Thursday, February 22, 2007

2-22-07: Canadiens 6, Predators 5

Let me set up the context of this game for you: On one side, my Montreal Canadiens, sitting an uncomfortable 7th in the Eastern Conference, 15th overall in the League, fresh off a near-record-setting losing streak, missing 5 of their starters to injury, roster plugged with 4 AHL call-ups, including a 21-year-old goalie on his 3rd NHL game. On the other side, the Nashville Predators, 2nd in the Western Conference, 3rd in the League, fully healthy, proud acquirers of Peter Forsberg, and considered one of the favorites to take the Cup this year. And we won. It was a hair-tearing, panic-inducing, cold-sweats-and-shivers win that verged on losing from the first moment to the last, but when they’re at their best, ahbabi feed on this kind of chaos and disorder like vampire bats on a weak cow. They never had a lead, not once in the whole game, but they kept scrambling and struggling and pulling these quirky goals out of the ether, and they tied it, pushed it to overtime, and then sealed it with the silliest shootout performance in the very short history of NHL shootouts. This, I think, is the point at which watching hockey becomes better than sex, better than fresh churros, and possibly better than the entire oeuvre of Aldous Huxley.

1. For the Canadiens, this game was mainly great because they played it so well at even strength- the Predators had more power-play goals, and if Latendresse had been a little more careful about his penalties it might not have gone to OT at all. Against a team with a lot of fire-power, they managed to keep up some offensive momentum throughout and not get too heavily pressured in their own zone. If there was a serious flaw in their game, it was the same as in the last game: they’re being a little too overprotective of the new goalie, crowding him in too much. It’s now 4 goals-against in 2 games that have gone in off Habs who were getting a little to snuggly with Halak. The kid does better when he’s got some space.

2. Tonight they decided to spread the scoring around, with points to 12 different Canadiens, including the entire ad-hoc 2nd line and most of the defensemen. A few special mentions: For the first time that I’ve ever seen, Murray played a really, really impressive game, including a shocking, desperate, flat-on-his-stomach goal midway through the 2nd. Komisarek has been stepping up his play in the non-hitting-related areas- he seems more mobile the last few games. We should really stop bothering to label Streit as a ‘forward’ or a ‘defenseman’ and just call him ‘that guy what saves our ass all the time.’ But the evening’s most inspiring performances belong to Koivu and Samsonov. Both did the most meaningful kind of ‘assisting’ throughout the game, getting the puck into the Preds’ zone and setting up some great opportunities, 3 of which went in, but more importantly, both scored at absolutely critical moments (Samsonov in the dying seconds of the 3rd, Koivu in the shootout), and simply, perfectly, amazingly, won the game. Oh, and by the way, Koivu now has 7 points in 3 games, so all of us who ever doubted him should apologize profusely and send him flowers.

3. Note to the rest of the NHL: Souray is wonderful in many ways, but he is not a good defensive player. I saw some analyst on TV this afternoon suggesting that the Penguins should try to get him because they’re defensively shaky, and while I am loath to second-guess professional commentators, that is probably the worst strategic idea I have heard all season. Teams with high scoring potential and defensive problems need to stay as far away from Sheldon Souray as humanly possible, because, while he is a great guy, a great leader, and a great offensive force, he is also a defensive liability. And not just in that ‘oh, he’s sort of a pylon sometimes’ way, but in the ‘he actually puts pucks into his own net’ way. This is not a bad trade-off for the Canadiens right now, because they desperately need all the offense they can scrounge from anywhere, and have some good defensive players who can usually compensate for his weaknesses- he’s been much better now that he’s paired with Streit. He’s a good thing for us, he could be a very good thing for anyone with a bad power play and a need for more scoring, but he’d likely be an unmitigated disaster for teams with already troubled defensive play. Caveat emptor.

4. Honestly, it was very obvious that the Habs would have been thrilled just to steal a point on this one. Before the shootout, Carbonneau is grinning like he just won the lottery, Koivu is twitching with the energy of an over-sugared toddler, and the rest of the team doesn’t look much different. I don’t think they really thought they had much of a chance with the tirs de barrage- Halak is doing well, but it’s only his 3rd game, and with all the injuries, there’s a dearth of good potential shooters. So what do they do? Give the darari a chance to play hero: Kostitsyn, fresh up from Hamilton, Perezhogin, and Plekanec. But Plekanec just manages to beat Vokoun, it goes to 4, and Koivu makes the rest look easy.

5. Okay, say you’re a brand new NHL goalie, and you’ve just been called up from the minors to fill in for an injured All-Star netminder. You’re doing alright, 2 wins, but both of them close, and you’ve just played a game where you did pretty well but were scored on twice by deflections off your own defensemen. How unbelievably awesome, then, is it to win the game on the final shot of a shootout by beating Peter Forsberg? Okay, I’m not Halak, so I don’t really know, but I’m betting it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.

6. I know that everyone will be talking about the big ol’ Northeast Divison brawl for the next few days, and before this game made me so very happy I had a whole wild rant about it, but I’ll just summarize my feelings thusly: Yay Sabres! Boo Sens!

alented hockey players and genuinely these days.ouse their team, i'i . at critical moments (Sammy in the dying seconds of the Tonight, in the NHL, the gods of hockey have declared that everybody gets a point- virtually every game went to a shootout or overtime. So everything’s still tied up in tight little knots standings-wise, and given that it was against a Western Conference opponent the value of the win is more symbolic than anything else. But it’s one hell of a symbol, and in the days leading up to that oh-so-scary-deadline, it suggests that the Habs are, still, real contenders. A flawed team with only an outside shot at going deep, maybe, but a team with creativity, tenacity, and surprising depth of character, a team who can wreak bloody havoc with everyone's expectations.

This is why I love them.


Jordi said...

There should be an NHL ad where Souray giftwraps pucks to opposing forwards. It sure feels that way sometimes.

This is probably the best victory I've envisioned in any situation. A injury ridden team, fighting back for the win.

Thank god for keeping the faith, now the kids in class won't be laughing at me.

Lyle Richardson said...

I have to give the Habs credit, they didn't fold the tent after falling behind early and kept coming back throughout this game. Two weeks ago, it would've been a very different result, but tonight the Habs played with character and determination, traits that have been missing since mid-December.

It's one thing to knock off a couple of teams you're supposed to beat,but it's quite another to upset one of the best teams in the NHL. Perhaps this victory will be the character builder they've been lacking for a while. We'll see.

Considering two of the Preds five goals were deflections off his own blueliners, I thought Halak played well. I can certainly see him getting the start on Saturday.

That ray of light is getting brighter, hopefully it'll keep shining.

Matthew Macaskill said...

I actually thought Souray played a simple, defensive game last night. Wasn't dead awful, and really didn't have a chance on that goal that deflected off both his skates into the net, hehe.

I suppose he was in front of the net though to make sure no one got into the crease, Nashville was killing us with those deflections into the net from guys with both feet in the blue ice.

We've got to extend this streak to 5-games if the team wants to make things much easier on themselves to make the playoffs. Also, it would give Gainey an opportunity to pick up a player for the final push and playoffs. Though, I surely wouldn't mind going with the current roster and continuing to give the young guys a shot.

kazmojo said...

I'm worried about Latendresse. Higgins goes down, and instead of Lats replacing him on the first line like he did earlier in the season, the Habs place their faith in an AHL call-up.

Lats had clearly been moving towards 4th line duty over the past few games, being virtually invisible on the ice. Maybe he decided to reverse that trend, show a little energy -- but ended up in the sin bin for his efforts?