Saturday, January 23, 2010

Got to be starting something

I wanted to hold off on anointing this a big turnaround for the Habs after they beat the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Friday night, and as tempting as it is to go there after Saturday night's 6-0 win at home over the New York Rangers, I'm not going to.

Don't get me wrong, that game was about as positive as you can get. Especially, as Jacques Martin pointed out, when you consider that the Canadiens finally gave their home fans a great show after stinking up the Bell Centre for the better part of this season. In fact, aside from the Centennial game, I don't know if there was a more entertaining game for the home fans all year.

But I still don't want to make this win mean more than it does. Yes, the Canadiens set a new season-high for goals scored. Yes, Jaroslav Halak tightened his grip on the goaltending job. Yes, Mike Cammalleri scored twice to match Alex Kovalev's team-leading total of 26 goals from last season. Yes, Benoit Pouliot continues to show that this trade could very well pull out the potential that made him a fourth overall draft pick. I could go on and on.

But this is two games we're talking about, and it takes more than that to convince me that this team has turned things around. But it's not just me. Cammalleri feels the same way.

"This is just two wins and we want a third, this is just a start," he said. "If you look at it logically, two or three teams in this pack will make a run and make the playoffs and two or three will fall off. We have to win the majority of our games."

There were too many positives to choose from in this game, so I'm going to focus on one, and that's Benoit Pouliot. In 15 games in a Habs uniform he has 10 goals after tipping in a Cammalleri pass from the slot tonight. In 65 games with the Wild, Pouliot had nine goals. His confidence is growing with every game, and what stands out the most for me is his ability to slide into space and slither around defenders. He's a tall man, but not a particularly big one. Yet he finds a way to make that lankiness work in his favour because he's a very difficult player to check.

I was assigned to cover the Rangers room tonight to see if John Tortorella would have a meltdown (sadly, he didn't), but I made it to Martin's press conference and had a chance to ask him about Pouliot and whether we can safely say he has gotten past the point of riding the adrenaline of a new team at this point.

"He's brining some intensity to his game, he's playing with passion," Martin said. "A perfect example tonight was on his goal, he's in the right spot. He's in traffic. He's in an area where you have to pay a price. If you stay on the outside you don't get those goals. Last night (in New Jersey) was a prime example of a goal scorer's ability. He's high in the slot, he sees Scott Gomez with the puck on his blade, he moves in, gets open and as soon as it's on his stick it's gone. I like his quick release, I like his ability to find seams on the ice."

But, as has been the case every time Martin has spoken about Pouliot, he didn't leave it at that.

"He has to make sure his intensity doesn't drop off, because skills aren't good enough," he added. "I think he's experienced that. It's not that his skill has changed. It's his work ethic and his implication that has changed."

Indeed, but I'm still wondering what's going to happen when Pouliot hits a slump, which is bound to come at some point or another. He's not going to continue scoring goals at this pace, because if he did he would finish the season with 31 goals, and I highly doubt that will happen. So when he hits a slump, will he get frustrated and dip that intensity? Or will he work twice as hard to get out of it? Tough to say right now because we haven't seen him play a bad game, and he's never had a run like this throughout his career.

Pouliot, however, admits this is starting to become a little dreamy as a scenario.

"It's hard to believe sometimes," he said. "But Scott Gomez has been helping me out a lot. He finds me everywhere on the ice."

Gomez, by the way, has three goals and 14 assists in the 15 games since Pouliot was thrown on his wing. That might not completely justify his massive salary, but it comes pretty close.

Finally, I will leave you with this. The Gazette's Dave Stubbs asked Martin whether performances like Halak is providing make it more difficult for him to choose a starter and maintain his system of alternating goalies.

"That sounds like a question I'm going to need two nights to...That's a loaded question," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "I don't think it changes anything. I have confidence in both our goaltenders. I've said it from the beginning, I feel we have two individuals who are number one and two individuals who are engaged in a good battle. I think it's good, considering their age, considering their maturity and their development. They're good for each other."

He went on to say that he'll make his decision on Tuesday's starter on Monday, but I would venture that despite what he said, it won't take Martin too long to make that decision.


V said...

Gomez has been one of our best players since the season started. Just a pleasure to watch most nights and very deserving of the praise from Pouliot.

john deere said...

Having three skilled guys on one line makes it a lot tougher on the other team than only two (ask Plekanec and Camalleri). As far as the confidence of Pouliot goes, as long as Gomez sets him up for a couple of good chances every night it won't be that long of a scoreless drought. To me he looks quietly determined to make this opportunity to work.

Geoff Molson spoke before the game on HNIC said three things: (1) he has every faith in Gainey and Martin, (2) he has no intention of interfering with them doing their job and (3) he seemed very enthusiastic about trying to win a Stanley Cup. Positively beaming, I'd describe it as.

Anonymous said...

It is my belief that these last 2 games are going to be the turning point in the Habs season. Finally the Habs have 2 goal scoring threats in Cammy and Benny. The goal tending is nothing to worry about, though I hope Halak gets the bulk of the work going ahead as he has proven to be the better of the 2 atm.
With the defense having their ice time more evenly split, they seem to be playing much better all the way around. JMs` system is starting to shine through and it makes the team look good in all areas of the rink.
Shots against are down and the shots that do get through are not of the dangerous variety. This makes the job of the starting goalie much easier.
I see signs of the players playing for each other, fighting for each other, they are getting tight in the locker room, they are all becoming friends, friends who will go to war for each other. That is what they need to do.
Finally I see a Captain, someone who can hold this bunch together and call someone out when he isn`t playing as he should, someone who the players will listen to and take what he says to heart as witnessed by Lappy, who has played much better hockey after Cammy had a talk with him during practice.
So I say, Mike Cammalleri for Captain.

Anonymous said...

cammy should be the captain, i couldn't agree more. he's our best forward, deals well with the media, is well spoken and seems not afraid to call his team out when they under-perform. regardless, get it done already; there should be a captain in place heading into the upcoming stretch drive.