It is rarely a positive thing to be facing a team that is hungry for its first win of the season - even less so when that team has legitimate aspirations for the Stanley Cup - only one night after a tough game.
But for a Canadiens squad that lost its first of the season last night in Calgary, facing the Canucks tonight in Vancouver could not have come at a better time because it will allow the team to build on the many positive things it did in Cowtown.
You were wondering when Andrei Kostitsyn would show up to play? Well, you saw him do just that against Calgary, getting involved physically and giving evidence of a heart beat for the first time this season. If Kostitsyn can take that level of effort into tonight's game and, more importantly, throughout the season on a nightly basis, the Habs second line will certainly have a bit more bite than it has shown thus far.
The main reason for the second line's solid game last night was Tomas Plekanec, who has yet to play a bad game this season. Plekanec's problem was never effort, it was confidence. Last season, he second guessed every instinct he had, instincts that helped him reach the NHL. But his goal in the dying seconds of the second period last night was pure instinct, and he was rewarded for trusting it. A confident Plekanec displaying the same effort he has shown throughout his career with the Canadiens will allow Jacques Martin the luxury of keeping the "Smurf Line" intact.
Speaking of the Smurf Line, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez were excellent once again last night, consistently producing chances and showing off Martin's puck-possession mantra with organized, compact breakouts. I can't remember ever seeing a Canadiens team last season completing four straight passes before hitting the opposition's blue line, but we saw that a few times from this line last night. Playing right away will allow them to build on that, and show the other forwards just how effective that style can be.
Finally, the defence's minutes were extremely balanced, with Yannick Weber seeing 17+ minutes on the ice and not looking the least bit out of place, both in the offensive and defensive zones. Jaroslav Spacek led the defence with 22 minutes of ice time, and when the disparity between your No. 1 and No. 6 defencemen is so slight, it shows that the coaching staff has confidence in the entire defence corps. With Andrei Markov on the bench, it's very tempting to tap his shoulder whenever things go awry. Without him, using this balanced approach is a lot easier to justify.
Speaking of Weber, I liked how he approached last night's game. With the afternoon announcement of the signing of Marc-André Bergeron to a one-year contract, it would have been easy for Weber to go out there and try to prove himself on every single shift by trying to do too much. But he didn't do that, and he should be commended for playing within himself. It's just a shame the Canadiens didn't have a single power play opportunity so he could show off his most valuable asset.
So tonight, the Habs have a very rare opportunity: to build on a loss. Because this loss, in my eyes, was far more valuable than the Habs two wins to date, where they were rescued by a goaltender on top of his game.
Which brings me to the main negative from last night's game, and that is Jaroslav Halak. He didn't play poorly, far from it, but he wasn't outstanding either. It's hard to blame him for any of the goals scored last night, but to win a game you need your goalie to come up with a big save, and Halak didn't. Jarome Iginla's first of the season came as a result of Halak failing to control a rebound, and even though the winning goal was tipped in front, I felt he had a shot at stopping that one as well if he was positioned better.
That doesn't mean Halak has lost his game, I just felt he didn't put his best foot forward on this night. But there's another benefit to playing two in two nights, because tonight it will be Carey Price between the pipes in his home province, facing off with Roberto Luongo at the other end of the ice. If he's not pumped for this one, the kid doesn't have a pulse.