Friday, December 29, 2006

12-29-06: Panthers 3, Canadiens 1

The way this game went, maybe Huet would have been happier to find a frozen corpse in his net. It’s interesting, actually, the way teams match up- compare this game to Wednesday’s against the Capitals. Washington is clearly a better team than Florida, but not against the Habs. The Caps played a good game, but it was just the wrong strategy, the wrong style to play against the Canadiens. Somehow, someway, possibly by use of the dark arts, the Panthers have got the Canadiens pinned and wriggling on the wall. They know how to play Montreal. One can, as I know many Habs fans will, blame externals- blame the ice quality, blame the bounces, blame the officiating, whatever. But the ugly fact remains, the Panthers might as well have swept them up in a butterfly net and put them in a jar.

1. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some credit to Belfour for an excellent game. He made enough remarkable saves to warrant his own highlight reel. Hell, you’d think it was his job or something. The rest of the Panthers, I think, mainly deserve recognition for a hella aggressive forecheck and a never-say-die attitude. Honestly, with how rough they were playing I would have like to see the Habs throw out a little more aggression of their own. Bouillon played much of the game reminding me of a Care Bear (the orange one with the daisies), and even Komisarek, who can usually be relied upon to generate a good many loud thwacking noises per game, looked like his heart wasn’t really in it.

2. My greatest fear is that this game clearly showed the potential for the return of the Habs early season CMD, wherein they just seem to stop caring what happens. There was plenty of initiative, but no follow-through, especially on the defensive side (and it does pain me to say that). The forwards did a bit better, although Koivu was mostly a half-step behind the rest of the game, like his mind was somewhere else. The airline obviously lost the bags that were carrying the Habs’ legendary power play, because it didn’t show up. Souray was a non-factor, barely got off any shots, much less any really dangerous ones, and the defense in general was oddly unfocused- the Panthers just kept clearing the puck again and again and again such that I thought maybe RDS was looping the same play over and over, like the background in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. At least the PK showed up, though it was barely necessary.

3. However, there’s a bit of a silver lining to this, in that some Habs players did show that they will step up and try to make things happen even when they don’t have a whole lot of support. Screw cloning Higgins or getting a dozen Johnsons for a dime, if anybody ought to be replicated these days it’s Streit. The man can do anything and everything well, and more importantly has great instincts for being in the right place at the right time. Latendresse going back down to the 4th line seems to be, paradoxically, nothing but good for him. I know it’s generally described as a ‘demotion’, but he’s showing a real authority and playmaking skill there now that he didn’t really show on the 1st, and he’s getting time on the special teams as well. Samsonov outworked and outskated everyone short of Higgins, but wasn’t able to beat Belfour on his own and wasn’t getting much help. Higgins, I think, was trying to make up for missing the last Florida vacation, but maybe now he’s realizing that he didn’t miss much.

4. This does, you realize, go in support of my theory that the Habs need to take fewer shots and more penalties in order to win games.

So maybe it was black magic, or maybe it was the angry ghosts of eviscerated hookers, or maybe the Canadiens really hate Florida so much that just being there sends them into a bottomless spiral of depression and recrimination, but this was a bad game and a bad 3rd period the likes of which they haven’t had in while. Fortunately, however, after tomorrow they can leave that humid, swampy state behind until next season, and the Panthers are doing badly enough generally that hopefully no other teams are going to go sniffing around Miami for the secret of their Habs-punishing ways.

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