Friday, January 22, 2010

Will we get Jekyll or Hyde?

It's very tempting to say that Thursday's drama in Habs land with the release of Georges Laraque and the mini-skirmish between Mike Cammalleri and Maxim Lapierre was at the root of Friday night's astonishing win in New Jersey.

If that was indeed what motivated the Canadiens to their inspired performance at The Rock, then chapeau to Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin.

But in reality, this is not the first time this season everyone assumed the Canadiens were about to go into a tailspin and they pulled out a phenomenal effort. There was the 2-1 shootout win in Boston on Nov. 5 following a demoralizing 5-4 loss to Atlanta at home. Or the 3-2 win in Washington on Nov. 20 after losing 2-0 and being outshot 55-20 in Nashville and squeaking out a 3-2 shootout win in Carolina. Or a 3-0 win in Long Island on Dec 19 that halted a five-game losing streak and kicked off a four-game winning streak.

No, we've all seen this act before, which means it's high time we learned from the past. The common thread in all the games I just listed is that they were all played away from the Bell Centre, where for some reason the Habs are able to simplify their game and play within themselves. Tonight in New Jersey, the Canadiens were often first on the puck on the forecheck and when they weren't, they at least battled for pucks. They were efficient in their own end, limiting the errors and counting on a very solid Jaroslav Halak behind them to erase those few errors when they occurred.

But until the Canadiens can prove they can play this way in their own building and for more than three or four game stretches at a time, I'm going to reserve judgment. Because part of me wants to say that win in New Jersey could be one that turns the season around, that gives a little boost toward a strong finish and a spot in the playoffs. But I won't.

What I will do is commend two guys I thought really stood out in that game.

The first is Josh Gorges, who was a rock in his own end and played perhaps his best game of the season. I don't remember him making a single glaring error, and he had to help erase a few Andrei Markov blunders in his own end. Blocking shots, playing physical while positionally sound, I still marvel at the fact that this guy was essentially a throw in for Craig Rivet. I have a feeling that four years down the road, even if Max Pacioretty turns into a decent player, he'll still be the best player in that trade.

The second is Brian Gionta, who showed how important he is when he gave some new life to Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. The way they played together in this game, and the relatively slight dropoff seen in the Scott Gomez line without him, would lead me to believe that this line should get another shot Saturday night against the Rangers. Sergei Kostitsyn could be ready to return and could slide onto the line with Gomez and Benoit Pouliot, who, by the way, now has nine goals in 14 games in a Habs uniform. Stretch that out over 82 games, and you have yourself a 52-goal season. Of course, it doesn't work that way, but it's been a pretty impressive start to his Canadiens career. (Just for fun, Guillaume Latendresse has 13 goals in 26 games in Minnesota, which would amount to a 41-goal season over 82 games at the same pace).

But until we see what team shows up against the Rangers at the Bell Centre on Saturday, it's impossible to draw any definitive conclusions after this game. Except this: if Halak is not back in goal to get an opportunity to erase that 6-2 loss in New York on Sunday, someone will need to open a public inquiry into the matter.


Mr Trivia said...

Good analysis... Don't know if I like SK74 on a line with Gomez... the two of them will pass it back and forth until next month. I say give SK a chance with Pleks and Cammy first.

Anonymous said...

Ditto with Halak in net, he needs to redeem himself like we all know he can!!

Sliver24 said...

I hope it's the good Habs because I'll be there tonight.

I'm 3 and 2 this year, which is better winning percentage than the Habs home record.

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.