Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"It wasn't far from perfect"

That was Guy Carbonneau's assessment of his team's 4-0 win over the Ottawa Senators, and while I believe the Canadiens recent history of laying eggs against this team had something to do with the coach's euphoric mood Tuesday night, he wasn't that far off the mark.

When you consider the mini firestorm that was brewing in this city after the 6-3 embarrassment in Toronto, with call-in shows and the blogosphere alike raging on about how poorly the Habs have been playing of late and how important it was for them to turn around an 8-2-2 season.

If that makes any sense.

The Canadiens were indeed playing poorly and the Leafs game was a joke of an effort, but things had not gone that awry in Habs land. Regardless, Carbonneau acknowledged after the game that the hysteria made it that much more important for his team to come out and make a statement.

"It's definitely the best 60 minutes we've played this year, probably the last couple of years," Carbonneau said. "With everything that was said the last few days and the way we played in Toronto, I think there was probably some nervousness...But this team has always responded to a tough time, and they didn't disappoint me tonight."

Carbonneau also noted how it's a little more difficult to manage a brewing powder keg of discontent when you coach in a city like Montreal.

"If we had come home to Columbus after losing in Toronto like that," he said, "no one would have talked about it for two days straight."

Christopher Higgins dedicated his first career hat trick to his mother Sue, but he might as well have dedicated to the new version of himself.

He was everywhere Tuesday night, creating turnovers on the forecheck and serving as essentially a perfect complement to Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, which is exactly what Carbonneau wants from him.

"It was a great game, now I think he needs to remember it and pay like that every night," Carbonneau said. "What gave Saku's line success at the beginning of the season was that Gullaume (Latendresse) worked along the boards and created space for the other two guys. That's what Chris needs to do, and he did it tonight."

I personally was happy to see that Ryan O'Byrne was in the lineup Tuesday because the game would be a good test of what looked to be an increasingly fragile psyche. Every time he found himself on the ice with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, I held my breath. But the fact he was put in those situations showed a willingness by the coaching staff to give him a chance, and he grabbed it in this one by playing generally mistake-free hockey and making a head-up play that led to the second goal for Higgins off a wonderful feed from Sergei Kostitsyn.

"We spoke to Ryan after the Toronto game and again a bit yesterday," Carbonneau said. "He proved to us last year that he could play in the NHL...but Ryan was thinking too much about the mistakes he was making. Tonight, he played with passion."

The more passion replaces nerves in his game, the less you'll hear about the Canadiens dire need for a fourth defenceman.

A final note on the game was that the overall defensive improvement by the Habs from Saturday to Tuesday was no coincidence, as it paralleled the return of Roman Hamrlik to the lineup. It is impossible to deny his importance to the team, considering the Habs only three-game losing streak last season came while he was hurt and Montreal is now 2-4-0 in games he's missed over the last two years.

O'Byrne's play on Tuesday is very heavily linked to the guy he spent most of the night playing with.

1 comment:

Sliver24 said...

OFF TOPIC COMMENT - Looks like Ruutu may finally be called to task for his cheapshots: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=255597&lid=headline&lpos=topStory_nhl

It's about time!