The Canadiens management has to be breathing a bit of a sigh of relief after the Habs defeated the St.Louis Blues in the Bell Centre by a score of 5-2. After annihilating the Penguins 8-0 in their previous game, the concern had to be of coming out over-confident, and while they allowed the first goal, it was on the power play and the Habs were the better team all night anyhow.
Something else to note after a game like this is the number of even strength tallies the Canadiens scored. It’s great to have your power play running at high efficiency as they have been in recent weeks, but it’s even better to get out there and score at a consistent pace at five on five. The fact the Habs were one of seven on the man advantage could have spelled disaster, but on this night it wasn’t the end of the world.
It was at the 5:17 mark of the first period when Francis Bouillon took his man head first into the boards, earning himself an ejection for his efforts. While some might argue that it was marginal at best, the fact of the matter is the hit was illegal, and dangerous as well. Bouillon’s night off was well-deserved.
On the ensuing power play, Garon whiffed on a Pavel Demeitra shot that tipped into the net off his glove. It wasn’t the start that the Hab goaltender, not having played in quite a few games, needed at all. Fortunately, he bounced back well after that and, though not challenged terribly for the rest of the match, made the saves when they were critical.
Just a shade over the eleven minute mark of the first, and certainly most pleasing to Julien that the Habs bounced back to quickly, Mike Ribeiro scored on a pretty dangle play in front of Chris Osgood. Receiving a pass from Pierre Dagenais, himself having intercepted an errant clearing play, Ribeiro turned back to front to face Osgood, then dragged the puck deftly across the crease, depositing the puck under the sprawling Blues keeper.
Ribeiro played one of his best games of the year tonight, going so far as to even level a checker on one play. His defensive work was better than usual and he didn’t take his typical few shifts off. Add to that his remarkable vision and typical playmaking abilities and you can see why he was named the games first star by the RDS broadcast crew.
Early in the second, Ribeiro made his most stunning play of the season when he dove to block a shot. The ensuing loose puck was scooped up by Richard Zednik who went coast to coast and roofed one over an early sprawling Osgood. It was Zednik’s 15th of the season and put him in the team lead for scoring just above New Sensation Sheldon Souray.
Just past the six minute mark, Saku Koivu picked up the puck, crossed the Blue blueline and sent a pretty pass across to Bulis, who was cutting in front of the Blues goal, just above the circles. Bulis stopped the pass, placing it on a platter for Ryder who’s one-time shot beat Osgood between the wickets for his 12th of the year.
Three minutes and a second later, a pinching Craig Rivet took a sweet feed from Jason Ward and scored on the power play to give the Habs a 4-1 lead. It was a nice change to see the second unit chipping in with some hard work and a goal. In fact, though the first unit didn’t score all night, they were extremely threatening and had numerous near misses.
After the third started, it became evident for a few minutes that the Habs were no longer playing to win, but were playing not to lose. Their decreased intensity and concentration let to a goal from Eric Nickulas who escaped the attention of Joe Juneau just outside the crease of the Hab net. It was a tic-tac-toe play that saw all the Canadiens coasting.
Fortunately, the captain seems to never sleep, and his misdirection with Chris Pronger caused the latter to drop a pass onto Koivu’s tape and he sent a perfect pass out to Jan Bulis who’s one-timer beat Osgood and slammed the door closed on any potential comeback. The play capped another wonderful night of hard work for Koivu who was dangerous on almost every shift.
The end of the game saw a lot of the fourth line as Julien gave some of his leaders a rest as they get ready for another match against the Atlanta Thrashers tomorrow evening. Perhaps with the same effort, the Habs can run together another string of three in a row.
This writer’s three stars: