Monday, October 13, 2008

Theft in Philly

At the second intermission of the Canadiens 5-3 win in Philadelphia on Monday night, I was wondering how I could analyze the Habs performance without being overly negative.

It was, after all, only the third game of the season, so there was no reason to go overly crazy about the fact the Tomas Plekanec line looked completely lost, or that none of the Canadiens forwards ever appeared to be in the right spot, or that the team simply looked disinterested for the first 40 minutes of the game.

As it turns out, there still is no reason to harp on any of those things because the Habs came out of Philly with a 5-3 win, one they clearly did not deserve. But the standings don't reflect undeserved wins.

The victory over the team that knocked the Habs out of the playoffs last year was an important one because it showed that Carey Price will be able to steal his team some points this year. I don't care how good of a team you are, or how potent an offence you have, every team needs its goaltender to win them a game they didn't deserve every now and then, and that's what Price did Monday night.

From that spectacular glove save off Daniel Brière and Plekanec's skate to the impeccable rebound control he displayed on that 5-on-3 penalty kill late in the first, Price gave the Habs exactly what they needed: 40 minutes to wake up. I know people may look at the first two goals he gave up as being softies on shots from far out, and that's a fair point. But it's kind of like saying Gisele Bündchen isn't a great cook.

The Canadiens came out of the locker room for the third period with an entirely new look, and that goal by Roman Hamrlik really put the Flyers on their heels. A perfectly executed breakout, a very nice drop pass from Andrei Kostitsyn to Alex Kovalev, and then an exquisite saucer pass right onto Hamrlik's stick by The Artist. Tie game. If I'm Flyers coach John Stevens at that point, I'm wondering how on earth I can be tied in a game I've pretty well dominated until now.

Scottie Upshall must have been thinking that same thing when he decided, for a reason only he knows, to try and tip Mike Komisarek's harmless point shot away from Martin Biron. He tipped it away from him all right, except he sent it right into the net. I chalk that boneheaded play to the after-effects of the beauty that was scored just prior to it, so really, the fancy breakout goal was essentially worth two.

Despite the win, and despite his goal which came off a beautiful feed from Sergei Kostitsyn - who is getting better with every game - Robert Lang's performance in the faceoff circle is still an issue that needs to be addressed. This was Denis Savard's main man on the Blackhawks last year when it came to faceoffs, taking the most on the team, and he won them at a 53 per cent clip. But so far this year, including Monday's woeful 6-for-16, Lang is only winning 40.4 per cent of his draws. That simply won't cut it for him, and I don't know how much longer Guy Carbonneau will keep sending him out for important faceoffs.

On the positive side, I think Mike Komisarek played his best game of the road trip. He was involved both physically and - most important - mentally, because he didn't have any lapses in his own end like he did in each of the first two games and much of the pre-season. That's got to be an encouraging sign for Carbonneau.

I also thought Ryan O'Byrne played another sound game, and the defence in general was pretty solid in its own end. That should only get better when Francis Bouillon returns from whatever it is he hurt on his leg.

The biggest positive, however, remains Price. The Canadiens obviously can't sleepwalk through 40 minutes too often this year and hope to be successful. But I'm sure it's nice for them to know that whenever they do, they still have a chance to win because of a certain 21-year-old standing between the pipes.


pierre said...

Grand theft allright.

Its obvious, when looking at the first two period that our '' game '' has not evolved over the summer and that we are still not over the difficulties we experienced last spring when facing the 2 well prepared teams we met during our playoff series.

The less talented Bruins almost took the series away from us while the Flyers unceremoniously tossed us away in 5.

It is said that the '' youngs '' learned something in those series.... but what about the COACHES who neither adapted nor adjusted our game to the new conditions our team were facing during those.... in both series we stayed the course despite the fact that our efficiency was worsening from game to game on both occasions.

I dont know what is Carboneau's plan and what is our '' system '' this season but thus far its not any better than what we had last season.

Its nice to have better players in the team this year but I feel they are still being under exploited under the mechanic of a system that is at odd with the possibilities such players represent in the newNHL environment.

Our 5-on-5 game last season was statistically average..... what it means is that our team was only an average performing team if you took away our power play.... a good 5-on-5 team like the Red Wings were miles ahead of our own.... their system takes full advantage of the talents found within their team.... our system of play needs to evolve for our team to fare better than we did last night or last spring.... I think it will but only gradually.... players will have to force their way in like Hamrlik lately for Carbo to be less conservative.... even then, thats still a long way from adopting a full fleged puck possession based system a la Detroit.... I wonder what stop Carbo from making that final step ?

Anonymous said...

was it sleep walking through forty minutes or was it battling the emotional weight of hating a team that rained on our playoff parade last april? it just doesn't seem plausible that the habs would walk into philly 'disinterested' and i think we'll see that kind of game when we play them in the future because of their physical style (pleks looked like a ragdoll on some plays). i just hope laraque is in the lineup next time we meet.

another positive to go along with price: our pk is looking a lot better through three games even though begin has yet to bring that spark that earns him his living and sergei could use some work in that department. thanks again price.

i'm not so optimistic about o'byrne just yet. i think we'll see a lot of him in the box and i think he makes ill-timed decisions with the puck but he's looking more confident, that's true, and i see him getting better which is also a positive.

thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I thought the D was a bit shaky really. It's just the way the D plays the forwards in 2-2 or 1-1 that makes me nervous. It's as if the D back up too much giving the forwards too much space allowing them to shoot. Although the less than solid D could be a result of forwards not back checking and being too far up ice making it harder on the D to make those good outlet passes. Price was definitely the difference. He got beat on some very hard shots...yeah they weren't close in but they were good slap shots. He made some good saves with the glove so it looks like that isn't an issue for the time being.

Lats was invisible in Philly after a stellar game in TO. He needs to maintain consistency and deliver the hits especially against a team like Philly.

Pleks' line hasn't been the dominating force it was last season but I think he in particular will regain his form after a few more games. Besides Koivu he was the only other habs player to get in front of the net and score some goals against Philly in last year's playoffs. I think he knows how to get out of a slump.