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Game 1: Habs vs Lightning, 7 PM
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Somehow the Canadiens have won their 11th of the season in only their 15th game!!! It was one of the team's better efforts tonight, and it was spearheaded by a couple of players: in particular Higgins and Markov, with a side of Kovalev and Koivu. Higgins put in a good showing in his first attempt on the second line and will cause the Canadiens coaching some serious thought as his game was spectacular at times.
At least the boys came out and played with snap tonight. After last night's drudgery, you could have been excused if you didn't really want to watch this one, but you would have missed a solid game. This is the kind of important turn-around that good teams need if they're going to be successful in the long run.
Theodore: A very good game where his base positioning was solid and he looked in full control. He made a few very important saves that kept the team in the game and, while the second Buffalo goal wasn't his best, it was a somewhat broken play and certainly not his fault. A-
Komisarek: Can you say ouch? Paul Gausted (who?) tossed the puck in at the Habs blueline and Komi absolutely rocked him. And by rocked him, I mean sent him flying. Komi was extremely effective on this night, and in particular his stick position cut out more than a few plays. While he looks at time to be picking up a few of Souray's bad habits (too many punches after the puck is gone) he's also picking up on some of Markov's (stick checking). B+
Dandenault: Another solid game. He was quiet, did his job, and didn't make mistakes. Everything you want in a defender. B
Bouillon: Superb game from the little guy. He's jumping in on the attack and is starting to look very comfortable on the power play. Better yet, on this night he was simply excellent defensively. Consider his play on the two-on-one wnen he not only cut out the pass, but started an attack after gaining control of the puck. B+
Souray: I'm still trying to figure out where he got to on the second goal. The puck was moving back into the Montreal zone after Komi hammered Gaustad, and the Kid was already back in place, but Souray was nowhere to be found... I'm getting a little frustrated with his give-aways in our own zone as well. Afinogenov made him look silly a lot. C+
Rivet: Took a high stick in the face in the first and went looking for Mair later in the game. He had his tussle, but lost his balance and the Sabre fell on him. Typical game otherwise, for Rivet. More and more I appreciate how he doesn't let players take advantage of Theo. B
Markov: There is no doubt in my mind that Markov has taken that step from star to elite. His ability to stick check effectively virtually every time the puck comes near is uncanny. He's making all the right decisions defensively, and even when he makes a mistake, he makes up for it. Now he's started to jump into the attack regularly and it's paying off dearly. If not for him, I'm not sure we would have won this one. I only wonder how long it's going to be before the rest of the league discovers the most underrated defender in the game of hockey. A
Dagenais: I'm sure he went out there and hit, skated, and scored lots of goals. I must have slept through those shifts. D
Begin: Because of an injury to Bulis, he wasn't able to take the night off on the fourth line as he was supposed to do. So, he stepped in and, despite being really sick still, was typically... well, Begin. B+
Perezhogin: We didn't see much of him tonight, and that was a bit of a disappointment. On the other hand, though he used his speed well, he seemed to be playing by himself out there a little too much. N/A
Bulis: Unfortunately he suffered what was reported as a shoulder injury and was removed from the game for precautionary purposes. Fingers crossed that he gets back soon, because he's a very important piece of the puzzle. N/A
Sundstrom: Two years ago many fans were ready to run him out of town because it looked like he was doing nothing useful out there. The thing about his game is that it's all subtlety. His positioning is so good that just by being there he prevents plays. It may not look like much, but I urge you to watch him closely and see where he is in relation to the puck and the opposition. B
Plekanec: He played a good game, though nothing spectacular. As usual he maintained solid defensive position, but created little in the offensive zone. B-
Higgins: Despite the two goals by Kovalev, he was the offensive star for the first two periods. Next time you have the chance, watch how he protects the puck with his body, then watch what he does with the puck in traffic. For a defensive guy, he has a lot of offensive skills. I liked him on the second line. A-
Ryder: Now, there were two distinct parts to his game. The second part was when he was pulled later in the game in favour of more defensively responsible players. He is not good on the boards and in coverage in his own end. However the first part is where he dominates the boards and somehow always gets a shot off in the offensive zone. He really is a superbly talented kid, and every game he makes things happen all on his own. B
Ribeiro: The saddest thing was that, at times, his skating was too slow to keep up with his linemates. There were a few times when Higgs and Ryder were working the puck down low already and Ribs was still struggling to catch up. Once there, he had his moments, but he was anything but dominant. In fact, I'm starting to think he's one of the most extreme hot-cold guys in the game. If he's on, he's great, but if he's not? Snooooooooze. B-
Zednik: We probably should have won this game walking away, except once again Zed missed way too many chances. And it's not that the goalie made good saves, it's that Zed missed them completely. He did score the winning goal, yes, and he does have wonderful speed and strength, but he's just not finishing nearly the way he should. B
Kovalev: Much better game than last night. It's amazing what a goal or two will do to one's confidence. He carried the puck with more confidence and got himself stuck in on one-on-one battles far more often. Between he and Zed, I think the two could lift a Mack truck they're so strong. A-
Koivu: Great game from the captain. He was back to being his dominant self, harrying the opponents and making things happen all over the rink. Now, next time you watch him, I'd like you to notice his checking ability. It's not about nailing someone to the wall, it's about putting the opponent off-balance enough and maintaining yours. Between he, Markov, and Higgins, they could give a clinic on how to separate puck from opponent regularly. It's a true pleasure to watch. A-
Julien: Putting Higgs on the second was nice to see. I doubt it'll last long because he didn't score enough, and Julien seems to have little patience, however Dags is just lost out there as usual, so I'm thinking Ivanans, injured and all, would still be better.
PP: Lots more movement tonight, and it paid dividents. The power play is all about moving the puck, but more importantly, getting yourself moving to get the opposition tired.
PK: A solid effort, though when the goal was scored, it was because of a lazy unit. They keep the puck to the perimeter and block a lot of shots, thus reducing Theo's workload considerably.
Fan's Game Puck: Lots of choices tonight, from Higgins' wonderful play to Kovalev's two goals, to Koivu's dominance. But the puck goes to Markov who is fast becoming the superstar of the team. His passing is second-to-none and with him pushing the attack and pinching more and more, things are happening all the time. Combine that with outstanding defence, and I say right here that not only should he be whispered, but he should be openly considered for the Norris. I've watched Norris winners in my day, and Markov is right up there.
Two in a row from Buffalo has to feel good for this team. So does top spot in the East. Next game goes against the struggling Bolts who are finding defending the Cup a tough chore. I look to see St.Louis put in his best performance of a, so far, poor season. On the other hand, with Montreal's speed, I can see Tampa struggling. It should be fun.