And lo, thus spake the Hockey Gods: That which the Ottawa Senators take from thy goal differential, the New York Islanders shall restore unto you, and verily thou shalt be made whole.
1. In spite of the much-injured Isles trying to play classic shut-down hockey, and succeeding for most of the game, it was a surprisingly fast-paced match. The Habs got a lot of excellent chances from all four forward lines, right down to the Smolinski/Kostopolous/Streit trio. The puck movement was a little more chaotic than usual, in part due to the Isles spiky defense, but the offensive momentum was impressive throughout. Although the Habs didn’t score massively, by their standards, they didn’t sit back for five minutes, much less a period. Hugs and handshakes, all around.
2. While the golden goose egg was being preserved at the other end of the ice, I thought DiPietro did a dazzling job in the Islanders net. The score is, in fact, surprisingly equal vis-à-vis the number of high-quality scoring chances the Habs got. Goaltending truly is a cruel vocation sometimes.
3. Other times, however, it’s very rewarding. Jaroslav Halak, thus far undefeated at the Bell Centre in his whole short NHL career, gets his third career shutout and second win in as many starts this season. I know he looks like a slightly disoriented lemur, and Price is the big news, but dear Lordy I love this kid. I really hope they give him a nice role down the stretch and into the playoffs, because he does deserve better than backup-to-a-celebrity status.
4. Higgins evidently wasn’t paying attention last season, because he doesn’t understand that line-juggling is Carbonneau’s way of fomenting spiritual healing on the team. When Kovalev (allegedly) bitched about the Quebecois players to the Russian press, he shortly after got put on a line with Lapierre and Latendresse. Now Higgins goes a-whining to the
The thing that’s a little disturbing is how similar the losing Canadiens and the winning Canadiens look. They lost to the Senators playing a quick, stylish, back-and-forth game, and they thwomped the Islanders with essentially the same game. A team that, until recently, leaned on a steady defense to stabilize inconsistent forward production is now dominated by its offensive lines, playing defense mostly through puck-position in the offensive zones, and relying heavily on its goaltending to catch the resulting backward rushes. When it works, it’s beautiful, and when it doesn’t work… it’s still beautiful. There’s something about these games recently that, even when they’re losses, just amazes me. These Canadiens have evolved, bit by bit, with such deliberate precision that I didn’t fully notice it happening, into an incredible phenomenon. I’ve been back in Chicago these days, and seen more games featuring other teams than I generally do in Montreal- Hurricanes, Flyers, Hawks of course, and I realize how limp and ponderous their play often looks- even a bad Habs game, of the sort I’d customarily whine and bitch about, is a total joy compared to an average hockey night. Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, regardless of the stats, regardless of what the predictions said and whether or not they’re fulfilled, we’re a lucky people in Habistan this season. A few years from now, we’re not necessarily going to remember whether this team ended up first in the conference or fourth. What we will remember is the excitement of watching them play.