As the Montreal Canadiens head into Buffalo tomorrow night there will be one thing on the players’ minds: victory. After a pair of disappointing losses at the hands of the Devils and Maple Leafs, in which the Habs only scored one goal in 120 minutes, the general consensus is that this is a team with every intention of returning to their form of not long ago, a rather special stretch that saw them lose only one of ten contests.
Saku Koivu was far less than spectacular in those pair of ugly weekend contests, but the Habs’ best player is one that does not sit down in times such as these. Whether he is out there to throw a big hit, making that sparkling offensive play, or killing off the key penalty; Koivu will come to play tomorrow night. And if he does indeed look like a man on a misson, than the Buffalo Sabres are in deep trouble.
Heading into the mini two game meltdown, things were flying nine feet high for the CH. Skaters were rampaging on hot streaks, points were being posted crazily, stats were on the rise and most importantly, players and fans alike were smiling. Despite the loss in New Jersey, the Habs faithful treaded down to the Bell Centre, some paying upwards of $800 per ticket, while the real bargains were to be found after the game. A 4-1 loss to the visiting Leafs saw bandwagons slashing ticket prices as they crashed and banged (much unlike the Habs) into stores, while the passengers threw each other aside and tossed out cruel names to players, citing how awful their beloved Habs had become over the span of two contests. C’mon.
While there’s no arguing anywhere that the Habs were thoroughly outclassed, outworked, and outperformed on Friday and Saturday, there are too many workhorses and fiery spirits hanging around the CH to let the team drop too far. It all starts at the top, too. Gainey was, at least we hope, thoroughly disgusted with his team, something he will not let happen on Tuesday. When the likes of Koivu, Souray, and Rivet stand up to speak, their teammates will be all ears.
While all three players, along with the likes of Mike Ribeiro, Nik Sundstrom, and Jan Bulis, will head to the coldest city on earth with hopes of grabbing the victory, they will also be looking to up their games to the next level, too.
Ribeiro, who was hitting the scoresheet at a remarkable pace before Friday, was dominated and crushed at the hands of his opponents, making his production of late seem rather useless. The talented pivot still managed to post an assist, all though he can thank his linemate, Zednik, for that one.
Sundstrom’s defensive work has been up to par, and when the team’s winning, he can get away with little or no offensive work, but when the losses come, boy you’d better be ready to work on the offence. For such a talented player, going pointless in six straight is a little bit concerning.
In the case of Bulis, you can always see his effort come forth, but he is way out of his league with Saku Koivu. His below average shot and limited offensive skills see him better suited to the third line, or perhaps he could round himself into an effective third piece to the Richard Zednik – Mike Ribeiro tandem.
While Souray’s and Koivu’s play may seem to be inexcusable, there may be a little bit of something that’s effecting their performances. Both players, along with Craig Rivet, Pat Brisebois, Andreas Dackell, and Joe Juneau missed practice in order to recover from minor injuries and illnesses. The extra day off should hopefully be enough to spur some offence, especially from Big Sheldon who’s looking lonely without a point in his past six.
Through all of this bad news of late, there had to be something good to say. Jason Ward, who appeared to brutally have separated his shoulder, skated yesterday at the Habs’ open practice, and although he’s not taking part in contact, he looked to be handling the puck with ease and was skating just fine (well, as fine as he ever skates). This is good news for the Habs, who also expect Steve Begin to be back in the coming weeks.
It probably would’ve been nice to see Begin bashing his former mates tomorrow in Buffalo, but we may have to settle for Ward to take on that role as he(if he is given the green light, as unlikely as it may be), along with his teammates, will need to resume the role of the warrior; especially if they’d like to shutdown the red hot Miro Satan and Milan Bartovic, who have combined for five points in as many games lately. Luckily for Montreal, the team may not have to deal with Taylor Pyatt tomorrow. While he has yet to record a point against the CH this year in three games (two of which were won by the Habs), he is always dangerous against Montreal, and his big body can do a lot of damage.
An Injury Update
Jason Ward, listed as day-to-day with that shoulder injury of his, has not ruled out the possibility of playing tomorrow. Steve Begin, on the other hand, is practising in full contact drills with hopes of dressing for the team within the next seven to 10 days, or three games from now. According to www.canadiens.com, Souray, who we mentioned was battling some a minor setback, has been confirmed to have been suffering after taking a shot off the foot over the weekend. Also reported at the Habs’ official website, Koivu, Craig Rivet, and Patrice Brisebois are battling the flu, but when one considers the mental toughness these three have expressed this season when dealing with difficult off ice issues and critism, the effect of the flu should be fairly minsicule.
Don’t cough up your supper when you notice Mike Komisarek centering the Habs’ final forward trio tonight. Due to numerous bang-ups and injuries, the big defenceman will skate on the Habs’ fourth line with Chad Kilger and Darren Langdon, according to RDS. Although, that begs the question, where is Yanic Perreault? He’s not in the sidelines due to the shortage of players, surely Coach Claude will not have placed him on the defensive line, and Josef Balej is to be filling in Pierre Dagenais’ spot on Richard Zednik’s line. Has Julien decided to slide Jan Bulis into a defensive role alongside Joe Juneau, thus paving the way for Perreault to skate offensively on Koivu’s line? When the puck is dropped, I expect we’ll see Yanic Perreault, not Chad Kilger, playing on the fourth line, while presumably Kilger assumes the left wing position on Juneau’s defensive unit.
Also Read : Speed to Kill Sabres? : by D. Muller, for a detailed look at tonight’s lineup and what the Habs must do to win.
Also Read : A Cut Below : by Colin Prichett , a closer look at the Sabres.