Every now and then, you hear about games where a team or player ‘sends a message’. For both the Habs and the Sens, this was definitely one of those games. So rather than my standard format, I’m going to run down a quick summary of what some of them told us tonight:
Carey Price: I have an insanely sexy glove hand and I’m not afraid to use it- to catch pucks or smack someone upside the head, if need be. Screw modesty, I was born for this job.
Josh Gorges: I played in the WHL and the Western Conference. Anyone who thinks a few rough checks are going to throw me off is delusional.
Andrei Markov: I’m a quiet Russian defenseman and Jason Spezza still can’t beat me up.
Jason Spezza: It’s true, I can’t.
Roman Hamrlik: I break up offensive rushes in my dreams. [Poke checks Mike Fisher’s message out from under him.]
Guillaume Latendresse: I can skate!
Michael Ryder: Please, please, please give Grabovski another chance. I don’t mind sitting again, at least until Saku gets back and can keep feeding me gorgeous passes which I can look good by finishing roughly one-tenth of the time.
Sergei Kostitsyn: I’m really impulsive, but at least I stick up for my goalie.
Tom Kostopolous: And I stick up for my impulsive younger teammates.
Daniel Alfredsson: I have a profound understanding of penalty-killing, such that the NHL itself has tapped me to explain the discipline to the world. Maybe I should explain it to the rest of my team.
Mark Streit: I’m a decent defenseman, but ironically I’m a better forward. And I’m going to make oodles of money at it, especially by Swiss standards.
Martin Gerber: Forget offense, dude, the real money is in lukewarm goaltending.
Mathieu Dandenault: Never underestimate the value of tertiary scoring.
Chris Neil: I have obviously lost my power to irritate people.
Maxim Lapierre: I’m impervious to irritation anyway.
Martin Lapointe: Maybe I should have thought twice before making ridiculously exaggerated claims about my leadership abilities.
Ryan O’Byrne: I am the second coming of Komisarek, only with less mature positional sense and a barely-suppressed urge to accessorize these dull road uniforms. [Looks longingly at the pashmina shawl on that lady in the third row]
Bryan Smolinski: Say what you will about my lack of offensive flair, I kill penalties and I win faceoffs and I'm old enough not to be phased by tough situations. So there.
Steve Begin: Ditto.
Chris Higgins: I have some good speed and some slick moves but will always have trouble finishing, mainly because I get violently assaulted all the damn time.
Patrice Brisebois: I’m competent. At least, when the rest of my team is playing excellently.
Alex Kovalev/Tomas Plekanec/Andrei Kostitsyn: We share a common brain, and it’s smarter, faster, and more creative than yours. All of yours. Put together. Yes, we’re looking at you, Stephan fucking Hawking. We’re coming for you and your no-hair theorem.
Brian Murray: I owe John Paddock an apology, don’t I?
The Montreal Canadiens are the best team in the Northeast Division. That is now a matter of record. And this game is a perfect example of how they got there: eight Habs got points, twelve had hits, twelve did power play time (eleven of them for one minute or more), fifteen of them blocked shots, fifteen killed penalties (thirteen for one minute or more), sixteen had shots either blocked or on net. In the next game, the numbers will be similar, but different players will be on each list, and a quick scan around the League suggests to me that while some teams exceeded the Habs’ diversity in one or two of those categories, very few matched it in all of them. In a League where most experts look at the game in terms of specialization, where players are more and more compartmentalized into rigid roles, the Habs have generalized and distributed both the burdens and the privileges of the game more widely across the roster. This does not mean that they have no roles, but that for none on the team is the role a destiny or a constraint- they all make sacrifices, and they all create opportunities. I wondered, in the last recap, if this interdependence could be a weakness, could make their chemistry fragile under mounting injuries. In this game, I got my answer. Here is a whole greater than the sum of its parts; a team deeper, stronger, tougher, and more magically complex than it appears on paper. As a list of names, they’re unremarkable. On the ice, however, I’m convinced: this is the best team in the League.