If the Canadiens could beat their morale any lower, I can’t see how. Despite a dominant first, they managed only a one goal lead going into the second, and a couple of silly penalties later… well you know the rest. It’s a shame, too, because it was a fairly solid effort all the way around. It’s not that effort that’s losing games, rather it’s the mental mistakes and the distinct lack of confidence from almost everyone on the ice. Big shame tonight, too, because they probably deserved better again.
If you are a fan of the Canadiens, you just have to feel that time is starting to run out. There’s less and less time before the trade deadline and with the free-fall continuing, the question has to be asked about whether the Habs will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. Even though it’s still marginally early, you wouldn’t be laughed at if you thought tomorrow’s game might be the determining factor in Gainey’s mind. Sure, there’s a lot of time left, but as it stands, this team has fallen apart at the seams and every quick fix has failed miserably. It’s become a longer-term project where perhaps a few changes really are needed.
Still, all is not lost. The simple fact is that the Habs could very well have won tonight. It’s not like this team doesn’t have the goods to perform, two straight games have yielded two straight fantastic first periods, but it’s just doesn’t seem enough at this point.
Aebischer: B- He was good, though not great. He didn’t give us the key saves, and the goal he let in off Cole to make it 4-2 in the third was a killer. He played a nervous game and covered almost everything that came his way. It’s safe, but it stunts the flow the Habs had built.
Bouillon: B First major league hit I’ve seen from him in a while tonight when he slammed an opponent into the side boards like he used to do with regularity. One thing I’ve noted is that, while he’s strong with the puck, he tends to take the occasional chance around the Habs net. Please stop, good sir, before I have a coronary.
Dandenault: C- Highly disappointing game from Dandy. He made error after error and could very well have put the Habs down early when a very bad pinch set up the Canes for a strong attack. Right after the Habs went down by one, Dandy proceeded to turn over the puck again and almost put us out of the game early.
Komisarek: B- But where are the hits? He played a decent enough game, but Komi is a guy we absolutely require to punish the offense as much as possible. He just didn’t do that tonight. He caught one guy off-balance, but that wasn’t anything spectacular.
Markov: B- I don’t know what’s up with our leader at the back, but he hasn’t been playing his best games recently. His passing – that which we absolutely need him to be great with – was completely off tonight, and I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen him give away the puck that often.
Souray: C- I don’t care that he scored, he was dismal – absolutely, horrifyingly dismal defensively. The giveaways are constant and it boggles the mind how he’s used so often. Sure, he’s got a great shot, but everytime he tries to do anything other than the simple play, it’s generally a lost puck, and that just doesn’t cut it. It’s really tough to talk about a guy who’s scoring so well like this, but the fact remains that he causes the Canadiens so many problems in the defensive zone. Can someone PLEASE tell him to change his stick manufacturer? How many broken sticks does it take to convince a player that his sticks are probably not the best?
Streit: B+ A solid game. He didn’t do anything special, and he kept it simple. Almost lost the puck once very badly in the defensive zone, but at least he made up for his mistake quickly enough.
Begin: B Started out on the first line and played really well with Koivu. He goes to the net and is willing to take the punishment to get the job done. In fact, I think he played as well with Koivu as anyone else has this season. The two were making things happen almost every shift out there, and while they didn’t score, the potential was there for three or four goals easily.
Bonk: B The empty net goal was scored because he tried to do something fancy in the centre of the rink rather than dump the puck in and get everyone to chase. Other than that, he played a very strong game, and the goal he scored resulted from him going to the net. (How many times does that have to be said before the Canadiens as a team figure it out?)
Higgins: A- Souray thought he was the one that scored the first goal with a deflection, but whatever the case, Higgins is back. He’s got tons of jump, takes on players with regularity (and wins quite often) and is driving the net hard every shift. He’s even winning his board battles consistently again.
Johnson: B+ A huge pleasure to see his calming influence back in the lineup. His jump resulted in Bonk’s goal, and he was strong in all three zones.
Koivu: B+ Much better tonight. He was doing a lot of the right things and had himself a plethora of scoring chances. You can still see his confidence suffering quite a bit, though, because more passes of his were picked off than you’d see in a regular ten game stretch. On the whole, though, a large improvement in his attacking game.
Lapierre: A- For those who didn’t get to see this game and who read this for some idea of how the team did, let me just say that our “fourth” line of Lapierre, Perezhogin, and Duncan Milroy was stellar tonight. More often than not they were in the opposition zone and they had numerous scoring chances. Lapierre was back to what we like to see. Battling, hitting, even bothering the goalie a bit. Wonderful energy line centered by a very effective Lapierre.
Latendresse: B It seems that it’s just inconsistency that’s nagging his game these days. Tonight it was a solid effort and smart plays. He won his battles, made some solid plays in the offensive zone, and was better on the walls defensively.
Milroy: N/A Can’t really give him a mark because I don’t have anything to base it off, but he was quite strong tonight. He didn’t let nerves affect him, he just went out and did his job. He finished checks, drove to the net, won his share of battles, and did not look in one bit out of place with NHL players. A wonderful first game in the NHL that, I believe, deserves another shot. I was particularly impressed with his defensive effort.
Perezhogin: B+ There was a comfort level that was visible tonight that we haven’t seen in a while, perhaps because he was playing with recent AHLers with whom he’d created some kind of rapport on the ice. He wasn’t flashy, by any means, but he hit and he cycled very well.
Plekanec: B- His penalty shot was quite good, though it was interesting to see how close to the boards he went before heading to the net. Plex is frustrated, and it’s visible after every whistle goes. Sometimes his shoulders slump and he slams his stick occasionally too. I like the fact that everything means so much, I just wonder if it knocks him off his game at times. He wasn’t bad – not at all. But he wasn’t quite as dynamic as we’ve seen him in the attacking zone.
Ryder: B- I felt he played his best game in quite some time. He was hitting *far* more than we’ve seen in ages and ages, and his work ethic was very good. He’s got absolutely no confidence in front of the net, however, and his decisions there are usually the wrong ones – he shoots when the pass is better and he passes when he should shoot…and if he does shoot, quite often you hear the ping of the puck on the glass. That said, this kind of work ethic will free him sooner rather than later.
Samsonov: C+ Largely invisible tonight, though he did make a couple of nice offensive plays. I have no clue what it would take for him to be effective here in Montreal.
PP: C+ There was movement and there were chances, so one can’t fault them there, however the consistency and work ethic weren’t high enough, and there were too many poor decisions made. The best powerplays have guys who look like they’re on overdrive the whole time; the Habs look like that for about 45 seconds out of every two minutes. Allowing a short-handed goal is an absolute no-no, of course, and Souray should be spanked for handing the puck over at the Carolina blue line allowing a two-on-one.
SH: C The effort is there, but now it’s effort for effort’s sake: there isn’t any control, it’s just all out running about like chicken’s with their heads cut off. Komi was caught flying out of position on Brind’Amour’s second goal, and you just can’t have that. Effort? Absolutely, but it has to be controlled.
Carbonneau: B- The first period tells me that he has a plan and that, when the players are in control and are playing with a little confidence, that plan can work very well. The issue, of course, is that as soon as anything bad happens these days, the team falls apart completely. I wonder if Carbo is not using his timeouts judiciously enough. When the wheels started falling off early in the second, maybe the best plan would have been to call the timeout and re-focus the squad.
There will be questions, of course, as to how I could possibly give some of the kind marks I gave. Let me try to answer them here and now. This team didn’t lose because of lack of effort, nor did it fail utterly to perform. They won the first period quite handily, and despite struggling for the rest of the game, there was still fight left at the end. There are a few players who are struggling offensively, for sure, but I see the tide slowly turning, particularly in the case of our supposed first line of Higgins, Koivu, and Ryder. All three looked better than they have in a while. Is it enough? Of course not, but it’s a start. Despite the dealine looming, this team still has a lot of time to turn it around and both make the playoffs and make some noise this year.
Montreal was not really out-played tonight, nor were they out-chanced. They were out-scored, yes, penalties were very costly for sure, and the goaltending wasn’t at its best, but at five-on-five, the game was tied at one – or they were winning by one if you count Plekanec’s goal as something that happened at even strength.
It’s hard, in the midst of a mind-numbing losing streak to see anything positive, but there are plenty of good signs. Now it’s up to the team to build on the good and continue to remove the bad.
They get their next chance tomorrow in Columbus against the Jackets.
A Concerned Fan