Saturday, November 01, 2008

Game #10

20 Minutes of Play From the Habs Trumps 40 From the Isles

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday November 1st, 2008
Opponent: New York Islanders
Venue: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY

Team Stripes

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Yann Danis (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev (2), Tomas Plekanec (2), Christopher Higgins
Opposition goalscorers: Mark Streit, Jon Sim, Bill Guerin, Frans Nielsen

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

The Habs had just scored their second goal of the night to bring the game back within 2 and you could almost sense what was about to come. Last year we had a few great comebacks, so everyone knew that 1-4 down, and now 2-4 down was nothing to sweat about.

Kovalev, back on after recording his second point of the night, picked up the puck in our own zone. He found a streaking Kostitsyn on the right side who used his speed and control to gain the Isles zone very easily. Then he totally undressed Campoli and went to the outside. He then threw a perfect pass to the front of the net when Plekanec was just arriving. Plekanec scored, but even more importantly our great line from last year all got a point on the play, perhaps giving us the signal that they are back.

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

Alexei Kovalev

While the Habs were on their last of 3 power-plays Streit got his stick up on Kovy. It looked at that point that nothing was going to go our way. Not only was our PP looking absolutely pathetic, but besides our bad play we weren't even getting any calls. How 4 officials missed a blatant stick to the face, that resulted in a cut, and let the play go, I'll never know. What I do know is that Kovy was angry. It seems that not getting the call was actually probably better for us as a mad Alex is better than a 4-minute power-play. From that point on Alex took control of the game. Over the following 14 minutes, with blood rolling down his face he scored his second of the night and added 2 assists.

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)...


Saku Koivu
Koivu had his shift of the year which culminated with an assist on our tying goal. He was all over the offensive zone and had possession on 4 separate occasions while the Isles couldn't clear it. He made a great behind the back pass to Higgins giving him his 11th point of the season. He didn't add to his +/- tally tonight, but did lead the Habs in faceoff % (55) and shots (6).

Alexei Kovalev
What a performance for the big-guy. This was his best game of the season, particularly the third period. The Habs as a group didn't look too great from the time of Kovy's first period goal until the third period, but Kovy himself played alright during that stretch. Aside from his offensive exploits he had one very good penalty-killing shift in which he single-handedly killed about 20 seconds as he skated circles around pretty much every player on the ice.

Tomas Plekanec
It isn't hard to believe that this was Pleks' best game of the year. Coming into tonight he had 3 points on the year, he now has 7 thanks to 2 goals and 2 assists. His 2 goals were good as was his first assist, but it was his second assist, on the game-winner, that was really a world-class play. He controlled the puck down low behind the net for about 10 seconds and no one could touch him. He was eluding checks, and looking for the perfect pass all while keeping his feet moving and his head up. Instead of going to marked players (Kovy, Kostitsyn) in front of the net or to a streaking Komi he went to a wide open Markov on the left point. Plekanec's patience and pursuit of the perfect target was quickly rewarded when Kovy put in the game-winner after a great pass from Markov.


Andrei Markov
2 more assists tonight and a very solid +3 rating. He now has 13 points in 10 games which puts him on a 106 point pace. Wouldn't it be something if he kept this up? Even 70 points would be absolutely phenomenal. When the Habs needed to take deep breaths and just show some calm play it was Marky that led the charge. He settled things down in the third period as he, like the rest of us, knew that 20 minutes was just enough time for us to accomplish what we had to.

Mike Komisarek
This wasn't the best game ever by Komi, but he did play well. I think that a trip to his homeland of Long Island may just have been what he needed to start a good stretch. When he doesn't take stupid penalties he can be quite a good player. Tonight he kept his game simple as he hit, rarely let any players behind him and moved the puck very well, whether to Markov or up to his forwards.


Jaroslav Halak
I am happy with the win and very happy with how Price handled the Islanders' 4 shots in the 3rd period to keep us in it/up, but I wasn't impressed with his play until then. This is New York, the bottom team in the league, 1 point in their last 5 games and we go and spot them a 3-goal lead. I would say that 2 of the goals were handled poorly by Price and it is for that reason that he misses out tonight. Don't get me wrong, the team wasn't great either, but I have a feeling that with Halak in there it would have been less of a mountain to climb.

In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

An inexperienced coach of a very nervous team made a huge error tonight. Right after we scored our second goal Scott Gordon called a time-out. I said at the time, as I watched, that this move was absolutely wrong and it would come back to bite him. I am happy as a Habs fan that I was right. What was happening in the game was a shift in momentum and is was clear to see. The Habs were getting going as the Isles looked nervous and unsure of what to do with a 4-1 lead against one of the league's best teams. It is, however, decisions like this time-out by Gordon that make me realize why they are sitting in 30th. The message that he was sending to his own team was that we should be worried, we have to be careful now. By taking a 30-second rest and talk he was making the players feel like they had just done something wrong. Until that point things weren't going too bad, I mean they were up 4-2 after all. But, the stoppage, usually reserved for the end of the game or overtime period put serious doubt into his players' heads at a time when they should have been very pleased with the themselves.

This isn't football, this is hockey, which means only 1 time-out/game. Most coaches use way less than their 82 time-outs over the course of the year and I think that there is a reason for that. You can't use these all the time as the break isn't merely a 30 second break in play. There are much more psychological implications than almost any other play in hockey. That is why you see good coaches benefiting from their time-outs. Carbo, after being taught by Kovy how to call a time-out, does a good job these days of knowing when and more importantly when not to use his. To me our second goal was not a time for Carbo to make the call, but definitely not the time for Gordon. The Habs could smell blood after that call and they pounced. It allowed us to get an equal amount of rest, get an equally long talking to, but more importantly go up one in the mental game of hockey.

With athletes this skilled and talented the game, on most nights, boils down to a battle of mental toughness. We see it all the time - teams like Columbus beating Detroit, or the Leafs scoring 5 in 8 minutes to knock-off the Rangers. I mean how could this happen, we all know how good these teams are on paper, but it is amazing how equal they can all be in the confidence/morale department. So, with so much of the game being mental it was truly a gift from Gordon to the Habs when he called a time-out as it allowed us to get the upper 'head' in the game.

Overall Comments

A lot of people are going to say that the Habs didn't deserve to win this game and had our opponents been anyone but the Islanders then we would have left the Island with 0 points. There will probably also be talk about how Carbo, Muller and Jarvis should not be pleased with this effort and how the players should consider themselves very lucky. After feeling like this a bit myself my eyes were opened by one of the biggest Habs fans I know. What she told me made sense and it changed my mind completely. Why shouldn't the Habs be happy with this? Why shouldn't they consider this a huge victory? Well, indeed they should. I think that bad periods and bad games are an inevitability. Being outplayed by even the worst teams happens from time to time and good teams, I think, are those who accept that. What isn't inevitable is the response that we saw from our players tonight. They never gave up and put 2 weak periods behind them as they probably played their best period of the year to end it. Coming back from 3 down with 12 minutes left isn't easy, so hopefully, it will be celebrated. Good teams can get past bad play and recover, probably by the next game, but I think it takes a great team to get a win like we did tonight. Bad periods are normal and they happen to everyone, we were just unfortunate to put two together in a row. Comebacks like that, however, don't just happen, it takes great teams and great players to pull those off, so to me that is more exciting and more of a reason to celebrate than anything else we saw from the club this week.

Well, 10 games down and 17 points in the bank. This really seems like a special team this year. We are making things happen in both ends and I think we have all the pieces to be considered a real threat, not only in the East, but in the League too. What we have are 3 excellent lines that rarely relent and just continue to make good plays. We spend a good portion of each game trying to make the cute, pretty plays, but you know what, we are! We are scoring an incredible amount of good goals and I think that says a lot for the talent we have. Each of the top 3 lines has 3 really talented players on it as I think we boast our best group of 9 forwards since the early 90's. A player like Lang has proven his worth already and proven how important it is to have 3 scoring lines and not just 2. It will be interesting to see how the next 10 games go and so on after that, but it is certainly nice to have a start like this. What happens, you see, is that we have built a very good lead in the standings, periods of .500 hockey now won't knock us out of the playoffs as they would have in the past. Also, and possibly best of all, is that this all will hopefully serve as a good reminder to all the players of how good we are. As the year goes on we will always have this stretch to look back on to give us proof that we truly belong at the top.

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