Saturday, March 28, 2009

Game #75

Habs Put Up the Good Fight; Fall Short

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday March 28th, 2009
Opponent: Buffalo Sabres
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Final Score: 3-4 - Win (SO)

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Ryan Miller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Christopher Higgins, Alexei Kovalev (2),
Opposition goalscorers: Adam Mair, Tim Connolly, Clarke MacArthur, (Toni Lydman - SO)

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

Higgins scored his 10th of the year tonight on an incredible shot. The timing for an even-strength goal couldn't have been better with the Habs trailing 0-2. The play started with Gorges hitting Dandenault with a pass as he entered Buffalo's zone. Mathieu then looked left and saw his two linemates to his left, perfectly lined up. He fired a crisp pass to the left which could have gone to either player. Metropolit made an excellent play (which froze defence and goalie alike) when he let the puck go right by him to Higgins. I really liked what Glen did on this play as it showed some great vision.

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

Christopher Higgins
Chris scored a goal, but even until that point he had been our best player. He seems to have found a niche on the fourth line and is thriving on it. He looked very comfortable in his role tonight and almost seems relieved that he is no longer being depended on for goals. The areas that really stood out for me tonight were his fore-checking, his energy and his ability to win pucks with his great positioning.

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
Kovalev scored 2 goals tonight as his line was once again a major threat. His first goal was kind of lucky as Saku did all the work before the puck apparently hit his stick. The second goal, however, was pure class. Standing at the side of the net Alex stopped a shot with his skate and was then able to get the puck into the net all before Miller had time to get down.

Saku Koivu
It originally looked like Saku had scored his 16th, instead he was credited with an assist. What that change doesn't take away from the captain is that he made an incredible play to get that puck at the net. He has been very good with the puck down low lately as we are seeing just how strong of a passer and puck-controller he can be. I was very impressed with not only his face-off percentage tonight (18-9, 67%), but also by the timing of his wins as he seemed to win all of his crucial draws.

Christopher Higgins
It is funny that a demotion to the 4th line has brought Chris more ice time, more responsibility and thankfully more points. He is doing so well as a penalty-killer lately, but also is seeing some occasional PP time. I have to agree with RDS when they speak about the benefit of players knowing their role. Chris now knows that he is a defensive guy who is put on to shut-down the opposition and hopefully deliver a consistent level of energy. In Higgins' case it is so far, so good, since Gainey took over.


Josh Gorges
I thought that Gorges and Schneider were our best pairing tonight in their own end. They were the ones that were committing the least amount of errors, and were also the ones moving the puck the best. Of the two I preferred Josh's game tonight though. He played close to 20 minutes and was hardly noticeable, to boot he picked up an assist to give him an unexpected 20 points on the year.

Roman Hamrlik
Let's get one thing straight, the Hamrlik-Brisebois pairing was weak tonight, Hamrlik was not. Patrice played one of his worst games of the year and it was poor old Roman who was often left out in the cold. Hammer, for his part, played alright on his own. When called upon to move the puck or to clean up a mess in his own end he was there. He took a penalty which led to a goal, but I don't think it was that bad of a penalty. Not knowing that Patrice was there to support him it was penalty or a Sabre in alone on Price in his head - he made the right choice.


Carey Price
Carey played alright tonight in his net. The thing that stood out for me, however, was how bad his puck-handling was. The good news is that he handles the puck more often when he is playing with confidence, the bad news is that he is pretty bad at it. The defence really let him down tonight with some pretty poor play so I won't blame him much at all for the goals. I was also happy with his shootout performance which was far better than last week against New York. It is just too bad that he couldn't have let in more tonight and none on the night where our forwards actually scored.

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

Watching the game here with an old friend made me look at certain things in a different way. A great hockey player himself he has a keen eye for positioning and for tactics and I listened and learned from what he said. Tonight the glaring problem was our defensive zone positioning. Whether this is caused by a lack of confidence in our goalie, the lack of a defensive coach or possibly just weak pieces on our blue-line is unknown. What is known is that this once strong defensive unit is having problems. Too many times was a player left in front of the net as our two D-men chased the puck or unnecessarily double-teamed a Sabre. We looked totally disorganized when the opposition is in our end and that only becomes magnified when they start cycling the puck. Unclear about where to go at certain times, or unsure if a teammate will stay with their man, seem to be the biggest problems for us right now. Of course much of this could be remedied with a little coaching (from a defenceman), but considering we are almost in April I can only assume that this ad-hoc approach will likely remain in place until next season.

Overall Comments

A lot was made about this game being a must-win for Buffalo that somehow lost in all of the reports was the fact that we too desperately needed the points. The Habs started the game very well and I felt were unlucky to go down by 2. I remember thinking at that point that there was no way we were getting shutout tonight, so we needed Price to keep us in it. Then, within a 7-8 minute span in the second period we scored 3 goals and things were looking good. In the third period Buffalo came out gunning for a goal (and some) and we seemed happy to sit on a one-goal lead and then eventually a 3-3 draw. Like we did on Thursday, we played the last portion of this game for OT. We were so worried about getting 0 points that 0 is almost what we got. Then, in OT, we were back to being the more aggressive team, but we couldn't get one by Miller. We then had 5 chances to win the game in the shootout as Price made the first 5 stops. Our top 5 guns were denied the role of hero and then Lydman scored to really put the pressure on. Lapierre didn't really get off a good chance as Miller went 6/6. I am, however, happy to report that we secured a single point and that we bagged 5 of 6 this week. We have 7 more games to go and it would be nice to get 10 points, but 8 may do it. We stayed afloat this week, but barely.

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