God help me, I adore the Penguins. Not by themselves, mind you. As a team-in-itself, I’m fairly indifferent to them. I don’t particularly follow them and I don’t much like to watch them play other teams. My primary opinion concerning them is that between their uniforms and their arena, they’re one of the biggest aesthetic disasters in the NHL. But as an opponent? A foil for my Habs? Something to boo and heckle zealously? In that capacity, oh my, I dearly love the Penguins.
1. Games between the Pens and the Habs are (generally) fast in terms of both pace and skating, close in terms of both exchange of chances and final score, and highly contentious.
2. Although still a win, this game was much closer than the previous ones, largely due to Carbonneau’s failure to get Mrs. Horvath to cast the runes on Sabourin’s equipment. Therrian, perhaps seeing a pattern in the Habs recent wins, pulled Fleury immediately after the third goal, and the Habs’ mysterious new offensive powers don’t seem to work against backup goalies. Either that or they were hoping to do as they have the past few games and rely on a solid defensive corps to protect an early lead through subsequent weaker periods. But the fact is they didn’t do a lot to stop the Pens from surging back in the second half, leading to:
3. A very, very impressive performance by Carey Price in an 8-round marathon shootout. Let’s face it, the Penguins are (on paper at least) a much better shootout team than the Habs, being as they are loaded with players who thrive on those sorts of one-on-one showdowns. But Price not only stopped them all, but made it look easy. Boring, even, as if Malkin was no more of a threat than a goldfish with a toothpick. Fortunately, and improbably, Markov managed to score and win the game before either team had to really scrape the bottom of the aquarium.
4. For the record, however, the Canadiens are absolutely right: players who are serving penalties at the end of OT should not be allowed to participate in shootouts. It defeats the entire purpose of a penalty. Probably, though, since Gonchar didn’t score, the NHL won’t pay much attention, and the whole thing will be forgotten in a couple of weeks, since inconsistencies in the rules don’t really seem to bother anyone until they pop up in an ‘important’ game.
5. The Habs are showing a very disturbing tendency to take penalties in the very final moments of regulation. It seems like nearly every game these days ends with at least a minute of 6-on-4, or even 6-on-3, which is just never a good idea. It lost us the Panthers game and it could easily have lost us this one. In general, the team has been playing much more ‘disciplined’ hockey than last season, Koivu has learned to keep from accroche-ing everyone in sight, but it doesn’t really matter when the penalties they do take are all at the most inopportune, potentially game-ruining moments.
6. Can I just take a moment to rhapsodize about the defense? The Hockey News tells me our overall blueline-quality is #15 in the League. This is why we here at the Theory get The Hockey News: pretty pictures and a compulsive desire to rank everything in bizarre ways that suggest their research staff is spending most of its time watching TSN while stoned. Because the Canadiens’ D is fucking great these days. I’m tempted to say Hamrlik has been well worth his contract, huge though it is, and even if he’s not, Brisebois has been playing so much better than his salary that they balance each other out. Markov is as good as he ever was, plus showing more of an offensive streak. Komisarek is maturing in terms of his non-thwacking plays and doing some very nice time on the PK. And Bouillon (here’s hoping the shoulder is okay) is playing so much better you’d think he was resurrected from the dead, not recovered from a knee problem. Not that they’re perfect, by any means, but in comparison to what they were last year, and to what I’ve seen of other teams this year, they’re impressive. Even when the shots have been low and the chances few, the Habs are spending much, much more time in the offensive zone than previously, largely because the defensemen are doing such a good job of making it difficult for the opposition to stay inside ours.
7. Most Symbolic and Ineffectual Hockey Fight Ever: Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Kovalev.
For some reason, the NHL seems to get that the Penguins and the Habs are a good match-up, because they did see that they opened the preseason against each other (twice). Unfortunately, in the regular season, there can only be four games between them and two are already gone. At least I’ve got something to look forward to come January.