As ecstatic as some people may be with the Canadiens 5-0 beat down of the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre on Friday night, I really thought the game said way more about the Sens than it did about the Habs.
Don't get me wrong, the Habs played really great and showed that the Hamilton Bulldogs might just be a pretty darned good team this year. But the Sens brought an NHL lineup to Montreal and got spanked by a team that dressed only 10 regulars.
It seems as though Ottawa is picking up where it left off last season, and you have to feel for new coach Craig Hartsburg, who is charged with forging an identity for a team that clearly lacks one. Makes you wonder if come Christmas time, Hartsburg won't be wishing he was coaching the Canadian world junior team in Ottawa instead of the Sens.
For the Habs, there were lots of encouraging signs, starting with the play of the Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn line. It was their first game of the pre-season as a unit, since Kovalev was making his long-awaited debut, and they were impressive.
When asked how he thought his top line performed, Habs head coach Guy Carbonneau paused and smiled before answering:
"I looks like they didn’t lose a step, they made some pretty good plays."
Kovalev at times looked like he was simply playing shinny, yet he was still the one that got the biggest rise out of the announced sellout crowd of 21,273 (it's pretty embarrassing, in my opinion, to announce a sellout when there are hundreds, if not thousands of empty seats clearly visible to everyone. But I digress...).
Andrei Kostitsyn looks to me like he is going to have a monster season. He's confident, he looks faster, and he'll have a full year playing with the knowledge that he won't get yanked from the lineup if he makes a mistake. His 26-goal output last year was essentially accomplished in half a season, maybe three quarters. It's scary to think what may come out of 82 games playing the way he did in the second half last year.
Plekanec's one-timer slap pass to Kostitsyn for the game's fourth goal was probably the play of the night, and every time I see him play I marvel at just how quietly spectacular he is. No fireworks, just production, and the best thing about it is that he's already talking about how he'll have to prove himself in the playoffs this year. And it's only the pre-season.
Carbonneau warned how it will be important for him to find line combinations up front that work, because last year he felt the team relied too heavily on the Plekanec line on too many nights. That's definitely true, because Michael Ryder's troubles essentially made Saku Koivu's line a non-factor far too often. Assuming no one goes into a funk like that this season, Carbonneau shouldn't have to worry about secondary scoring.
The pre-season is more about evaluating the kids than it is the veterans, though, and in that respect the Habs prospects shined brightly Friday night.
The big name on the marquee continues to be Max Pacioretty, who with every game makes the Craig Rivet trade to San Jose two years ago look better and better. Not sure if those people who were whining about Bob Gainey trading away a veteran at the deadline will be voicing their displeasure too loudly on that one today.
Pacioretty felt he played his best game of the pre-season Friday night, and his next one will most likely surpass this one, and so on, and so on. But the feeling of playing his first game in Montreal had Pacioretty a little awe-struck.
"I'm speechless, the fans are unbelievable," he said. "There's no words to describe what it's like playing in Montreal. People told me about it, but I was still shocked when I skated out there."
Just wait until you play in the playoffs kid.
Carbonneau didn't mince his words when asked which of the young players he was most impressed with Friday.
"Pacioretty is showing right now that he can play in the NHL," he said. "He's going to be a good player in the very near future."
Carbonneau named almost every young guy in the lineup after that, but it was clear that Pacioretty is in a class of his own. I didn't think it would be possible, or it would be at least unlikely that Pacioretty would get a call-up from Hamilton this year. I could very well be wrong on that one.
Some of the other highlights of this game was the new scoreboard, which is a bit ridiculous in terms of just how beautiful the picture on that massive hi-def screen. The best part about it for me was watching fights, of which there were four Friday, on the scoreboard because you really get in there. Also, the Habs have officially ditched U2's Vertigo after goals, and are now playing a song written by Simple Plan for the Canadiens called, wait for it, "Go Habs Go." Nice touch going with the local band.
Speaking of fights, Alex Henry had two of them and his tilt with Chris Neil was the most entertaining I've seen on the Bell Centre ice for quite some time. Henry went toe to toe in a 10-round bout with Neil and more than held his own. Prospect P.K. Subban also dropped the mitts, and I'll leave you with a funny little quote from a guy who will become a media darling in Montreal once he makes it here because he's so darn quotable.
"My folks were directly behind the penalty box, they were the first people I saw when I went in the box," he said. "I'm not too sure my mom was happy about that, but my dad didn't seem to mind."
That's probably because his dad, a lifelong Habs fan, was still coming down from the high of watching his boy play with the CH on his chest.