For twenty minutes, Habs fans around the world were on the edge of their seats wondering if, finally, the team they love so much was finding their form. The was controlled play in the defensive zone, intelligent play in the neutral zone, and even some dynamic play in the attacking zone. They scored the first goal and went to the dressing room up by one against the mighty Devils.
Then the wheels fell off. Or more precisely, the players went off. Hooking, holding, you name it, the parade to the box began. No ticker tape for this parade, though. The only tape they saw from the box was the hockey tape around the stick they’d just used to hook an opponent.
After that it was the same old Habs all over again. Incoherent play, painful giveaways, and nonexistent attack – well except for the laser beam that poor Brodeur had no chance at stopping (if you read the sarcasm in that, bonus points for you).
Huet: B+ He played a very solid game until, what looked like, his groin gave way in spectacular fashion after the third goal against – all of which were on the penalty kill. Gee boys, thanks for the support. I’m guessing he was remiss in sending out his Valentines cards, and his teammates decided to leave him against a couple of three-on-fives as punishment.
Aebischer: B- Steps in during difficult circumstances and does fairly well, except for the first goal he allowed where he gave out a breathtakingly horrible rebound which was eventually tapped past him.
Bouillon: B+ Another solid gave from the Cube. He was solid on the boards and moved the puck up effectively. It’s nice to see that at least one Canadiens defender is bringing solid play to the ice every game.
Dandenault: C- On powerplay goal number two, Dandy chased what we can only assume was a very lively ghost into the corner thus leaving the net half unguarded – and his man wide open. I do hope the ghost was crushed by his butt-first bodycheck, because the Habs paid for that mental error. Special note, when he’s lining up a hit on a fast moving defender, best cover your eyes because his timing is abysmal at times.
Komisarek: B- Well, he put forth a very, very solid first period, but after that was prone to giving the puck up. Still, can’t complain horribly since he was one of the better defenders as the game wore on.
Markov: C While other defenders could be happy with a game like he had, it was nothing compared to what he can give. That’s two in a row from our number one guy, and it’s got to stop now or we might as well mail in the rest of the season. Virtually everyone is aware just how important he is, and if he’s not going to play, we’re cooked.
Souray: B- Solid goal resulting from good hard work and his good placement. The second and third periods were a struggle however, as the Devils’ forecheck had him unsure of where to put the puck.
Streit: B+ Positionally he was much better and he’s got an active stick much like Markov which allows him to win puck battles before he has to try and get in the corners with much bigger attackers.
Begin: B Still trying to regain his game shape, but he was good nonetheless. Blocked a couple of shots and was a menace to the Devils’ defenders.I’d say I can’t wait to see him get right back into shape, but I have a feeling it might actually be a little too late to help these floundering Canadiens.
Bonk: B- Excellent defensive work as usual, but what happened to him making things happen in the attacking zone. I think he made a foray or two in the first, and I can understand the second being difficult since every one of his shifts was probably on the PK, but we absolutely need him to give a little more offensively.
Higgins: A- Well, at least there’s one forward who’s found his ‘A’ game. The Habs first goal was a direct result of him winning the puck on the boards and getting it in front of the net. Higgs was flying all night, finally winning a majority of his puck and board battles, and was making things happen in the attacking zone. Nice to see him with the confidence to handle the puck in traffic again.
Koivu: B- Not his best game, but the good news is that it’s coming. For all the fans out there wondering where his game has gone, at least it can be said he’s starting to really find it again. Yes, another stupid penalty, but he too was handling the puck – successfully no less – in traffic. He was going to the net, and he was making things happen far more. Light at the end of the tunnel?
Lapierre: B He made his presence felt tonight and worked hard at annoying the defenders. I appreciated his work ethic and even his presence in the defensive zone, particularly on the boards where he won a good few battles.
Latendresse: C+ He’s going through a very inconsistent period right now, and it’s clear he’s questioning himself out there. Clear breakaway and the puck dribbled harmlessly off his stick. He’s also not finishing his checks as much anymore. If he can stick to the basics, continue to work the boards fairly well in the attacking zone, and go to the net, good things will happen.
Murray: A- A very solid game tonight. First of all, big kudos for going up against one of the nastiest players in the league in a fight. Janssens is one of the toughest, and the fight was basically a draw – and it helped inspire the Canadiens to their best period of hockey in a long time. Good overall game as well, including strong play in the defensive zone.
Niinimaa: B I’ll give him credit for working hard out there in a position that looked to be very foreign to him. Playing as a fourth line forward at least got him on the ice, and there’s no doubt he was doing the best he could, but he just seemed lost at times.
Perezhogin: C+ While he looks better back playing on Bonk’s line, the issue I have is that he isn’t using his speed at all. He’s got tons of ability, but instead of trying to take the play consistently to the Devils, he seems to bail out and play the conservative game. There were a couple of times he tried to make things happen deep in the attacking zone, but it just wasn’t enough for me.
Plekanec: B- Took a nice knee-on-knee hit – which he played through – in the middle of the game. He’s working hard, but he isn’t making things happen anymore. Rather than going to the net where he had his January success, he’s staying to the outside a little much.
Ryder: C+ Another couple of glimpses of the Ryder that we expect, but way too much of the Ryder we’ve become accustomed to. He drove the net a few times, but he’s not cutting in the middle nearly as much as he should – a problem reminiscent of Zednik unfortunately. Since he’s a one-trick pony and his trick is to shoot, he’s easily neutralized on the PP when he stays on the half boards.
Samsonov: B Well, I’ll give him bonus marks for that ultra-mage-super laser beam of a shot (Brodeur will absolutely want that one back), but really, he has so much trouble along the boards it’s almost laughable at times. Particularly in the defensive zone, if he doesn’t attack the puck, and rather lets it come to him, it’s pretty much guaranteed it’s going to stay in the Habs zone.
PP: C- Here’s the bad news: Montreal didn’t score on the powerplay and there was very little movement again. That leaves the good news: they scored twice at even strength. Did I mention you should sit before I said that news? Sorry if you fell over at the shock.
PK: B Yes, a ‘B’. Despite the fact that there were three goals against, the reality is that two of the goals were scored when two men short and the other was after a rather lengthy spell on the PK. They were still far more aggressive here than during any other point in the game, and sometimes I wonder if, based on this fact, the Habs shouldn’t just send out four players for the entire contest. At least the fans would see hard work all game along with the losses.
Carbonneau: B Credit Carbo for trying the Niinimaa experiment. At least he’s trying to make things happen and recognizing that, while Niinimaa may not be getting it done defensively, his work ethic is still good enough that he warrants a shot on the fourth line. More credit to him that he didn’t complain even a bit at any of the calls – at least not visibly to the cameras. The most credit, though, has to be given for preparing the team for one of the best away periods the Canadiens have played in a long time. That first was very satisfying. Shame they lost control and then all their confidence after that, but it was nice while it lasted.
Here’s something for the defense to work on: when there’s a player in front of you and you have the puck inside the attacking zone, you don’t have to shoot it directly at them. The playing surface is really quite large, and those white walls beside you, well you’re allowed to use them to get the puck deep. If Carbo has used up one metric tonne of dye on his hair to hide how grey it’s become, well I can understand. It’s that kind of simple play that maintains attacks and pins the opposition deep so it has to work harder.
Unfortunately, it really looks like the team just doesn’t believe in itself. They played well in the first, but after one thing went wrong, it was as if the house of cards was blown down in a light breeze. The mental mistakes were all back again, there was no sustained intelligent play, and they all just looked like they didn’t know the first thing about winning a game.
Time is running out. Carolina is in town on the weekend, and if results aren’t found soon, the hard questions are going to start coming quickly.
A Concerned Fan