Saturday, November 21, 2009

Take the points and run

Raise your hands if you thought the decimated Montreal Canadiens would come out of a back-to-back with the mighty Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings with three out of a possible four points.

If you saw this coming, or had some misguided hope that it would happen, then your faith in your team is truly unflappable. What the Habs pulled off this weekend, winning in regulation 3-2 in Washington on Friday and forcing a shootout with the Red Wings tonight, was nothing less than remarkable.

Missing two thirds of their top line, not to mention the absentees on the blue line, Montreal found a way to remain a .500 hockey team, which under the circumstances is a minor miracle. Yes, I know a lot of teams have been stung by injuries this season, with the Red Wings at or near the top of the list, but a healthy Canadiens team is not exactly a powerhouse.

So when a bubble playoff team suffers this many injuries to this many key players and is still able to keep its head above water, I would have to say they deserve a pat on the back. And Mike Cammalleri thinks the exact same thing.

“There was a definite sense of desperation in our room, a sense of must-win and a whatever-it-takes attitude," said Cammalleri, who led a third period comeback with two goals to force overtime. "That’s a positive thing to see from this group. It was a character weekend for us with the lineup we have.”

Cammalleri played the first two periods with Glen Metropolit and Travis Moen, and the line performed pretty well. But in the the third period Jacques Martin decided to load up one line again and put Cammalleri with team MVP Tomas Plekanec and the resurgent Andrei Kostitsyn. Nine seconds later, Cammalleri scored to make it a 2-1 game.

“With the lineup the way it is now we’re doing a little bit of scratching and clawing to try and create things," he said. "We quite evidently have some injuries and things are going to change from time to time. I was with two good players who can create some offence.”

The Habs were playing well Saturday off the opening faceoff and were clearly the better team early on. But then Georges Laraque struck with a shift that will go down in history as possibly one of the stupidest of all time. First, he recklessly swings his stick and catches Darren Helm flush in the face. Then, with the delayed penalty still not called on the very same shift, he clearly sticks his knee out and takes out Niklas Kronwall with a dirty knee on knee.

Laraque, however, either didn't see the replay before speaking to reporters or just thinks we're all complete and utter idiots.

“Obviously there’s no intent there," Laraque said. "It was an accident and it was more of a trip than anything. I didn’t open my knee or anything.”

When asked if he feared a suspension considering his reputation as an enforcer, Laraque took it up another notch.

“There were four refs on the ice and they didn’t call anything," Laraque said. "If they called a match penalty it would be different. There was no intent, there was no reason why I would try to go and hurt him. It was a pure accident, that’s why they called it tripping, so I’m not worried at all.”

I think Laraque will get suspended, as well he should, and it will be a case of addition by subtraction for the Habs because I fail to see what he offers the team anymore.

Honesty time now, because as resilient as the Habs were this weekend, the whole thing can be pinned on Carey Price stopping 64 of 68 shots over two games while his teammates managed only 40 shots in the two games combined. That makes it five straight games where Price has allowed two goals, and he is 4-2-1 with a .941 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average over his last seven outings.

Does this mean the shaky Price we had known since last year's All-Star game is a thing of the past?

“I wouldn’t go that far, it’s still early," Martin said. "You’ve got to keep getting better. He’s playing in a groove, he’s playing well, and we like that. But he’s got to keep working at getting better."

Then, perhaps realizing how negative he was being in the face of some tremendous performances, Martin added, “But I like his determination and passion to win.”

Someone else who is clearly coming out of his extended hibernation is Andrei Kostitsyn, who is throwing his body around and showing a lot of good things in the offensive end game after game. His two assists Saturday gave him four points over a three-game point streak, falling just one point shy of matching his production from the first 20 games combined.

Again, Martin was careful not to heap too much praise too soon.

“He’s getting more ice time and having some success, so that’s encouraging," Martin said. "We just need to keep that going. He’s a powerful winger, he’s big, strong, he can hit and he does a lot of good things. It’s just a matter of playing the game at the intensity level you need to be effective.”

Meanwhile, the team MVP I mentioned earlier has hit another plane. Plekanec played 25:07 tonight, including 5:36 on the penalty kill while also being charged with centring the team's only hope of scoring and also taking 31 out of 61 faceoffs in the game. That's a lot of responsibility to heap on one guy, but Martin says he does it for a reason, and in this instance he wasn't the least bit hesitant to compliment the guy who's consistently been his best player.

“Tomas has had a great start for us," Martin said. “He’s played with different people and he never says anything, he just plays his game and plays it the way it should be played at both ends of the ice. He does a great job penalty killing, on the power play and at 5-on-5.”

Finally, the defence was outstanding the past two games. On this night, Ryan O'Byrne, Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik combined to block 13 shots, while the pairing of Paul Mara and Josh Gorges got the most minutes and did a great job keeping the front of Price's net clean.

Still, as great as the defence was, it was under attack all night as the Red Wings attempted a whopping 84 shots compared to only 43 for the Habs, which means the puck was in the Montreal end most of the game.

Grabbing a point under conditions like that is sheer robbery, but perhaps also a sign that this team may be coming together in the face of adversity.

5 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

They're overcoming much adversity, which, hopefully, has great implications for the future.

V said...

Agreed. Character much improved on this team over last. Can't wait for everyone to get back.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-cannot remember a more lauded but disappointing signing than that of Laraque. of course nothing to do w the person himself but as an effective athlete he has been a complete waste of $4.5 million...a suspension would take the obvious personnel decision out of Martin's hands and save the coach the media questions

-hope the CH headshed realizes that as AK finds his confidance they could not replace him in a trade as no other GM is trading that kind of offensive quality and size combination

-as for TP what more does Gainey need to see to start negotiating w Ric Curran on a deal for Tomas

-beyond that credit to the players for 3 out of 4 points

jkr said...

I won't shed any tears if Laraque is suspended. I was surprised he didn't get 5 minutes for that knee & his lack of repentance won't sit well with the NHL.

pfhabs - love that descrption of the front office - "headshed". Haven't heard that one before.

Eric said...

It's ALL coming together now: http://www.habsradio.com/2009/11/22/maybe-im-feeling-better-now/