Saturday, December 20, 2008

Now that took some mettle

Not to take anything away from Thursday night's big 5-2 win over the Flyers, but what the Habs showed at the Bell Centre on Saturday night was - to me, at least - a lot more telling.

Erasing three one-goal deficits, scoring twice on the power play (again), and having Alex Kovalev show some real fortitude by going from goat to hero in the space of a few minutes was not only impressive, it was the type of game the Canadiens habitually won last year.

And that makes me believe that maybe this team turned a corner Saturday night.

Of course it's still only December, and who knows what will happen in these holiday season games that generally eat the Habs alive, but I saw lots of reasons to feel encouraged by the Habs performance.

First and foremost was Kovalev, who not only had the OT winner but almost single-handedly created the game-tying goal by Sergei Kostitsyn with just under five minutes to play in regulation. This, after he had been whistled for two bad penalties in the game, both of which resulted in Sabres goals.

"Sometimes it’s frustrating to take a penalty like that, especially since both times he went to the box Buffalo took advantage to score," Guy Carbonneau said. "I knew he felt bad and that he wanted to come back and show his teammates that he wanted to be there."

Kovalev credits his recent surge to not trying to score a highlight reel goal every timre he's on the ice. He said coming into this season he was feeling physically strong and thought that meant he could do more on the ice, but that he's found of late that playing within himself and doing a little less is actually more productive.

But he also said the frustration of not scoring was making him a little too fine, and that he just needed to fire more pucks.

"Lately I’ve been more aggressive towards the net, instead of looking for the pass or looking for the perfect play," he said. "Because sometimes it’s definitely tough when you’re not scoring as much and you kind of look for that perfect play because you almost want to score into an empty net. But sometimes you just have to let it go, get in a comfortable spot and let it go."

That's what he did in overtime Saturday night, wiring a wrister off the post and in for his eighth of the year - a goal he seemingly scored once every two games last season.

That power play goal was the Habs second of the game, and it was the second straight time Montreal connected twice with the man advantage. The Canadiens four power play goals in two games matches the power play's production from the 11 games before.

It was Sergei Kostitsyn scoring from the point that gave the Canadiens their other power play goal, and Carbonneau says the former doghouse resident has made a big difference by deciding to shoot instead of always looking to pass.

“If you don’t shoot you don’t create anything, you don’t get these options," Carbonneau said. "Having Sergei there, we knew he could pass the puck but since he started shooting he creates more everywhere. It opens options for everybody.”

Kovalev had eight shots on goal while Sergei had seven, so the two of them accounted for nearly a third of the Canadiens total of 46.

But that's a stat for the skill guys, and while Steve Bégin's statline is decidedly different, it's just as impressive. Bégin was credited with dishing out seven hits and, somehow, only was marked down for one blocked shot. On one shift early in the third he went on a rampage on the forecheck, earning the chants of "Bégin, Bégin" from the crowd. Then later in the period when the Sabres had the Habs pinned in their end, Bégin was a one-man wrecking crew, crunching Jaro Spacek alone three times in the exact same spot and blocking or altering point shots left and right.

“It’s something we’ve been lacking," Carbonneau said. "When we’ve had some games where we had trouble getting into the game, we would be looking for that spark from a player or a line or two lines that could create that energy with a check, a shot, hitting the goalie, whatever. I think over the last few games that’s what Steve’s been bringing us."

Bégin is one of the most accomodating guys on the team when it comes to the media, and he held court with reporters hanging on his every word for at least 15 minutes Saturday night, which is an eternity for a locker room media scrum. It wsould be easy to say that efforts like the one he had Saturday night come from being in a contract year, but Bégin has played this way his entire career, and he's proving his value to the team after being a healthy scratch in nine of the team's first 14 games.

Finally, just a note on Mike Komisarek, who didn't play after taking an apparent spear to the privates from Jochen Hecht midway through the third period. Carbonneau afterwards said he didn't notice what happened with Komisarek on the play, and that he didn't even notice that Komisarek didn't play a shift after that.

"I really didn't notice because I was too into the game," Carbonneau said before letting out a little grin when he saw our stunned reactions to his comment.

How an NHL head coach doesn't notice when a top-pair defenceman doesn't play the final eight minutes of regulation or any of the overtime is beyond me, and quite frankly I'm having a tough time believing Carbonneau on this one.

We'll have to wait until Sunday night to see if Komisarek is in uniform to find out if indeed he was injured on the play, though he did remain on the bench until the end of the game. Also Sunday, Carbonneau said he will see how Carey Price is feeling, and that it's possible he'll play against the Hurricanes.

I'm officially the last reporter at the Bell Centre as the hardest working man on the press corps, François Gagnon of La Presse, just walked off the press box. That means I've been here way too long, and it's time to call it a night.


Arjun said...

When can we start saying that Tanguay is playing like a dog. Yes he got points last night but it doesn't matter. He's lazy and I'm beginning to think Keenan was right about him. And the Begin-Kostopoulos-Lapierre line? The Hardest Working Line in Hockey. Not BLK. Or KBL or some stupid acronym. Simply, The Hardest Working Line in HockeyTM. Now if only Carbo would keep them together.

Sliver24 said...

Talk about making it exciting! The Habs know how to keep a guy into it right until the end.

As exciting as last night's game was, expect a boring stinker of a loss tonight since I'll be in attendance.

The last three games I was at were Patrick Roy night (worst retirement ceremony ever and a 3-2 SO loss), the Devils (boring 2-1 OT loss) and the Caps (boring 2-1 loss in quietest game ever by Ovechkin).