Thursday, December 18, 2008

This was not the test

Everyone was playing up Thursday night's game against the Flyers as a big test for the Habs, and those people will be very pleased with the 5-2 win.

What's not to be pleased with?

The power play scored two goals and the penalty killing unit was only called upon twice, the streaking Flyers who have been slaughtering everything in their path looked meek, Mike Komisarek looked like he was unleashing a month's worth of rage in one game, Guillaume Latendresse was kidnapped and replaced by some guy wearing his jersey who hits people and drives the net with purpose, and Jaroslav Halak stood tall when the Habs had a bit of a baisse de regime after going up 4-1.

All in all, a very impressive performance, and the only negative is that Andrei Kostitsyn was injured and couldn't finish the contest because he was looking good along with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec in the reunification of their line.

But in my eyes, this was not the test for the Habs. We've all seen this act before when the Canadiens go into what everyone assumes is an impossible situation - they've almost always found a way.

"It's not very difficult for a coach to prepare for the Flyers," Guy Carbonneau said. "They know they're going to have a tough game, so the players prepare themselves."

In the last 11 games alone, they prepared themselves in Detroit and at home to the Rangers, Flames and now the Flyers. In fact, over those 11 games the Habs have played one of the league's top 10 teams seven times, and came out of it with a very respectable 4-2-1 record.

But it's that 2-2-0 record against the other teams - the ones not among the league's elite, the ones struggling to burrow themselves into one of the last playoff spots - that has me wondering what's going to happen this weekend against Buffalo and Carolina.

Let's face it, this great game will be completely forgotten if the Habs play a couple of stinkers this weekend, and their fans will be hitting the egg nog a little harder over the holiday as a result. The way the Habs simply didn't show up against Tampa, forgot the NHL rules in Carolina and nearly allowed the Atlanta Thrashers to come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit, you have to wonder what the Canadiens will do this weekend against two teams that give them trouble, yet aren't necessarily among the NHL's elite?

Because the Habs haven't established a whole lot of trends this season, but one thing they've made clear is that when they feel challenged, they play. Just like they did Thursday.

Komisarek's re-entry into the lineup appeared to give the whole team an immediate lift, and I feel it allowed Andrei Markov the comfort level to play his game the way he knows how. Komisarek blocked six shots, I think three of them were on a single play, and he generally stabilized matters in his own end. Having Josh Gorges play with Roman Hamrlik instead of mistake-prone Patrice Brisebois or Ryan O'Byrne gave the Habs another pair of reliable defencemen, and Brisebois was a lot better because he only played 15 minutes, and O'Byrne was a lot better because he was in the press box. So Komisarek's return really had a massive impact on the entire defence.

Then there was Latendresse, who was almost a one-man show at times Thursday night. I was happy to see him get that goal in garbage time, because it was a just reward for a guy who finally used his size to his advantage, not only along the boards but going to the net and getting his hands dirty.

"That's what the coaches asked of me, and that's basically why I was taken out of the lineup," Latendresse said. "The coaching staff wants the young guys to push the veterans and that will make the whole team better."

That's essentially what Carbonneau said as well, noting that Latendresse has been very effective the last two games because he's worked hard on the ice.

"That's how we want him to play," he said, "we're not asking for any more than that."

It should be noted that the guys Latendresse played with made it a little easier for him to focus on scoring. Having Maxim Lapierre and Tom Kostopoulos, two strong skaters, alongside him meant Latendresse and his lack of speed wasn't exposed nearly as much.

"They're both crazy (malade) out there, you look up and they're already on the puck," Latendresse said. "We created a lot of chances and if we were more opportunistic we could have had a couple of goals tonight."

Finally, Matt D'Agostini scored another goal, his fifth in nine games, and it could be argued it was the biggest goal of the game because it gave the team a huge confidence boost after a three-game slide, especially when you consider Montreal ran its record to 12-2-3 when scoring first. D'Agostini was all over the place early in the game, creating chances with his speed, hands and an uncanny knack for being in the right spot at the right time.

"He's been amazing from the start," Carbonneau said when asked if it's time D'Agostini should go apartment-hunting in Montreal yet. "I think he's ready for the NHL, and he's making his point right now. It may take him another week, it may take him another month. But he's proving he belongs in this league right now."

Carbonneau said the whole apartment question is not for him to answer, so I would be stunned if D'Agostini doesn't get a little visit from Bob Gainey telling him to start laying down some roots in the city.


Anvilcloud said...

When you say that the players decide to ramp it up or not, it makes me wonder whether the coaches of this team are irrelevant. I've been wondering this a lot lately. For example: sometimes they play well no matter what the lines, and sometimes they don't -- no matter what the lines.

pmk said...

hey arp - take it easy negative nancy! last night was the habs tsn turning point on the season. mark it down on your swanky iphone.

Sliver24 said...

LOL. Comment of the year PMK. But I have to disagree with you about everything but the iPhone.

I like the fact that Arp is tempering his excitement about last night's game. The Habs played really well during several stretches but while watching the Flyers I couldn't help but get the feeling the I was watching the Habs on too many nights this season.

Missed passes, lost battles, poor communication, more offsides than you can count, even collisions between teammates.

Unfortunately there were also a few occasions that the Habs looked like they may be ready to fold like an aluminum canoe caught in the rapids.

Despite last night's ugly moments this is the third or fourth game I've watched this year and thought "finally, they're finding their stride." As Arp points out, thou, I was very likely wrong.

Just off the top of my head I can think of games against Detroit and Ottawa, though there may be one or two more.

On both those occasions the Habs followed their dominant performances up with downright stinkers. Remember Carbo's "most embarrassing game ever as a coach" in Toronto? The other was the thrashing at the hands of the Bruins that cost us Komisarek for a month.

That makes me nervous about the weekend's games, especially Saturday night's. Then again, maybe they'll finally answer the bell and realize that they haven't "arrived" just because they played one game the way everyone expected they'd play them all.

So hold off on that iPhone entry, Arp, until Sunday night at about 9:45. The Habs'll be going into a week-long break either on a roll or in a hole. Whatever the case, we may know then how the rest of the season is going to go.