Saturday, March 14, 2009

Game #69

Canadiens Once Again Play to a Level Just Below Their Opponents'

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday March 14th, 2009
Opponent: New Jersey Devils
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes
Final Score: 1-3 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Brodeur (W)

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner

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

I never thought I would live to see the day, but tonight was the night that Brisebois made a 'play of the game' in his own end! Trust Patrice to wait until the spotlight is firmly on him (and a bit on Marty) to make his best defensive play since returning to the Canadiens. The play itself is quite simple, the fact that it was Brisebois makes it stand out. On a 2-on-1 against us Patrice was last man back. Already trailing in the game I couldn't believe the Breezer was our only hope on the play. He went down on his stomach (on purpose) to take away the pass, but then he went further as he swept the puck away from the Devil to also take away the shot.

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

Andrei Kostitsyn
After a period spent on the PK and of very slow play I needed to see someone on the Habs use their speed. If players like Higgins and Lapierre don't fly up the ice against a defensive team like NJ then they are virtually useless players. The one player that I noticed skating fast, starting in the second period (when the bulk of his ice-time started), was Andrei. He didn't, however, just dump the puck in and chase it fast, instead he used his speed to get around people, with the puck on his stick. He was our most dangerous player tonight and the one who best understood the instructions: don't think of him as the best ever, just treat him like any other padded-man standing in the way of the goal.

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)...


Matt D'Agostini
The second quickest Hab was Matt tonight. He was actually the second best element on what was our best line. I felt he was also the second best player at breaking the trap tonight as he wasn't afraid to not only skate, but to push his way through along the boards. He picked up an assist and his 3 shots ranked 2nd on the team.

Tomas Plekanec
Tomas scored a very similar goal to the one he scored 2 nights ago. It was a quick wrist-shot that surprised Marty and cost him his 101st career shutout. I really like how Pleks isn't afraid to try things like shooting from anywhere; that is definitely the sign of a confident player. His goal was his 2oth (3rd straight 20-goal season) on the year and his 10th in his last 14 games - a 58-goal pace.

Andrei Kostitsyn
The three players on the top line can't seem to all get going on the same night. Tonight Andrei was on, the other two were off. Kostitsyn took more than a quarter of our shots (6) and came very close at times to tying the game at 2. He seemed to be playing with confidence too, which may not have paid off for us tonight, but will in the coming days.


Josh Gorges
Didn't even realize he was playing. Well, of course I did, but he kept things very simple and not once did he stand out for a bad play. He moved the puck quickly in his own end and didn't over-commit in the offensive zone. When your #4-6 defencemen can fly under the radar like this you know that they have played well.

Patrice Brisebois
Unlike the 3-Star selectors I am not picking Patrice because this was his 1000th game. A great accomplishment, yes, but it took more to get in here. His assist was one of those that had nothing to do with the goal, but he was one of just 3 Habs to appear on the scoresheet. He is in here because of his great defensive play and because of the fact I only saw 2 major mistakes. 2 happens to be far less than his usual blunder-mark and was also less than the other 4 defenders. To give you a sense of what I am talking about, Hamrlik and Komi combined for 11 give-aways.


Jaroslav Halak
Jaro didn't really get the support he needed tonight against the cream of the East. He once again faced 48 shots and was able to stop all but 3. One goal was his fault, but that was his only real mistake. I felt that he moved very well and also handled the puck better than I have seen from a Habs goalie in a while. I thought that he gave a more commanding performance than those that Price has been giving and that this game should have earned him another start this week.

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

'When you don't have an Alexei Kovalev on your team, you say that what you need is an Alexei Kovalev' - Neil Smith. That couldn't be more true for the Habs than right now. Since his forced break he has played in 8 games, in those games we are 6-2. In our last 12 games (the 8 with him and 4 without) we are 6-6, thus we are 0-4 without him. He would have been the best player at gaining the zone tonight and at beating the trap, instead we relied on dump-ins. He would have been the best player at thinking outside of the box with the puck, something that is obviously needed when the Habs play the Devils. He would have also been the best at drawing penalties as his dekes and strong work along the boards often result in calls in our favour, instead we drew just one man-on-man penalty. When I think of Kovalev's worth I don't simply look at goals and assists, I also look at the way the other team plays to counter him. With Koivu and Tanguay virtually absent tonight, Plekanec flanked by inexperienced wingers and 3rd and 4th lines that offer nothing threatening at all in the offensive zone the Devils, and their stellar defence/goaltending had very little to think about tonight. Kovalev could have made this game a little more interesting like he does in so many of the ones he plays in. I am not going to say that he shapes every game, but he certainly shapes more games than any other player on our team and is the one player we have that can actually win a game on his own. So, I hope by Tuesday his virus has passed, because I for one can't take another foregone conclusion.

Overall Comments

The story of this game, for me, was penalties. We took them and NJ didn't. Or should I say we got called and they didn't. The Devils have the reputation of being a clean and disciplined team, but come on refs, open your eyes. I saw 3 plays in the 3rd period alone that should've been penalties, but really think they live off their reputation. Apparently we must have the reputation of being the team that takes stupid holding and hooking penalties, because that is what the refs always seem to spot. I am not suggesting that a few extra PPs would have changed this game, but it wouldn't have hurt. We played some decent 5-on-5 hockey, considering the trap, and actually had an above average second period. New Jersey, however, is so tight at the back that they can afford to wait, and wait, for their chances. Couple that with another horrid game of defensive play from us and you'll see how they 2-upped us. 48 shots against (again) is just too much for a team that thinks they are playoff (and cup) worthy. If this was a rare occurrence I wouldn't mind, but it seems to be happening twice a week now. It all stems from poor play in our own zone as our lack of confidence is turning easy plays into give-aways and then a full retreat by our D-men. Tonight we conceded space and even more space to a very fast team, it is therefore no wonder that they almost took 50 shots. 13 games to go and some big points are still needed. We can start by beating NYR at home in regulation on Tuesday. Kovalev and Latendresse will hopefully be able to bring 4 fresh legs to the ice as right now we just need some sort of change (again).

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