Saturday, October 4, 2008

Wake me when it’s over

There are some nights – and they are far fewer nowadays than they were during the early part of this decade – where I really feel bad for the people who actually paid money to get into the Bell Centre.

Saturday night was one of those nights, as the Habs simply mailed it in and watched as the Wild trapped them to death in a 3-0 loss at the Bell Centre. Mercifully, the loss put an end to the Canadiens nine games in 12 days pre-season schedule.

The biggest news of the night was the official word that Yannick Weber, Max Pacioretty and Marc Denis were being sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs, a move that GM Bob Gainey let out of the bag on Friday.

The surprise was that Kyle Chipchura wouldn’t be joining them, because his two-way contract makes it impossible that he’ll remain in Montreal unless the Habs braintrust decide to keep him in case Georges Laraque isn’t ready for the start of the season Friday in Buffalo.

We ran into Chipchura following the game, and he reluctantly agreed to talk to us because, frankly, there’s not a whole lot he can say. When asked how he can possibly improve his standing in the eyes of the coaching staff with no exhibition games left, Chipchura couldn’t help but smile.

“I don’t know what to expect, I just have to look at the week professionally,” he said. “When you look at who’s easier to send down, it doesn’t look good for me.”

Mathieu Dandenault played defence again on Saturday paired with Weber and looked shaky, at best, and lost, at worst. He was forced into action because Andrei Markov, Francis Bouillon and Ryan O’Byrne were all unavailable due to various injuries, but only Bouillon risks missing the start of the season.

To me, the most encouraging sign for the Canadiens was the development of some chemistry on the Robert Lang, Sergei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse. That chemistry still doesn't exist for Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Christopher Higgins, but I suspect it will come eventually because they're just too good as players for it no to. But I had some doubts about the Lang line, doubts that were slightly tempered following Saturday's game.

The trio generated the lion’s share of the few scoring opportunities the Canadiens got against Niklas Backstrom and Lang probably had his best game of the exhibition schedule.

Latendresse was robbed on a glove save by Backstrom in the second and he got a fair amount of time on the power play, but he said after the game that “I don’t think I’m in the plans for the power play.”

“In the second and the third periods our line felt some chemistry developing and we started to create some nice things,” he said. “I’m confident with how it went tonight.”

If that line can get it going, the Habs will become a very difficult team to match-up against defensively. The Lang line will likely see the opponents’ third defence pairing and third or fourth forward line more often than not, so their skill will have every opportunity to shine.

Guy Carbonneau said afterwards that Lang’s experience will start to rub off more and more on his green linemates as the season wears on.

“One thing with Robert Lang is that he’s an experienced player and a really good player,” the coach said. “He talks to those kids a lot on the bench. It makes it a lot easier for them when they go back on the ice.”

The other noticeable trend was that Tanguay appears to be Carbonneau’s favoured forward to play the point on the power play, at least for now. He spent time on the point with both units at various points of Saturday’s game, but the coach said afterwards he will continue tinkering with the formula until he strikes gold.

“The power play and penalty killing are always experiments,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to wait 30 games to see if it’s going to work.”

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