First of all, sorry I didn't get to this last night, but I had a new radio show that made its debut on The Team 990 and I was pretty beat when I got home. The show's called "Hump Night" and I co-host it with professor/musician/comedian/professional eater Dave McGimpsey. We basically give our twisted spin to the sports world and try to be funny without really trying, if you know what I mean. Anyhow, Wednesday nights at 11 p.m. on AM 990, if you want to check it out.
On to Wednesday night's game, and there were tons of things to feel good about if you're the Canadiens. To walk into Detroit and bottle up a high-powered attack like they did is more than commendable, it was downright out of character for a team that hasn't respected a game plan in weeks. Last night, the Canadiens knew what they wanted to do, and they did it for 60 minutes.
Alex Kovalev, in my eyes, had his best game since that comeback on Long Island. He only wound up with one assist on the scoresheet, but he had a team-high five shots on goal and was the guy that did the dirty work on Maxim Lapierre's bank shot goal to open the scoring. Kovalev was involved physically, had a few dangerous moments on the attack and looked genuinely interested in playing. When he's interested, he's one of the top five forwards in the game. When he's not...
Also encouraging was Tomas Plekanec's power play goal, not necessarily because it came with the man advantage, but because it was the first time in a long time we've seen a goal that resembled the ones scored nearly every game by someone on the top line last year. Ty Conklin's neck must have been sore trying to follow that puck, and it served as further proof that Andrei Markov can play hockey like grandmasters play chess - always three or four moves ahead.
I would say Carey Price's play in nets was encouraging, but that would suggest he's done something of late to warrant being discouraged, which simply isn't the case. Ever since Guy Carbonneau called out his goalies a little while back, Price has been without reproach. It was the same thing last night.
But you can't have good without bad, and aside from Alex Tanguay leaving the game with a "sore neck" after getting annihilated by Brad Stuart with a clean hit, there's one thing I have a problem with from last night. When you see how well this team can play when they stick to a game plan and work hard as a team, it really makes it frustrating to watch the same group of men put up stinkers like they did in Boston, Carolina and against the Islanders at home Monday.
This is the second time this season the vultures were circling above the Canadiens heads, ready to proclaim they had hit rock bottom, and the team came out with an effort that will keep their fans satisfied until the next slump hits. That is not the measure of a consistent team, which was the identity of the Habs last season and a big part of the reason they had so much success. They never reeled off six or seven-game win streaks, but they never lost three in a row either.
After the 4-0 win over Ottawa, Carbonneau mentioned how it was an important win because of what people were saying about their team. Last night, Carbonneau spoke about how he told his team beforehand that this was one of four or five games all season that can indicate what kind of year is in store. The only reason neither is a ridiculous exaggeration is because of the context the two games were played in, with the Canadiens playing poorly and feeling the heat from fans and media.
The key test now is to see how the Habs show up in Washington tomorrow night against a rejuvenated Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals have yet to lose in regulation on home ice this season, so maybe Carbonneau would do well to add this one to his four or five games that can define a season because it would show the Canadiens are able to play to their full potential in back-to-back games, against tough competition to boot.
Marc-Antoine Godin of La Presse makes a great comparison between last night's game and the third period comeback in New Jersey last year, and it's entirely possible that win could have a similar effect on the Habs of this year.
But the first indication of that will come Friday night because so far, despite all those wins early in the season, the Canadiens haven't proven they can take success from one game into the next. That's something any team with realistic aspirations for the Stanley Cup must have first and foremost.