While the score of the game against the Leafs tonight was close, the reality is that the Habs won this game fairly handily. If not for the shoddy goaltending of Aebischer, the Leafs may very well have only scored one or two goals. But a win is a win and despite struggles between the pipes, the Canadiens played a consistent game from start to finish to earn these two points.
Of particular note in this game was the performance of the team in the defensive zone. Markov was back to his old self, and the emergence of Streit as a puck moving defender caught Toronto on its heels more than a couple of times. As usual, Rocket Man Souray provided some blistering shots form the point, and he backed that up with some very, very solid defensive play.
Aebischer: D+ Probably his worst night of the year. Two goals actually looked like they went through him, and one of the others was extremely weak as well. Even the fourth wasn’t particularly great. Even when he did save the puck, he gave off more rebounds than a brick wall.
Bouillon: B He played a good game, got in a few good hits and joined the rush a couple of times as well. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
Dandenault: B+ Dandy was much safer than he normally is and supplemented that with a more physical game than we’re used to seeing. Despite a couple of errant passes, he was a solid defensive presence.
Komisarek: A- One again, when the games get fast and furious, Komi is at his best. For whatever reason, he moves the puck better and plays at a very mean and high tempo. A few deliciously crushing hits left a smile on my face and the rewind on my PVR being used quite often.
Markov: A He made one errant pass in the first, made up for his error by stealing the puck back, then starting the play that led to the first Habs goal. After that, he was simply outstanding. In particular, his work in his own zone was sublime, most notably on the penalty kill.
Souray: B+ There were a couple of questionable giveaways, but in general he played a safe and smart game from the back. While he looked for the pass, he was smart enough to chip the glass when in doubt. His goal was such that I still don’t think Raycroft has seen it – and that’s from the point, directly in front of the net with no screen.
Streit: A- His defensive game isn’t about hits and bold plays, it’s about deftly winning the puck – and then turning it up the ice extremely quickly and catching the opponent watching. The more he plays, the more confident he seems to be.
Begin: B He played injured but was still very effective. While he didn’t deliver the same crushing blows he normally does, he was a pest and was defensively responsible.
Bonk: A+ Simply outstanding. One of the best performances in a Habs jersey in recent memory. This was a night when he could actually have rivalled his GM in play. He was creating constantly in the attacking zone and controlled the play along the boards yet he never lost sight of his man (Sundin) and was never caught. Best of all was his exemplary play in the defensive zone as he blanketed Sundin repeatedly. On the penalty kill, he was superb. As good as a defensive forward gets these days.
Higgins: B+ A slightly more quiet night, and yet he still managed to have a few very solid chances and also chipped in with a monster hit. His PK persistence is excellent.
Johnson: B+ A typically strong game defensively, tonight he also chipped in with a goal and some very good play in the offensive zone.
Koivu: A- The captain continues his roll with another two point game. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he looked up at Craig Rivet and saluted his friend when he scored his goal.
Kovalev: A- What a return to the lineup. Plekanec’s goal was all Kovalev. He gained control of the puck in the corner, then played the Toronto defense like a men amongst boys before sending a pass in front of the net. He was a continual presence on the puck and some of his plays boggled. Man oh man, Kovalev can dangle.
Lapierre: B About what you’d expect. He was an avid forechecker, finished his hits, and worked hard every shift.
Latendresse: B+ Talk about a good return to the lineup; in two consecutive shifts earlier in the game, he was totally dominant and could have left the first with two goals with a little more luck. While he was a little more discreet late in the game, his overall performance will have the coach smiling.
Murray: B- An honestly disappointing performance. Yes, he worked hard and yes, he played responsibly on defense, but he curled away from far too many checks.
Perezhogin: A- I will not understand if he’s taken off Kovalev’s line. Perez was a waterbug again tonight, much like he was when he first joined the team and early this season. He was winning pucks along the boards, out-skating everyone in sight, and looked smart in the offensive zone. He too could have had a couple with some luck.
Plekanec: B+ My biggest worry is that Kovalev actually carries Plex. He was nigh on invisible with Kovy out of the lineup, and suddenly tonight he had jump and went to the net constantly.
Ryder: B+ Perhaps not as dominant as recent memory, yet he still scored and was still a threat. One thing I’d like to see more is him going hard to the net at even strength.
PP: A Fantastic puck movement and great use of their assets. Particularly on the third powerplay goal when Souray scored after three seconds. That’s efficiency!
PK: B The reality here is that they’re playing infinitely better than they have been. Far more aggressive and when you’re led by Johnson, Bonk, Komisarek, and Markov – all of whom are having fantastic games – you can’t really go wrong.
Carbonneau: B- If we could only tape his mouth shut sometimes. Make your point, for sure, but don’t go on and on and on until the ref comes over to tell you to shut it.
So now the interest shifts off the ice until after the deadline tomorrow at 3:00. Who will stay, who will go, or will Gainey just stand pat. Here’s one bold guess: if he stays past the deadline, Sheldon Souray is going to be courted like he’s never been courted before. Quite honestly, at this point, and with the way the team is playing, I really don’t see Bob making any major moves.
No rest for the weary either. The team, some of whom are sick with the flu or with colds, head to New York to play the Rangers tomorrow immediately after the deadline. It won’t be easy, but they have to come out with the same intensity as tonight because a loss could drop them quite quickly. A win, however, could be just what the doctor ordered.
A Concerned Fan