Five wins in a row, a pile of points up on the Sabres, and playing some very strong hockey tonight; this is the kind of situation Habs fans could only dream about at the beginning of the season. In fact, it’s always interesting to look back and review some of the comments like: “Julien sucks as a coach, the system sucks,” and “This team is awful, we’re going to finish last and get Ovechkin.” A little patience goes a long way, however I don’t suspect Hab fans will really have learned from all this; next time the Habs struggle for a few games, it’ll be the same story all over again.
Intensity was the word of the day for the Habs. The first two periods were extremely good, for all four lines, no less. There was a dominance along the boards, we won the majority of our one-on-one battles, and we were first to the puck with regularity. When the Devils came out to play in the third, the fact they dominated had less to do with us playing poorly as it did to do with them just playing infinitely better.
On a night like this, it’s hard to find fault with anyone and harder to pick a ‘best’ player. Though I think in the end we can all agree that Brodeur was head and shoulders above all others tonight. For the Habs, though, this was truly a solid team effort, and one that will please everyone as they head out now on their four game road swing.
Theo: The goal was brutal, for sure. The original shot hit him in the glove and he couldn’t hang on, thus leaving that fat and juicy rebound. However, other than that one play, he was stellar and, when the Habs needed him, he was there to shut the door. B+
Bouillon: Is there a better team in the league for him to play against? The Devil forwards are fast but small, much like him. Cube did well, as can be expected, dominating the smaller guys down low, and the fact that he has good foot speed and good overall speed meant that he wasn’t beaten to much at all on this night. B+
Brisebois: Another solid night where he stuck to the basics, didn’t do anything silly, and turned in what is starting to become the typical performance for him. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, when he sticks to those basics, while he may not be a $4 million defender, he’s a top four guy on any team in hockey. B+
The pair: Fleet of foot, smart of pass, and positionally sound tonight, and against this type of team, that’s a good pairing. When you can collect the puck and turn it up for a quick counter, you’re looking very good. B+
Quintal: The Devils are smart and they’re coached well, and you could see that because they attacked Quintal with speed a few times causing the big but slow man some fits. His big problem is slow feet, and therefore even when he starts out having great position, he can lose it fairly quickly when a Gionta or a Friesen attacks him. Still, he handled himself well and didn’t let himself get beaten often. B
Komisarek: A tough game for him to be put back into the lineup. This kid has trouble making lightening fast decisions and those forwards of the Devils are zippy quick mini-men – and that’s not a favourable combination. I applaud Julien getting him back in the lineup and giving him a few minutes, but if anyone was expecting over ten, they were sorely mistaken. N/A
The pair: N/A
Rivet: He made one brutal giveaway, however made up for it by taking the puck back. It seems to me he’s also improved his hitting much more lately; he’s using the leg drive instead of just hitting guys with all upper body. That gives his checks that much more authority and when you combine it with his intensity he can be fairly formidable at times. There was one sequence I remember where he won a battle one-on-one, then chipped the puck up the boards where a Devil knocked it down. He then hammered this second in the boards, won the puck, and put a tape-to-tape pass to a Hab forward. Great turnaround this season. B+
Markov: He played with poise, patience, didn’t get rattled or let himself be overrun with emotion, and was tremendously effective at both ends of the rink. Markov has found his game and then some. He wins his battles for the puck, is exceedingly effective at angling his man out and is wonderfully proactive on the puck. I’m not going to say ‘Souray who’ but if the big man was back, he’d be the number two. A
The pair: Going on three years of being together solidly makes this pairing a solid one. They each know what the other will do, where the other will go, and most importantly, know where the other is lacking in their game. Tonight, they were excellent together. A-
Langdon: He might need a few games break after all that ice time. Can someone get him to teach Ward and Dags how to skate because, for a muscle man, he’s pretty nifty on the blades. N/A
Kilger: The Chad was fairly quiet tonight, though he did make a few solid plays early in the game either by winning the puck or working hard and finishing checks. Still, for him it’s just not enough. N/A
Ward: Excellent positioning on the powerplay, none can argue that. The goal was a great one to get and will hopefully lift him out of what I think is a bit of lethargic play lately. He’s not finishing those checks like he’s supposed to anymore, and that’s unfortunate. B-
The trio: At one point a puck ricocheted off a Devil defender and almost went in – it would have been Langdon’s first goal. Just thought I’d mention that here. N/A
Dackell: Unusually poor game from Dax. While he did his usual in the offensive zone and held onto the puck for eternities while waiting for help or killing off time, he also made a few bonehead passes which resulted in turnovers at the Hab blueline. Can’t have that from a supposedly defensive player. C-
Juneau: If he bends over any lower when he skates down the ice I think he’s going to start digging trenches with his nose. Made a couple of good rushes and promptly lost the puck deep in the Devil zone, worked well defensively again, and was smart off the puck. A solid game. B-
Begin: I dunno why Sunny was out, (or maybe he was in; he is, after all, Mr Invisible!) but I thought Begin played a very intelligent game on the third line. He knew he couldn’t go nutso with his hitting and instead played a very controlled game. He was very good defensively, and as usual, when he did finish those checks, he made them count. B
The trio: Although the Gomez line was the most threatening all night, they were still mostly contained and confined to outside shots. When they penetrated, they were muzzled fairly effectively, and I feel Juneau’s line did a very stand-up job. B+
Dagenais: Much better game tonight from the big man. He may not have scored, but he showed an intensity that’s been missing for a few games. He was also not standing still in the slot like Donkey Kong, just waiting for a pretty pass to hit him on the stick. He finished checks, made a few nice passes, and DIDN’T SHOOT FROM THE BLUELINE. The Forum Ghosts were smiling on us tonight. B-
Ryder: His shooting percentage took a hit from Brodeur tonight as his 423457 shots were all turned aside. He and Ribs have really developed a wonderful chemistry lately and tonight, with a porous Devil defence, it really showed. Further to that, he was finishing his checks (hard) and making some nice plays. What I really like is that he’s willing to accept a hit to make a play – that’s a sign of maturity and of someone who’ll stick around and be successful at this level for a while. A-
Ribeiro: For two periods he was the best player on the ice (except Brodeur) and was making things happen every time he stepped on. The big difference between this game and recent games was that he made the second, third, and sometimes fourth efforts necessary to create. This third was less great, and at one point he stopped working for a puck, but overall, I felt this was his best game in a while. If he can bottle that first period especially, then use that every game all the time? Money. A-
The trio: As mentioned, Ribs and Ryder make a wonderful duo, and when Dags shows up and creates himself, then that’s a great line. For the most part, they were dominant, and on those rare occasions where one of the three went to sleep for a shift, the other two seemed to pick up the slack. Great game. A-
Perreault: Two in a row for Yanic the Great. That was another game where he was far more intense than usual. He won one-on-one battles, won board fights, and created quite a few plays. Playing on the wing is surely a challenge for him, but so far he’s acquitted himself fairly well. B
Zednik: Beware. That goal may just open the floodgates; I mean, it was hardly the best of his year, but a goal is a goal and he’ll be gripping that stick less like it was his long lost lover and more like it’s an implement of mass goalation (pardon the Danny Gallivan-like making up of words). This is about the perfect time to wake up from the slumber and hit stride – going on this four game trip. Best of all? He was great along the boards as well. B+
Koivu: Another solid game where he created, was smart on and off the puck, and made things happen. It wasn’t his best game, by any stretch, and he did a few things that caused for a raising of the Eyebrow, but overall it was another good game. He’s learning the Yzerman thing now – that the best leaders are not always the best scorers, but they’re the guys you put anywhere to help the team. B+
The trio: Effective game for the three, and while they were the second best Hab line on this night, they were still great in the opposing zone. Unfortunately, with Perreault there, they win less board battles and that hurts somewhat. B+
Julien: Correct decision, as far as I’m concerned, to sit Dykhuis. I’d rather go with five than have him in the lineup. I also like the way he’s worked Markov back in after the lad had to deal with the death of his father. Now Markov is playing the best hockey of his career.
The team: Solid, solid application of the system. This, friends and neighbours, is a team that can compete in the playoffs and can challenge any team it comes across. The team that played the other night? Not so much, but tonight’s Habs, oh yeah. When you play with that kind of intensity and work the game plan that well, you’re going places. As is typical for this team when it wins, the whole is better than the sum of its parts. A-
Now that, to me, was a satisfying victory. It’s not because the Devils were slightly flat, which they were, but it’s because we took advantage, played our system and dictated our game, and worked like there was no tomorrow. That was playoff hockey, and it’s what will make us successful as we approach, and hopefully play in, les series.
Off we go on a four-game road swing which starts off against the Hosers of San…er…San Jose. Should be an interesting game if the team plays like it did tonight. I’d be interested to see if we score 7 or 9 in a game like that against a team without Brodeur between the pipes. But, as usual, we can’t take any games lightly, particularly in the wild, wild West where defence is a second thought and the attack is where it’s at. Still, fun to think that we’ll be going for six in a row; when was the last time we could say that?