Monday, March 8, 2010

Do you believe in miracles?

The Canadiens playing three games in California and walking away with four points, on the face of it, may not seem all that miraculous to you. But really, how can you see this stretch of three games any other way?

Could any reasonable person expect the Habs to got to L.A. Saturday night and beat a team that had lost only three of its previous 13 games? A team solidly positioned in a Western Conference playoff spot? A team that is one of the more potent offensively in the entire NHL? No reasonable person could expect that. Yet the Canadiens did the unexpected, beating the Kings 4-2.

A night later, the Canadiens would have been excused for showing signs of fatigue, despite all but five members of the team getting 10 days off a week ago. Playing Saku Koivu and the Anaheim Ducks on a Sunday afternoon, Montreal did in fact do just that, except some sort of divine hockey intervention allowed your Habs to leave Orange County with another two points in their back pocket.

How? Not quite sure. Down 3-1 against a Ducks team that was perfectly content to sit on that lead and ride out a victory, it looked like that strategy was going to work in some of the most boring hockey I've seen in quite some time. Full disclosure time, I only saw the third period of this one, but if the first 18 minutes of it were indicative of the first two periods, I'm glad I missed them.

But let's just count the bounces the Habs as of the 18-minute mark of the third. First, a Ducks defenceman politely places the puck on Dominic Moore's stick in his own end, allowing Moore to find Brian Gionta in the slot, who turns that turnover into a goal. Then, instead of calling a penalty on Corey Perry for slashing Andrei Markov on the hand and then cross-checking him on the forearms, the referees allow play to continue. Bobby Ryan inherits the puck Markov coughed up after the slash and has an empty net to shoot at, but misses. If a penalty is called on Perry, who knows what would have happened? The Canadiens might have lost the ensuing faceoff and never gotten the puck back, for all we know. Instead the puck found its way to Markov in front for another score with 10.7 seconds to play before getting punched in the face by Perry. Tie game. Whoa.

Jaroslav Halak, who replaced a deserted Carey Price after the first period (or so I'm told), makes some big stops in overtime to get it to a shootout. Perry is the first shooter, does an extravagant series of moves and waits until Halak is down and out, yet somehow doesn't score. Ryan Getzlaf, however, does score and Gionta is the final Habs shooter who can extend it. His shot is absorbed by Jonas Hiller quite ably, yet he inexplicably slides into his own net, gets up and allows the puck to drop in. Quite easily one of the stranger goals you will ever see, but one that has given the Canadiens another of their nine lives. As if all that isn't enough, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle sends James Wisniewski as his next shooter. Not Koivu, not Ryan, not Scott Niedermayer, not Lubomir Visnovsky. James Wisniewski.

He makes a series of dekes, about three too many, and the puck predictably slides off his stick without so much as a shot attempt, setting the stage for Tomas Plekanec to pull out the win.

With all the bad luck the Habs have endured this season, it might be fair to say they got more bounces in that short stretch of time than they have the whole year. It would be a stretch, but not as wide as you might think.

That win, pulled from the jaws of defeat, catapulted the Habs into seventh in the east and gave them six of a possible eight points on this road trip. Halfway through the third period against the Ducks, I was thinking I would write about how four of eight on the trip still makes it a success. But six out of eight? That's a whole other category of good. And you know what they say about luck, you have to be good to have it sometimes. The Canadiens did a lot of good things in that game, controlling the play against a passive team, piling up 43 shots to cross the 40-mark for the first time since New Year's Eve and generating more chances to score than their opponents. 

They weren't rewarded the conventional way for that effort, but all that ultimately mattered is that they were rewarded.

A few talking points for you all:

- Jaro Spacek and Roman Hamrlik each played 23 minutes-plus.
- The Canadiens have killed seven straight power plays against the sixth and 10th best power play teams in the league.
- Hal Gill led the team with two blocks and again just looked solid. As playoffs approach, he's improving dramatically.
- Plekanec looks to me like he's getting over his Olympic fatigue. Same with Markov, who was back to a more normal 25+ minutes.

Finally, as much as people will want to make this a Halak/Price thing, that Halak still won a game where he was trailing 3-0, I would encourage you not to make a stink. Tonight was a perfect example why the Canadiens still have both goalies. If they didn't and Price's replacement wasn't able to stop the puck, the Habs lose, quite possibly. Instead, they fly east with two extra points stolen away.

That, may I remind the goalie haters, is the ultimate goal, and the people who feel it can't work with two goalies clearly have not seen the Habs play.


Paul said...

Price was arguably weak on ONE goal (the first). Otherwise, he was left on his own and was NOT to blame for the 0-3 hole at the end of the first.

Sliver24 said...

Well one thing is painfully clear based on what I read in this post: You desperately need a PVR.

Arpon Basu said...

Yes Sliver24, I do. The Daily Hab-It donation box is open for business.