...that was a pretty good result, because the cards were definitely stacked against the Canadiens on Sunday night.
First and foremost is the fact the Hurricanes own the Habs, and it's getting a bit ridiculous. Here's the rundown of the 16 regular season games these two teams have played since the lockout: Carolina is 12-2-2, 7-0-1 at the Bell Centre.
Like I said, ridiculous.
Another factor favouring the 'Canes on Sunday was what happened on Saturday. Both teams played, but Caroline became the latest team to have their asses handed to them by the Boston Bruins, while the Habs had an emotionally draining win over the Buffalo Sabres. In terms of motivation and jump, that's like a perfect storm for Carolina, and it showed in that first period as Montreal barely touched the puck.
But I've saved the best for last, and that's the officiating. I hate writing about referees, because I find they are a very lame excuse for any result and when they are bad, they are usually equally bad for both teams. The last time these two clubs played, most Habs fans thought the refereeing was atrocious as Carolina wound up with 11 power plays and the Habs only had one. But I had seen far worse officiating than I saw in that game, and what happened Sunday night was yet another example.
It appears that three of the four zebras were emergency replacements because of the snowstorm, but I don't think that's an excuse for work that was this shoddy.
The Canadiens had two goals that actually went in the net denied because of extremely quick whistles. One you can understand, but two?
Guy Carbonneau said afterwards that the quick whistles were the only problems he had with the officials, but they just looked uninterested in the game in the third period. Credit the Hurricanes for taking notice, because suddenly they started hooking and tugging everything in a red sweater.
So, to get a point under these circumstances was very good for the Habs, and that wasn't the only positive I found in this game.
I was really on Robert Lang's case earlier this season for his penchant for losing big faceoffs, particularly on the power play and penalty kill, but he had a dominant weekend in that area. After winning 11 of 15 on Sunday night, Lang won 26 out of 36 faceoffs in the weekend's two games, and a lot of those were on special teams. It should be noted he wasn't matched up against Rod Brind'Amour very often Sunday (that honour was bestowed on to Tomas Plekanec, who lost six of 15 against the league's best).
Winning faceoffs is a vital component of Lang's effectiveness, not only because that was the main reason he was brought in, but also because he doesn't play that well without the puck. If he loses a faceoff, he's forced to check, and that's not his strength.
His line with Alex Tanguay and Matt D'Agostini appears to be gelling a little bit and they had another good effort Sunday.
Another major league positive is the emergence of Maxim Lapierre's line with Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos. For a second straight game, they were the only trio who were ready from the opening faceoff. While their teammates slept through the first period of both games, these guys were crashing and banging, creating chances and pinning the opposition in their end. That line had nine hits Saturday night, and Latendresse alone was credited with eight on Sunday to go with three shots on goal.
For the Golden Boy, it was a second straight game with 16 minutes of ice time, and his coach says he can expect that to continue if he keeps showing that kind of work ethic on the ice.
"Every time he’s on the ice he moves his feet, he gets involved physically, he goes to the net and stays around the net," Carbonneau said. "Every game he plays well and plays with that passion, I’ll have more confidence in him and he’ll get more ice time"
We can only hope they keep it up, and if they happen to have a bad period the line isn't broken up. The Canadiens need an energy line like this, if only to soften up the opposing defenders to make life easier for the other lines. And Latendresse looks like a new player since being paired with Lapierre, who also appears to make any line he's playing on very effective with his speed, forechecking and incredibly improved faceoff skills.
So the Canadiens end this odyssey of 10 of 11 games at home with a 6-2-2 record at the Bell Centre, including five out of the last six points available before the Christmas break. They are 18-9-6 for 43 points after 34 games, which puts them on pace for about 104 points this season.
And the crazy thing is the Habs haven't even hit their stride, which is what Carbonneau would like to see when they come back from some relaxing with the family over the holidays.
"We have to come back with an attitude that will allow us to be the team we were last year," Carbonneau said.
And on that note, I too will take a few days off from the blog, but I'll be back before the Pittsburgh game on Saturday, when we can expect to see Andrei Kostitsyn and maybe even Saku Koivu back in the lineup. If that happens, then Ben Maxwell will obviously be sent down, but who else sits and what kind of line combinations can we expect? Let's hear some suggestions.
Happy holidays everyone!