Saturday, October 24, 2009

Way more than a system win

The Canadiens showed more than puck possession, more than talent and more than speed in beating the New York Rangers 5-4 in overtime Saturday night. They showed resiliency, character and all sorts of other non-tangible qualities.

They began the game on a great roll only to have a series of bad giveaways put them in a 3-1 hole. Not the end of the world, it was still early, and when Matt D'Agostini converted that great feed from Maxim Lapierre to make it 3-2, it looked like the Habs had the momentum. But that was essentially squashed when Marian Gaborik scored that goal on an incredible play at the blue line to get himself a breakaway, and a fragile team - as the Habs were as little as a week ago - would have simply crumbled at that point.

Instead, the Canadiens got stronger and took it to the Rangers throughout the second period, piling up 14 shots and getting the two goals they needed to go into the third period all tied up.

Obviously, the continued dominance of the top line is the main story for the Habs, with Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez combining for eight points on the night. But there were several more subtle positives for the Canadiens to take out of this victory.

The biggest, in my eyes, was the play of the fourth line of Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse and Matt D'Agostini, but more particularly Chipchura. Yes, I've been on Latendresse's case a fair bit, so he deserves recognition for a solid night at the office, three shots on eight attempts, three hits, nearly 14 minutes of ice time and generally more involved and more noticeable.

But I expect Latendresse to play that kind of game every night. I never expected to ever see Chipchura play like he did tonight. Confident with the puck, displaying his considerable hockey smarts and getting physically involved at both ends, Chipchura played his best game at this level, at least that I've seen, and if he can keep it up it would be a huge boost to the Habs depth down the middle.

The penalty killing was another major plus point, holding a hot power play team off the board on two chances to run the streak to 20 of the last 21 after a horrid start to the season. This recent run of penalty killing success coincides, in my mind, with the defence corps becoming a far more cohesive unit.

Roman Hamrlik is playing some of his best hockey since joining the Canadiens and heloing to fill the void left by Andrei Markov's stab wound to the ankle. Paul Mara is showing why he'd become such a fan favourite in New York and Josh Gorges simply plays his typical hard-nosed game. Jaroslav Spacek could probably be better, but he's playing pretty well and Hal Gill, well, if you don't expect too much from him I feel he basically delivers what you expect of him. The main sore spot on this night was Marc-André Bergeron, with a number of costly giveaways in the defensive zone, one of which turned into the Rangers first goal of the night that swung the momentum of the game in the first. No one ever said Bergeron would be a defensive stalwart, but giving the puck away in your own end the way he did tonight is inexcusable.

Still, Bergeron played 15 minutes at even strength tonight, which was the lowest among the six defencemen. Spacek had the second-most minutes 5-on-5 at just over 18 minutes. That's a pretty small disparity between your No. 2 and No. 6 d-man, which shows the coaching staff has confidence in all three of their pairings. Jacques Martin's vision of a no-name defence à la the Carolina Hurricanes Cup-winners is starting to come to fruition.

There were some negatives that bear mention, such as the first period brain farts and the uninspired play of Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn, but they were really snuffed out by all the positives.

Those positives include the play of Jaroslav Halak. No goalie will ever be satisfied with allowing four goals, but Halak shut the door when he needed to and he erased a lot of other mistakes in that first period aside from the ones he let get past him. If it weren't for him, this game could have been a blowout after 20 minutes.

Everyone will now begin screaming for Carey Price to get the start Monday against the Islanders, and in a sense tonight's result makes that decision pretty easy for Martin. But Halak showed something in the face of adversity tonight, something that has not been Price's strong suit, and I don't feel he should be the victim of the Habs defensive lapses in that first period. If anything, his response over the final 40 minutes should have earned him another start, even if that's unlikely to happen.


MathMan said...

The system was still visible, though, Habs had 71 shot attempts to the Rangers' 58, and it was key to enabling a comeback here. But yes, very, very nice to see them show character and come from behind. They've had some trouble with reversing momentum in previous game, but that was nice. Also nice to have an honest-to-goodness sniper on the team.

Halak provided good-enough goaltending, and IMHO, the Habs are slowly turning themselves into a team that can get by with "good enough" at G. The big advantadge of this is that both Halak and Price are capable of considerably better than "good enough" in stretches, so that could mean good things in the future. As for the "goalie controversy", IMHO there isn't one; the Habs truly can't go wrong with either pick, it's not like either goalie has truly stunk it up.

lehab said...

their D needs to be better. the goaltending is OK. the giant mexican squid cannot be stopped. they would be the top line on 27 other teams.

Anonymous said...

best 4th line performance i have seen from in habs in quite a few years. great job by martin to continue to play them in a tight situation. another observation; don't need an enforcer when everyone on your team stands up for themselves and each other. sorry georges, your days seem numbered....

Arjun said...

My observation. Our D is going to get killed by the likes of the Penguins, possibly the Flyers and definitely the Blackhawks. Second: does Latendresse want to play on this team? WTF is up his ass? If he's not playing like a top 6 forward, we don't need him. Really.