Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Not exactly a statement game

Though it was no fault of the Montreal Canadiens, it's tough to really judge anything about the way they played Tuesday night because the Pittsburgh Penguins were just so awful in losing 4-2.

No other team in the NHL would give up their own zone as easily as the Penguins did. No other team would consistently lose battle after battle for the puck the way the Penguins did. No other team would sleepwalk their way through the first 40 or even 50 minutes of the game the way the Penguins did.

So really, how are we supposed to judge the reunification of last year's top line? How can we judge if Roman Hamrlik's plus-4 on the night to go with his goal and assist is a sign that he's coming out of his month-long funk? How do we know if Christopher Higgins is getting back to the high-energy player who can change a game with one play?

In a word, we can't. But that's not the Canadiens fault, and what's important is they didn't play down to the Penguins level and came away with a big two-goal win on home ice.

Guy Carbonnneau said after the game that he was most imporessed with how his team remained composed after Carey Price gave up a weak one to Evgeni Malkin on the power midway through the third period to cut the Habs lead to 3-2.

"When they scored their second goal, everyone was up on the bench encouraging each other, no one panicked," Carbonneau said. "Over the past few weeks, every time we had a goal scored against us or we made a mistake, we had a tendency to have some body language that wasn’t appropriate. But tonight that wasn’t the case."

Indeed, the goal seemed to wake the Canadiens up a little bit out of the lethargy of trying to protect a two-goal lead, and that's when the combination of Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn got to show a glimpse of what made them so special last season. The tic-tac-toe goal finished by Kostitsyn was a play that happened two or three times a game last year, yet this season they've been few and far between.

But overall, I thought Kostitsyn had a pretty poor game with very little energy and aggression, yet that goal might have erased what he did in the first two periods. Not in Kovalev's eyes.

"We were kind of trying to find our game in the first period, we were all over the place chasing the puck" he said. "But maybe in the middle of the second period we started to find our game."

If they can continue building on that it will go a long way towards the Canadiens weathering this storm of injuries, which once again appeared to light a spark in some guys, one of them being Andrei's little brother playing with Max Pacioretty and Maxim (King Midas) Lapierre because everyone he plays with seems to have a good game.

"That was probably the best game Sergei Kostitsyn has played all season," Carbonneau said. "He was involved physically, he was skating with the puck, he played well defensively."

But this brings us back to our original point, that Tuesday night's win makes it difficult for anyone to get a proper read on how anyone played. I agree that Sergei was effective and seemed to get a spark after a particularly good shift in the first period, but I have my doubts as to whether he would be nearly as involved if the Penguins defence showed any semblance of physicality.

"We got beat by high speed, some of our guys looked really slow tonight," said a terse Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who cut his post-game media session short in the hopes of avoiding another You Tube classic rant. "We need more desperation from a lot of players, some players were a no-show. It’s that simple."

So we wait until Friday, when Georges Laraque and Mathieu Dandenault are expected to make their return to the lineup, with an outside chance of Patrice Brisebois being ready as well. I believe a Friday-nighter in Buffalo will be a far better test to see where the team is at right now, but Tuesday's game along with a pretty solid effort against Boston on Sunday are some good building blocks to start with.


pmk said...

I agree, to an extent, the pens were really bad but the habs did bring their A game. They seemed a lot faster than any game I 've seen this year. That could be because the pens were so bad but could it also be that with Lang and Latendresse out we could go back to our speed game from last year?

Sliver24 said...

I don't think you're being fair to the boys there Arp. They played a great game last night.

Were the Pens at their best? Maybe not. That doesn't take away from the Habs performance, though. The Pens lost every battle because the Habs won every battle. The Pens gave up the zone because the Habs either dumped the puck and skated hard to retrieve it or made a nice play at the blueline.

You're definitely right about the reunited Plek line though. I spend a good portion of last season with my jaw in my lap, absolutely amazed at the pays they were making even when they didn't score.

This season I've been more likely to be sitting with my head in my hands, wondering what the hell happened to this team with all the young talent.

Hopefully what we saw last night was the beginning of something special.

EP said...

No matter how it went, we should be thanking the Pens for the two points anyway... *G*

TK said...

Thanks for putting that win into perspective Arp. I was so busy scrutinizing the Habs I guess I forgot to take a look at their opponent.
I like Lapierre's new nickname- he definatley has the Midas touch. I think him and Pacioretty could be an effective combo. Pacioretty was under too much pressure playing with veterans like Kovalev. He played a simple, high energy game last night and it worked out.

What do you think of PMK's assertion that the Habs can utilize their speed game more efficiently without Lang and Latendresse? I think he has a point...

Arpon Basu said...

I think he has a point too, but not having Lang is going to make a pretty mediocre power play even more so. But maybe last year's big line can find some magic again and make it work