home! Near the beginning of the "Big Slump," many were saying a road trip could
be good for Montreal, to get them out of the glaring spotlight of the city.
After going 1-4-1 on the road, perhaps it would be the warm comforts of home
that would help lift them from the mire? The game against Ottawa saw the return
of Alex Kovalev after his forced absence from the team, and the question on
every Canadiens fan’s mind was which Kovalev would return to the team; the
enigmatic recluse who tried when he felt like it, or the game changing superstar
that everyone needed him to be? 1 goal and 2 assists later, well, you actually
only have half the story. Read on for the rest…
out for this game like they had something to prove; either to the fans, to their
teammates, or to themselves. The
themes for this article are: "Proved It," "Didn’t Prove
It" and "More Evidence Needed."
Special Teams: 3 for 4 on the powerplay, 1 for 7 on
the penalty kill (with the lone goal coming from Ottawa’s 2nd 5-on-3 opportunity
of the night). What was nice about the PP was we saw the return of the bombs
from the point, but what was even better was that they didn’t rely on it.
They’re using Kovalev in the high slot for his shot or pass to the wings, and
they appear to have more options with setup as opposed to the previous "stand
still and pass" strategy. The PK was impressive in that they held off a recently
hot Ottawa PP to one goal, and it came with 2 men in the box. Superlative.
Fisticuffs: Both fights served their purpose.
Mathieu Dandenault’s fight was good in that he just held on and sucked the
energy right out of the building at a time when Ottawa was looking for momentum.
Josh Gorges fight was perfect in that he was defending a teammate from a cheap
shot, and actually laid him out. Plus, if you count all the scrums that seemed
to happen after every whistle, you could see the entire team cared.
He’s back: After his forced two game rest, Alex
Kovalev came out on his first shift and looked…about the same as before.
Briefly. Then he suddenly started skating with hustle, and getting the assist on
Tomas Plekanec’s powerplay goal must have been relieving. The hard forecheck
that led to his goal was Maxim Lapierre-ish, while the shot was Alex Kovalev-ish.
I think the clear indication that he cared was his work on the penalty kill
though. He dove to clear the puck (when was the last time we saw that kind of
effort from him?) and then later in the game took about 20 seconds off the clock
while on a 1 man mission into the Sens’ end with 2 of his teammates in the box.
The Shutdown Line: Max Pacioretty, Max Lapierre,
Tom Kostopoulos. They were physical, they were grinding, they backchecked,
forechecked, sidechecked, upsidedown checked. They checked everything but your
oil, basically. Kostopoulos alone had 7 hits. It’s my bet that opposing
defensemen hate playing against Lapierre’s line the most when facing Montreal.
More Controversy?: As if the Habs need more
controversy right now, but another problem is showing itself… a goalie
controversy. Jaroslav Halak made key saves, stopped 44 shots, and kept Montreal
in the game during the lengthy time spent shorthanded in the 3rd period.
Granted, he also let out juicy rebounds and gave the puck away a few times, but
the difference between Halak and Carey Price lately? The W’s. I think Guy
Carbonneau needs to ride the hot goalie until he falters, and right now that
goalie is Halak.
Consistent Effort: It must be tough being the only
guy on your line that wins battles for the puck. Chris Higgins has been playing
like he cares since he came back from injury. Of course, the results don’t
always come with the effort he brings, but his consistent exertion lately is
wonderful to see. It appears Higgins "get it," and realizes just how badly his
team needs the points in the standings. I only hope he’s more of an influence on
D’Agostini and Matt is on him.
Didn’t Prove It:
Saku Koivu started well, but then so
did the Titanic. His first period was ok, as he was playing with pep and energy,
but it faded fast to the point of Koivu just not really mattering anymore. The
hooking penalty that led to the 5-on-3 goal didn’t stop a scoring opportunity,
it just looked lazy.
The scoresheet has him listed with 4
giveaways, 0 hits and a two of his penalties were hooking calls. Soft play does
not look good on him. This is a poor version of what should be (and used to be)
an anchor on the blueline.
Stripped: Matt D’Agostini lost a lot of pucks that game. Whereas Higgins
was a powerhouse of hard work, Matt appeared to put up minimal effort to hold
the puck when pressured. Looking average won’t help him keep his spot on the
More Evidence Needed:
"Bugsy" Kostitsyn: Andrei was quietly setting up plays, but wasn’t
a game changer like he looked like the last 2 games. Was it because of the
recent controversy surrounding him and his brother (and to a lesser extent Roman
Hamrlik), or was it because he was on a line with Kovalev again? Or was it
simply just an average game for no reason? We’ll see what happens in the next
Kyle Chipchura can look like a
veteran on the ice one moment (especially with that glorious beard) but then
look like the youngster he is the next moment. You won’t find him out there for
a key faceoff, nor does he appear likely for a highlight reel with his play
("Just look at that positioning! What an amazing display of defensive
responsibility!") but he kept his play simple and is looking for the ugly goals:
goals the Habs can always use. At the moment, it’s a bit of a tossup between
Chips and D’Agostini on who gets demoted once Latendresse and Tanguay come back,
but Chipchura’s effort might give him the edge.
I’ll be keeping this format from now on, but next game I’ll also be bringing
back the letter grades for every player that will be posted at the bottom of the
article. There just won’t be the individual analysis for every one.
This article was written
by Tristan Tapscott without
phoning Pasquale Mangiola