If you were listening to the broadcast crew on RDS at the end of this game, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the Habs season is basically at an end and that not a single thing is going right. Of course, if you watched the game and used your own critical eye, you might come out with a different view. Certainly, the Habs lost, and on the scoreboard, in fairly convincing fashion. Yet I submit to the Habs faithful who might read this, that all is not bad in Habsland.
As much as the bottom line is always the two points which are won or lost, the balance of play during this game was infinitely closer than the score would indicate. The first period was basically equal – Montreal played what can only be considered an excellent road period of hockey. The fact they were down by one rests solely on the shoulders of Huet who allowed a shot from beyong the circle to sneak through.
By the end of the second the score was 3-1 Sens, and yet goal number two was the result of the team being unable to catch a break. While pressing hard in the Sens zone, Dandenault broke his stick at the blueline, and the resulting goal was only because the Habs were out-numbered first two-on-one, then three-on-two at the last moment.
Add a powerplay goal and another late when the Habs were moving into a full-court press, and this game was nowhere *near* as bad as some might indicate. In fact, the Habs played with fire and intensity and really the biggest difference was that the Sens have more confidence in their scoring abilities and they went to the net hard to emphasize that difference.
Notes: (Where a ‘B’ would be considered an average game for the player in question.)
Huet: B Unfortunately, it’s really hard, especially when the team is struggling to find the net, to find yourself behind by a goal early in the game, and this is exactly what happened when a long range shot slipped through the Canadiens goalie. While he was strong after that moment, it’s the kind of goal that really hurts because of the nature of the problems with the team at the moment.
Bouillon: B- A good, not great, game for Cube. He didn’t stand out much in supporting the attack tonight and didn’t seem to lay in the body as much as he has the last two or three games.
Dandenault: B- When he goes into the corner against an opponent, he throws himself out of position, or onto his butt, because he tries to hit and is slightly out of control. Inevitably, this leads to a defensive pressure that this team doesn’t need at this point.
Komisarek: B I’m beginning to wonder about his conditioning. For two periods, he was mean, ornery, and in the face of every Senator who was anywhere close to the net. He laid on the body, quite hard at times, and played very well with the puck. In the third he didn’t play nearly as tough, which was a bit of a let down.
Niinimaa: B It’s a shame that he takes some silly penalties (I begin to see why he was such a good defender pre-lockout – he’s the prototypical clutch-and-grab defender), because he’s done a very solid job of filling in for the injured Markov. He’s tough in the corners, wins many battles, and moves the puck quickly and, usually, efficiently.
Souray: A- It’s been a long period of time since I’ve seen Souray play as much as he did tonight and keep his game simple enough all night not to put his team in continual danger. Kudos for stepping up while his partner, Rivet, was out. He was strong on the puck, strong off the puck, and didn’t do anything ultra-nutty.
Streit: B- Is it just me, or are there others out there who feel that Streit is actually a better forward than he is a defender. And this is not taking away from his game, because he was fairly good out there, but he’s better doing the attacking rather than trying to contain bigger forwards. A solid enough game, but as mentioned, he can get bullied down low.
Bonk: B+ He played with a high energy level against the opposition’s best and was extremely good as usual. Add to that the fact that he creates chances in the opposition’s zone, and you have the makings of one of the best checking centres in the game.
Downey: B- It’s hard to give any kind of fair mark to someone who played so little. He worked hard when he was called upon, but nothing like the other night.
Higgins: B+ More and more we’re seeing flashes of the Higgins of old. He’s controlling the puck and stickhandling in traffic like he did early in the year, and he’s starting to win more and more battles on the boards. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Johnson: B- A very quiet night tonight and he wasn’t his normal self in the attacking zone. He did lay in a few good hits, mind you, and was solid as usual in the defensive third.
Koivu: B The intensity was there, but he was too much east-west again. Part of the problem was the lack of cohesive play because of the continual march to the penalty box, but Koivu is at his best when he’s being shifty and constantly on the attack in the opponent’s zone. On a positive note, he’s retaining possession of the puck much more, which shows an increase in confidence.
Kovalev: C+ Perhaps an unpopular mark for some, but Kovy can’t just show up for three shifts, make scintillating plays, then call it a night. There were some intense moments, but we need to have more. In fact, that entire line was rather limp tonight.
Lapierre: B- Too little banging, particularly against a team like the Sens. Perhaps he didn’t have as much playing time as he needs to be beneficial, but I didn’t feel he had nearly as much of an impact this evening.
Latendresse: C+ First: his penalty shot was well-taken, as was the play which led to the call. He was hard-nosed all-out intensity and there was little the Sens could do but foul him. Second: Where was that for the rest of the game? Sure, he handled the puck well the one or two times he had it in the attacking zone, but how come every time someone gets hurt on one of his hits – an injury totally not his fault, by the way – Latendresse stops playing his hard-nosed game for the next dozen? He’s got to get over it and get back to what he does best.
Murray: B- Again, little used so hard to give a mark, but when he was out there, he was at least positioned well. I think he was even used on the PK in one instance which shows a little confidence. Having said that, far too few hits tonight.
Perezhogin: B Back on the third line and looking like he did early in the season. He took some really solid hits, including what looked like a flying elbow to the head from class act Neil, but he wasn’t shy and dished some out as well. It’s been a while since I felt he looked like a waterbug on the ice, but tonight he finally looked better. Undressed a defender to get a good scoring chance in the third to boot. This was a solid return to the lineup.
Plekanec: B- When the leading scorer of the past few weeks gets a couple of huge chances and the only thing heard is the sound of a whiffle ball, you have to be a little disappointed. Plex didn’t play poorly, per se, but he wasn’t quite as effective – though part of that was the fact that the Sens were keying on him quite often.
Ryder: C I fail utterly to see how Ryder can be in the lineup night after night while Samsonov gets benched. His effort was somewhat better tonight than some of his recent performances, but it was still nowhere near what we need to see from him. He’s so tentative with his shot now that he waits until there’s a defender in the way and then tries to get a screen, which of course fails most of the time. Long past due for Ryder to be watching from the hot dog booth.
PP: D+ There were very small moments of good movement, but the reality is that the powerplay looks like they’ve completely lost any inspiration. No one goes to the net to create traffic and players pick a general area then stick there. A team of peewee’s could defend that kind of static man advantage fairly effectively. They aren’t challenging the goaltender in the least 99% of the time. Heck, they’re barely getting him to move. Passes are ponderous, decisions are slow… it’s molasses out there. Now, add to that one of my biggest pet peeves – the fact that players don’t go at their highest intensity because they are a man up – and I could go on for hours about this waste of time with the Habs. If an opponent gets the puck, attack him, get it back. Do NOT allow that player to take his time. When the puck gets cleared, I despise seeing guys like Souray sauntering back to pick it up. Get your butt in gear, get the puck, start the attack again immediately, and show some intensity out there!
PK: B+ Despite the goal, this was a vastly improved area of the game tonight. The Habs were combative and were attacking the puck. Shooting lanes were cut down far more than in recent weeks.
Carbonneau: B- It’s very hard to mark a coach because there’s no way we can determine all the reasons that go into a decision for which we see only the result, however I’ve been asked to give a mark each game, so I’ll do that, and give my reasoning. Last game, he saw that our normal first line looked quite a bit better at the very end of the game, so he gave it a shot tonight. I like that. I’m highly disappointed with the number of chances Ryder is getting while Sammy is playing infinitely better. I feel that, if he’s not careful, Carbo is going to start looking like Pat Quinn, the Captain of the Whining Squad. For sure, there are times to make your point, but you look unprofessional yelling after every single call. Gutsy call to go back to Huet, and I think it was the right one. Other than one goal, he had a very good game.
As I see it, here’s the main issue currently plaguing the Habs: they’re not taking chances in the attacking zone. Sure, they control the puck at times, and even cycle fairly well when they get going, however no one is going to the net, getting in the goalie’s face, and making things happen. All the time you see the opposition attack the Habs net and daring passes sent into the danger area. We don’t take these chances; whether it be a lack of confidence in our skills, or a coaching element by design, who knows. The forecheck is whimpy, at best, and this allows a simple control of the puck for the opposition, where a at least one player can make something small happen. Montreal must, must, must start to attack the net hard, must pressure the defenders more, and must take more chances putting that puck into the danger zone. Finally, the defenders have to learn when to pinch, and they have to start doing that regularly.
By no means is this the time to throw up our collective hands. Montreal played a solid game tonight despite the loss. They didn’t beat themselves and they worked hard from beginning until basically the end. Perhaps with the insertion of Markov and Samsonov, a little more offense can be found. More importantly, if Begin can get in there and be the spark that he always has been, I think a corner is there to be turned. Montreal is in a slide, for sure, but it isn’t one that can’t be fixed – the effort has improved, it’s time not to pot a few, collect a win, and work on getting the confidence to grow.
Against Ottawa on Saturday night is the place to start the final push of the season.
A Concerned Fan