It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but a win is a win at the end of the season. Some credit has to be given to a somewhat gritty performance against what must have felt like a deck stacked against the team – the difference in penalties was certainly fairly substantial. More credit to Carbonneau for making what have to be considered some fairly drastic moves to the lineup. Most credit to the team for coming together in the third period particularly to put together one of the better single-period performances of the season.
For those who watched the RDS broadcast and listened to the coach after the game, the interview encapsulated the problems the team has been having and gave light to his decisions – particularly to mate Koivu with Johnson and Streit. Quite simply, Ryder and Higgins have not been playing nearly as well as they could, and while Koivu has been working hard, he’s been left alone on the ice for far too long. Therefore, Carbonneau wanted to put two hard working players with the captain and demote the weaker links. It’s this kind of coaching move that the team will require continually if it hopes to make the playoffs.
Notes: (Where a ‘B’ would be considered an average game for the player in question.)
Aebischer: A- Some excellent saves to keep the boys in it early on highlighted his game today. Certainly, no fault can be laid on his shoulders for any of the goals. This is the goaltending required for success.
Bouillon: A- The last two or three games have seen Cube step his game up quite exponentially. Today, he was key in the relative shutdown of Crosby at even strength, and in addition rushed the puck well, pinched appropriately, and played a strong, physical game. An in-form Bouillon bodes well for the Habs during the stretch run.
Dandenault: A Relatively invisible, which, for a defender, is a good thing. He wasn’t particularly offensive, but he kept his game simple and used his speed to advantage in the defensive zone in order to shut down attacking lanes.
Komisarek: B+ Significant improvement today. He was physical and when the easy pass wasn’t there, he didn’t hesitate to chip the glass. It should be noted that, when Komisarek stands the blueline and forces the play, the Habs regain possession very often. It’s this kind of challenge at the blueline that the Habs have been lacking (apart from Markov) for the bulk of the season – the blueline is given too cheaply.
Niinimaa: A It’s always pleasing when a team can pull a guy who’s been sitting out fairly frequently into the lineup and have him perform acceptably. Niinimaa moved the puck quickly most of the time and his defensive coverage was more than acceptable. One has to wonder how many poor performances from others it will take before he gets into the lineup full-time after a game like this.
Rivet: B+ It was *very* evident that Carbonneau told his defenders to keep their games simple, and in the case of Rivet, this is exactly what he needed. Largely invisible, he did his job and didn’t get caught out of position. The one or two times he jumped into the play were well-timed and he used the glass in the defensive zone perfectly.
Souray: A- And speaking of simplifying one’s game… The first period alone was clear and wonderful evidence that Souray got the message. How many times, when the pass wasn’t there, did he chip the glass and neutralize the Pens attack? When Souray plays like he did tonight – tough, but smart – he’s a pleasure to watch.
Bonk: A- Bonk has begun to make those around him better. Higgins, struggling for so long beside Koivu, had a much better contest with Bonk today. Defensively, he was extraordinary and just what the doctor ordered. Game after game, Bonk is proving to be the unsung hero of this edition of the Canadiens.
Downey: B Inserted into the lineup presumably to add some grit – and also in case of fallout from the last game – Downey stepped in and played hard and well. Most pleasing was that, in the defensive zone, he didn’t look lost and tended to be just where he needed to be.
Higgins: B- As mentioned, he looked much better tonight beside Bonk than he’s looked in quite some time. On a line with a defense-first approach, it seemed he was able to simplify his game and that seemed to free him from the pressures of producing in the attacking zone. Therefore, when he did get his chances around the net, he actually looked like someone who knew what they were doing. Also, he’s finally starting to protect the puck a little better; though there is still a ways to go in that regard.
Johnson: B There’s no doubt that first line duty isn’t the strongest aspect of Johnson’s game. That said, he played hard, made some space out there, and got into some strong positions in the offensive zone. Defensively, he and Streit improved our first line immeasurably and made it so the Canadiens weren’t hemmed in by the Pens attack.
Koivu: B+ He looked much lighter on the ice tonight, and played a far better north-south game than he’s done in a little while. Kudos have to go to his linemates which allowed him the ability to attack without fear that any lost puck was going to cost a goal against. Koivu still struggles with passes in his skates because of the eye injury, but makes up for it with second and third efforts when necessary.
Kovalev: B Nice to see him hit the scoresheet, but Kovy will only start carrying the team when he decides to go to the net more. Usually he curls to the outside and around the back of the net, which is great for possession, but doesn’t allow for the same quality of scoring chance. He still seems to let up at times, particularly when he doesn’t get the tape-to-tape pass he wants.
Lapierre: A- Very strong game from the rookie. While he did take a horrible penalty early in the second, he was strong all over the ice and was a pest under the opposition’s skin. While he’s still no Begin, a game like this where he’s hitting and pushing hard each shift is greatly appreciated.
Latendresse: B+ While he’s a bit snakebit around the net, there’s no denying he’s putting in the required effort to make things happen. His line developped a fairly nice cycle today and he was generally at the centre of it. His control of the puck in traffic is a welcome relief to the Ryder’s and Higgins’ who consistently lose the puck.
Murray: B Easily his best game of the season, Murray was a strong player in all three zones. In particular, it was nice to see his combativity in the defensive zone which allowed Montreal to regain possession and move to the attack.
Plekanec: A- Right place, right time – that sums up his goals for this evening. One of the few Habs to consistently go to the net, he’s been there repeatedly in recent games to pick up that loose puck and fire it home. Furthermore, his work ethic and improving vision have pulled that second line into one which is looking more and more dangerous. If he showed a flaw this game it was during the cycle when, for some reason, he would put the net between himself and Kovalev when the latter had the puck. Hardly a useful option for a pass at that point.
Ryder: C+ In his nine minutes of ice time tonight, Ryder made one exceptional play and lost the puck almost all the rest of the time. While his confidence is obviously hovering around the absolute freezing mark, the big disappointment is that he’s not working himself out of it. If there’s a candidate for the press box next game, Ryder fits that bill nicely.
Streit: A- What more can you say about a guy who’s stuck in a very unfamiliar spot on the first line and yet still makes it work. While he and Koivu may not have a lot in common, one thing they both share is a high work intensity, and when you combine that with going to the net, great things can happen. Right now, the puck is going in for Streit, and he’s worth every bit of the praise he gets.
PP: A Obviously a significant improvement when you go two for two in any game. The key to the success tonight? Movement. Kovalev on the first goal attacked one player than moved in and shot through a screen to create an opening. For the second, Ryder made a strong move to the inside and forced the issue.
PK: B- As much as it would be easy to criticize when there were three goals against, the simple fact is that the Habs were far more aggressive and played a much more contained box, thus resulting in less open chances for the Penguins. Sure, in the end there were three goals, but one was a five-on-three, and the two others were absolutely perfect plays.
The first thing that should be taken from this game is the performance at even strength. No Canadiens line was outmatched and each gave as good as it received. The line combinations were far more conducive to success and that showed in the +/- of the team at the end of the night. Perhaps just as important was that the defense played within itself tonight while their leader, Markov, was out with an injury. Now, imagine how good they’d be if they continued to perform that way while he was in the lineup.
No surprise, of course, that the Habs were infinitely better in the third than they have been since Thursday. When you take to hitting the opposition – taking the game to them – you necessarily put them on their back foot. One can only hope they watch tapes of the intensity in the third and come out hitting in their next game.
Carolina comes to town on Tuesday and that has to be considered as another must-win game. Again, if the Canadiens are going to win, they have to compete from the drop of the puck to the final whistle and they have to play within their means. It will be interesting to see what changes are made to the lineup for the game, and there should be no surprise if Ryder is replaced by Samsonov on the ice.
A Concerned Fan.