I'm not blaming Halak for Monday's 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, far from it, but I think we got our answer to that hypothesis. The Canadiens played their best collective team game in weeks in front of Halak on Monday night, meaning that for the first time in a long while he didn't need to be super human to get a win.
Montreal held Ottawa to only 50 shot attempts in the game, which is an indication of how much more the Canadiens had the puck and how often it was at the other end of the ice. That gives a goalie time to breathe, time to recuperate mentally, time to...lose his edge? Maybe in Halak's case, but generally speaking, the Habs will win a lot more games than they lose if they play the way they did in Kanata.
Again, I am not blaming Halak for the loss, I want that to be crystal clear, but he was merely good in this game. Not great, but good enough to win, if it weren't for the other goalie playing an outstanding game in his own right.
There were a lot of positives that came out of this loss, a lot more than came out of the four previous wins combined. But the one habit the Habs couldn't break was their propensity to take penalties in bunches.
After playing perhaps their best first period of the season (at least it feels that way), the Habs began their penalty parade with one minute left in the opening frame when Andrei Markov was called for interference, then went on to take another three in the second, and another in the opening minutes of the third. We all know what the residual effects of those penalties are, and the result was that when the Habs needed a goal in the third the great offensive rhythm they'd established in the first was long forgotten.
Another interesting note was that the Glen Metropolit line did not have a single shift in the second half of the third period. I didn't really catch their transgression, other than the fact they were on the ice for the winning goal, but I thought the blame on that one would have been placed at the feet of Marc-Andre Bergeron more than anyone else.
Finally, the Habs have to get better in the faceoff circle. Tomas Plekanec was 4-for-20 and Scott Gomez was 9-for-23 in the game, which explains why Mike Cammalleri took the draw with the goalie pulled at the end. Plekanec was 6-for-19, Gomez 5-for-14 in Toronto the other night, and those guys simply have to be better because in order to be a puck possession team, it helps to possess the puck.
On the positive side of things, we can now remember just how impressive Brian Gionta was to start this season. This guy just has something about him and that appears to have a very tangible effect on his teammates. Scott Gomez continued his strong run of games and Benoit Pouliot scored his first in a Habs uniform, the line accounted for 14 of the team's 31 shots on goal and a good number of the scoring chances as well.
The trickle down effect of Gionta's return had many streams. First, it takes pressure off the Tomas Plekanec line to produce not only goals, but time in the offensive zone. It causes a bit of a quandary for opposing coaches as to who they will use their top defence pairing against. And finally, it makes the Habs fourth line a pretty effective one with Maxim Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and Matt D'Agostini.
If Roman Hamrlik can indeed come back into the fold in Florida, we might finally see the Canadiens team we expected back in training camp, one that hasn't played at full strength since Game One of the season. And if they bring what they showed in Ottawa down to sunny Florida, that reunion of sorts risks being a pretty joyous one.