When you have a team that struggles five-on-five, there have to be two things going for you at all times: goaltending and special teams. It’s also very helpful if you can keep out of the box to maximize whatever five-on-five time you have in the hopes of producing a rare goal now and again. While the Habs put in a very strong effort tonight, they beat themselves with some below average goaltending and a lot of time sitting in the box. It’s a completely shame, too, because they probably deserved better tonight.
There’s something else that really needs to be addressed with this team as well, and in its own right, is one of the more alarming things I’ve seen with regards to the Canadiens in a very, very long time. Carbonneau needs to stop trying to emulate Pat Quinn. While there’s an unwritten rule that you’re not supposed to criticize officiating when you’re writing about games, the simple fact is that Montreal has been on the short end of the stick far too many times this season. When you consider they’re one of the fastest teams in the league, how then do you account for the fact that they are on the shallow end of teams getting powerplays? Are teams not hooking the Habs as they blow by? Regardless, and however frustrating it is for Carbo, he can’t complain at everything. The problem is that, when he does, the refs just look for another reason to “show” him. Unprofessional, but it happens in every sport.
Then again, please explain how a deliberate slash to the face from Every is not a game misconduct. Furthermore, if he doesn’t get suspended, there’s something seriously wrong. Perezhogin lost a year to suspension for a similar offense. And in fact, Perez was spinning and slightly out of control when he made his gaffe – Emery was looking Lapierre right in the eye when his goalie stick tried to slice the Habs’ player’s head in two. And what about Neil, who fell on Komisarek and then threw another punch? Wasn’t it just a few short games ago that Souray was given two, five, ten, and a game for such an offense?
Not that these incidents won or lost the game, but come on.
Aebischer: B- The first goal went right through him. There was another harmless looking shot that went in in the third, however it’s possible he was screened for that one. Still and all, while he was seemingly in control of things for most of the game, he couldn’t deliver those big saves.
Bouillon: B Good game from Cube, including a sweet hit on Heatley that knocked the Sens forward flat on his back. He jumped into the rush a couple of times as well, but made something of a poor decision on the Sens fifth goal where his pinch was poorly timed.
Dandenault: B- Symptomatic of his season: behind the net midway through the first, instead of angling his player out on the boards, he attempted to get to the puck first, and therefore put the team in trouble for the next 30 seconds. While he didn’t play poorly, he’s just too inconsistent taking the body in the defensive zone, sometimes.
Komisarek: A- I’d be tempted to give him a gold star just for that hit on Neal in the first. It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen an open ice monster hit of that magnitude. I hope he continues to pick his spots and make them happen more often. Ornery all night, I feel he had his best game in a while. Again I noticed that, when the game is high in intensity, he moves the puck faster and more efficiently.
Markov: A It’s a shame he doesn’t get more points, because he easily outclasses Souray as our best defender, and should quite honestly be at least considered for the Norris. Supremely effective down low where he rarely, if ever, gets beaten, he supplements his fine defense with seeing-eye passes that are tape-to-tape.
Niinimaa: C- Julien alert: he made a mistake and was benched the rest of the night. Now, while I appreciate sitting someone to make them think of what they’ve done, he’s been a fairly consistent guy since jumping back in the lineup. If you start editing him out of a complete game for one mistake, he will never regain his confidence.
Souray: D+ Gaffe after gaffe tonight. There were times I was certain he was on the Sens payroll since half his passes went absolutely perfectly to one of their players. The first goal is squarely on his shoulders and the litany of poor passes the rest of the night boggles the imagination. Sure, he played rough and tumble in our end, and yes he keeps collecting points, but when he continually gives the puck away… well enough is enough.
Begin: A What an absolute relief to see him in the lineup. Begin’s game in a nutshell: on the PK, two blocked shots early in the game, including one after his stick had been broken; on a hard rush with Johnson where he went to the net and took Johnson’s feed and scored. Begin was hitting all night and the lift he brought to the team was palpable.
Bonk: B- More nervous night, I felt, where he didn’t have the same control of the puck he usually has. There were a couple of plays where the puck escaped him where usually he’d corall it and head on his merry way. Not as much in the way of attack from him either, tonight.
Higgins: B+ He’s pretty much doing everything right now except hitting the back of the net. His jump is back and he’s doing all the little things to win board battles that he did late last year and early this year. In fact, as far as I can see, he’s pretty much back to where he should be except for being snake bit in front of the net. However, if he keeps driving it as hard as he is right now, that puck will go in a ton more.
Johnson: A- Superb game where he was solid defensively and even better in the attacking zone. His speed was used very effectively tonight, including one particular instance where he beat Emery to the puck and sent it out to Begin for the Habs first goal. Johnson played with a lot of fire in the offensive zone tonight.
Koivu: A- Well, the point will alleviate some of the pressure, but more than that, he was attacking the net hard tonight – moreso than he’s done since December. He looks like he’s coming out of his slump quite nicely, though it would help if he could get two consistent linemates going beside him, because…
Kovalev: C+ …sucked. It was almost as if he was playing a different game at times and just didn’t know where to go out there. That’s not to say he didn’t play hard – for his usual 50% of shifts – but it was all misdirected. Only on the PP did he really shine at all. And for the first time this season, Carbo made a statement by benching him for half the third after some poor play.
Lapierre: B- Not as much fire and grit as I’d expect. He was going hard, no doubt, but if he’s going to be a pest he has to connect on his hits more and get under player’s skin far more. The only thing he did was hit Emery, and even that was accidental.
Latendresse: B- I’m going to start by giving credit where credit is due. Other than Streit, no player has been all over the lineup as much as Latendresse, and despite not knowing who he’s going to be playing with from one shift to the next (let alone one game to the next), he’s done fairly well. It has to be very difficult to try to adapt to everyone’s style constantly. Still, with only one really noticeable hit and very little controlled play, this wasn’t one of his better games.
Plekanec: B- His first period was good, but the next two weren’t quite up to his standards. Now, having to deal with all the penalties certainly puts a dent in your game, but if he’s going to carry that second line (which he’ll have to do if Kovalev and Koivu stay together) he’s going to have to make something out of nothing at times.
Ryder: B- First the positive: he went to the net on the power play and was rewarded when he deflected a shot for a goal. He was even rewarded for that by hitting the first line for a couple of shifts while Kovy sat. That said, while his effort is slowly improving, he’s still not doing the things we need from him. He’s not penetrating the slot, and he’s knocked off the puck far too easily.
Samsonov: B I’d never say this was a dominant return to the game, but he played a solid contest. There was far more zip in his moves and skating than we’ve seen for quite some time and that allowed the Habs to retain possession and attack the Ottawa net more consistently. As a coach, I’d be quite satisfied with this return.
Streit: B- Relegated to the third line where he played a shut-down role, Streit was less visible than he has been for many of the more recent games. His defensive work was up to par, as always, but he didn’t seem to implicate himself offensively as much as he has been doing.
PP: A- It’s alive… IT’S ALIVE!!! The first opportunity the Habs had with the two minute advantage was breathtaking. They did everything *but* score. The puck was on the move constantly, and so were the players. By the end of the night, they’d produced two goals on six attempts and were looking much like the powerplay that dominated the NHL early in the year.
PK: A Yes, Montreal was in the box far too often, but at the very least the PK units were mighty effective. Allowing only one goal in eight opportunities, they were extremely aggressive and were only pierced while playing a three against four. There’s reason for optimism here if the Habs can stay out of the box.
Carbonneau: C+ You just cannot complain at *every single call*, in the process getting under the nerves of all four officials, and not expect them to get extra severe with you and your team. Carbo desperately has to learn to pick his spots. There are absolutely times to question a call, but most of the time, taking the explanation and the call quietly are the order of the day. Benching Kovy? Probably a good move. Benching Niinimaa for the extended period? Maybe not as good, even though he still had Streit to take up the spot on the back end. As mentioned, Niinimaa’s confidence is not going to improve if he’s tossed for every mistake. I saw Souray do *far* worse and he didn’t miss a shift. Wrong message there. What’s are we saying? If you’re the seventh defender stepping in for a sick player, you’d better not make a single error, but if you’re the nominal number two, you can pass the puck to the opposition all night and not worry about sitting?
Regardless of the outcome of the game, there are just too many positives happening to discount the Habs season, which a great many fans seem to be doing. Ottawa is one of the best teams in the league and in both games we played with them for the bulk of the time. If the Canadiens continue to play with that intensity against everyone, the wins will come – and they’ll come in droves.
It’s only a matter of time before guys like Higgins and Koivu pot a goal, and then suddenly feel like they’re shooting on a soccer net. Kovalev will stop hitting the post soon enough. The PK units will probably start scoring again against slightly worse teams as they continue to be ultra-aggressive. All is not lost.
Tuesday’s game against the Panthers will be important for that confidence. Do they keep playing hard and get rewarded? Or do they fall over and give up the season…
A Concerned Fan