Sunday, January 04, 2009

Game #38

Montreal Forwards Outshoot Florida Panthers In Goal-Slinging Affair

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Sunday, January 4th, 2009
Opponent: Florida Panthers
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 5-6 - Win (SO)

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Craig Anderson (L)

Habs goalscorers: Francis Bouillon, Andrei Kostitsyn (2), Robert Lang, Tom Kostopoulos, (Andrei Markov - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Brett McLean, David Booth, Radek Dvorak (2), Jassen Cullimore



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

What a change from Friday, plenty of good plays to choose from here. The play of the game for me was Habs goal #2. Not only was it one of the prettiest plays of the night, but it was also the timeliest of plays and marked the turning point of the game (well the first one, anyway).

The play starts for me when I see Craig Anderson somewhere near the top of the faceoff circle to the left of his crease. He was there to break up a play that involved a melee of players. Sergei Kostitsyn ended up with the puck with a clear lane to shoot. But instead of shooting (with the angle well covered by a retreating Anderson), he had the presence of mind to think pass. A split second later he hit his streaking brother with a crisp cross ice feed to where he would be (importantly, not where he was) and Andrei picked the inside of the post with his patent accuracy.



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

Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei made the second line dangerous today. He made it the first line, really. He played like he wanted the puck and went to get it time and time again. His first goal, the play of the game was a good shot. His second goal, our fifth, was great - a goalscorer's shot. Even besides his two goals, he was liveliest among the forwards and took creative chances with clever timing. He was the reason we made a comeback and he was the reason we had enough goals to hold Florida off. A great game from #46.



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)...

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
2 goals on 2 shots to go with a lot of pressure in the Florida zone. RDS wanted to pump up the Lapierre line tonight (and rightly so), but Andrei Kostitsyn led a unit that was on the ice for 4 Canadiens goals. They say to win your best players must be your best. It seems that at the same time as we win in ever stranger ways, Andrei is becoming the very best of the scoring forwards - and when he's on, we often find a way to win.

Guillaume Latendresse
Guillaume is definitely doing more of what we expect Guillaume to do of late. This game was no exception. After a horrific first period where he couldn't have given a better demonstration to my point about North American youngsters lagging in the skill of pass reception, he turned things around. Over the game in total there were 6 shots from Gui and another 5 that were either blocked or misses. It doesn't do much for his shooting percentage, but all his shots came as a result of hard work, an incredibly uncanny knack to find good position and pressure from his whole line.

Sergei Kostitsyn
Like Guillaume, Sergei had a rough first. His first shift of the second, where he was on the ice for 2 goals for turned things around completely for the young Kostistyn. From that point he made intelligent plays, used his speed efficiently and helped turned the game around. He certainly did make some gaffes today, but show me a player who didn't. At the end of the game, it's hard to argue against a dome for the passer on the play of the game, another pass on a candidate goal and +4 (highest on the team).

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
I chose Roman for the dome based on watching him play today. In a game where Florida probably got a bit too much room, no defencemen were pushing for player of the game honours. However, I felt that Hamrlik, of the 6, availed himself best over 65 minutes. In fact he did a very good job for most of the night, holding his opponents off the scoresheet despite a shakier than usual Josh Gorges, right until the 5th Panthers goal. Add to that, his well-timed pinching and he's my D of the game.

Andrei Markov
The second D spot was really up for grabs tonight. First Bouillon had it with a goal and some good hits. But nailbiting stuff from him in the third make me think again. Komisarek made a play for the place, but also folded his tent early in this one. And, Brisebois, the enigma played well up front directing some great shots at some points, but really had some shocking moments at the back. Markov was really no better than those three, but did differ in that his effort and play improved over the night rather than deteriorated. He too had moments to encourage, with some good takeaways and pinching up front. He really waited to the very last play of the game to seal the place, though - with that beautiful and recurring shootout goal he does. And as usual, as goes Andrei markov, so go the Habs...

Goaltender

Marc Denis
Halak was not as terrible tonight as the scoreline or the statistics made him out to be. He didn't give away goals cheaply like last game and he even played a couple of good shootout shots (and got his first save ever in that). But even if he had not let in 5, he was merely average. There was not an exceptional save. And, I think it's fair to say he had 5 opportunities to make one and whiffed. As Tobalev frequently says, he did not give his team a chance to win (well not on most nights, anyway); so for that reason, Marc Denis claims his second dome in as many games.



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

Passing success is more important than Benoit Brunet hard-working hockey. Great passing, I am willing to wager, creates far more goals and opportunities than any dump in, line change or body check in the opposition's corner. Good passing makes a team look good. Bad passing makes them hard to watch.

Exhibit A: The first period. The Canadiens came out playing with loads of energy, but couldn't open up the Florida defence. Ignoring the individual errors that led to goals against, most of the Canadiens woes in the first were due, in my humble opinion, to some very unimaginitive passing. Passes were being made time and time again directly to players. Even successful passes were being cradled, controlled for a few seconds, carried and then redistributed. In short, the Canadiens made a welcome target for a team that relies on textbook defence.

Exhibit B: The second period. In the second frame, the Canadiens scored 4 goals, took 19 shots and had the vast majority of possession. The difference from my point of view was a sudden increased efficiency in passing. Passes were being made into space (ask Wayne Gretzky why he was so good at creating goals), not to players sticks. The passers anticipated the flow of the game, dictated where it would go next and suddenly found seams. The passing gave the forwards space and gave the Florida defenders something to think about.

If the Montreal Canadiens want to figure out what is wrong with their PP, they should have a look at these two periods again. They should even check out Florida (more specifically Mikael Frolik). Accurate passes to open space in dangerous areas can create confusion and it can create seams. One pass on the PP is good, two in a row like this is a scoring chance, and three passes is the Canadiens PP from last year (at 30% efficiency). And the passes should be strung together, planned before received. One touch passing will mean the PP will probably have less time in zone, but more goals with just a few more one touch passes. But I guess we'd rather just take the time in the zone?


Overall Comments

I noticed when Markov scored the winner today, Carbonneau turned and left the rink immediately - all the while shaking his head. It was that kind of game. To be sure, based on momentum and expectations with 10 minutes to go, Florida had the feel good night. But guess what, we got the two points.

I'm sure the players would have been in for a rant about their third period collapse (second period comeback forgotten) and the way they almost blew it. But you don't win a game 6-5 without something good going on. You don't often get any points when your own goalie is shaky and allowing 5 goals on 31 shots in regulation. If I'm honest, the forwards as a group played pretty darn well. 5 goals is nothing to laugh at. The Lang and Kostitsyns line had some lapses, but generally played very, very well. The darlings (Lapierre, Latendresse and Kostopoulos) had a great outing for a third line, well deserving of the praise they received. Even Kovalev, Plekanec and Pacioretty had brilliant moments. Chipchura didn't really set a foot wrong in his 10 minutes of ice time either.

It's important to be stern, of course, but I hope there is a little celebration, as well as some review of that second period to examine one of the best 20 minute bouts of offensive flair and control of the season.

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