Saturday, March 08, 2008

3-8-08: Canadiens 5, Kings 2

Thus far, the Habs have proven one thing with this road trip: The best team in the Eastern Conference can beat the worst teams in the Pacific Division. Whoo-Hoo! Take that, teams who won’t make the playoffs anyway!

1. Eleven Canadiens got points. If it hadn’t been for Kostopolous’ culminating empty-netter, not a single player would have had more than 1 point on a four-goal night. Hooray for variety!

2. While the general consensus seemed to be that Huet was traded because of Gainey’s faith in Price, I have a personal theory that it had just as much to do with Halak. While Price obviously gets most of the attention as the potential ‘franchise player’, people tend to forget that Halak has high potential as well- last year he was the best goalie in the AHL before he got called up, and was the keystone of the Habs’ nearly-successful playoff push when Huet was injured and Aebischer faltered. Gainey is certainly devoted to Price and has staked his GM street cred more than once on the kid’s superlative skills, but he’s got two good young goalies that the Habs will be relying on for years beyond this one, and it’s important that they both get time and experience. This was Halak’s game to remind Habistan not to reduce him to Scott Clemmensen status just yet, and he made the most of it. Hell, the refs were so impressed they gave him a pass on the first goal he let in for no apparent reason- by all rights that score at the top should be 5-3. But lucky break or not, it was an impressive performance, holding steady behind a team that was again outshot. He doesn’t look quite as good as Price, neither quite so precise or quite so stylish, but fortunately netminding is a mysterious art wherein the most technically adept are not necessarily the best at keeping the puck out of the net. Take heart, my people, we’re not just riding one inexperienced but talented rookie goaltender down the stretch- we’re riding two.

3. Brisebois, his first game back after a long stretch in the press box, scores the first goal with a long point shot, unassisted. That’s the most obvious sense of relief and delight I’ve seen on the face of a Canadiens player for a long time- until Latendresse scored later on, and set a new record for understated but oddly muppet-like joy. Good for them, that should buy a few days of quiet from the critics.

4. My personal favorite performance of the night was definitely Gorges. He’s a smart puppy, this kid, although he might be like Markov in that it’ll take people a while to learn to appreciate him. Even I don’t really notice him most nights, but this game I realized that it’s the good kind of not noticing. It’s a hard life, being a brains-over- brawn defenseman.

5. Prior to this game, Mikhail Grabovski made a potent but silly symbolic gesture of displeasure with being scratched from the previous game by blowing off the team’s charter and taking his own flight from Phoenix. Oh, the scandal. After meeting with Gainey and Carbonneau, the matter was settled quietly, but Grabovski was scratched again from this match. I understand why irate Habs think that doing this kind of thing is a good way to put pressure on management- after all, the Montreal media loves inklings of tension and discord. But use your common sense glands, boys: when you do something like this, it actually makes it harder for the Powers-That-Be to do what you want, because if it looks for even half a second like they’re giving in to a media stunt, they’ll have players blowing off the team flight every time they get the green Gatorade instead of the red. It’d be a logistical nightmare.

Onward to Anaheim, where the defending Stanley Cup Champions wait. They’ll probably make the playoffs, so it’s a safe bet we’ll get our asses kicked.

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