Richard Zednik had been doing his best impression of “Where’s Waldo” so far this season, nowhere to be found. Well last year’s leading Habs scorer made his first appearance in quite a while Tuesday night, and doubled his season production by spotting the Canadiens a two-goal lead early in the 2nd period.
At this point the Canadiens figure things are going too well, so they start looking for ways to screw it up. Their old nemesis, a.k.a penalties, is the weapon of choice. And so the Habs’ third worst PK unit in league went to work against Vancouver‘s impressive power-play… with predictable results.
Montreal 1-0: It all starts with Souray pinching in at the blueline on Bertuzzi, preventing him from carrying the puck out of the zone. Zednik comes in behind Souray to keep the puck in, rolls it along the boards to Koivu, who leaves it behind the net for Ryder. By that time Zednik is back in front of the net, but he floats back to the top of the slot to get open for Ryder… accepts the pass with his skate. He then surprises Cloutier when he let’s a shot go with a quick release, and through a screen provided by Ohlund.
Montreal 2-0: Again it’s the Koivu line, applying some good pressure in the Vancouver zone. Zednik leaves it to Koivu to go behind the net and out the other side and slides it back to Zednik who’s defender had left him alone in front. A definite miscommunication between the defensemen on the switch, both players ended up going towards Koivu.
Vancouver 1-2: This where the Canadiens start lose their grip on this game. Audette high-sticks Jovanovski, and he gets 4 minutes. On the ensuing power-play a bouncing puck comes to Souray who takes a wild swing at it instead of settling the puck down first. Predictably he doesn’t get all of it, Vancouver blocks the clearing attempt… Salo gets a free shot on net with Bertuzzi parked in front. Theo never saw it.
Vancouver 2-2: It went so well the first time, they decide to tempt fate again… Rivet gets 2 for holding. Montreal PK is overwhelmed, there’s a scramble in front of the net… Morrison, the smallest player out there, is somehow allowed to go practically untouched right in front of Theo and bank in the rebound.
Montreal 3-2: At the end of the 2nd period Cooke takes a run at Zednik, payback for a questionable hit on Malik earlier in the game. The Habs take offense, a scrum ensues… Souray gets a good shot in on Cooke, but Koivu gets the extra minor for punching one of the huge D men who came in to help. Vancouver start the 3rd period on the PP, but Bertuzzi gets called for interference right off the bat. So it’s 4-on-4, Ribeiro wins a key faceoff in the offensive zone… Markov has trouble controlling the puck but when he does he let’s off a slapper that beats Cloutier.
Vancouver 3-3: Cooke isn’t done, this time he lines up Bouillon… but the diminutive Canadiens defenseman sees him coming and levels him. The two get tangled up, wrestle for a while… both go off. This isn’t good news for the Habs, because it’s tougher to contain the Canucks’ impressive offense with more room out there. Vancouver gets lucky on this one, King shoots at the net but it hits Jovanovski in the chest as he was crashing the net and goes in.
Vancouver 4-3: Guess what, another power-play goal. This time Bouillon gets called for tripping, a questionable call especially with a tied game in the 3rd period. Again Vancouver gets lucky, this initial shot from the point is blocked but then it bounces off a few legs and winds up on Jovanovski’s stick and he blasts it in.
Montreal 4-4: Just when it seemed the Habs had just lost two precious points, they answer back 50 seconds later. This time it’s Koivu winning a key faceoff in the offensive zone, and Rivet gets a shot on net. Koivu beats his checker, Linden, to the rebound and tests Cloutier again but the goalie is up to the task… then Ryder grabs the 2nd rebound and finally beats a sprawling Cloutier.
That’s what you need from a first line, to come back strong on the shift following the Canucks’ go-ahead goal and show their team-mates this is not over.
Vancouver 5-4: So the game goes into OT, they are playing for the extra point against a team from the other conference so no pressure. Quintal chases Bertuzzi who is controlling the puck in Montreal’s zone, Zednik is nearby but fails to recognize he should come and help out his defenseman as there are now practically at the blueline. So Koivu comes from the opposite side of the ice to help out, but that leaves his side open, Bertuzzi sees that and passes the puck over to Ohlund who comes in on Theo and beats him with a low shot.
– Montreal finished up 3-0 when playing 5-on 5 tonight. Their other goal was on 4-on-4 but it was right off a faceoff so the number of players on the ice didn’t matter on that play. Vancouver scored 3 on the PP, and 2 more when playing 4-on-4. A weaker team trying to shut a powerful offense down needs to play 5-on-5 on order to clog up the neutral zone and slow down the play… but the Habs didn’t play smart, and this is a recurring problem Julien needs to address.
– Theodore was run into and knocked around more than once, and nobody from the Habs reacted. In some cases I can understand if the player got a penalty you don’t want to get an off-setting minor. But at least take the guy’s number and get him back later on, even if it’s just with a clean but hard hit… but none of that happened. Vancouver on the other hand was keying on Zednik all night after his questionable hit on Malik, and he was flattened three times by Bertuzzi, Cooke and Jovanovski. And that was just for a #4-5 defenseman, just imagine if it would have been Cloutier… now that’s a team that sticks together.
– Vancouver was unbeaten at home coming into tonight, 8-0-1. So considering the level of opposition, the Habs did rather well tonight… and at least weren’t totally outclassed as they were vs. Ottawa despite the win. Hopefully that level of play can carry over to the next game, minus the undisciplined penalties. The Habs always seem to prefer the West’s style of play, and so do the fans that were treated to some entertaining hockey for a change.
– This is the second game in a row where I feel compelled to bring up a great play by Ribeiro. On one shift he beat his defenseman 1-on-1 at the blueline, was solidly checked in the corner but managed to keep puck possession. Audette and his man came in, and then Ribeiro slipped out of the pile with the puck passed behind the net then out in front… got a one-handed shot on Cloutier. These are kind of plays Mike wasn’t able to deliver last year, watching some of these kids grow is one of the few joys for Habs fans this season so far…
Habs’ hero: The first line, especially Koivu and Zednik. Both hadn’t done a thing this year so far, at least Saku had an excuse. But the fact is it’s about time these two got going, and they finally started clicking again vs. Vancouver. I don’t know if it has something to do with playing out west, but whatever the reason both had their best games of the year so far. Ryder is a good fit with those two; hopefully Julien has finally stumbled onto a line he’ll see fit to keep together for a while.
Koivu’s energy and intensity on the ice seems to be what Zednik needs to light a fire under him, Koivu’s reaction on the 4th goal that tied the game late said it all when it comes to the emotion the captain brings to this team.
Markov also looked like himself for the first time in a long while; I also enjoyed his reaction to the goal he scored tonight. Emotion like that is what this team needs to be successful.
Habs’ zero: There are a few tonight, first and foremost Audette who opened the floodgates with his careless 4 minute high-sticking penalty. Then we have Rivet, who followed up with a holding penalty that gave Vancouver their 2nd goal.
Finally the Habs defensive core as a whole, which did a poor job of protecting Theo all night… that was disappointing and another key to tonight’s loss. Theo had to go after Cooke himself in OT, finally losing it after having been knocked around all night.
They probably have the worst PK unit in the league after tonight’s game, and yet they keep taking unnecessary penalties… and at the worst times. They need to stop taking as many penalties, and they to find a new way to approach the penalty kill because whatever they are doing right now… it’s not working.
We used to have an excellent power-play with the same personnel under Carbonneau, but since Charron has replaced him it has never been the same. Get someone new in there if you have to, but improving special teams is of paramount importance if the Canadiens want to have any chance of turning their season around.
The western swing continues, the Habs play Calgary on Thursday before playing in the much anticipated outdoor game in Edmonton on Saturday night.