Win: 3-2 (SO)
Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Leighton, Legace (L)
Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn (Lapierre - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Sutter, Jokinen
With time dangerously ticking down and the game at risk of becoming another tale reserved for goalie statisticians, the play of the game unfolded to change the whole complexion of the affair.
Following a faceoff win, Paul Mara did as the textbook tells him and wraps a hard shot all the way around the boards so it runs out the other side of the back of the net. The constantly maligned (if you watch RDS) Andrei Kostitsyn next turned this ordinary play extraordinary. First he wins the footrace to the puck, he then leaves the textbook behind. In recovering the puck he directs it netwards in his path and lets off a quick shot. With a bit of luck, as it misses the puck clips the back netting and comes to rest just behind the net. Still eyeing a game changing event rather than 40 seconds of behind net possession, Andrei charges around, beats a 4th defender on this play now and flips a pass to Plekanec who's also read the textbook and is standing in front of the net. After trying to break Leighton, Legace and the Canes down with sustained pressure at times and other textbook plays, this final bit of creativity and personal ownership ends the job.
It's becoming a bit repetitive to say that Tomas Plekanec was again the best forward on the ice. But watching the games, we can't help but report what is happening. While it is certainly to the detriment of other centres who eye supremacy in the dome, Tomas is certainly proving that the team does have a #1 and a dominant offensive force to lead the PP and the goal charge. Tonight Tomas happened to set up a beautiful goal and play a big role the other. However, it was outside those plays that he impressed the most. Patient passing, smoothe stick handling and a confidence on the puck to slow the play and make things happen patiently made him a constant threat all over the ice this game.
It must be tiring to be Benoit Brunet, so many things to remember, so many restraints on what can be said. Between bashing Andrei Kostitsyn for every missed stride and promoting every winger other than the Belarussian, the colour man has his hands full. On this night, Andrei makes the dome for the simplest of reasons -- he was a massive threat on goal while on the ice. His play of the game goal was one example of him refinding his drive to change events. Add to that 4 shots on goal (3 of the dangerous variety), 4 shots attempted at high corners and a willingness to chase the puck and the victory.
For the remaining forward, I wanted to select a player from the third line, who together played a very solid game and finally provided the Canadiens with a third line to stand up to another team. While the line or Gui didn't generate any goals, really great chances on net or even that many shots, they did produce momentum. In fact, Guiallaume was heavily involved in two plays that returned valuable PPs for the Habs. The first was a prolonged spell of forechecking where Guillaume seemed to want to hold that puck for minutes, if not hours -- his drive to recover the puck drew a hard won PP. Next was a play where Gui placed a timely hit to takeaway the puck and start another period of forecheck. At the end of the play, Moen was eating the boards, but had drawn a penalty with pressure. Guillaume responded to the hit by shaking Aaron Ward (see hated playoff villain Ward) like a rag doll and getting away with, also winning funny play of the night.
As he manages Jay Leach into the lineup, Jacques Martin is spreading the load of 6 men among 5 (4.5 if you consider Bergeron is not preferred option A-E either). Last night, the brunt of the defending minutes seemed to fall to Josh Gorges, and I thought he put on a bit of a show. For me, this was a game of poise from Josh. He was on the ice for errors (of course, this is the Habs), but when he needed to he performed his assignments with aggressive efficacy. We talk about the impact of Markov, well imagine how Josh Gorges could develop alongside Andrei instead of trying to tow Mara, Bergeron or Gill the whole way.
I have to say, I think Hamrlik built into this game. Though the record will show that he was on the ice for the Canes second goal, no one (not Kostitsyn, not Pacioretty, not him) forced Spacek to make that harebrained pass attempt through mass coverage. As the game went on, Hamrlik was a player that the Habs kept turning to in order to calm things down and make sound plays. If this was a good defensive game (and it was for the most part until OT), then Hamrlik was foremost among the reasons why. On countless occasions he provided MA Bergeron a lesson in why passing backwards or sideways to your defence partner is OK, why taking responsibility for the puck rather than sloughing it off to a forward being covered is the preferred method. Pierre Houde rightly called out Hamrlik's final shift as a standard, for his effort on that 3-on-4 PK was out of this world at times.
Carey Price- Game Puck
Taken before OT, this was a very solid game for Carey. Taken before OT, he had made all the solid saves and a couple of unlikely ones to allow for the continuation to even go forward. From OT on, Carey won this game for the Canadiens. There were big saves in OT before the penalty, but the way he played on that penalty kill (even without making his most spectacular moves) was exemplary, and made one wonder why he has trouble at all with the man-down situations. Brimming with confidence and pads up to the task, he then put on a display to claim the points. Game puck worthy performance indeed.
Benoit Brunet's closing comments form the game hinted at his great unease with what he had just seen. But far from giving me the nerves, it only provided further prof of what unreasonable expectations he and some other fans have for this team.
To start with, there is the standings watchers. This game was preceded by their simplistic take that Carolina were a lame opponent waiting to be dismantled. Apart from the lesson they have been missing for the past decade that there are no lame opponents anymore, they also ignored the fact that a team coming off the win that broke a 15-game losing streak might have more to prove before settling back into permanent losing. And then, the injury police: Cam Ward, Pitkanen and Eric Staal out meant lesser lights. As if missing Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov and enough defenders to have to resurrect 2 careers was nothing. And, let's please do away with the stupidity of saying the Habs should have buried the Canes because of their weak goalies – both Leighton and Legace did just fine and made several good stops, past performance is irrelevant, ask Carey...
Carolina came into the game a bad team in the standings, but hardly a bad outfit on the ice. The fact that Montreal was able to outchance, outshoot and ultimately outscore them was perhaps not this team's crowning achievement, but one that should not be shrugged off because Brunet wanted a blowout.
Inherent in Brunet's negativity was his blind spot for Andrei Kostitsyn. Perhaps in waiting for and ultimately being left waiting for Guillaume to step in and take the reins, Brunet and co. missed the fact that Andrei, at least in the latter part of the game came alight. Between Kostitsyn waking up (and scoring), Carey Price dominating and the defence limiting chances to the Canes, there were plenty of positives to take from this game. What's more, Jay Leach and Ryan White served notice they want to stay, and that is at least neutral news.
Yet being Habs fans, with the inlaid neuroticism that makes us so charming to watch games with, we must nevertheless point out items to be improved upon. If I look at all the mistakes that cost us and could have cost us, I would say that 90% come down to one basic axiom – the player on the puck has to take more responsibility for the play. By this, I mean that things would be greatly improved if every forward, instead of blindly chipping the puck behind himself took a page from Plekanec's book and form time to time had a stop and a look around, and maybe even went backwards. By this, I mean that defenders should act like Hamrlik and Spacek in their best moments and claim the puck, take strides to find safety and use a few passes to shake the coverage, as opposed to MAB who seems content to pass to any point on the ice where a Habs player is or has been in the last 5 seconds. IN all these situations, instead of trying to find the quick fix, a patient and committed approach to what we are to understand is the system being taught will fully avoid episodes like Spacek's pass under no pressure for an opposition goal.
Still, let's be content with a win when we need the points and with an effort when we asked for one. Hopefully we can then continue to fret about details that have haunted every hockey team since the beginning of time (like those above) as we claw consecutive places back from Eastern rivals.