Weak play will always come back to bite you in the end. Perhaps a team can get away with it over the short-term and win a few games with some lucky bounces, but over the course of a whole season, that same weak play is going to cost you games. Today’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders was a perfect example. Three of the four goals scored against the Habs, as well as countless other dangerous moments, were the direct result of either a mental or physical error. The fourth could equally be considered weak if you consider Perezhogin’s penalty as such.
Montreal has, in this writer’s opinion, a serious problem at the back and on the wings. Forget the second line centre which seems to have been resolved by a very solid Plekanec, the real issue in Montreal is with very poor defensive play from the defenders combined with almost a complete lack of physicality by the wingers. Countless battles are lost on the boards resulting in maintained pressure and goals against. Poor decision making at the back is also a major problem that needs to be addressed if the Canadiens are to even make the playoffs.
And make no mistake, with continued performances such as fans have witnessed since just before Christmas (with a small few notable exceptions), this team is going to struggle to maintain its position in the standings.
Notes: (Where a ‘B’ would be considered an average game for the player in question.)
Huet: B- There’s been a lot of talk about how Huet hasn’t been the same goalie since before Christmas, and while that argument does have some merit, I don’t believe that to be completely the case. There’s been a substantial reduction in the defensive quality in front of him which has inevitably caused the losses to mount. Tonight, for instance, he couldn’t really be faulted for any of the four goals. Yes, when he’s right at the top of his game he might have made a couple of spectacular stops, but really, this is a team game and sometimes he’s out there alone. He did, however, throw himself out of position a few times while sliding across his crease.
Bouillon: B Here’s one defender who seems to be bucking the trend in Montreal and is slowly improving his game. He was correctly positioned, had an active stick and used his body effectively for the most part.
Dandenault: D+ I haven’t seen him play this poorly in quite some time. His first period was atrocious; he made countless mental mistakes and was ineffective with and without the puck. While the following two periods were better, he seemed to be flailing tonight, rather than having any real control in the defensive zone.
Komisarek: C+ Very solid start to the game in terms of taking out the man – with authority. However as the game moved on, he seemed to lose this particular focus. We need him to be a leader in the hits department; he has to punish the opposition all game. Still some very slow decisions resulting in turnovers as well as some blatantly incorrect decisions.
Markov: B+ In a lot of respects, I feel bad for Markov because quite often he’s made to look bad by his defensive partner. Still, he played a solid game, angling out the opposition and winning those puck battles most others on the team failed miserably at doing.
Rivet: C+ It’s so hard to comment negatively on a guy who gives so much each shift, but if he can’t keep his game simple, it’s a disaster. Too many times he holds on too long to the puck and as a result turns over the puck. Rivet has been struggling with his game all year, and tonight’s display was no different.
Souray: D There’s not much further to do before his game hits rock bottom. Continual giveaways, terrible decisions… I wonder why he hasn’t been benched, quite honestly. The fourth Islander goal resulted because he made two very poor plays in succession. Since he’s not scoring on the PP as much, I wonder whether coach Carbo shouldn’t just sit Souray next game. Oh, and can someone tell him not to stop when a penalty is called on him until the Habs gain control of the puck?
Bonk: A- He seems lighter and lighter on his skates as the season rolls on and is fast becoming the most important forward out there. Forget the goal he scored today, he’s in position constantly and is making all the right decisions out there. Watching between the plays, it seems he’s also becoming quite a leader out there.
Higgins: C+ Let’s start with the positives: there were flashes tonight of the Higgins of old. He handled the puck in traffic successfully and even went to the net once or twice. That said, he’s become a perimeter player who isn’t even winning his battles on the boards anymore – something he did with regularity early in the season.
Johnson: B Nothing out of the ordinary here – just another solid game from a solid player doing what he should be doing.
Koivu: B- Here’s why I think the +/- stat is a dog: Souray bumbles the puck twice for the fourth Isle goal, and it’s Koivu’s line that pays the price. Now, I’m not saying they’re doing well, but they’ve had more than their share of dismal play behind them. Saku showed some glimpses of better play tonight, particularly in his final minute rush end-to-end. The problem, though, is that his confidence is so low that he’s playing a side-to-side game rather than end-to-end by and large.
Kovalev: C+ Again, like Koivu he waited until the end of the game to show his flashes of brilliance. Oh sure, there was a moment or two earlier on, but really, Kovy can do infinitely better out there. Goal three was all about him failing utterly on the side boards to win a puck – flailing your stick at it just doesn’t cut it.
Lapierre: B Solid game from the youngster. He played hard, made some hits, went to the net, and was a solid pest all night. His defensive zone coverage isn’t perfect yet, but he’s showing up some of the vets who supposedly know a lot better.
Latendresse: B On the one hand, I’m very pleased with aspects of his game: he is one of the few who continually wins along the boards, he has a nose for the net which I really like, and he works constantly. On the other hand, his skating is so choppy, it makes you wonder what he could do if he was more fluid. Also, he can chase himself out of position in the defensive zone at times.
Perezhogin: B- Captain of the Bad Penalty squad (Souray and Kovalev are his right hand men), his penalty at the end of the second effectively stuck a pin in the Habs air balloon. Fortunately, though, he came off his benching and produced a fairly solid game with a couple of really good rushes and even some physical play.
Plekanec: B Robbed of a goal, but I won’t get too upset at that because it’s happened in favour of the Habs a few times this year as well. He played a solid, if not spectacular game. Always working and that leads to chances in the attacking zone. Notice, too, how he’s constantly in movement – that’s incredibly hard to defend.
Ryder: C Couldn’t win a battle on the boards if his life depended on it. Ryder isn’t doing any of the things that made him a success earlier in the year or in his first year. His work ethic has plummeted and he’s just not getting into any kind of position to make a solid offensive contribution. Since he hangs on to the puck too long these days, it’s also very easy to defend against the whole line, since knocking the puck off his stick neutralizes everything.
Samsonov: C- Most of the good things that happened against the Pens the other night disappeared. Sammy was curling away from the net all the time, didn’t actually go into any real attack except once or twice, and actually slowed to a crawl when he was beaten.
Streit: A- Is it just me, or is he one of the better forwards controlling the puck in the attacking zone? Streit is a highly effective fourth line player with his high energy level and his persistence in going to the net. I’d almost recommend putting him on one of the top two lines so the puck could be retained a little longer if possible.
PP: D The most static they’ve been all year. All five players pick a spot and wait to see what’s going to happen next. They absolutely must start moving or they’re dead in the water.
PK: B The one powerplay goal was a little unfortunate since Komisarek did the right thing in blocking the shot (off his skate), it just fell fortuitously to Hunter for the easy finish.
Since Montreal can’t win the puck along the boards at all, particularly in the defensive zone, perhaps it’s time to move one or two of the finesse forwards for someone a little larger who can control the play and win pucks defensively. Particularly on Koivu’s line, there’s no control of the puck because it’s almost always lost in any one-on-one battle. One has to look back at Shanahan’s decision to go to New York as a major disappointment.
As mentioned in a previous article, one of the other aspects of the Habs game that has been lacking is blocked shots. Consider just the first period totals offered by the RDS broadcast crew: 10-1 in favour of the Islanders. Montreal is just not getting in the proper defensive position and isn’t being aggressive enough in cutting down angles. That leaves the goaltenders with all the work, and it’s no surprise that perhaps they can’t produce spine tingling saves game in and game out when they’re probably getting pretty tired as the season goes on.
Finally, unless the defenders can start simplifying their games, the Habs are in deep trouble. Souray, Rivet and Komisarek, in particular (with Dandy tonight) are repeated offenders when it comes to giving the puck away, and chasing the puck all night will always leave a team struggling.
No rest for the wicked, either, as the Pens come to town to try to pull even with the Canadiens in the standings. At the very, very least, Montreal has to put in another playoff-quality performance like the one they offered in Pittsburgh. Cruising through the third period, as they did tonight, will have them in a precarious position indeed as we march into the playoff race.
A Concerned Fan