Tuesday, February 20, 2007

2-20-07: Canadiens 5, Capitals 3

I’m too excited to come up with a good way of framing this game, so I’m just going to let this picture do it for me. It’s taken from Habs Inside/Out (and I highly recommend you go there, they always have great pictures, as well as great content, on all the games). Possibly I’m breaking some kind of rule by using it, but I couldn’t resist- it's seriously the happiest Habs-related thing I've seen in weeks. Komisarek looks like he's literally thanking God for letting them score again.

1. The Canadiens' scoring in this game is, in fact, nearly a perfect microcosm of their scoring all season: 3 power-play goals, 1 short-handed goal, and 1 empty-netter. This, somehow, is how they win hockey games. People say, again and again, that you just can’t rely on special teams for the bulk of your scoring, it’s not good, it’s not right, it’s not the way hockey is meant to be, and moreover, it’s not going to win you the Cup. That might be true, but at this point, I’m in favor of them using whatever parts of their game are good enough to win, and if that means a lot of power-play scoring, than so be it, let’s see how far it takes them. Yes, their 5-on-5 is weak, has been all season, but the only reason they slumped so badly is because their power play was falling apart as well. Now, if we’re lucky, it’s back; these PPGs were not just magic Souray slapshots, but forwards setting up good plays. Possibly opponents will eventually learn, if they hadn't realized already, that they can beat the Habs by not taking penalties. Fine with me, if other teams start to think twice before hooking, tripping, cross-checking, high-sticking, or otherwise fucking with ahbabi. See #2.

2. The Caps played all of the 1st, and much of the rest of the game, as if they’d been told to use all necessary force to take out as many Habs as possible, and it proved to be a bad decision. I love Mike Johnson, but he’s not such a scoring threat that it’s worth giving up a man-advantage just to pull him down, and I certainly don't know why anyone would find it necessary to do so several times in one game. It was a physically punishing match, even when it was clean, for both sides, and rather a lot of people got hurt, although I think there was only one injury- heartbreakingly, to Higgins, who left at the beginning of the 3rd and didn’t return. Details are, as usual, unavailable as yet (‘upper body injury’), but it would be unbelievably unfair if this turned out to be something serious. See #3

3. Last game, Montreal's much-maligned, classic 1st line showed promising signs of recovery. But this game, it burst out in a giant, glorious, gory explosion like an alien out of John Hurt’s chest. Higgins gets 2 goals, to his obvious relief, but the shocking thing is that he was the least impressive of his trio tonight. Ryder also got 2, one of them a jaw-dropping short-handed breakaway that I never, ever would have predicted he could pull off. But on the Canadiens’ side, this was really Koivu’s game, through and through. He picked up 3 assists, but more than that, he took over the ice when he was out there, offensively and defensively. A lot of the fans were hard on him, through the losing streak- trade him, bench him, give the C to Souray or acquire some superstar to pin it on. Granted, those fans are mostly idiots, but it was good to be reminded, again, of how much of a difference our Saku can make.

4. Congratulations to Murray on his 1st goal of the season, even though it was on an empty net at the end of the game. Better late than never, I suppose. Congratulations also to Milroy, for his first NHL point, even though it was only an assist. This new kid is really growing on me- if he manages to keep up this kind of energy and ingenuity night after night, he’ll be the next best thing to Begin. Hell, maybe he already is. Perezhogin gave some poor Capital a very nasty elbow in the face- I'd like to believe it was accidental, but I also think that Perezhogin has some serious self-discipline issues that need to be resolved post-haste. Lapierre gets the biggest thumbs-down, for deflecting a shot into his own goal, Latendresse was looking conspicuously slow at some critical moments, and Souray really shouldn’t be left on the ice at even strength against any sort of real scoring threat. Other than that, a great game for the Habs all around, so gold stars to everyone. Especially Halak, who played better than the score suggests- at least two of the goals he let in should be textbook examples of ‘not the goalie's fault’.

5. Somebody, probably the Leafs, has put a voodoo curse on the Habs’ 2nd ‘A’. Koivu is the C, and Souray is one A, and they’re both fine, but bad things are starting to happen to everyone who dares to take on the other A. Normally it belongs to Rivet, but he got pneumonia. After that, it passed to Kovalev, who then promptly vanished with a mysterious elbow injury. After him, it went to Begin, who subsequently broke his foot blocking a shot last Sunday. So now it’s being worn by Bonk. Fortunately, Bonk has the best mojo of any Habs forward this season, so maybe he’ll be able to hold up.

6. On the Caps end, the remarkable thing was how non-existent Ovechkin was. I’d like to credit it all to the Canadiens’ amazing shut-down powers, but I don’t think in this case that they deserve the credit- Iskendar just wasn’t doing much of anything. Semin, on the other hand, was an unholy terror. And Laich seems to have moved up in the world since the last time they came through town- it looked to me as though he was getting more, and better quality, ice time.

Before this game, the Habs were 10th in the Eastern Conference standings. Now, with this win and tonight’s losses by Carolina and Toronto, they’re 7th. This is the blessing and the curse of a very tight playoff race, so it really doesn’t mean much, but it’s so encouraging to be back in the running again. There are reasons, at least, to be hopeful: the Canadiens have 2 consecutive wins and their play is looking pretty good. They’re smiling, they’re having fun.

Thank God for letting them score again.


Lyle Richardson said...

Yep, it's a promising ray of sunshine.

BUT (and here's where I play killjoy), there's a couple of problem areas.

First, their stunning inability to build on a big lead. In both victories over the Jackets and Caps, they blew three goals leads and nearly lost. Granted, they played a strong third to protect their one goal lead until Murray got the empty netter to ice it. Still, when I see a team leading by 3 goals after a period or two, I expect to see the same total or more in the final score.

Second, just when Higgins was getting his groove back, whammo! A shoulder injury. Here's hoping it's not serious, but if it is, that could mean another return of Latendresse to the top line. It worked well back in December. Here's hoping it does again. Better yet, here's hoping "Higgy's" shoulder injury isn't serious.

Tomorrow's night's the big test, against the league leading Predators. If they can win that, it'll not only shoot them potentially higher in the standings but could really deliver a much-needed boost of confidence to a team that really needs it.

Anonymous said...

Souray really shouldn’t be left on the ice at even strength against any sort of real scoring threat.

The comment above is the reason I would trade Souray in a heart beat. I think we could get another 20 goal scorer that might not be -15 in the +/-. Either that or just play him on the power play. I have seen all the hab games and Souray always seems to make that mistake when we least need it, good example was last night letting them get that 2nd goal and making it 3-2

E said...

lyle- i'm in one-day-at-a-time mode. it's hard to explain, really, but i think the slump made me give up on any real long-term hopes. i'm not thinking about whether or not they'll make the playoffs, or win the cup, or whatever- i just want to see them do well at the things we know they can do well at and try to play some good hockey. they'll go however far they can, and i'll be happy as long as they make an honest run for it, and as long as gainey doesn't do anything to compromise their chances of improving next year, which i trust him not to do. or, at least, that's what i say now, but i'm feeling magnanimous today.

anonymous- the only thing that really interests me about the upcoming trade deadline is the question of who might take souray. not because i want to see him go, i actually don't, but because i've never really understood why he's considered such a great prize for other teams. he's such a very mixed blessing, huge upside, equally huge downside- habs fans like to downplay what a defensive disaster he is, but i don't think any gm in his right mind could afford to do so. it strikes me that few teams could possibly be in the position where they'd really need him, such that they'd be willing to give the habs the kind of juicy scoring center that they'd almost certainly demand in return. what's particularly odd is that i'd assume that the only franchises who'd pay a premium for him would be ones with fairly secure playoff spots, solid defensive cores, and crap power plays, but most of the names that come up in the trade rumors are teams with already good or great power plays (ala san jose), which makes me wonder why they'd want our shelly so badly. but then again, i clearly don't understand the nuances of trading, and will probably find myself reeling with all kinds of shock come next tuesday.

Matthew Macaskill said...

Hahaha, yeahp. I used that same picture for my recap as well, the exuberated fan in the background makes it A+. Komisarek's gaze to the heavens is pretty sweet as well.