For the second time in two nights, Michael Ryder finds himself the hero after scoring the winning goal in overtime, this time against the Rangers of New York. While the hockey the Habs played this time was better, they are still a far cry from where they hope to be as there were long stretches once again of unispired play.
In fact, the Canadiens had plenty of opportunities to put this one away as the Rangers fell to a game of obstruction. Twice the Habs had two-man advantages and twice they failed to produce much more than perimeter passing. In this new era of hockey where special teams are going to be most important, this will certainly become a concern if they can’t find some way to score.
It was a poor start to the game for Les Habitants. The Rangers came out with all cylinders firing and scored the game’s first goal very early. And who other but recently traded Marcel Hossa to put the home side in front early. Eith a neat bit of tic-tac-toe passing, Hossa directed the puck behind a Jose Theodore with no chance. The entire sequence was caused by a turnover just inside the opposing blueline by Mike Ribeiro who subsequently failed to get back in time to help his beleagered defence.
Shortly thereafter on the power play, however, Ryder notched his first of the night on a nice pass from Pierre Dagenais. The latter had fumbled a pass from Ribeiro but managed to gain control of the puck to throw it in front of the net to a Johnny-on-the-spot Ryder.
Soon after it was Chris Higgins, with a good twenty or thirty family members looking on, scoring his first NHL goal. Thomas Plekanec made a heads up play in the high slot after a failed clearance and quickly fed Higgins who was buzzing the crease. One shifty move to the goalie’s right later and the Canadiens had the lead.
It should be noted that the trio of Higgins, Plekanec, and Steve Begin were once again stellar at both ends of the rink. They look less like a fourth line and more like another second line, and certainly Claude Julien will be grinning like a Cheshire cat because of it.
The first period didn’t end without another tally. This time it was the Rangers equalling the score as Ribeiro’s line got bottled down low and failed to clear the puck. Untimately, Martin Rucinsky scored to level the match and bring the number of goals by former Habs on the night to two.
As the game wore on, it became evident that the best player on the ice by a quite substantial margin was Andrei Markov. Continuing his solid play from the playoffs two years ago (and apparently in the Russian League last season), he rediscovered his form on this night and was All-Star quality. WIth impeccable positioning and spot-on stick checks, he neutralized Jagr and the rest of the Rangers repeatedly.
Just after the six minute mark of the period, the Rangers were caught on a poor line change and Alex Kovalev found Alex Perezhogin alone behind the defence. Racing in alone on Kevin Weekes, Perezhogin fired a Kovalev-like snap shot into the top corner for his first NHL goal. Perezhogin was a threat all night, and while he did tend to hold on to the puck a little much at times, his obvious skills with the puck will be bad news for Dagenais once Zednik rehabilitates.
Interestingly, Perezhogin and Higgins both scored their first AHL goals in the same game. With any luck, the two will register their 60th points on the same night sometime in late February or early March.
By the third period the ice had degenerated quite significantly. Sir Paul McCartney had played four consecutive nights and it was quite obvious with the bouncing puck that the quality of hockey was going to diminish. The lack of flow made the third period harder to watch, and it only became worse when, with less than three minutes left, Dominic Moore scored a controvercial goal with his skate.
When Don Koharski refused to go upstairs there was some complaining form the Montreal bench, but they will surely realize upon seeing the replay that the young Ranger forward wasn’t attempting to put the puck in with his skate. It was correctly called a goal and the game therefore went to overtime.
It was a seemingly innocuous play on which Ryder scored. A pass at his own blueline from Mathieu Dandenault skate to just inside the Ranger line where he fired a weak wrist shot on net. Somehow it handcuffed Weekes and the puck snuck in to send Montreal to Toronto undefeated.
Still, despite the victory, Julien will be a little concerned with the effort put forth by some of his crew. While it seemed a little better tonight, it was still a far cry from where he’ll surely want it. And against a Leaf club that will be fired up for a meeting with their ages old rival, Montreal had better find their game, or the first loss of the season will be in front of the know-it-all Toronto fans and media.