Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Khabibulin (W)
Habs goalscorers: Gionta, Hamrlik
Opposition goalscorers: Comrie, Jacques, O'Sullivan
Gionta and Gomez continued their hot play yesterday and it paid off for them towards the end of the 2nd. A great steal by Gionta at centre ice created an odd-man rush and the two made no mistake. Brian got the puck to Scott and, almost immediately, got the puck back himself. In they went on a 2-on-1 and did exactly what I was hoping for. I wanted a shot from Gionta rather than a pass to Gomez and that is what happened. It ended up being a perfect shot that went upstairs and fooled Habby. It was a timely goal and, at 1-3, put the Habs back in the game.
Once again Scott was one of our best players and once again I had to wait too long to see him on the ice. He did get 20 minutes of ice, but I find that the other 40 minutes of the game becomes extremely long as I wait for our only real scoring line to get back on the ice. He worked well with Gionta and a variety of other wingers tonight, and again was the main driving force of the offence.
It is great that Mike is playing so well, but like I call out goalies and defencemen for not being great and making not making crucial plays I must do the same with Mike. He is meant to be our best goal-scorer and he has now been snake bitten in his first 5 games. We can call it unlucky, we can say that other areas of his game have been good, but at the end of the day a goal-scorer must find a way to score. You don't notice zeroes beside Ovechkin and Crosby's names a week into the year; somehow they find a way. All that said, Mike was still one of our best in this one; I just need him to be better.
Brian Gionta - Game Puck
Hard work, again, paid off for the little man. He managed his 3rd goal in 5 games and right now looks like our only shot at a 40-goal scorer. The goal itself was great, but was just a small sample of his great play that lasted most of the game. He played 20 minutes of +1 hockey and is proving to be as proficient in his own end as the opposition's. Again, I only wish he was on the ice for more time.
Markov's spot is presently being filled (as well as it could) by the Hammer. He is managing to contribute in both ends and, last night, was our best all around defender. The two plays that stand out for me are, of course, the goal, which made it close, and a great defensive poke-check which derailed what could have been a very good scoring chance. He was on the ice for 24 minutes and managed to have a very positive influence on the game during that time.
I am still waiting for Souray, Streit and Schneider's replacement to contribute in the same way on the PP, but am at least happy to report that Jaro has, for the most part, been our second-best blue-liner. There were no points to be had last night, but he was one of only four players to end with a positive rating. At 26+ minutes of ice time I am beginning to wonder if Martin is making the same mistake with his D as his offence. By playing Jaro with Roman we are more or less set for 25 minutes, the problems seem to happen when they aren't there. I may, given Markov's absence, try and balance the D a little better by separating the two out and putting them on with one of Gill, Mara or Weber each as those players are struggling more than they aren't.
I didn't want to do this tonight, but I couldn't stand by Price in this one. I won't blame him for the loss (there are 18 other players as, if not more, responsible, than him anyway), but I also don't think that this performance will win us many games. Maybe our D let him down, maybe our O didn't contribute enough, but that, unfortunately is the team he is playing behind. I was, however, very pleased with his lateral movement and rebound control and really felt he controlled things in his own end. The part that gets me though is the 3 goals on 19 shots. Right now he seems to be finding ways (well, the Habs are at least) to lose. At the end of the day other goalies around the league are winning games against harder opposition than the Oilers and behind worse D, so I know that it can be done. What may have tipped the scales in this one, as I needed to make a tough call, was how Carey handled the puck. He was too slow, came out too much and created too many giveaways for my liking as I continue to think that this, the weakest part of his game, needs a serious re-think.
Montreal started the game well enough, but by the end of the first already found themselves in a hole. They managed 35 shots in this one (a lot of them were high quality), but they ran into a strong goalie. We can't, however, pull out the 'hot-goalie' excuse too much, because if Khabibulin is too hot for us to handle then we'll likely have trouble with at least half the league this year. I felt that the Canadiens played with a lot of speed and creativity and deserved a better fate than a loss. They worked much harder than they did in Vancouver and, I felt, got most players on the team to play close to their potential. Again, it was the defensive lapses that cost us and put Price in uncomfortable situations. You can't always ask your goalie to bail you out - at some point you need to get him 2 or 3 goals to work with. This game, I would say, is an example of how the Habs are trying to get by by doing too little. They aren't scoring enough, aren't getting responsible enough defensive play and aren't getting clutch goaltending. By playing this is patch-work type hockey, unfortunately, you'll lose more than you don't - it is very high-risk.