Thursday, February 19, 2009

The most valuable point of the season

That shootout loss in Washington on Wednesday night had to be bitterly disappointing to Habs coach Guy Carbonneau, no matter how encouraged he says he was, but it remains the biggest point in the standings the Canadiens have earned this season.

Far bigger than the two points they got in Colorado last week on the back of Jaroslav Halak, because the entire team earned this point.

For the first time since before the all-star break, since the beginning of this horrid stretch of stench the Canadiens have embarked on, there were more positives than negatives in the 4-3 shootout loss to Alexander Ovechkin's boys.

Let's start in goal, where moments after the opening faceoff Carey Price showed he was ready to play and that he wasn't hungover when he robbed Ovechkin with a tremendous glove save. Take that Jean Perron!

The stop was significant for so many reasons: it was early in the game and prevented the Caps from taking a lead against his fragile team; it came off the most dangerous shooter in the game; and it was made by a glove hand that has definitely been identified as Price's major weakness.

Obviously, Price wasn't perfect because he allowed three goals, but I would venture that none of the three were his fault in the least and that if it weren't for him, the Habs may have been out of the game by the midway point of the second.

On the blue line, Mathieu Schneider had an incredible Habs re-debut, logging 27-plus minutes, moving the puck efficiently and playing sound defensively. His presence had an immediate impact on the power play as it exploded for three goals, with his new defence partner Andrei Markov grabbing three assists. So much for monitoring Schneider's ice time, but when he's playing as well as he did Wednesday night, it's hard to keep him on the bench.

Up front, I could have sworn I saw Andrei Kostitsyn skate at full speed rushing down the right wing at one point, and it dawned on me how fast he really is. It had just been so long that we'd seen him hit fifth gear that I forgot. His goal and assist were entirely deserved because he put in the effort to get them. As did Tomas Plekanec, Christopher Higgins, Matt D'Agostini and others.

But there weren't only positives to come out of this game, obviously, because there has to be some low points when you lose. Leading the way for me was the play of Mike Komisarek and Roman Hamrlik, but mainly Komisarek.

It was his errant pass that led to Ovechkin's other-wordly goal that tied the game 1-1 in the first, and he appeared to be fighting the puck all night and making poor decisions in general. Maybe it was adjusting to a new role and a new partner, but these are trends we've been seeing with him for the past month and a half, and which were clearly evident in the first month or so of the season. He needs to find his game, and in a hurry. Meanwhile, Hamrlik's 360 spin-o-rama on that give-and-go goal by Nicklas Backstrom in the first would have made Baryshnikov proud, but it looked a bit ridiculous on the penalty kill.

I think we can also say without a shadow of a doubt that Georges Laraque is officially useless as an enforcer. He had an ideal opportunity to lay down the law last night when Donald Brashear hammered Francis Bouillon with a clean hit. Laraque often says he only expects heavyweights to dance with him, and Brashear definitely qualifies. But it instead of engaging him in a fight, Laraque takes an interference penalty. Yes, it was a chintzy call, but Laraque had to know he's going to be watched like a hawk in that situation. To have him in the lineup at the expense of Steve Begin right now is ridiculous.

Finally, my only other negative from the game is that it took the banishment of Alex Kovalev to produce an effort like this. I refuse to believe that Kovalev's mere presence on the ice made all of his teammates infinitely worse hockey players. Yes, he was being lazy and maybe that rubbed off on some of his teammates, especially the younger ones. But would it have been too much to ask for someone on the team to stand up and say enough is enough before Bob Gainey was forced into making this decision?

Listening to the TSN pundits last night, they seem to believe Kovalev will return to the team. That's possible, I suppose, but I still don't think he'll be able to get past this. He is a proud man, as Gainey said, and this was a serious blow to that ego. Maybe that's what he needed, to be knocked down a notch so he can buy back into Carbonneau's system, but I'll believe that when I see it.


TK said...

I was really impressed with Schneider's abilty to seamlessly step into a new line up and be effective. Komisarek, on the other hand, has trouble switching defensive partners? You're right, he was fighting the puck all night long. I hope he gets his confidence back.

Does the fact that Laraque doesn't fight speak to his effectiveness? Does he keep opposing teams honest by simply being in the lineup? Does he give players like Lapierre and Kostopolos an extra dose of audacity?

pmk said...

what could george do? brashear wanted no part of him. too bad though i would have like to see them go.

impressed with stewarts play too. Nice to see someone winning battles in the corners.

Anonymous said...

they gave the penalty to Laraque, but it was clearly bouillon who hit Brashear from behind...
Just cause Pierre saw it wrong, and you weren't watching the TV screen, it doesn't mean Laraque doesn't deserve to play.

For the most part he played well last night

Sliver24 said...

It looked to me like Bouillon knocked Brashear down anyways. BGL got the short end of the stick on that one.

What impressed me most about Schneider was his patience with the puck in his own end. Instead of immediately dumping it out off the glass he'd look for the chance to make a play.

Not that it's necessarily a unique train in the NHL, but it has been missing on the Habs recently. It showed up again last night after Washington tied the game at three. Thankfully the Habs were able to regain their confidence for OT.

Arpon Basu said...

On Laraque, I just want to see him use his best skill when it's warranted. I thought that was a perfect situation last night, even though Brashear did nothing wrong. But he's a heavyweight, and since Laraque only fights heavyweights I thought it was a perfect opportunity to put a stamp on the game and give his team some energy.
Just once, I'd like to see him recklessly start a fight instead of sticking to this "etiquette" he always refers to. What's the worst that can happen, he gets an instigator? He got the extra two minutes last night without even fighting. Why didn't he start a fight in Edmonton with his team getting smoked n the first? Or in Calgary? Why exactly is he on the team if he's not willing to do that?
As far as Laraque serving as a deterrent, I don't think Darcy Tucker was thinking about Laraque when he went after Brisebois in Denver.