Once again, penalties serve to shoot the Habs in the foot. A poor decision by Koivu resulted in the winning goal and two failures on the powerplay left the Canadiens on the southern side of a 2-1 score. In fact, Montreal played a fairly strong game with few mental lapses. Most players gave everything they had on the ice and certainly effort can’t be to blame for the loss. Perhaps bittersweet for the coaching staff is that, while the Habs were solid again at even strength, they still couldn’t manage to put one in the net, despite some excellent chances.
So where does the staff go with a team that, on the surface, could just as easily have won the game? How do you keep the confidence level from plunging once more? These are some tough questions that Carbonneau must answer in the next couple of days. I wonder if it might be easier for him to convince his troops than it will be for the fans to understand. The bottom line is that this is yet another loss – and the fickle minds of those who follow the Habs will probably only remember the loss in the morning, and not the quality of the game played. Did the Habs deserve better? Well, they certainly weren’t outplayed.
Notes: (Where a ‘B’ would be considered an average game for the player in question.)
Aebischer: A- The longer he plays, the more solid he looks. Where early in the season he’d be flying out of control across the crease, he now makes solid lateral movements which keep him in position for the next shots. Abby made some solid stops tonight to keep the troops close, though I’m sure he’d like to have the second goal back. Even screened as he was, there was probably more he could have done about Williams on his own since the defense left the Canes attacker alone. A shot from the point went in because he was deep in his crease instead of challenging.
Bouillon: A- The revival continues. Bouillon is visibly more confident on the ice each night now, and is taking his opportunities to jump in the rush more and more often. Furthermore, he is one of the few Canadien defenders who regularly moves the puck out of the zone, rather that make a poor play which leaves the team hemmed in.
Dandenault: B- While everyone knew what they were getting with Dandy when he was brought in, it’s still a disappointment when a larger player gets bullied on the side boards. Now, it didn’t happen often tonight, but there were a couple of moments when he was clearly beaten down low. He also had trouble finding his spots to jump in the rush tonight.
Komisarek: B- An extrememly solid first where he made almost everyone that came near him pay was followed up by two average periods, at best, where he was slow moving the puck and made some poorer decisions. That said, he kept his play relatively simple most of the time.
Niinimaa: B You just get the feeling that, at times, he’s trying too hard. Case in point: puck swings around the boards in the attacking zone to him at the point and he’s unable to hold it in the zone. Yes, it’s a mistake, but he was yelling at himself for a good two minutes after that. All in all, I’d say he played another solid game. He didn’t make any silly errors and moved the puck effectively. His combativity in the corners is pleasing as well – especially since he does it without getting penalized.
Rivet: B- Heart and soul again, no doubt, but he still likes to make things fancy when it would be infinitely easier to chip the glass, or at least move the puck far more quickly than he does. He runs himself into so much difficulty because he decides he wants to do something fancy with the puck. Had a great tilt with Andrew Ladd tonight, and he landed a couple of bombs in the fight. The Habs game, which was good before that fight, improved a fair bit afterwards. Others might need to look at this moment and realize they too have to take their turn at raising the intensity level.
Souray: C+ Over-used, for starters. Souray is a decent defender, but when you have to rely on him to be your number one, you’re in some difficulty. He went through periods of being too fancy, and then followed that with periods of simplifying and getting the job done. Too often lately, though, he’s getting caught at the blueline and losing the puck. His head fake and stick fake are known now, and the adept forecheckers are starting to key on him and force those turnovers.
Bonk: B A solid game, nothing overly special. For most of the encounter, he had Higgins and Ryder on his line; in the first the two were horrid, but as the game wore on, Bonk’s work ethic rubbed off. More discreet offensively tonight, he played a very solid defensive game and, as usual, along the boards. If only we had more guys like this who could win board battles…
Downey: A- Charlie hustle tonight, and while he didn’t fight, he was hitting and playing extremely hard in his limited time. The guy has, what can only be called, a slim skill-set, and yet tonight he made a few deft plays which boggled the mind. A sweet saucer pass to an onrushing Lapierre in the second was his highlight.
Higgins: B Early in the game it was business as usual – as long as you realize that his business these days is a disastrous lack of confidence leading to no winning puck battles or anything useful offensively. Then, something happened. Somewhere along the line – and I’m absolutely convinced it was the lack of pressure of playing beside Bonk and working hard doing the small things – he started to find his game. After a lacklustre powerplay early in the third, Higgins picked up the puck in the Canadiens zone and did an end-to-end rush, turned a defender so far inside out I’m sure he’s still looking for his jock, and did everything but beat Cam Ward. After that, he was on fire, looking every bit the Higgins we were used to early in the season. Fingers crossed this stays.
Johnson: B He’s not as offensively talented as some, but he made things happen in the two periods and a half where he was on Koivu’s line. The three (including Streit) had some very solid chances around the Canes net, and Johnson was very involved in them all.
Koivu: B+ Hard to put a good mark on him tonight, because really, the loss could be laid on his shoulders for his stupid penalty in the third. That said, he too looks more and more like the Koivu of old and, despite some fighting of the puck, was making things happen regularly. His one-touch passing is something Habs fans don’t get to see nearly enough, and it opened up more than a few shooting chances.
Kovalev: B- His goal was a goalscorers goal, no doubt. Plekanec wins the faceoff and Kovy slaps it home, no hesitation. I would imagine he’s frustrating the coaching staff with some of his half-hearted efforts in the neutral zone, but at least he’s still making things happen. I think he and Plex have a better working rapport these days, and they certainly use each other more on the ice.
Lapierre: A- Another very satisfying game in which Lapierre hit hard, worked his butt off, and made a few very nice plays in the attacking zone. His defensive coverage improves game to game, and he has no trouble mixing it up with the opposition either. I can’t wait to see he and Begin paired – maybe as early as this weekend.
Latendresse: C+ More quiet than his usual game, I didn’t feel Latendresse was fully ready for this one. Yes, he won battles on the boards, but he wasn’t making any real plays in the attacking zone and he didn’t hit much, if anything, at all. If there’s a weaker link on Plekanec’s line, it’s here – not because he’s not good enough, but I’m just not sure he’s a fit. I’d like to see him with Higgs and Koivu on that line to make space for the two finesse guys – with whom he has a definite rapport.
Murray: A I can’t do anything but give him an ‘A’ tonight. He was flying out there, and even made a couple of superb defensive plays. For sure, he panics at times with the puck and ices it, but I’d rather he do that than give it away in his own zone. He’ll never be a go-to guy, in fact when Begin gets back, he may lose his spot entirely, however he’s finally looking like that hard working workaholic we picked up last season.
Plekanec: B He made a wonderful play in the third when he salvaged a puck at the opposition blueline and streaked in. He faked a shot, deked and fired to the top corner, but Ward (who was really the hero of the night for the Canes and the best player on the ice) came up with the save. It was another hard working night for Plex at both ends of the ice – he’s looking more and more like he wants to keep that second line spot.
Ryder: C You just feel that everything is falling apart for him. He just can’t win battles along the boards anymore and even his shooting has deserted. At one point he and Bonk had the puck close and Ryder, though he had worse position, still tried to shoot the puck. In the process, of course, he hit Bonk’s stick and the puck dribbled harmlessly to the corner. He was put on Koivu’s line at the end of the game for two or three shifts and did look a little better in terms of jump, but still was more apt to losing the puck than doing something useful with it.
Streit: B+ While I understand him moving down to the third line with Johnson when Carbonneau put Higgins and Ryder with Koivu in the third, I was a little disappointed. Streit attacks the net and works really hard all the time. On top of that, he wins battles along the boards. Why not try putting him with Higgins and Koivu and see how that works over the short-term? The Swiss captain played a very good game, had a couple of glorious opportunities, and didn’t look horribly out of place on the first line.
PP: B The first Habs powerplay was incredible and they did everything except score. All five players were smart with the puck and spend the entire two minutes attacking the Canes net relentlessly; constantly in movement and creating multiple very close chances. The second powerplay was abysmal and there was a marked lack of intensity. Let’s hope they build on PP number one and not number two.
PK: C Any intensity they showed the other night was out the window tonight. Montreal sat back in a diamond so passive it was bordering on the comatose for the bulk of the time. On the first goal, players were out of position after losing (again) a battle along the boards, and the second time had no one taking out the shooting lane of the point man. Can’t be successful like that.
There are two points which the Canadiens will hopefully pull from this game: when you go to the net good things happen, and collapsing the defense and taking out the shooting lanes makes you a better team. In the first case, pretty much every time one of the Habs attacked the net directly – and by this, I mean going right at the goalie – there was a scoring chance. Nearly every single time. In the second case, the first period was superb defensively because Montreal clogged the shooting lanes, and more than a few times all five were back in front of Abby to defend. Watch other teams and this happens over and over.
Now the issue will be how the team responds next game. While they will have been on a low immediately afterwards, it should be paramount to Carbonneau to stress that they a great manything right, they were just not rewarded. At the very least, they can hold their heads up high knowing they didn’t throw the game away, but were beaten because of a very hot goaltender – Montreal played well enough to win and were at least the equal on quality chances with the Canes. Ottawa is next, and the intensity will have to continue to be there to have any hopes of success.
A Concerned Fan