If you’re a fan of this great game of hockey and you fell asleep during the Canadiens encounter in Pittsburgh tonight, might I suggest a call to 911 – because you must be dead. While it may not have been the Habs best game this season, it was the embodiment of what an entertaining hockey game should be. There were great goals, scintillating saves, huge hits, and stunning team play at both ends of the ice. From the opening faceoff which saw Sydney Crosby fall as if shot (admittedly from a butt end courtesy of Maxim Lapierre), to the absolute levelling of Captain Koivu, to the ping pong tying goal from Mathieu Dandenault, this game had it all.
Coach Carbonneau has to be heartened by the result, even if there wasn’t a win at the end of the night. Playing from behind the eight ball all night, particularly after Souray went half-Bertuzzi to avenge the big hit on Koivu, the team showed a character that hasn’t been seen since long before Christmas. That’s not to say there aren’t issues to occupy the coach’s mind: a continued abundance of penalties, some worrisome defensive play, and a lack of a killer’s instinct around the net.
Notes: (Where a ‘B’ would be considered an average game for the player in question.)
Aebischer: B+ He made some fine saves to keep the team in the game, particularly in penalty kill situations. His lateral movement was fairly solid meaning he didn’t slide himself out of position too often. The second goal by Gonchar, though, had Abby backing in and actually on the goal line when the shot beat him. Defy the shooter; that has to be the mantra.
Bouillon: B The good news is that we’re starting to see flashes of the old Cube. A little more agressive with the puck and a little more confidence in his passing means the team has one more mobile defender who looks able make the transition game solid. One thing still missing from his game, though, is his timing in hitting. Instead of stopping and pounding his opponent into the boards, he’s continuing to back in. If there’s one thing Montreal desperately needs, it’s more punishing forwards. Certainly, he can’t take chances, but when the opportunity is there, he needs to make it count.
Dandenault: B+ In the last two or three weeks, Dandy has taken his game up a notch and looks far more solid in both directions. His speed and quickness translates to a rapid transition game, and his defensive coverage has been on a continual incline. More ice time tonight certainly didn’t detract from the overall product.
Komisarek: C When Montreal needs that big hit to energize the team, this is the man who needs to step up. Unfortunately, he’s been completely unable, and now he’s struggling with the puck. His decision process while in possession of the puck seems slow and ill-conceived. Instead of trying to be fancy, Komi needs to concentrate on working the puck up through the simple lanes or else chip the glass.
Markov: A- Against a team with significant speed, Markov does an excellent job of neutralizing his opponent not through force, but by adeptly angling them away from danger areas. Still with hand-eye coordination second to none, he manages to corral loose pucks regularly. On the offensive side of the coin, was there a prettier pass tonight than his seeing-eye, tape-to-tape laser to Plekanec in overtime? When he supports the attack, Montreal’s offense is greatly enhanced.
Rivet: B He played a lot of minutes tonight and acquitted himself fairly well. I would suggest, though, that Rivet is a victim of trying to make his game too fancy at times. It improved tonight after Souray was sent packing, but early on his attempts to make things happen that just weren’t there were unnerving at best. Always a positive, though, is the fact that he’s a nasty player to work against.
Souray: B That mark is generous: I give him a full bonus mark from C to B because he stepped in and defended his captain. Unfortunately, what I see from Souray these days is a guy who is playing far over his head. If there’s anyone who needs to simplify, it’s him. Yes, he absolutely has a cannon from the point and has helped us immeasurably from the point, however defensively he’s been painful to watch game in and game out. His continual giveaways are painful to see and surely give his teammates heart palpitations on a regular basis.
Streit: B While he didn’t look particularly spectacular on the two-on-one late in the game, overall he was just as billed: a player who can and will take whatever is thrown at him and succeed. Streit will never be considered the toughest defender, but he generally positions himself well to succeed. Offensively, he’s smart and knows how to keep the puck moving well.
Bonk: A First he blocks a shot, takes off down the ice, then positively blows one by one of the best goalies in the league at the moment. Then he moves in during a routine zone entry, goes straight to the net, and gets his stick on a wonderful pass to score his second. Add to that a highly effective job at five-on-five, and you have one successful night.
Higgins: C- Forget the penalty shot which was a lot closer to going in than most might believe, Higgins has lost all confidence in the attacking zone. Where he used to take control of the puck and deke a player or two to maintain possession, he now throws it around the boards with a prayer. Where he used to go to the net to make something happen, now he stays slightly to the perimeter. He’s not taking the shots he used to either. The unfortunate thing here is that he’s still working hard, it just seems misdirected at the moment.
Johnson: A- A solid game tonight where he did everything that was required of him at five-on-five and added a wonderful faceoff win shorthanded which started the Montreal comeback. While this writer believes he’s not hitting enough, at least he uses his body in an effective manner to control the puck.
Koivu: B+ Was there anyone surprised that, after taking that hit, he was ready to go immediately? Koivu played on the edge after that and probably deserved more than a couple of penalties. On the other hand, he was hitting everything that moved which motivates his teammates to keep up their pressure – something I believe the coaches don’t want him to do on a regular basis so as to avoid injury. While he was still shifty and penetrating in the attacking zone, his line isn’t clicking at the moment.
Kovalev: B+ Since the All-Star break, Kovalev has looked like he’s made a new commitment to a harder work ethic. He’s also using his linemates far more often, and it’s helping his own game accordingly. While he didn’t get any points, he was a constant menace to the Pens.
Lapierre: B+ Well, butt-ending Crosby is one way to set the tone to a game, intentional or no. Lapierre played with his standard heart and produced some fine hits. His hustle caused a few turnovers and he was intelligent in his own zone. Now, if the coach would just teach him how to win faceoffs…
Latendresse: B- It’s wonderful the way he controls the puck along the boards, and it’s great that he gets himself and the puck into useful places in the attacking zone, but he’s not finishing anything these days, and not going as hard to the net as he once was. Also, in a game like this, where were his hits? He has to get more involved.
Murray: B A poor man’s Begin, he made a few solid hits and played more controlled that he’s done in recent weeks. Perhaps the waiver wire was a wakeup call, but he looks far better than he has all year.
Plekanec: B Oh if he could only have buried that perfect pass from Markov. A very typical game from Plex, with high intensity play and some pretty deft passing. Decent in the defensive zone and in particular knows where to put his stick to cut out a passing lane.
Ryder: C+ Hot and cold Ryder is helping keep the ice in good condition these days with some cool play. It’s fine to shoot when you’re on a two-on-one, but hitting the goalie in the crest is only a small step ahead of missing the net. At the very least he’s getting some shots, but he’s not moving continually and as a result is not getting into the same positions he used to be in when he was scoring continually.
Samsonov: A- Sammy is playing much more aggressively than he did before. He’s both sending the puck to the net and he’s going hard to the net as well.
PP: C+ Early on, it looked more like a comatose powerplay than anything else. As the game progressed, though, the Habs created some chances and, while they didn’t score, their powerplay helped set a tone later in the game.
PK: B Yes, they were scored on three times. Having said that, one was a result of Abby backing into his own net and to counter the other two, they managed two shorthanded tallies. That makes 15 on the year! Still, the shot from the point was repeatedly allowed – even after his first two, Gonchar was still allowed the chance to fire on the third with no real opposition. The PK has to become more aggressive still.
There continue to be overall issues with the Habs game despite a fairly satisfying result. For instance, at times the gap between the forwards and defense was much too large, and that left the defenders either forcing a play, sending a bomb, or chipping the glass – which turns into a 50-50 fight and quite often comes right back at you. Montreal is still not cutting down the shooting lanes as well as it did either. Thirty-three shots against is just not good enough.
On the other hand, there are signs that a month long spell of poor hockey really is on the way out. Playing a full sixty minutes (65 tonight) was certainly just what the doctor ordered. The fact that it resulted in pulling a point out of the hat will only impress upon the players just how much it means to play the full game. Also, they’re going to the net more. Fleury was an angry goaltender at times, and that’s something opposing goaltenders haven’t been when facing the Canadiens for quite a while.
Up next, the Islanders come to town for a Saturday matinee. The Isles have been inconsistent at best and, after coming off a win against the Thrashers, they’ll be looking to start stringing victories together if they can. The Habs can’t let many points slip away anymore; the race in the East is closer than ever and every victory is crucial. With another full sixty minutes of work, though, Montreal will give themselves every chance of success.
A Concerned Fan