Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Game #61

Halak Shines in a Shutout Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday February 24th, 2009
Opponent: Vancouver Canucks
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 3-0 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Roberto Luongo (L)

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, Maxim Lapierre
Opposition goalscorers: None



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

Late in the first we were down 2 men for a full 2 minutes. The splendid penalty-killing that took place during that time was capped off by the best penalty-killer with a fantastic play. Just as the first penalty was ending Saku, with a dive, broke up a pass at the blue-line to get the puck out. His second effort was to spring the suddenly penalty-box-free Plekanec, his third effort was to subtly trip Vancouver's best chance at catching the speedy centre. In alone Tomas went and he didn't disappoint; a perfectly placed shot gave the Habs an unexpected first intermission lead.



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

Jaroslav Halak
Jaro not only played his best game of the season, but I don't think we have seen a goaltending performance this strong since March or April of last year. He was absolutely dominant as he stopped all 34 shots that came his way. He didn't have it easy tonight, however, as a lot of those shots were quality scoring chances which required some truly fantastic saves. I haven't been so confident in our goaltending in a long time and those sentiments seemed to be echoed by Carbo, the players, Halak himself and the Bell Centre fans as everyone, from 1-0 up, seemed to believe this was Jaro's night.



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

Saku Koivu
Saku played quite possibly his best game of the year and had it not been for an above solid goaltending performance he would have run away with the game-puck. Instead he led the forwards in a major way. His assist was truly world-class especially considering it came at the end of a very tiring shift. That assist also gave him 623 career points to move him into a tie for 10th all time in Habs scoring. Oh, did I mention that he was far and away our best penalty killer and that he won 10 of his 13 face-offs.

Mathieu Dandenault
This may seem like an odd pick and I actually had to think about this one for a while, but I couldn't deny Mat this honour. On his very first shift of the game he came out with blazing speed and was knocking people around all over the place. I felt that the energy he brought in those first five minutes energized not only his team, but all those in the building too. He, for me, was a huge reason why we were able to witness a truly fantastic game. He only came back on the ice 12 more times, but he was very energetic and active during each and every presence.

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks just isn't stopping! It was another great game for Tomas tonight as he scored on a breakaway and made an unbelievable pass to Markov on our second goal. He, like Saku, also had a strong night face-off wise going 11-6. I was very happy to see him flying all over the ice as he distributed the puck so well to his wingers. That didn't, however, stop him from getting chances of his own as he shot a team-high 5 times on Luongo.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Andrei played a very strong game at both ends of the ice. He was particularly effective on the PP as that is where he notched his 8th of the year. The way he is working the puck around from the left point is reminiscent of last year when he played alongside Streit. A hot Markov inevitably means a hot PP.

Roman Hamrlik
Most of our defencemen played pretty well tonight, but I thought Hammer stood out above the 4 others for his strong defensive play. He and Komi worked well tonight which was a relief after seeing so many bad games from Mike. If they can keep this up then we are in much better shape than we were a week ago. Roman did good work on the PK tonight as he logged close to 4 minutes. Offensively he was quiet, but did manage to pick up an assist on Lapierre's empty-netter.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
I was very happy with what I saw tonight from Jaro. He was quick, focused and so in charge. He was oozing confidence all night and I think this one performance may have been the best medicine for our ailing team. When he needed to hold the puck he did, but also realized when it was smarter to play it. When he handled the puck he did so with care and competence which meant he was never scrambling to make up for his mistake. When he was challenged by Vancouver he was there with big saves upon big saves. He played like a #1 tonight, so let's go, leave him in nets and let's see where he'll take us.



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

Outshot 34-17 this could have been a whole different story for Montreal. We, however, got a goaltending performance that not only shaped tonight's game, but will hopefully give us some sort of momentum heading into the last 21 games. Patrice Brisebois played hero twice and villain twice tonight in what was a pretty typical performance for the near 1000 game-man. His first act of heroism was when he got hit in the face, a play that led to a 5-minute PP. The Habs were up 1-0 and had a chance to do some serious damage as their PP was going to work. Soon into it, however, Brisebois sent a soft, blind pass along the blue-line which was easily picked off by Henrik Sedin. There at the other end, with the save of the game, was Halak to shut the door. Soon after we scored on that same PP to go up 2-0; a world of difference to 1-1. That one save and countless others kept the Habs in the game when quite possibly they shouldn't have been. His play allowed us to go to the other end on odd-man rushes and to try risky plays as in the back of our minds we always knew he would be there - and indeed he was. It was refreshing to see the effect of a strong goalie tonight and it was even more refreshing to see the effect that that had on his team. I haven't seen the Habs just go out and play their own games in a while as they are usually concerned about what their teammates weren't going to do for them. Tonight Halak did the work, what the others did, in his (and my) mind, was simply a bonus.


Overall Comments

We needed a win as we are in what will be a bitter fight right until the end. I liked how the whole team, the coaches and the fans reacted tonight. Right from the start of the game there was an energy in the air that had me believing that, win or lose, we had left the streak behind us. Of course if you lose too often with that feeling in your minds it will soon disappear. So, I think the players realized it is one thing to believe that everything will be alright and another to actually make sure that it is. Vancouver played a good game, but didn't seem prepared for what was quite a penalty-filled game. As we all remember last week, when we played in BC, the refs put away their whistles. Well, tonight was Eastern Conference rules night as the penalties just kept coming. The Habs, a suddenly strong special-team type of group, dominated as they went 1/7 on the PP and 6/6 on the PK. Those results, coupled with great goaltending is the reason we are 2 points farther ahead than we were this morning. This game was a good start to the week, but we must keep it going. A trip to Philly on Friday will be an ideal opportunity to get a big road win against a team we desperately need to beat.

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