The clock is about to strike midnight for some young NHL prospects, yet on a night when Montreal scrapped out a 4-3 overtime victory, there were two who shone once again. Despite failing to record a point once more, Chris Higgins’ exceptional two-way play would seem to put him at the head of the class. And Thomas Plekanec once again displayed the dynamic, two-way abilities that seem likely to force the Canadiens into keeping him with the big club.
On a night when there was much less flow to the game at times, these two Habs rookies once again put their best skates forward and displayed NHL-calibre play. Both were used extensively on the penalty kill and both were dynamic and energetic in the offensive zone. Higgins in particular looked completely ready for the NHL with a savvy game, highlighted by aggressive, physical play. Plekanec, for his part, was less physical, however he was a constant buzz in the Bruin zone.
The Canadiens came out with both barrels blazing and largely dominated the first period, finishing with a 3-0 lead. With superior speed and aggression, they seemed to skate rings around a Bruin squad repleat with youngsters hoping to make an impression.
Pierre Dagenais picked up Montreal’s first marker as he picked up a loose puck and skated in alone on Andrew Raycroft, tucking a sweet little dangle into the cage. The first was a strong showing for Dagenais, who some have pointed at as being a players whose position was seriously under fire.
A fluke goal gave the Habs a 2-0 lead when Ron Hainsey’s point shot went off the glove of a Boston defender and landed neatly behind a flailing Raycroft. Despite the goal, however, Hainsey was too slow making his decisions and seemed to grind to a halt at times wondering what to do. Of note, there was a large contingent of scouts at the game perhaps wondering if Hainsey might be put on waivers for a return to Hamilton.
The Habs second round pick in the recent entry draft, Guillaume Latendresse, assisted on Hainsey’s goal, and while he didn’t manage to score any himself (though there is some question on whether or not he might have deflected the game winning goal by Andrei Markov into the net), he once again showed a tantalizing glimpse into the future as he hammered numerous Bruins into submission. With the new rules allowing players to become unrestricted free agents in a mere seven years, Latendresse might very well be returned to his junior club, however his play has been most exciting and will surely have fans salivating for more.
Montreal’s third goal was from a one-timer by Richard Zednik in the slot. Most impressive on the goal was the lightening-quick one-time pass from Plekanec to the tape of Zednik.
The second and third periods, unfortunately, were less than spectacular. Montreal seemed to lack cohesion and, while Boston did manage to score three goals to tie things up, they were less than spectacular either. Yann Danis, vying for the backup role to Jose Theodore, played a solid game, though he would certainly like to have the goal by Brad Boyes back. A snap shot from a desperate angle needs to be stopped at this level.
The game ground to a close and only overtime provided the hometown crowd with a little more excitement as refs continued to show they weren’t afraid to make the necessary calls. With two men up, the puck was worked around to Markov, and his one-time blast from the point sailed past Raycroft to end the game.
Of the other rookies for Montreal taking part, Jonathan Ferland was impressive in his physical play, yet his return to Hamilton is basically assured. Corey Locke had some good moments and hit two posts, and while his improvement is tangible, he too will take the road to Hamilton for more seasoning. Andrei Kostitsyn was something of a disappointment, though that is perhaps a function of the players with whom he skated – Locke and John Vandermeer. He had little ability to get any kind of flow in the game with fourth line duty. Furthermore, when he did have the puck he was overly selfish and somewhat tentative. While he has the skills, more work is definitely needed.
It was perhaps a most disappointing night for Alex Perezhogin. Playing on a line with Dagenais and Mike Ribeiro he might have hoped for some wonderful play between linemates, but instead he was treated to a severely off-game by Ribeiro who seemed to struggle at both ends of the rink. As such, Perezhogin wasn’t able to find a rhythm. Since Ribeiro and Dagenais play so well together, it’s also perhaps possible that he had trouble meshing with the two.
Defensively, Mike Komisarek took a strong step forward from his first game Saturday night. He was perhaps a little less physical, but his defensive game was far less suspect. Mark Streit had moments of great play, but they were balanced by a few disastrous events.
As Montreal prepares to trim the roster a little more, one has to wonder whether Bob Gainey has seen enough to know whether or not he needs to get out and test the trade market to see if there’s an improvement for the club. Perhaps defence is where the most help is needed as both Hainsey and Streit are struggling at this point.
The final three pre-season games are upon us, so it’s time for the young talent to put up or shut up. The carriage to the NHL will turn into a pumpkin very soon so it’s all hands on deck to prove the skate fits and the name deserves to be on the sacred bleu-blanc-rouge.