The powerplay has awoken from its recent slumber and tonight led the Canadiens to an unspectacular, but important victory – once again putting the team back into a playoff position. The team played a more confident and careful game than it has in past weeks, however would probably have been punished a little more with stronger opposition. That’s not to say they weren’t full value for their win, but it was evident they got ahead of themselves early in the second and were punished for some unintelligent play thereby allowing a beaten team back into the game. The killer instinct is one thing this team will never be accused of having.
There is, perhaps, a legitimate question to be asked regarding the powerplay: were the Canadiens too reliant on Kovalev? It seems, now that he’s out, that the puck doesn’t revolve around him and therefore the entire unit centre around what he’s doing and how he’s playing. It felt more like it was a five-man unit working together rather than everyone trying to work the play through Kovy. Now, that’s not to say we couldn’t use Kovalev on the ice, however I wonder if having him on for the bulk of the two minutes is the correct approach. In fact, I wonder if separating he and Koivu isn’t the answer to an even better second unit.
Two other things to note in this one, including some strong even strength performances, particularly by the first line. While the first two Cap goals were at even strength, it was a couple of moment glitch, I feel, rather than a domination all night by the Caps. The other thing that caught my eye was the fact that Carbo rolled four lines all game and had Murray and Milroy out there at the end. If that doesn’t tell you how well they contributed, nothing will.
Halak: N/A While calls of his sainthood might be premature, he did play another solid game. Again, his striking calm throughout the contest was wonderful to behold, and I believe again it calmed the players in front of him. He did make an error on the third goal when he was caught too deep and not challenging the shooter breaking in off the wing. The other two goals were deflected, so there’s no fault there.
Bouillon: B+ Perhaps it was the opposition, but he seemed to have much more space tonight in which to join the attack. Not that he ever penetrated the defensive zone much, but he was able to move the puck up and pick apart the defense with some decent passes a few times.
Dandenault: B- A decent enough game from Dandy, though he still tends to get beaten down low when the going gets tough. I’m sure the coaching staff has him concentrating on not making mistakes because he never makes a rush with the puck.
Komisarek: B While he wasn’t mean enough, he did have a strong game with the puck. He moved it well and chipped the glass when required. He wins his battles in the corners and doesn’t take any intimidation of himself or his teammates. I just want to see more of the opposition punished. Oh, and no more of his shots blocked.
Markov: B Markov is slowly turning things around. He did give the puck up once or twice where he normally wouldn’t, but he seemed more confident out there and won his battles as usual. He was even laying on the body a whole lot more, though I wonder if that was more out of anger than anything else.
Souray: B+ This is the kind of game I like to see from Souray – or, more precisely, not see. Souray was barely noticeable defensively, which means he didn’t make very many mistakes at all. When he plays this kind of simplified game and adds in his offensive prowess, I shudder to think of what the Habs will do without him. If only he can be consistent.
Streit: B+ Very effective at winning the puck on the boards and getting the counter attack moving quickly. He’s quite strong on the puck and his passes are accurate and smart. Now that he’s been back on defense for a few games, you can see he’s settled right down. Rivet who?
Bonk: A- Not only did he do a fantastic job of shutting down the opposition’s best line, but he added in some superb play in the attacking zone. This team will take a significant step in the wrong direction if Bonk leaves, because we have precious few forwards who can win and control the puck in the attacking zone like he can. His size is dominant and he’s so smart with the puck in those situation. Plus, his calm keeps showing through. Tonight during panic situations, when he picked up the puck, he slowed things down and you could feel the tension ebb out of the Habs’ game.
Higgins: A The good news is that he’s back in every sense of the word. He’s lightning going after the puck, he scored two goals, and he was a dominant presence on the ice. The bad news is that him being back may be cut very, very short. He left the game with an undisclosed ‘upper body’ injury late.
Johnson: B Nothing spectacular tonight, although if you call shutting down Ovechkin unspectacular, you might be understating things. Positionally sound and makes the easy play with the puck.
Koivu: A And here’s the best news for Habs fans: Koivu is back. He was dominant all night and made something happen on almost every shift. Rather than being a lateral player, as he was during his slump, he attacked the net and was unlucky not to get more than the three points he got.
Lapierre: B+ A very good game, and you can just see him becoming a really good agitator. Since he goes to the net very frequently, he generally jostles the goalie a couple of times, and later in the game, Johnson was getting quite annoyed at him. One has to love Lapierre getting the puck and breaking in on his off-wing to take a shot.
Latendresse: B He played well and was rewarded with the spot on the first line when Higgins left the game. He made a few very solid hits, and worked the boards very well. He’s not going to the net as much as he has in the past, but I think when he starts that, he’ll start scoring again.
Milroy: N/A I have to say, I’d be very disappointed to see him go down. He works hard every shift, finishes his checks, and goes hard to the net. He was rewarded for his very fine play with a shift as the Caps pulled their netminder, and earned his first point when he won the puck on the boards and fired a pass to Murray.
Murray: A He had himself one heck of a night. Playing on the third with Bonk and Johnson, he was hitting hard, playing smart defensively, and having his best game by a landslide. If he can fill in for Begin like this all the time, we won’t miss the guy nearly so much.
Perezhogin: B+ I’m going to give him credit for sticking in there during a very difficult game for him. Early on he took a flying elbow to the head, and while he chose to go in for a hit (and leave his skates in the process) in anger, he didn’t do anything particularly stupid and the only reason he got a penalty is because the refs knew he just got creamed. Later in the game, while turning on the boards behind the Capitals net, he accidentally caught someone in the head with an elbow. The play carried on with Montreal in control of the puck for quite some time, then when it was blown down, somehow he gets four minutes in penalties. I’ll wait for the league’s explanation on that one. As to his overall game, he was using his speed much more this evening.
Plekanec: B- It’s his passing that just isn’t where it was earlier on. He tends to get picked off rather frequently now, though it must be said he has to force passes a lot because of his linemates. The intensity is still there, but the execution is not at the moment. Typical Montreal problem, only one line can function at any given time, it seems.
Ryder: A Talk about a guy on the up-swing. Ryder scored two tonight, probably could have had one or two more, made some very solid hits, and was strong along the boards. Can you ask for anything more? Well, if you can, how about a move against a defender that left the Capital in the dust before he roofed the game winning goal on the penalty kill.
Samsonov: C- Sammy had one moment of absolute brilliance when he corralled the puck and went past the entire Washington team only to fail to get away a solid shot, and the rest of his night was filled with giveaways and weak first efforts.
PP: A- Again, I don’t know if the lack of Kovalev was actually a good thing for the powerplay, however the team looked far more in control and they were moving both the puck and themselves very well. Consider the first goal when Koivu got control on the half boards, went towards the point, then curled back to the net where he sent a pass down to Higgins who scored after moving across the net. Add to the good movement the fact that there was always someone, usually Higgins, standing in front of the goalie, and you can see why the man advantage was a major advantage tonight.
PK: A- Our penalty kill was, for the most part, pretty good tonight. The puck was rarely controlled in the Canadiens’ zone and, as mentioned, Montreal even managed to increase it’s short handed goal tally on the season. The one blemish was an end-to-end rush where Semin walked around Souray (his one major mistake of the night) and roofed the puck on a slightly out of position Halak.
Carbonneau: A- There were times when he had every reason to wonder what the heck the refs were thinking – including the call on Perezhogin way after the fact. While he did make himself heard, for the most part he was quiet behind the bench and he’s actually starting smiling, sardonically of course, at some of the calls. I felt he did a very good job matching lines tonight, and I think his game plan was well conceived.
That the Canadiens won this game is, of course, very important. The fact that they were fairly intense throughout was, perhaps, more important. What’s most important, however, is thethe fact that they must ratchet up the intensity even more as they continue into the stretch drive. Against a better team, there might have been a few more problems. The Capitals really only attacked the Canadiens hard in the second period, and were killed by Ryder’s short handed goal. When they were attacking hard, however, they put Montreal’s defense on their back foot and the Habs were unable to clear the puck as easily as they’d have liked. Also, I still feel the defense gives up the blueline too easily, particularly on the penalty kill.
The competition increases on Thursday when the team faces Nashville, though at least they head out with their confidence on the rise. It will be up to the team to support the puck while on attack and stay focussed defensively, because if not, things could turn right around again quite quickly. Halak is apparently slated to get his third consecutive start, and it will be interesting to see how the rookie does as he gets into the thick of things.
A Concerned Fan