Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Game #73

The Comibination We Never Tried - Our 3 Best Players - Pays Dividends

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Tuesday March 24th, 2009
Opponent: Atlanta Thrashers
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 6-3 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alex Tanguay (2), Glen Metropolit, Alexei Kovalev (2), Saku Koivu
Opposition goalscorers: Joseph Crabb, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Bogosian

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

This play will go down as a serious candidate for the Habs goal of the year. A very nice pass to open space by Kovalev started it all off and then it was all Tanguay. Alex took control of the puck near the blue-line and made 2 very good moves to get around a flat-footed Ron Hainsey. It was then Lehtonen's turn to be undressed as the stickhandling continued. He finished it off by sliding the puck off Kari's pads ever so subtly.

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

Alex Tanguay
What a game for Alex! He scored 2 goals and assisted on 3 others for a whopping 5 points. He looked very comfortable playing with Kovalev and Koivu as the 3 players seemed to click right from the start of the game. Tonight's Tanguay was the one we saw in October and, although we have seen glimpses recently, it is great to have him back. What I liked the most about his play was the puck movement and the vision. At heart I believe he is a play-maker who sees the ice like few others, but he obviously has great hands and can score too.

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)...


Alexei Kovalev
On any other night Alex's performance would have been game-puck worthy. Tonight, however (and thankfully for us) he was one-upped by Tangs. Kovalev, for his part, also scored 2 goals and added an assist. Aside from that he had two other glorious opportunities (one of which rang off the iron) and drew at least 2 penalties. This is the type of big-game performance I expected from him and the type we will need from now until golf-season (whenever that may be).

Saku Koivu
Let's not forget the third man of a very impressive trio as Koivu too had a great game. 3 points (1 goal and 2 assists) matches a season-high he set on October 11th against the Leafs. The skipper now has his two best linemates of the season (no offence to D'Agostini and Higgins) and you could see the energy and enthusiasm in his play. I thought Gainey used him wisely tonight as he was finally brought back onto the PK. He was on the ice for 5 of our goals and none of theirs.

Alex Tanguay
For some reason people in Quebec haven't embraced Tanguay as the French superstar they have been longing for. I, for one, can't understand it as he is clearly a star and is our best French-born player (non-goalie) in years. He adds such a great element to our team when you consider the other weapons we also have up front. I hope this line sticks together even if they don't produce in every game as I saw more chemistry from those 3 than I have from any other trio in quite a few games.


Andrei Markov
We scored 3 PP goals in the second period and it, therefore, comes as no surprise that Markov was very involved tonight. In all he picked up another 3 assists to give him 48 on the year. He was on the ice for 4 of our goals and none against. Markov and Komi formed our best duo tonight as they both played a very solid defensive game. I was happy we only conceded 25 shots to Atlanta which is where it should be on a nightly basis. Andrei has been our best defenceman (by far) in both ends all season; tonight it was nice to see some others following his lead.

Roman Hamrlik
Komi played better tonight, but still took 2 penalties, and I liked what Josh and Mat did, but the stand-out amongst the rest was Hammer for me. He finally played like the #2 we so desperately need him to be. He didn't get in on the scoring parade, but did do some nice work on the second wave of the PP. In all he played over 23 minutes which included over 5 minutes on the PK.


Carey Price
The game started well for Carey as I noticed he was very active in his net. His head was in constant motion and he was challenging shooters at the top of his crease. The body language for me said he was confident. I can't say I was too impressed with his play, or style, on either of the first 2 goals, but he didn't let it bog him down for the remainder of the game. Letting in 3 goals is risky behind this team of hot/cold scorers, but he never put us in a position where we were playing catch-up. So, by always keep the game at least tied he gave us the chance we needed to win. I hope that he can build on this and I also hope that the offence can once again go about their work to make Carey's job a little easier.

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

We saw the value of Power-Plays tonight and not just because we scored on them, but because they disrupt the other team's flow. Too many times over the past few weeks have I sat and watched as the Habs shoot themselves in the foot by taking a bad penalty. Not only do the chances of an ensuing goal increase, but it basically saps all the energy out of the team. It doesn't tend to be just 2 minutes and then back to normal, often the effects can last for many minutes. In fact, it often takes a penalty to the other team before the momentum is shifted. This of course isn't the case with all teams, it is, however, the case with the Habs. You can see, therefore, the importance of avoiding successive penalties and the advantage of having a few PP's of your own in a row. Tonight our 4 straight PP's in the second led to 3 goals and a period owned by us (for a change). It effectively took Atlanta right out of a game that they were doing well in (2-2 and only having conceded 5 shots to that point). So, to me the most important thing isn't scoring on the PP (although that of course helps), but it is drawing penalties. A team that is skating hard and pressuring the other team will often get the calls in their favour. The importance, therefore, of a sustained effort from all players, at all times, is paramount to our success. My favorite penalty-draw tonight was when Lehtonen shot the puck over the glass. It was Sergei Kostitsyn who forced him to make this mistake with some very intense fore-checking. This, and other similar plays, are what the Habs have been missing of late and it all of course stems from effort, emotion and energy.

Overall Comments

We needed 2 points and it didn't matter how we got them. The way we did win that game, however, was quite encouraging. On one hand it is only Atlanta and you could also say that we were due for a win. On the other you could note that Atlanta has been decent of late and has owned us twice this calendar year. It is a win, it is 2 points, but 83 points won't get us into the playoffs - we must continue. The most positive thing about this game, however, is how we won. We never trailed, we scored 6 goals, our PP was working and we have gotten our stars clicking by finally trying the Ottawa approach of putting your 3 best weapons together. We played a decent defensive game allowing only 25 shots. I should point out though that we gave the puck up 19 times, Atlanta did it 3 times. Tonight was an example of how you can get away with some (a lot) of mistakes when you are scoring and when you are playing against a team that is nether great nor really trying. That approach won't, however, work against teams like Buffalo and Chicago who are more talented and have more incentive right now. At the end of the day I liked how we played tonight, but mostly only in relation to how we have been playing. This game wouldn't look so great had it come in December, but now I think every one's expectations are way lower now. So, I can only hope that we can build on this and that we can take the positives out of this one and remember them for the rest of the season. I think that Gainey gave us a very good look at the team he expects to use from now until the end of the year. I doubt we'll see much of D'Agostini or O'Byrne and think that Price will be given every chance in the world, at any cost. The only relief to come is Bouillon, who will be a very welcome replacement of Brisebois, and Lang if we get to the 2nd round and beyond. I say, leave the lines as is and work with this group, they showed tonight that they are capable, so I say no more excuses from them.

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