Monday, March 24, 2008

Game #77

Canadiens Play With Fire Against Sens, but Get the Win and a Playoff Spot Nonetheless

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Monday March 24th, 2008
Opponent: Ottawa Senators
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 7-5 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Gerber (L), Ray Emery

Habs goalscorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (2), Christopher Higgins, Francis Bouillon, Andrei Markov, Mikhail Grabovski, Tom Kostopoulos
Opposition goalscorers: Antoine Vermette, Dany Heatley (2), Martin Lapointe, Jason Spezza

2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Team to clinch a playoff spot in the East
1st 7 Goal effort against Ottawa this year

Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The first goal, the one that got all of the fun going was the play of the game. There was some very good puck-control and passing that went on between Hammer and Pleks which made this one possible. Most of the work for the goal was done in the neutral zone before Plekanec broke in on the right side with good control. His best option for a pass was Kostitsyn, but the defensive coverage was good so Tom opted for a non-conventional pass. The pass he made was very smart and something you don't see nearly enough of in the NHL - it was off the back boards, around the net and out the other side. On the left was Andrei Kostitsyn who received the tape-to-tape pass well and put it up into an open net as Gerber was over on the other side in reaction to the pass that had just gone by him.

Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Andrei Kostitsyn

Tonight Andrei hit two personal milestones - 25 goals and 50 points. His 2 goals tonight were goal-scorers goals as he had no hesitation whatsoever in putting them to the back of the net. He was dangerous around the Ottawa goalies in this one, especially at even strength. Aside from his goals he played a strong physical game; he won a lot of battles along the boards and in the corners.

Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...


Bryan Smolinski
- Smolinski had just a single point tonight, an assist on Bouillon's goal. At the time of the game that he set-up Bou the Habs were badly outplaying Ottawa and it was Bryan's line that was playing at the highest tempo. He was on the ice for our 5-on-3 and played well; he won 2 key face-offs during the 2-man advantage

Alexei Kovalev
- Kovy had 2 assists tonight, both of which were passes to the point and were on the power-play. There aren't too many players in the league that can control the puck and pass it like he does on the PP and for that we should be very grateful. His 2 passes weren't much, but I have a feeling a lot of other players would have trouble getting similar assists. He created so much space and time for his teammates tonight, especially his point-men - the points are just a clear example of his value to our team

Andrei Kostitsyn
- It is very nice to see Andrei hit the 50 point mark as he becomes the 6th Hab to do so this year. Believe it or not it was only 7 years ago that the Habs went 3 years in a row without a single 50 point man. Andrei was fast tonight and his shot was on, it was another very good game for the 'other guy'


Andrei Markov
- He played a very strong game, especially offensively. He scored a goal and added an assist giving him 57 points on the year. His play on the power-play is so dynamic that it just seems to baffle opposing teams. He may not be the most creative player on our PP, but I bet would rank top 5 in the East in that category - and that's the big reason we have been #1 on the PP all year

Roman Hamrlik
- Roman's best play of the game came when he had a 2-on-1 in the second period and came ever so close to scoring. The play was created when he himself blocked a shot and then used his surprising speed to get loose. He was solid in our own end for most of the game and added an assist to cap off a good night


Jaroslav Halak
- I am not entirely sure what caused the Habs' meltdown in the third, but I know that Carey played a bigger role than anyone else. The Canadiens looked like they were just playing the last 20 minutes as a formality and no one showed this more than our young keeper. Price is extremely lucky that our offence was on fire tonight because I guarantee that 9 times out of 10 we won't score 6+ goals against Ottawa. He was careless with the puck behind his own net (he cost us the goal I had foreseen, but fortunately not the game) and his rebound control was very weak. This game was a great reminder of the talent we have on the bench in Halak, a guy who must be given at least one more chance before the playoffs

Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Kovalev and his line dominated Alfie and his tonight...for the first two periods that is. He was darting all over the ice early and was creating chance after chance. His work with the puck was fantastic as he had no problem keeping it away from a very tentative Ottawa D. He worked well on special teams especially during some third period penalty-kills.

Kovalev's Assessment - Very Good

Overall Comments

Well, it wasn't the prettiest finish that I have ever seen, but at this point who cares. We did it, we got our 96 points and now we have officially clinched a playoff spot. We played two of our best periods of the year to start this game and most definitely our top two against Ottawa. We were all over the Sens' goalies and D right off the bat, so much so that Alfredsson and company were hardly noticeable for 40 minutes. Instead of sitting back and wondering what Ottawa was going to do next, how they were going to embarrass us in our own building, we took it to them and played like we do against almost every other team (still waiting for the same against Detroit and Anaheim). This unfortunately all changed in the third period as it was back to normal Habs-Sens hockey - us watching them as we try to hold on for dear life. Ottawa showed that they are indeed still a very dangerous team and when they are given an opening they will score. They outscored us 4-0 in the final frame and out-shot us by 10 (14-4). A win, however, is a win and this should be a great example to ourselves of how we can beat this team. Let's just hope that the next time we play them the team that went into the dressing room after 40 minutes faces them, and not the team that came out of it.

With the win we now sit on top of the East with a 3 point lead over the next closest team; Pittsburgh, who lost 1-4 to the Isles tonight. We now have a very comfortable 7 point lead on Ottawa as winning the division and a top-2 seed seems more and more likely (sorry Southeast). It is hard to pick out the story of the year for the Habs so far - is it Kovalev? Markov? Streit? Kostitsyn? Plekanec? Price? Trading a #1 for nothing? Having the league's best PP? Scoring the most goals in the NHL? Having 6 (soon to be 7) 50 point scorers? Or is it being 1st in the conference and assured of a playoff spot? To me, it has to be, all of the above. A team that has so much to be surprised about is surely a team that is not only on the rise, but a team that seems to have arrived. My biggest hope now is that the biggest surprise is yet to come, we'll just have to wait and see!

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