The Tao of Hockey is a strange thing. When things go bad, everything goes bad and nothing works, but once things turn good- man, everything gets easy. It’s surreal, because this game, as in the past several, the Habs have been down at the beginning, but for some reason, now that doesn’t mean anything. Time was, someone got two goals up on them and it was over, but now it’s like they can score massively whenever the mood strikes them to do so. The 2nd period of this game was easily the best 20 minutes of hockey the Habs have played all season, possibly among the best periods of anyone has played all season. Transcendent, effervescent, orgasmic, pitch-perfect, now-I-can-(almost)-die-happily hockey awesomeness, it was.
1. Last week, Lundqvist was the NHL’s 1st star and Halak was the 3rd, so this was being billed in advance as quite the goalie showdown. So what, you ask, was it like? Halak blocked 28 shots and stayed in through the whole game. Lundqvist blocked 8 shots in the 1st, and then somehow let in 4 goals on only 7 shots in the 2nd, and got himself pulled less than halfway through in favor of the Rangers’ mystery backup goalie. Who did a bit better, but not quite better enough. Halak wasn’t perfect, but he was great when he needed to be. Our little Slovakian lemur was particularly good at keeping his eyes on Jagr, who took rather a lot of very good shots, and still came out of the game totally pointless.
2. 2 goals for Kovalev, 1 for Ryder, and 1 for Plekanec- Why does that sound familiar? Because that’s exactly the scoring from last game. Spooky. Kovalev is, as advertised, absolutely everywhere these days, but until the Habs are in the playoffs I won’t consider it enough to compensate for months of crap play. Although he does deserve some sort of twisted style points for playing a bunch of the game with a facial laceration that made it look as though he was crying blood, like the villain in Casino Royale. The 2nd line is pure excitement, if nothing else, I hope the Canadiens get to the playoffs just so I can watch them for a few more games. Personally, I think Plekanec and Kostitsyn are still playing on the sheer exhilaration of not being lashed between Kovalev and Samsonov anymore. Both were tortured mightily in the ill-fated experiments with that line, but now they’re finally free to find their own game without having to take responsibility for mercurial, emotionally-stunted veterans. Also quite the night for Begin- got the Habs first goal of the game, and he and Lapierre together put some serious emphasis on the ‘kill’ aspect of penalty killing. Streit gets the final goal of the night and puts the game out of reach for the Rangers. He doesn’t score often, but he has a real hero-complex; most of his goals have that savior-like quality that has the audience not so much cheering as falling to their knees saying ohthankyouthankyouthankyou. But as usual, Koivu is at the heart of almost all Canadiens goodness- 4 assists for the night and more energy than half the darari put together. I swear, sometimes you forget that he’s just a mild-mannered Scandinavian ice cream maker at heart.
3. Komisarek is going to have to figure out his position vis-à-vis the fighting part of hockey violence one of these days. Perhaps because he comes out of the American system of hockey-player production rather than the Canadian system, the boy does not, generally speaking, fight. Oh, he can throw a check beautifully and jostle around in a noncommittally angry fashion as hockey players are wont to do, but every time things start getting to the point where gloves are dropped he looks a bit confused, as though he’s not quite sure of the proper etiquette of the situation. Thing is, he’s a gigantic person who throws his body around quite willingly, so he does sometimes incur opponents' displeasure. Moreover, he does try to come to the defense of his teammates, but it seems like mostly he relies on his size being a deterrent in and of itself- he just kind of shoves his way into the middle of things and stands there until people calm down. Anyway, things got a little scrappy in this game and Shanahan sort of tried to fight him, and I thought to myself that it was very possible that Shanahan could have won such an altercation, if it had gone that far. Because although Komisarek is taller, heavier, and much younger, he kinda sucks at fighting, and that concerns me, because I think with his play style it’s going to be expected of him more and more, and even if he’s decided that it’s not really his thing, I’d prefer it if he at least found a way to handle the situations a little more competently.
4. So this is my first viewing of the legendary Sean Avery, whom I was already inclined to dislike because he was dating that chick what almost single-handedly ruined the 3rd season of 24. I wish she’d gotten eaten by the mountain lion. Also, because I think he was trying to rape Jocelyn Thibault in that Pens game last week. Anyway, the beauty of an enthusiastic pest on the opposing team is the opportunity to watch your guys shove someone around in a fairly brutal way without having to feel the slightest bit guilty. And oh my, some of the boys do love the opportunity to thwack someone- RDS was really getting a kick out of repeatedly showing a clip of Koivu knocking Avery around like a slightly irritating teacup poodle. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. They were also repeatedly showing a clip of some guy in the audience wearing a vaguely pimped-out cowboy hat. Maybe he was someone important, but I prefer to think that Yvon was just jealous of the man’s style.
5. Why didn’t Shanahan want to play for us? I mean, damn, he’s practically perfect in every way, isn’t he? He didn’t score in this game, but it did seem like things had a way of getting worse for the Habs when he was on the ice. Fortunately, the Rangers displayed a rather charming habit of taking penalties at exactly the worst moments, which obliterated whatever momentum they could build almost as soon as they built it. Still, I take nothing for granted in the next game- these guys have a lead on the rest of us crowding for a playoff spot, and are going to be desperate to keep it come next Thursday.
Finally, a night where some things are decided in the Eastern Conference, or a I like to think of it, the Hellish Conflagration of Confusion, Anxiety, and Slow Painful Psychological Torture: regulation losses to the Rangers, Hurricanes, Islanders, and Lightning, wins to the Leafs and Canadiens. Which means… [drum roll]… we are officially back in a playoff slot! 86 points, tied with the Lightning for 7th, sitting in 8th because they’ve got more wins. But hey, 2 points up on the 3-way tie for 9th, and at least no one above us has any games-in-hand anymore. And ahbabi looking on the ice the best they’ve looked all season- even strength scoring from every line, contributions from kids and veterans alike, energy and focus everywhere, and hot goalie so tranquil you'd think he was spending his evenings reading bedtime stories to small children, not netminding in the NHL. Whether it's enough to make the playoffs remains to be seen, but at this exact moment, things being what they are, you couldn't ask more from any team: they're doing the best they can, and probably playing better than they actually are. But than again, I've always thought they're better than they are...