Saturday, November 1, 2008

A winning formula?

Alex Kovalev played the first two periods of Saturday's game in Long Island as if he was hankering for some criticism, seemingly going out of his way to make boneheaded decisions with the puck and generally playing one of those typical Kovalev games that makes you shake your head and say you have to take the good with the bad.

Kovalev was credited with seven giveaways in the game, and the bulk of those - if not all of them - were in the first 40 minutes of the contest.

But then, all of a sudden, Kovalev decided to play, and his linemates Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn turned it on as well. At the very same moment the New York Islanders - almost predictably - went right to sleep. It turned into a perfect storm of sorts, as the Canadiens once again stole two points on the road by erasing a 4-1 third period deficit to escape Uniondale with a 5-4 win.

"We didn't play well, for sure," Plekanec told RDS after the game. "But in that third period they couldn't keep up with us."

It was a great win, but the trend of the Canadiens failing to play for a full 60 minutes continued, and it needs to be addressed. The only time the Habs have brought it for a full game was the 6-1 thrashing in Toronto on the first Saturday night of the season, and maybe the 4-1 win over Phoenix. But the team can't continue to play only one period and expect to win games, despite the fact they've already done it at least three times this year already with the win in Philadelphia and the home opener shootout win over Boston.

Now, Guy Carbonneau and his coaching staff have five days off to explain this to their team. Let's hope the Habs' 8-1-1 record doesn't prevent that message from getting through.

"We can't do that too often, other teams will destroy us if we do that," Kovalev told RDS after the game, in a not-so-veiled shot at the Islanders. "It was definitely exciting, but I wouldn't do that again."

Meanwhile, I would be stunned if Guillaume Latendresse started the next game in Columbus on Friday, or even practice in Montreal on Tuesday on the same line as Saku Koivu. Aside from Kovalev, Plekanec and Kostitsyn, the one guy I felt was really energized in the third period was Christopher Higgins, and the fact he was back alongside his old linemate cannot be seen as a coincidence.

On one sequence, Higgins finished a check behind the net, then made it all the way back into his end to rub an Islanders forward off the puck before heading to the bench. Latendresse, though he hasn't necessarily played poorly, hasn't been very noticeable on the ice of late and he's simply not producing any more playing with Koivu and Tanguay.

Latendresse was a minus-2 Saturday night and he has one assist in his last five games. It's really too bad, because playing with Koivu is his best chance to succeed. But he's still not willing enough to go to those proverbial "dirty areas" to get his goals, and Higgins is.

It was another rough night for Ryan O'Byrne, and it seems like his strong start to the season was a bit of a mirage. Too many panicky decisions with the puck, and though Carey Price should have had Jon Sim's long wrister Saturday night, O'Byrne had no business throwing his stick in there. I'm not really sure what Carbo should do with O'Byrne, but it might be time for him to consider playing Josh Gorges with Roman Hamrlik.

Finally, Robert Lang was horrible in the faceoff circle again tonight, winning only 2 of 12 faceoffs. There was one in particular in the final minute of the game where Lang lost a big draw in the Habs end, and the Islanders wound up with some serious scoring chances as a result. Good thing Price hadn't fallen asleep in the third - he'd only seen one shot in the final frame at that point - because he saved the day with at least three big stops that prevented overtime.

I don't mean to keep picking on Lang, but a big reason Bob Gainey went out and got him was to win faceoffs, and he's simply not getting the job done right now. Maybe Carbonneau should consider keeping him on the bench for important faceoffs for a little bit - or at least use him on the wing as an emergency replacement - because I think Koivu, Plekanec and even Lapierre have proven to be far more reliable in the faceoff circle so far.

No comments: