First, let me tell you that it's not easy to walk into a losing team's locker room and figure out what questions to ask. Sometimes, you just want to say, "Why did you guys suck tonight?" But that will never get you the answer you seek, and it won't make players very receptive to your questions in the future.
The trick is to figure out a way to sugarcoat that very same question, and often times that entails embedding excuses for that suckiness in the question itself. A telltale sign of a winning or losing team is whether or not players take that ready made excuse and run with it, or if they reject and take responsibility for the loss themselves.
Last year, I found a lot of players were ready to take the bait from the media and run with the excuse. But when Mike Cammalleri was offered many opportunities to take the excuse tonight, he didn't.
Was that loss a case of bad luck?
"You'll never hear me blame a loss on luck," he said. "You make your own bounces."
How about the referreeing? Didn't that play against you, especially on the winning goal?
No, Cammalleri called it like it is, despite having every reason to take one of those excuses and embrace it as his own.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough to win games," he said. "Maybe we could have won tonight, but you don’t want to leave things to chance. You don’t want to win because you could have won, you want to win because you definitely should have won.”
Yes, the Habs had two goals go in off their defencemen's skates. Yes, there could have been a penalty on the apparent head shot Scott Gomez absorbed just before the winning goal. Yes, a whole bunch of things could have gone differently to give the Habs a cherished win their home opener.
But they didn't. And as Cammalleri pointed out, the Habs have no one to blame but themselves. When they had three power plays in the opening period, dominated much of the play and had the Avs on their heels, the Canadiens didn't bury them. I had a feeling at the first intermission that would cost them, and ultimately, it did
Still, there were several positive signs in this game despite the negative result, starting with the continued strong play of Tomas Plekanec and the awakening of Andrei Kostitsyn. Jacques Martin called them his two best forwards on the night, and he was bang on with that assessment. Kostitsyn's first shift of the game was his best of the year, and he made it immediately clear that he got the message from that benching in Edmonton on Saturday night. His move on Kyle Quincey and pass to Plekanec on the second goal, even though it came after the puck hit the netting, showed just what kind of talent Kostitsyn has.
The impact of Kostitsyn finding his game should not be undermined here, because if ever he's able to form a productive duo with Plekanec on the second line, it would allow Martin to load up the top line the way he has in the third period of each of the last two games when he needed a goal.
Every time Cammalleri, Gomez and Brian Gionta have been placed together, they've produced consistent pressure, except it's only come in 20-minute stretches thus far. If Kostitsyn and Plekanec can consistently be as dangerous as they were tonight, it could become 60 minutes worth of offensive power punching from that Gomez line.
Another positive was Carey Price, who was outstanding and couldn't do anything about any of the three goals he allowed. The Habs penalty kill was perfect and the power play produced a goal, so that's two more positives. The defence was actually pretty good for the first time since Andrei Markov went down, despite the fact Shawn Belle - who I thought has a pretty good Habs debut overall - made a very poor decision that led to the winning goal.
Speaking of the defence, I couldn't help but notice that Cam Barker played 10:17 of the Blackhawks 3-1 win over Nashville, with no special teams time at all. In an unrelated bit of news, I can report the Blackhawks had two scouts at the Habs game, including director of player personnel Marc Bergevin. Though the two teams will meet Oct 30 in Chicago, two scouts at a regular season game is not a regular occurrence. Just saying.