Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Back to the Future

The old Montreal Canadiens came back for a visit Tuesday night.

The ones from earlier this season, the ones who would say over and over that they needed to play 60 minutes, that they couldn't take teams lightly, that they needed a stronger start to the game.

The Canadiens Tuesday night waltzed into Atlanta expecting to walk out with two points almost by divine right, and by the time they realized that wouldn't happen, it was too late.

The game reminded me a lot of when the Habs went to Long Island on Nov. 1, ell behind 4-1 after sleepwalking through the first two periods, and pulled out a 5-4 with a wild third period from Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn.

This time, down only 3-2, the Habs tried the same thing by besieging the net of Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen, except they came up empty and got what they deserved for allowing a team like Atlanta to hold a lead.

Now, a lot of people are going to be heaping on Jaroslav Halak, including head coach Guy Carbonneau who wasn't shy to note that he "needed a goalie in the first period that could make some saves."

Halak definitely allowed two soft goals and added to a reputation of playing one bad game for every three solid ones. But Carbonneau was also quick to point out that Halak alone was not to blame and that he "didn't have a lot soldiers" in this game.

Something Carbonneau has said after nearly every loss this season truly applied Tuesday night, that if you don't work, you don't win. An idea of where he believed his team's work ethic was at Tuesday can be seen in the ice time doled out to his forwards. The leader in that category? Maxim Lapierre at 17:27.

That, ultimately, speaks far louder than anything Carbonneau could have told reporters after the game.

But, if there is a bright side to be taken from this game, at least the power play connected again, Carey Price was given a bit of action before being thrown to the wolves in New Jersey Wednesday night, and Carbonneau also has a perfect excuse to dress one of Saku Koivu or Christopher Higgins or both for that game.

A blowout victory in Atlanta would have made it tough to justify switching anything up at The Rock. But now Carbonneau can not only start the project of smoothly bringing his captain and assistant captain back, but if he chose to do so he could send a little warning shot to someone like Tomas Plekanec by sitting him out a game.

I seriously doubt that will happen, but it seems to me that tactic has worked wonders for other players in turning their games around this season. Just look at Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn, Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Begin. Each of them benefited from some time in the press box and returned with some extra fire, which is something Plekanec has lacked for long stretches this season, including Tuesday night in Atlanta. Maybe a healthy scratch is what he needs to snap out of his funk.

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