Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not out of the woods yet

Yes, a blowout win at home over the Atlanta Thrashers will do a load of good for the Canadiens confidence, and they should revel in the first positive bits if news to come their way in weeks.

But in reality, the game was only a first step toward where this team needs to be if they want to not only make the playoffs, but win once they get there, as Bob Gainey said was the goal not so long ago.

Being the cynic that I am, we'll begin with the negatives.

Gainey's decision to start Carey Price did not cost him the game, but I'm still not willing to admit that it was the right call. Price played pretty well, making a beautiful glove save off Ilya Kovalchuk and keeping the Habs in the game while they were outshot 10-4 in the first period.

But he did nothing to convince me that he deserved the start over Jaroslav Halak, and Price wasn't very strong on the Thrashers first and third goals. But he won, for the first time since March 10, and that definitely counts for something.

At the other end of the ice the Canadiens did score six times, and that's nothing to ignore, but there was very little sustained offensive pressure aside from power play time and that's something the Canadiens still need to improve on. It's not every day you'll score six goals on your first 15 shots, or that you'll win a game when only 22 shots hit the net.

I expected far more from the line of Tomas Plekanec surrounded by the Mangiola twins, but I hope their lack of production doesn't mean the end for the trio because I feel it can eventually work. The Canadiens will need it to because they won't get a monster performance from the first line all the time.

I could also mention the fact that Patrice Brisebois went all retro on us and showed the decision-making skills that made him vilified at the Bell Centre back in the day, but I won't. Well, I guess I just did.

Otherwise there were a lot of positives, led by a breakout performance from the newly-formed first line of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay with a combined 11 points between the three of them. All but two of those points came on the power play, and while normally that would be a disclaimer not to be too overjoyed with the production, in the Canadiens case it was a welcome 3-for-4 night for a struggling power play unit. In fact, it matched it's production over the previous nine games in the second period alone.

Mike Komisarek also played one of his better games in quite some time, getting physically engaged and showing a mildly improved sense of poise. He's not all the way back to the defenceman he was last year, far from it, but if he can string together a few more games like this one he'll be a valuable addition to the team.

Finally, the Canadiens won a blowout game, one that will give this team an idea of what it is capable of, one that will remind those who were here last year what that feels like and could push the team to better the effort Thursday night against Tampa Bay.

That may be the most important byproduct of this victory, because based solely on what happened on the ice, it's clear there's still a lot of work left to do.


B B said...

I am a HUGE Tanguay fan, so objectivity is out of the window, but that line of 13/11/27 was great. Who knew...

pmk said...

the glove save on kovalchuk was the turning point of the game. it was 3-2 at that point - if that goes in the game would have had a completely different outcome. It doesn't - Habs win. price was the right call.

pierre said...

There is no more room for debates when a goally just won the game he was shosen to play in... isn't that the final word ?

Is that Tanguay sleek or what !
The win was crucial but to see a few beautifull goals being scored was just as much of a blessing to me.... too few goals were scored this season and hardly any good looking one which made matter even worse.

Sliver24 said...

I can't help but shake the memory of that game against the Isles on November 1st.

The scenario then was not exactly the same as it is now. At the time the Habs were 7-1-1, but despite their record anyone that followed the team knew that they were winning most games by the skin of their teeth.

The big question at the time was "where is the offense from the big line" of Plekanec, Kovalev and A. Kostitsyn. They'd been pretty invisible to that point in the season.

That night the Habs went into the third period with a 4-1 deficit to overcome. They won the game 5-4 in regulation with Plek and Kovy each registering two goals and two assists (AK46 somehow managed only one assist on a night that his linemates were combining for four goals).

Fans and media, me among them, were declaring the Habs "back."

I'm one to try to learn from my mistakes.

The Habs had a pretty good game last night. It wasn't a great one. They showed the same tendencies throughout the game that they've been demonstrating for the last two months. They were missing defensive assignments, making bad decisions with the puck and losing too many one-on-one battles.

The difference last night is that they were opportunistic. They cashed in on their chances, especially on the powerplay.

When you take only 22 shots on net you haven't had a dominant performance on offense, regardless of whether or not you score six goals. Those numbers are more indicative of shaky goaltending on the other side of the ice.

All that being said, last night's game remains something that the Canadiens can build on. The consensus seems to be that the team is suffering from a pandemic lack of confidence.

Nothing breeds confidence like winning.