Habs Goalie: Halak (W)
Opposition Goalie: Luongo (L)
Habs goalscorers: S. Kostitsyn, Lapierre, Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Samuelsson, Kesler
Within the first 2 minutes of the game Halak made two rounds of two saves that set the tone and likely kept us in it. Vancouver came out flying and could have been up 2-0 and should have at least been up 1-0, but Jaro was outstanding as he denied the Canucks' high flying offence. 3 minutes after that the Habs would go up and would never really look back. There were great goals tonight and some even better saves later on, but to be that sharp, that early sends a message to both teams that we meant business.
Pleks is now on to a new set of wingers entirely and, you know what, I think he is going to be OK. That, in part, is due to the fact that his wingers are indeed playing well, but also because he has picked up his game of late; especially tonight. Tonight he scored a goal, was +2, played over 21 minutes, took a game-high 7 shots (1/4 our total) and was a very impressive 17-8 on face-offs. I would say that it looks like he is willing to do his part while his wingers are out.
Another strong game for Sergei and more reason to be grateful that we didn't trade him in the Fall. I feel that he has been pretty decent all year for us, so it surprises me when I think that his 2 points tonight account for 1/3 of his season total. Luckily we don't needlessly focus on points here and, therefore, one can point to his strong play on the third line before Christmas as proof that this is the right league for him. It is nice, however, to be able to call upon a winger of his skill when needed because, as he showed tonight, he can play with the big boys.
Taking Pouliot away from Gomez and Gionta was actually a good move for the team when I think about it. Ideally he'd still be on that line, but when you are running low on options you have to get creative and that is exactly what Martin has done. Luckily that means that we can still ice two decent lines in each game. It seems that Ben happens to find his way onto our best line and I have to think that he is the reason for that. He is a very good player who is strong around the net and, like he showed tonight with his 2 assists, can pass the puck quite well.
Markov played the type of game in his own end that I need to see more often than I have been doing. I have always considered him a top-5 defender in this league (whole package) and a big part of that was thanks to his defence. I am happy, therefore, that tonight he was +2 and that he wasn't on the ice for any goals against. Like always he made his partner better (O'Byrne) which allowed us to put out 2 quality pairings. He wasn't at his best offensively, but, even though he didn't have a point, his presence on the ice certainly helped on those 2 goals.
Ryan played the type of hockey tonight that we were promised in the pre-season. He used his size, skated well and got in the front of shots. He complemented Markov very well and I thought the two made a better pair than any of Ryan's previous twosomes. Martin rewarded this strong play, which included team-highs in both hits (4) and blocked-shots (4), with increased ice-time (21:48) and responsibility.
Jarsolav Halak - Game Puck
Not sure where we would have been without Jaro tonight, but I am not sure that I want to think of that. You can't always say 'if it wasn't for our goalie' because the goalie is part of this team too and that is one of our strengths that we should be allowed to bank on. People who say that our team is bad, apart from the 'tenders', are failing to include them in the team. Our team is what it is and if we have a goalie who can win us games in which we are out-shot by 20 shots then so be it. Halak was, once again, his usual, spectacular, solid self and he was able to help the Habs win a game that many didn't think we would. He now has 15 wins (15-10), his GAA is on the good side of 2.50 and his Save% is creeping up to .930 range (3rd in the league). (An interesting stat is that the 4 best save percentages in the league belong to 4 Olympic starters from countries that could make more noise than expected - USA, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia).
Now, the Habs may have been out-shot and a bit outplayed, but when you can beat one of the best goalies in the league 3 times and get world-class goaltending from yours it could be argued that it was us who we outplayed them. Whatever we decide to call it, however, this game marked a massive improvement over our games from last week. We skated hard tonight, went to the front of the net, didn't simply wait for PP opportunities and actually created many, many chances. The Canucks, for their part, also played some exciting hockey which made this game one of the best to watch of the season. Granted Vancouver play an open, fast style, and perhaps that is how we got through so often, but at least we adapted to this and bettered them at it. Many teams don't have the skill to keep up with a team like that and, so, it was a nice surprise, given all our injuries, that we were able to do just that. The next few weeks promise to be long, but if we keep working hard and we keep getting all-star goaltending anything, just anything is possible. If we choose not to compete and to play a slow, dump-in style then we'll continue to lose to the Florida and Tampas of this league. The fact that we played well tonight is what makes the season so exciting and so frustrating all at the same time.