Loss: 3-4 (OT)
Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Hedberg (W)
Habs goalscorers: Metropolit, A. Kostitsyn (2)
Opposition goalscorers: Schubert, Armstrong, Antropov, Kovalchuk
This game went to OT, so at once that means that every save made and every goal scored was absolutely pivotal in securing one point. Strange then that I would opt for a play that in the end caused OT only because nothing came of it for the Habs. The play I'm talking about is the 3-on-1 that Scott Gomez sprung late in the first period. The play's beauty began with what is becoming a typical sight - a Gomez interception turned Montreal chance. The other players (Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn) both did very well to spring the trap, as they reacted quickly and intensely to gain clear yards over all but the last defender. Now, if anyone has tried to rush in 3-on-1 on the opposition, what you'll know is getting all three players involved in the play. This play, in that regard, was masterful. Gomez began with the requisite drop, but there ended the mundane. Lapierre without hesitation popped it back to Gomez, negating the defender, in a stride Gomez had received the passed and then feathered it to Sergei. If this goal had gone it, it would be goal of the season material. As it was, the single flaw in the play (Sergei suddenly being unable to lift the puck) meant it was a shot into a gambling goalie. Still as consecutive individual plays go, this was as close to perfection as we would come.
Before the tide turned, Tomas was just his excellent self for long stretches. Through his combination of speed, and this season confident positioning, he managed to harvest the puck and chances for the Habs through the first and until the Atlanta onslaught. From the point where it all went pear-shaped, Tomas morphed into uber-efficient penalty-killer.
Andrei Kostitsyn - Game Puck
On a night when Kovalev began to gloss over his November displays, so did his protege further banish memories of October and being Latendresse's object of disdain. Andrei's 5th goal of the season was one that spelled all his talents. He stripped the puck carrier and got that look which only ended after a deke and a scarily powerful screen shot was in the net. However, if you thought that was the extent of him, his 6th goal proved different. The shot from the right he unleashed again was patented Kovalev, and usurped by Cammalleri, but it was his pass to Plekanec (making me think it was PP), changing the point of attack which was the more beautiful.
This last place was virtually reserved for a PK player by the refs on this night. That meant Sergei, Moen or Gomez, Moen and Gomez realistically. Now I thought Moen played a good game, a very good game on the PK. However, the difference with Gomez is his ability to both look like a star on the PK and create real chances up front. His one assist on this night was early reward for a night where he created a few chances (including that play of the game) for his wingers.
You can't really say the Jacques Martin system has been taken up throughout the players. Yet, Marc-Andre has been a case study for listening to the sense the coaches have been talking. Once again he provides that critical extra threat on any PP. Now he also holds his own in his own zone. For me, this is demonstrated in plays where once he would fling the puck away, always forward to any remotely open teammate. Of late (this game being exemplary), he has taken on a bit of patience and seems to take personal responsibility in seeing the puck is not only cleared but ideally held in possession. The fact he also took his stitches in stride was only a bonus on this night.
What would it take to supplant Roman in here? A lot. He began this game with the poise that infected the whole group. That patience being learned by Bergeron, could be a 3-credit course given by Hamrlik at Hockey U. At his best in this game, Hamrlik knows when to abort a play, when a pass forward would be a pass backward and vice versa. I thought he showed all this at time in the Atlanta game, and on this night that was more than enough given the rivals.
At our harshest we say 4 goals is not enough to allow your team to win, not a team without goalmaker #1 and goalscorer #2. We also, adhere, quite strictly I think, to a philosophy that generalities must be challenged and rules questioned. The 4-goal rule then, is just a guideline. Against the Thrashers, Carey did indeed give his team chance to win. As every other game report will remind you, as well as this one, No Carey, No OT. The split in personality did not miss Carey though. If you were like me, before Atlanta scored you were probably thinking this might be a shutout for Price, such was the work he was doing. He was confident, he was aggressive and he was willing better defence. The game from that goal changed him like it did both teams, likely because it changed both teams. His best saves were yet to come, but gone unfortunately was the extra aggression that had been causing good shooters to aim wide to that point. Even so, this was the loss of a very good goalie (believe it or not Hasek, Roy, Brodeur - they all lose/lost); as Carey never gave up, this was one to draw positives from for the goalie.
The Canadiens were charged with 7 penalties (excluding fights) on this night. The headlines read that indiscipline brought down the house of cards. I disagree.
While you might think my argument is a house of cards, given that Metropolit's penalty (the one that brought the loss) was indiscipline of the first degree. I nit-pick though. The Kostitsyn penalty, the Lapierre interference, the trips, these were all plays that happen a hundred times over in any game, that happened a hundred times over in this game. I only suggest then that the Canadiens would have trouble eliminating these plays without sacrificing a lot. Like it or not, interference is not banished, accidental trips happen and stick taps go on (even when 99% of the time they aren't called slashes). A team that eliminates them all, no questions asked will quickly find themselves at a disadvantage. Unfortunately (purists cover your eyes), if you don't push the limits, the other team will and push you to the bottom of the standings while they're about it.
So if not indiscipline, then what caused this loss, the shift in momentum. Well, I think man management was a pretty big disaster in this game. Jacques and his coaches have selected a team in which there are 3 players they seem to have no confidence in whatsoever. Is it wise, for example, to select Georges Laraque to play just over 2 minutes? To create a line with him on that is liability for every shift? No, it is not. Did it need to take 40 minutes to try the reliable Tom Pyatt with others? No, it shouldn't have. Did Matt D'Agostini need to be relegated to 6 shifts? Isn't there another way to teach a lesson? I'd like to see more adaptive man management from the guy who almost constantly laments the fitness of his wards.