Saturday, December 27, 2008

A game seen from different angles

Are you a glass half full or half empty type?

I like to think I'm more of a half full guy, so in the wake of Montreal's 3-2 win in Pittsburgh on Saturday night I prefer to focus on why the Habs came out winners.

But that would make for a pretty short post, because the reason is very simple.

Carey Price's third period Saturday night was easily the greatest performance by a player in a Canadiens uniform this season. Not only did he make 17 saves, but many were of the highlight reel variety, and he was the principle reason the Canadiens didn't get burned by the three power plays they handed the Penguins in the third (oops, that's right, this is supposed to stay positive).

The "Mellon Arena Media" in charge of picking the three stars must have missed the third period, because Price's name is nowhere to be found. Tough to figure that one out.

There's been some talk that while the Habs have had good goaltending this season, they haven't had a goalie steal a game for them. Well, that's now been taken care of because Price robbed the Pens, plain and simple.

"I liked our effort tonight and thought we deserved better," Penguins coach Michel Therrien told reporters afterwards. "There are going to be nights when the result is not on your side. Tonight was one of those nights. Carey Price was outstanding and stole the game."

The other obvious positive coming out of Saturday night was not only Andrei Kostitsyn's first career hat trick, but the fact his first two goals came off great feeds from Tomas Plekanec. I'm not saying Plekanec had the game of his life, but he created things and that will only help his confidence, which was frankly on life support before the Christmas break. Plus, he was pretty solid in the faceoff circle, winning 13 of 23, though he lost a big one in his own zone near the end of the game.

That three-goal outing should ensure that Guy Carbonneau will keep last year's top line together through the holiday swing in Florida. At least that's what a sensible person would believe, but you never know what can happen if the Habs lay an egg in Miami on Monday night.

Last but not least was the Habs penalty-killing, which was outstanding even though Price had to bail them out a few times in the third. But when you hold a power play featuring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the scoresheet in five opportunities, you've not only done job, you've done it pretty freakin' well.

OK, I can't help myself. There were too many negative things seen Saturday night not to mention them at all, so I'm going to put on my glass half empty hat.

I already alluded to the three penalties in the third period, but the Canadiens had absolutely no offensive zone presence throughout the final 20 minutes of the game. Even Kostitsyn's winner came from just inside the blueline on a 1-on-2 break, and the only other chances the Canadiens mustered were a long shot by Andrei's little brother that forced Marc-André Fleury into a nice glove save and a shorthanded breakaway by Maxim Lapierre.

How many times have you heard a Habs player or Carbonneau talk about the need to play a full 60 minutes this year? It seems like someone says it after every game, even after wins. Montreal played a pretty solid first 40 minutes Saturday night, but they simply weren't there in the third, so that same cliché would apply to this game as well.

Also, as good as the Plekanec line was, I thought the Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay and Matt D'Agostini line were just as bad. There was only one of their shifts that comes to mind as being dangerous, and if I'm not mistaken it didn't even result in a shot on goal. Lang and Tanguay in particular looked pretty disinterested, but I guess that's to be expected from some guys on the team after such a long layoff.

I think the most telling stat of the game was the fact the Habs were only able to draw one penalty. You can chalk some of that up to disciplined play by the Penguins, but when the Habs are all playing at top speed they force people to take penalties against them to slow them down. The fact the Penguins didn't need to resort to that Saturday night says a lot.

But, at the end of the day, the Habs have two more points in the bank and escaped a major league trap game with a win, warts and all. Now a major challenge faces them in Florida, as the Canadiens have to prove they can dominate the league's weak teams.

But if Price plays the way he did Saturday night, the Habs won't need dominance to come out of the Sunshine State with two wins. It's entirely possible they might only need two goals.


Arjun said...

Listening to Benoit Brunet's analysis while watching Price's saves was, well, I want to say priceless, but it wasn't priceless, it was, um, priceful. Because so often during a game, Brunet is a player and not an announcer. That's his value. And during the third period, Brunet was a) amazed b) in awe and c) grateful. Those saves were sickness, personified. Flip over to CBC after the game and Don Cherry is leading his own version of the Carey Price fan club. Years from now, Bob Gainey will still have political mileage just because of this draft pick - because the pick was doubted by so many and look how it's going to turn out. Price had me screaming like a little girl opening up a Christmas present with a thousand Barbies inside during the third period. Wow.

pierre said...

Pitsburgh played well.... and considering it was their second game in two nights they played very well.

We looked average out there.... our effort wasn't anything to talk about neither.... Price is suberb but our team behave like an average team...... is there better hockey on the horizon in Montreal for this season ? I have hope but thats all I have for now.

pmk said...

Look for me in the stands tonight against TB! Go Habs Go!