Tuesday, November 13, 2007

11-13-07: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3

A philosophical question: against the Leafs, is it preferable to smash the crap out of them (if such were possible for the Habs, which it does not seem to be), or edge them narrowly? Certainly most Habs fans would say they’d prefer the blowout- better bragging and all that- but this might be the equivalent of a 5-year-old saying he’d prefer to eat nothing but marshmallows for dinner; i.e. the idea is a hell of a lot more pleasurable than the reality would be. Because true, we may always have fantasies that a game against the Leafs will be decided by more than one goal and sometimes an empty-netter, but it’s possible that the close level of play between the two teams, and the resulting close scores of most of the games, are the primary thing that sustains interest in the rivalry. It’s what allowed Habs fans to go into this thinking that, in spite of losing the clear majority of games against Toronto in recent memory (okay, in my memory, which is pretty freakin’ recent), there’s always a chance that tonight it will be different. And- wonder of wonders- it was.

1. Of course, they do have to maintain part of the ritual of games against the Leafs by having at least one horrifically bad period, this time in the 2nd. I could criticize, but at this point it’s basically part of the tradition. I’d probably pine nostalgically for it if they gave it up.

2. Let us all give praise to the ironically-numbered “2nd” line, may they never be separated again. Collectively, Plekanec-Kovalev-Kostitsyn have combined for 16 goals and 37 points. Now, compare that to 12 goals and 33 points for the Koivu-Higgins-Ryder trio. Better, but not a lot better, right? But for the month of November- that is, the last 5 games- the 2nd line has 7 goals and 15 points, while the 1st has 3 and 7, respectively. And bear in mind that Koivu and Higgins, at least, are still getting plenty of high-quality PP minutes. All Kovalev supporters are encouraged to leave cheerful gloating in the comments section, which I shall accept with grace and good humor.

3. While I appreciate Price on many different levels- his sophisticated puckhandling, his frog-tongue-quick glove hand, his total inability to express or perceive human emotion- I still think he’s a bit overhyped. Not that he lacks merit, by any means, but on a practical level I don’t think he’s outplayed Huet. He just looks a hell of a lot more stylish and is, frankly, still a shiny new toy for Habs fans. A lot of the raptures that people go into over him are still based on the fantasy of what he might be in the future rather than what he is now- he’s played quite well so far, but I don’t think many of his games have been particularly arduous. But this one was, at least for the last 40 minutes, and therefore I give him props not so much for flash- he’s shown his abilities to great effect on many previous occasions- but for endurance.

4. We’re going to assume that tonight, somewhere in Edmonton or maybe LA, Souray was experimenting with his astral projection powers and accidentally took over Markov’s body for this game. After all, since when does Andrei score on a slapshot from the point during a power play and then go out and take 4 minor penalties in the rest of the game? Oh wait… he was still +2 on the night, so it couldn’t have been the work of Shelly-jaan. But am I the only one who thinks that the Markov we’re seeing this year is way different from the one we saw last year? I don’t mean that in a bad way- he’s still a very smart player and I still consider him an excellent investment- but he seems to be taking a more offensively aggressive, even sometimes risky, approach to the game nowadays; one that seems anathema to the pre-existing assumptions about his style. I’m not sure if I should be thrilled or nervous. True, with Hamrlik on board, Streit back in his comfort zone, Brisebois and Bouillon playing well above expectations, Komisarek improving his play-reading, and Souray, Rivet, Niiniimaa, and Dandenault gone (at least from the D-corps), Markov doesn’t have to be as conservative- he’s not being expected to compensate for the defensive lapses of his partners. It could be that this way of playing is in fact more natural to him. Or it could be that he thinks a massive contract demands a little more of a dramatic style. Or maybe he’s just reconnecting with his inner child.

5. Apparently, the Canadiens’ PK this year hasn’t been very good, but you’d never have suspected from this game, where they took 9 minors and allowed only 1 goal in all of them. Chipchura and Kostopolous, in spite of being totally new to both the Habs and each other, look like they’ve been slaughtering man-disadvantages together since the dawn of time.

6. And finally, how thrilling is it to see Komisarek of all people get an OT breakaway and beat Raycroft clean through the five-hole? You couldn’t have asked for a more simple, elegant approach to the opportunity. The boy was clearly as shocked and amazed as anyone watching that he’d actually been able to pull off a move so very atypical for him, and it’s always great to end a game on a joyous note, with a big ol’ pile of Habs in a very huge, very excited hug.

The Leafs, it seems, are so cursed by their own building that they tried to change their home-ice luck for this game by wearing their away jerseys, so as to trick the suckage-pixies of the Air Canada Centre. And to give credit where it’s due, it almost worked, it one-point worked. But they got to Raycroft at the right moment. Ahamdulillah.


Kaz said...

I still want to thwack Toronto. I suffer from a very severe dislike of Darcy Tucker. So the fact that we grabbed two points from the Leafs in their building, and laid out Tucker in the form of big bad Mike along the sideboards was pure joy to me.

And yes the first line is struggling. Each one of them whiffed on golden opportunities. But the fact that there are such opportunities to be had makes me think (hope?) that they're just snakebit. They'll start going in, sooner or later.

But I second your call to never break up that second line. And as such, Kostitsyn should never sit. The boy can play. Latendresse, on the other hand, spent most of his icetime falling on his ass. Was he drunk? He's the dude who should be sitting.

E said...

kaz- you know, once upon a time i suffered from a very severe dislike of darcy tucker as well, but now i'm sort of inclined to see him as hockey's version of snidely whiplash- so melodramatically awful as to be comical. as to both the first line and latendresse, the real question is how much patience one should have. both have shown potential in the past that isn't being realized now, but neither is likely to improve from being treated punitively. it really is shocking how poorly lats has been playing, but does such a young player benefit from being benched more than once or twice? like grabovski or kostitsyn, i'd almost rather see him sent down than sitting repeatedly, because he needs to be able to play somehow.

one thing i forgot to mention about that second line, though: they're also not the defensive disaster they were pegged to be early on. granted, my instinct is that they're playing easier minutes than the first (such was certainly true of the way carbonneau played kovalev last season), but still... of course, that's just my general perception, i could be wrong.

saskhab said...

I'm not immune to breaking up a line, even one that's working well. If one line works but no others do, then you have to find a way to maximize the team's performance. Maybe Plekanec can get Ryder going where Koivu & Higgins have not been able to succeed. It is hard to know unless you try.

E, our PK was bad to start the year, but has picked it up this month. That might have been our first goal allowed on the PK this month, although my memory is fuzzy from the first T.O. game.

And you're bang on with Markov. He's the risk-taker this year, and his laxidasiacal attitude has shown up in his defensive game, where he's been flat out beat by guys that he never let by him the past 2-3 years. It's a testament to Komisarek's abilities that the pair can still do more than just hold water against the best in the league.

And I don't remember a 20 year old goalie that was ever this good at the NHL level. But I don't remember Roy at that age. I do remember Luongo, though. This team needed to beat Toronto just to realize that they can. Price delivered.

I'm not throwing Huet under the bus, clearly, he's an excellent goalie and still should start more often than not, but Price's learning curve is astonishing.