Despite a late charge by the Blues, the Canadiens managed to turn one of their better efforts into a victory against St. Louis tonight thanks to a late goal by the man seemingly most in the fans doghouse, Alex Kovalev. The Canadiens played with intensity, with a very strong forecheck, and as a more cohesive unit than they’ve done in some time. That the Blues managed to tie the game late had less to do with poor overall play than it did with poor confidence and, unfortunately, an affinity to the penalty box.
In fact, if you were go to back and look at the games in which the Habs won or played very well, you would find a few things in common. Since they don’t have the experienced talent to succeed every night regardless of effort, the work ethic in their wins has always been high. Secondly, when the Habs hit, they win; for this version of the Canadiens to be successful, they have to pressure their opponents and wear them down physically. Finally, they absolute have to go to the net and then throw pucks to the net. When they sit back and look for the pretty plays, they never get anywhere. Finesse will only get you so far, after that, you have to get your nose dirty to get the goals.
Aebischer: C+ Let’s be honest here, Abby was not particularly good, however he did save a majority of the Blues’ initial shots. Unfortunately, he let out more rebounds than a brick wall. Still, I guess he managed to do what Carbo wanted – and that’s to at least keep the team in the game.
Bouillon: B+ Where has this play been all season? He was physical, strong on the puck, and smart in his own end.
Dandenault: B+ Speaking of an inconsistent player who played well tonight, Dandy was smart on the puck, won battles in the corners, and moved the puck quickly.
Gorges: B He didn’t play a whole lot, but he was solid for his time on the ice. He made a couple of errors, but I think they were more system adjustment rather than poor plays. I have to wonder, though, why a player who was averaging well over 15 minutes a game on a better San Jose club is not getting much of a chance here in Montreal. That, in my opinion, is an indictment on the coaching staff and the system implemented here in Montreal.
Komisarek: B+ Finally. This is the kind of game this kid has to deliver night in and night out. He made three or four very solid hits that had the Blues forwards dumping the puck faster and faster all night – thereby giving away possession quickly. Furthermore, instead of backing in constantly, which Habs defenders have typically done all season, he stayed strong and didn’t cheaply give away real estate. That simple fact is the very reason Montreal won the game. Where was he on the final goal? He was on his man at the top of the circle to attack a bouncing puck rather than retreating. When he swiped his stick, it went right to Kovalev.
Markov: A- That sign of relief you hear comes from fans, the players, the coaching staff, and management as Markov puts in a game which shows why he’s one of the best defenders in hockey. Witness his calm as, during the last minute furious attack by St. Louis, he collects the puck three feet in front of Abby, and deftly backhands a rainbow over the Blues’ players to the opposing blue line.
Souray: B- Less than 20 minutes of play, and that’s a very good thing. Playing Souray the minutes that the best defenders should get is poor judgement, since he’s never going to be your number one. Souray should get the minutes for a three/ four defender and should get plenty of powerplay time, and that’s it. If you watch closely enough, the Habs are penned in their own zone quite often when he’s on the ice because his choice of play with the puck is generally poor – he just doesn’t move the puck quickly enough when he’s facing the boards behind his own net.
Begin: B+ Looked much better tonight in all aspects of the game. He went to the net, made things happen in the corners, and hit people – finally.
Bonk: B A relatively quiet night for Bonk; he wasn’t particularly active offensively, nor was he noticeable defensively, however he got the job done, and that’s the key.
Higgins: B- Honestly, he looked uncomfortable out there with his new linemates. I felt that his comfort level was infringed upon and he wasn’t on his best game as a result – something he’s going to have to watch out for in the future.
Johnson: B For the short time we saw him before his head thunked the post behind Abby as he was getting back defensively, Johnson was solid playing with Koivu.
Koivu: C+ He made some uncharacteristic mistakes and took another silly penalty while the team was on the powerplay. I’m all for intensity, but Saku needs to control his intensity somewhat. He wants to help his team so badly that he’s almost out of control at times trying to make things happen.
Kovalev: A- Well, perhaps all that’s needed is the thread of playing fourth line minutes and an injury to the first line player for him to start producing. Kovy was magical on Latendresse’s goal as he attacked the zone with speed and fired a perfect pass cross-ice. If only we could find this kind of intensity on a regular basis.
Lapierre: A Superb game. Playing as Kovalev’s centre suited him very well. It seemed whenever he got the puck he didn’t just fire it deep and try to regain possession, rather he went straight after the Blues defense. It’s that kind of play that opens up the game for his wingers. His shorthanded goal was a thing of beauty as he simply out-worked Brewer and went in alone to roof the puck backhanded.
Latendresse: B- A better effort overall tonight was rewarded with a goal. Still, he’s not finishing any checks right now, and is still not strong enough on the walls.
Murray: B+ Played with energy, finished his checks, and harrassed the defense continually. A very pleasing game from a guy who really needs to put in that sort of game to have any chance at staying in the NHL.
Plekanec: C+ Despite going plus two, Plex was pretty much invisible tonight. He didn’t retain possession much at all, and didn’t create anything offensively. He did play well defensively, though.
Ryder: B- While he didn’t get anything from it, it’s nice to see him going to the net and paying a bit of a price to get into shooting positions. I think the combination of he and Bonk, however, was a poor match in terms of chemistry, however.
Streit: B Energetic game up front. He’s a handful for any defender to have to deal with and creates havok continually.
PP: D Quite simply, horrid. Aside from Markov who managed to keep some pucks in the zone where he had no right to do so, and aside from the individual skill sets that each player on the man advantage displayed, there was absolutely no team play at all. Five players were out there, and everyone picked a spot and stayed there. Sure, the Habs retained possession a few times in the attacking zone, but there was absolutely no dynamic play whatsoever. St. Louis only had to sit back and close the passing lanes, and it was easy. That was a completely pathetic display.
SH: B+ I can’t blame them for allowing a goal, because it was off one of the 3.8 million rebounds Abby allowed – a defense can only clear so much before they look at their goaltender and wonder if it’s possible to ever smother a puck. It was nice to see some aggressive play from the forwards on the unit, as that resulted directly in a goal and indirectly in a lot of time lost for the Blues as they had to circle back to regain control of the puck.
Carbonneau: B Kudos for coming back after a dismal game in Atlanta to have the troops ready for this one. Props for tearing the lineup apart as well and trying something new. Mad props for seeing that Kovy was having a good game and double shifting him with the first line to give him more ice time. It’s that kind of vision that wins games.
For all the doom and gloom surrounding the Habs, including talk of blowing up the team from prominent writers out of Montreal, they stand a mere one point out of a playoff position at this time. Yes, other teams have games in hand, but a hot run of games will put Montreal in a better position and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do it. They have the talent, it’s just a matter of working hard enough on the ice to put up the results.
The issue for the rest of the season will be between the pipes, though one could conceivably argue that the real issue is between the ears. If they can get goaltending which at least keeps them competitive, and if they can find some confidence and the realization that they can succeed, then Montreal can very well make the playoffs and then, potentially, make some noise with Huet possibly returning. It now rests, heavily, on the shoulders of the coaching staff and the players themselves to ensure that this win is followed up by more strong performances and more wins.
Tuesday night back in the (sometimes) friendly confines of the Bell Centre against the Islanders is their first opportunity.
A Concerned Fan.