B
Begin: How many more blocked shots tonight? How many more solid plays? I’ve run out of words to describe what he does. A-
Bulis: Somehow it seems he’s actually increased his pace. While the skating lanes were closed at times, he still managed to find a way to get around defenders and make things happen. While he isn’t the most skilled shooter, he’s great at gaining and maintaining puck control in the opponents zone and creating chances. A-
Bonk: Solid game against his former teammates. No real scoring opportunities tonight, however he played his defensive game well, and his line make only one error all night – on the Neil attempt in the third. B
Zednik: Okay, he made two bonehead plays which lead directly to Ottawa goals, but here’s the thing: because of his grit and strong play, and because the opponents had who they felt was a really serious threat on the ice, Ribeiro and Ryder were given more space than usual. When Zed got the puck, the Sens made a beeline. C+
Ryder: Finally back to doing what he does best. He competed in the corners, made his plays in front of the net, went hard to the net, and shot, shot, shot. Result? A goal and an assist and his best game of the year. A-
Ribeiro: With that extra room afforded because of the presence of Zednik, he was able to do more of the things that make him successful. (I’m not saying Plex should not be on this line, only that Zed has a reputation, while Plex does not.) Tonight, far more than any night this year, he competed. On virtually every shift he made something happen and as a result, things started really happening on his line. It’s that consistency which makes him the second line guy we need. A
Perezhogin: Another solid night where he attacked the net and played well all over the ice. There were far less chances for his line tonight because of extremely good Ottawa coverage, yet somehow these three still managed to create over and over. For a rookie who started the season on the bench, Prez is looking mighty good right now. B
Kovalev: Not his best game. He was knocked around quite a lot in the early going, and I think that might have put him off his game a little. He was less aggressive in the corners and he didn’t control the puck nearly as well as he can. B-
Koivu: After the Sens scored their third goal to tie the game and were seemingly taking control, out comes the captain and lays a hit on a Sens defender to win the puck and create a scoring chance. Don’t think he’s a great captain? He lit a fire under the team with his actions and they played the rest of the game after that point at a very high tempo. A typically strong performance from Koivu. A-
Julien: After Streit looked hopeless (and stayed on way too long) on his shift, he never hit the ice again, and I think we were the better for it. I look to see either Sundstrom taking his spot on the third line next game, or Dags getting fourth line duty as Streit is benched to think about it. Julien matched lines well, and I felt he had the measure of Murray in Ottawa’s own barn.
PP: Hard to complain on a 2/5 night. Key to that success was in gaining the zone and then dynamic play where point shots hit the net behind big screens.
PK: We allowed two goals on eight chances, and while some may look on that as a disaster, the simple fact is that Ottawa was running at about 30% at home. Plus, we killed off one two-man disadvantage. All in all, I’d say we did pretty well, quite honestly.
The Fan’s Game Puck: A new feature requested by some, so I’ve decided to run with it. Not too tough a choice for the first time doing it, though a few had very strong games. Tonight, though, for his miraculous play between the pipes, the Puck goes to Theodore. Honourable mention to Ribeiro who played his most consistent game of the season.
There’s something that’s slowly creeping back into the game that hasn’t been there since the 80’s and it’s interesting to see how it’s develping: the two-man forecheck. Rather than allowing the opposing defenders a chance to set up and get things rolling, teams are, now and again, starting to send two men in deep to try to create turnovers. I believe Montreal is going to benefit greatly from this if they decide to use it more consistently. The key for that kind of strategy is speed – the speed to recover if the opponent gets the puck out fast. Montreal has it, and a couple of times Bulis and Begin were in there attacking the Sens defence.
Time for a home-and-home against the Rangers next. And as this Montreal team keeps improving game after game, I look forward to another fast and exciting contest Saturday night. If ‘fast and exciting’ turns out to equal ‘win’, well then that’s the icing on the cake.
A Concerned Fan