Sunday, March 8, 2009

By Georges I think Greg's got it!

I wonder if Georges Laraque was taking notes Sunday night while his Montreal Canadiens were taking on the Stars in Dallas.

As Steve Ott ran roughshod over the Canadiens in the first period without once being dirty, I wonder if Big Georges was thinking to himself, "Boy, if I were healthy I'd go over to Ott and give him a good talking to. Just like I did with Milan Lucic, because that worked wonders."

Meanwhile, on the Habs bench in Dallas, young Gregory Stewart was thinking something entirely different. No talking necessary for him, no need for a discussion group to get his point across. He found Ott, knocked him down, dropped the gloves and started wailing on him.

Yes, Stewart got a double minor and put the Canadiens into a difficult position with that penalty, but it wasn't only worthwhile, it completely changed the tone of the game.

I am generally not in favour of ruling a hockey game with fists, but from time to time it's necessary, and Stewart showed that he understood when that time was. I wasn't on the bench when Stewart jumped Ott, but I can't imagine anyone in a Canadens uniform was upset with what he did.

In fact, based on how the Habs killed off the ensuing penalties, they looked to be pretty inspired, no one more so than Tomas Plekanec who was outstanding in helping to kill off back to back two-man disadvantages.

Once the penalty parade was killed off, it was only a matter of time before the Habs got on the scoreboard to tie it up, and for the first time in months you got the distinct impression the Canadiens were going to win the game before it was half over. They had life, and that sucked all the energy Ott gave the Stars earlier in the game right out from under their skates.

Aside from Stewart's possible season-changing move, Carey Price was quite outstanding for a second game in a row, and so Guy Carbonneau's gamble to give him the start paid off handsomely. He deserves respect for making the decision not to give the start to Jaroslav Halak and stick with Price, because it wasn't an easy one to make.

If Price blew the game and gave up five goals again, it would have been on Carbonneau's head. But the coach knows Price is the goalie most likely to be able to lead his team to any semblance of success in the playoffs, so I think Carbonneau wanted to make sure he built on his only positive start of 2009. I didn't agree with the decision, but it worked out, and the coach should be recognized for that.

He also deserves credit for the line changes he made for this game, because I liked them a lot. Montreal's most dangerous line was Saku Koivu between Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Tanguay, providing further evidence that Kostitsyn is at his best when he's not playing with Alex Kovalev. Max Pacioretty was very effective at left wing with Plekanec and Kovalev, while Christopher Higgins got a goal and played a strong game while filling the third line role he is best suited for.

The much-maligned defence also had its best game in weeks, and I can't think of any one of the six who looked particularly bad for any stretch of the game. And when's the last time anyone could say that about the Habs defence?

But on top of all the individual performances, the magnitude of this 3-1 victory is pretty difficult to measure in terms of the team's collective psyche. Had the Habs lost in Dallas, they would be returning to Montreal for a long stretch at home having lost three games in a row and also dropping 13 of their 15 on the road.

But most importantly, they would have been returning to their fans as a ninth-place team, one point outside of a playoff spot, and who knows how a team with fragility issues would have reacted to the gravity of that situation? (UPDATE: Actually, the Habs would have been in eighth place had they lost, tied with Carolina for ninth with a game in hand.) It could have sent them reeling, just as it could have been a wake up call.

But we'll never know, because now the Canadiens head back to Montreal in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a newly confident starting goalie, a newly confident coach, and a budding young enforcer all getting ready to play nine of their next 10 games in the friendly confines of the Bell Centre, where they are 20-6-4 this season.

The Canadiens aren't completely out of the woods yet in terms of meeting the massive expectations paced on them this year. But Sunday night in Dallas was a big step in that direction, and who would have thought a little but of thuggery from Gregory Stewart - and not Georges Laraque - would be the catalyst?


kyleroussel said...

Hi Arpon,

After a horrendous start, one that I thought *could* cost Carbo his job tomorrow if the entire 60 minutes went like the first 10, he deserves credit.

There would have been blood in the water if Price had a bad game. But he must know that his job is secure because it took balls to stick with Price.

We could use your voice and opinion over at the Allhabs blog: Vibrant discussion on Carbonneau's future. We'd love to hear your thoughts!


Arjun said...

Were you listening to Benoit Brunet's man love for Stewart. I swear, I think Brunet had a hard on. And me? Not quite, but as George Costanza once lamented, "it moved."

Arpon Basu said...

Yeah, that was a bit overboard, but understandable considering what Stewart did and the impact it had.

Sliver24 said...

I would like to personally thank Steve Ott. I'd buy him a beer if I could.

He singlehandedly did something in ten minutes of hockey that the coaching staff has been unable to do for pretty much this entire season - he woke up the Habs.

I too loved what Stewart did. That kid was already growing in my estimation with every shift he played and now he's making a case to me in my top-5 favourite Habs (current, not all-time).

I think it's also important to note that Kostopoulos, Kostitsyn, Komisarek, Gorges and Kovalev all went out of their way to make sure they made their presence known to Ott. They either hit him (Komi, AK46 and Gorges), got in his ear (Kovy) or challenged him to a fight (Kostopoulos).

As for the officiating... all I can say is Oy! Kerry Fraser was up to his old tricks again last night. I'm thankful he wasn't working with Chris Lee or Stephane Auger, the two worst refs in the league (Lee is the hands-down winner).

Frankly I was surprised that Stewart didn't get two for instigating and five for fighting, so when the Habs ended up with a four minute disadvantage I was feeling pretty good about the situation.

Then Kovalev took that stupid penalty for facewashing Ott which I thought under the circumstances could have been let go. The bottom line though is that it was merited.

But that slashing penalty to Koivu at the end of the period was a complete load of crap. I didn't even see it happen live despite the fact that it was right in the middle of the play. When I went back and looked at it again I couldn't believe my eyes. It was an extremely weak call at the best of times, but when you consider that the Habs we already down two men for a full two minutes at the time it was downright ridiculous.

On the whole, a great night for the Habs. The fought through the barrage of penalties, they stood up for each other, they held onto a lead and the goalie played well.

That game, despite the horrendous start, was one of the best efforts I've seen from the team in months. For the first time since the freefall started I actually feel like they're back on track.