So far this young season, in which the Canadiens find themselves 12-3-1, the Canadiens have relied on a bevy of players to secure victory including, Steve Begin, Michael Ryder, and the entire first line. It wasn’t necessarily supposed to happen that way, however Jose Theodore had been relatively inconsistent so far. That all changed on this evening.
While stopping 32 of 34 shots against the defending Stanley Cup champ Tampa Bay Lightning, Theodore made many highlight reel stops including a breakaway attempt by Vincent Lecavalier midway through the first that would have put the Bolts up by two. Additionally, his work in the second period when the Habs were brutally outshot 14-2 allowed Montreal to stay close enough to be able to strike back in the third.
It didn’t look like it was going to start out as a stellar night for Theodore. A snap shot from Tim Taylor caused the Canadiens netminder to let out a large and uncontrolled rebound right back to Taylor’s stick. With Craig Rivet struggling to get back, Taylor’s second attempt struck the defender’s stick and popped in over Theodore’s shoulder.
This was a tough game for the Habs to find any rhythm as fully half was played on the power play, including eight times short-handed. When they were on the power play early in the first, there seemed to be no ability to get the puck under any control, due in no small part to Sheldon Souray’s continual gifts to the opposition at the blueline.
It was as Lecavalier was exiting the box that he had the chance to go in alone on Theodore. The latter was patient and stayed with the Bolts star as he attempted to swing wide stick side and sweep the puck in. A pad stop kept Montreal in the game and they capitalized soon after.
This time on their own power play, the puck was worked to Andrei Markov at the point. He let fly a wrist shot through Montreal rush hour traffic which rookie netminder Brian Eklund had trouble following until he dug it out of his net with the red light flashing behind.
If there was a reason for the Canadiens struggles in the second, it came down to individual play. Instead of passing the puck to an open teammate, playres regularly attempted to take on two and three opposition players. Alex Kovalev, in fact, twice tried to take on the entire team, and while his skills were such that he made it to the fourth man both times, he still lost the puck.
It was during this second frame that Theodore gamve fans a little glimpse of history as, while making an excellent glove grab, he accentuated the save much like the celebrated Patrick Roy might have done. Fortunately, unlike Roy’s later days, Theodore didn’t lose control after making the save and put the puck in his own cage.
Late in the second Theodore received his only blemish of the period when Vaclav Prospal was left alone in front of the Habs net for an easy redirect to put the Bolts back on top. He perhaps might look at his own failed clearance as one of the reasons the puck came back so quickly.
The third had an inauspicious start for the Canadiens as they continued to struggle with penalty difficulties. It took a power play of their own to wake themselves, and the Bell Centre crowd.
With a delicious pass, Kovalev moved the puck back to Rivet at the point. The latter had enough time to move the puck forward a few steps and line up his shot, which deflected in some of the traffic, including Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik, on the way past Eklund. Rivet was credited with the goal.
Moments later it was Kovalev stealing the puck at centre ice and placing a pin-point pass on the tape of Zednik’s stick. Moving in alone on Eklund, the tough Canadiens winger eased the puck over Eklund’s extended pad and under his glove to put the Habs up for good.
The game didn’t end quietly as Markov was called late for interference after pushing Martin St.Louis into the Montreal net. While playing two man down for the final moments, it was the work particularly of Rivet who kept the Lightning to the perimeter and didn’t allow much movement at all.
In the end, however, the Canadiens prevailed and took their 12th win of the season. Once again, it wasn’t a pretty victory, but come April, only the points will matter.
Thursday they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the surging Penguins and rookie phenom Sidney Crosby and his Hall of Fame teammate Mario Lemieux.