E: Who’s playing the Thrashers tonight?
J: I dunno, it’s hard to tell- everybody’s road uniforms look the same, and this feed is terrible.
E: It looks kinda like the Habs…
J: It can’t be, look, they’re up 2-1.. I mean 3-1… I mean 4-1… anyway, whoever they are, they’re kicking the crap out of
E: But look- they’ve got great power plays, great penalty killing, tons of speed, miraculous goaltending, and very poor organization. Plus they’re being outshot by a ludicrous margin. It’s gotta be
J: It can’t be. They’re dead. I saw them, they went over
You might be forgiven for thinking they were dead. In every interview since last Tuesday, everyone affiliated with the Canadiens has looked positively funereal- pale, tired, solemn. They hang their heads and whisper and don’t look directly at either the camera or the interviewer, like sick puppies or abused children. Everywhere I went, it seemed, all day, everyone was predicting this game one way or the other. I was assured: they’ll lose, because they’ve lost their confidence, because they don’t have the talent, because Carbonneau has alienated the players. Or, conversely, they’ll win, because they always bounce back, because they’re hungry now, because they’ve always beaten
1. Let’s all give a huge round of applause for the special teams. Sure, a few weeks ago everyone (including myself) was hand-wringing over the Canadiens’ 5-on-5 problem, in spite of the #1 ranked power play and penalty kill and all the short-handed goals. So the hockey gods punished us for our complaining by taking away all those things. Never, ever, ever underestimate the value of the PPG in contemporary hockey. Ever.
2. Turns out Kovalev and Samsonov aren’t necessarily all that bad, they just needed to start seeing other people. Best not to get comfortable with any new line combinations yet, but Latendresse seems able to give Kovalev some much-needed energy, and Samsonov’s stylishness is a nice counterpoint to Bonk and Johnson’s serious work ethic. Both of them scored tonight, which hasn’t happened since… well, actually, I can’t remember it ever happening. If there’s one truly encouraging thing to take away from this game, that’s it.
3. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder- in spite of all the drama, or perhaps because of it, it’s good to see Samsonov and Rivet back, and even better to see Bonk, and it’s getting to the point where I even miss Begin a little. Not
4. Everybody always talks about what a very serious, very quiet guy Huet is, and it’s true insofar as ‘real life’ goes- virtually every time you see him in an interview or a photo at some event he has the same expression on his face, which is the one in his official team photo. It looks like a mug shot. Now, people say this is because he’s a goalie, and a good one, which means being very calm and very focused and whatnot. Sure. But here’s the thing: Huet only looks this serious in real life. During a game, when everything is clicking into place, he makes some of the silliest expressions I have ever seen, like he’s doing facial yoga or something. Perhaps many goalies do this, I don’t know. I know Aebischer doesn’t. Anyway, if you’re watching a Habs game and, when the camera cuts to Huet, he’s always looking very very serious and very very focused, it’s time to worry because something isn’t right. If, on the other hand, he’s making a face that reminds you of Harpo Marx, than it’s all good. Tonight, shortly after Kovalev’s goal, maybe 7 minutes in, there was a lot of action right around the Habs’ net wherein the Thrashers got about four consecutive shots, none of which got anywhere. Afterwards, before the next faceoff, the camera caught Huet looking like the Cheshire cat, one giant grin and nothing else. That’s when I knew: This is going to be a good game.
Now that it’s over, now that it’s a win and a decisive one at that, the best thing I can think of to say is that, at least for tonight, the Habs looked like themselves again. Which is to say, they weren’t perfect, they weren’t even necessarily great, but they were a little bit frantic and a little bit scrambled and a little bit amazing and very, very tenacious, and maybe luckier than they deserved to be. That’s ahbabi.
I don’t know if the slump is over, I don’t know if the Habs are really back, I don’t know if this means that they’ve found some functional lines and a sense of purpose again. I certainly doubt that this single win over an often-defeated opponent will deter much of the criticism directed at the team. I’m wary of being too optimistic, because even at their best, the Canadiens are inconsistent.
But this much I know: Rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
[Addendum: Somehow, since the last post, the number of visitors to this site has more than tripled. Gloating Canucks fans? Depressed Habs fans? Buddhists adrift on the internet? It makes me somewhat curious and somewhat nervous. Well, whoever you are and whyever you’re here, nice to meet you, and I hope you have low expectations.]