Location: New Jersey
Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Brodeur (L)
Habs goalscorers: Pouliot, Darche, Cammalleri
Opposition goalscorers: Parise
For fans who've been longing to beat a decent opponent in a conventional way, this game had it. There were a bundle of little plays that I liked. There was attention to detail, and it was nice to see for a change. If the Habs had lost, I'd be regaling you about a sequence of possession. Instead, the attention to detail was rewarded, and I can choose the more beautiful offensive play. Pouliot's goal was the prettiest. Starting from good possession in the Devils zone, the play turned dangerous when Scott Gomez along the left side boards threaded a perfectly weighted pass to Markov for a clear chance. Markov didn't score, but no player retreated on the play. Markov dug out his own rebound and through Moen got it back to Gomez. Not one to sit and admire his passes, he instead took two steps and put an even better pass onto the predatory Pouliot's stick, the gaping goal awaited. But Team USA wouldn't need that...
Another reason to like this game is that the players made the dome selections a race. Instead of 3 or 4 forwards turning up, there were reasons to like 8 or 9 of them. Plekanec stood out for me this game because of his industriousness. When he's off, he finds the outside with regularity. When he's on, as in this game, he wants the puck and he plans to keep it. And attention to detail, when ready, he's Mr. Attention to Detail. He didn't win all his faceoffs, but he won some important ones. He made good passes, had efforts on net, won his dump ins and he had two steals. As games with no points go, this was a great one.
I'll never understand the grudge some people have. Why, for instance was Darche's call up met with such pessimism? I'll never know. Having seen him in cosier arenas than NHL barns, I'd had reason to believe for a long time. However, he surpassed my expectations tonight. His goal was not only hard work exemplified, but there was exceptional skill in it, and his work on the insurance marker was timely and a long time coming for Habs fans watching the team this season. What made his performance most special, though, is that finally we get the Hamilton call-up who will actually do whatever it takes to make his place. In fighting for his career, he may have shortened a few others on this night.
Cammalleri hates losing and you can smell it. Perhaps we've been waiting for someone to get fed up and become the leader that says "no more". I think when Mike confronted happy-go-lucky, cash-my-paycheque, Maxim Lapierre the other day, he did that. I don't know if it woke Max up, but it actually seemed to wake Mike up, which is a better result. This game he was tenacious and sly. His goal was a great one and showed the one-mindedness of the goalscorer. In the defensive zone, he made an impact too, and one dive to clear in particular, showed me how far he wouldgo to win this time.
Andrei Markov -- Game Puck
It wasn't a perfect game from the maestro. That Brisebois flashback up the middle at 2-1 was a real low point. However, on balance, Markov played like a #1 defender on the night, like a #1 defender who was in control. The highlight of his game for the video editors came on goal #3, with that visionary pass to Cammalleri. And his play on the first goal was integral to the play. I think that in a game where patience and attention to some of the things that had been missing, though, Markov's general calm and calculation in his own end was perhaps even more valuable. Adding that to his offensive contribution made him the standout player for me.
Gorges got serious. A new haircut gave us a flag that he recognised the need for a new start. A new start is what he gave. A mere game after being questioned as a #4/5 defender, he brought back his claim for #3 mantle. Playing with Markov can be easy if you make it so, and Gorges did. His feet were constantly on the move and his desire was always with winning the puck. He made the Devils wish there hadn't been a wake-up call for #26.
A much better defensive effort than in some time, combined with a goalie making the saves expected of him. Halak did nothing too spectacular for me, nothing more than paying attention that is. That first goal would have been nicer out than in, and the way he was beaten was not flattering. But from there in, Jaro brought the calm and patience that infused his teammates. Another win, and more points against a non-Islanders team (though are they still considered a cheap win as we look up at them?) does more to bolster Jaro's claim that he has ironed out some of his difficulties. He seems more stable in these wins than in the wins of a year or two ago, and it seems he's maturing. If he played like this every night, the Canadiens would be a happy bunch.
Right from the start of this game, there was a different feel. The Canadiens came out knowing that to beat the Devils, 60 minutes of hockey was required. You couldsee them budget energy early on and budget silly chances. There were moments of madness to be sure, and this was no game for the textbooks, but what an improvement? An improvement from the recent losses, an improvement on the recent wins.
I get the feeling that sometimes Habs fans are like me and look at the team they watch and ask of it "Why can't we just do things the way everybody else does?", "Why can't we defend well, score at even strength, win some of the battles on the boards, etc.?" Last night, I thought they did emulate their rivals. There was some Buffalo in that win, some New Jersey in it. Rather than pushing every break out to be a breakaway, they took the possession at times and worked it. Rather than forcing every pass forward, they recognised the backwards thinking in that philosophy. It was actually funny that at one point I was noting a play to admire and discuss later while Pierre Houde lamented the Devils pinning our Dmen down. It seems that perhaps the answer to those questions about our lack of patience, our choice of quick fix over intelligent play are slightly engrained in everyone, certainly Pierre Houde anyway.
This is what Jacques Martin is up against. A culture, an ethos. He's had an easy time of coaching puck possession into Gomez, Gionta, even Hamrlik -- you can see it. but players like Gill, Pacioretty and even Markov have a lot to unlearn. This game was a nice start.