Thursday, January 08, 2009

Game #39

Lang's Late Hat Trick Turns Tide In Tight Affair

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Wednesday, January 7th, 2009
Opponent: New York Rangers
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Team Stripes

Final Score: 6-3 - Win

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev, Guillaume Latendresse, Andrei Markov, Robert Lang (3)
Opposition goalscorers: Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Michal Rozsival



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

It's Robert Lang's goal, but not the one you think - it was his first on the PP. The amazing thing about this whole play, which admittedly was a 5-on-3, was the speed at which the puck covered distance in the Rangers zone. The play essentially starts when Lang having received the puck from Markov, returns the puck to him. Markov readies himself and one-times a pass to Andrei Kostitsyn at the other point (finally Carbo) and he in turn one-times a shot. The shot misses the net but luckily rebounds behind the net cleanly out the other side right to Lang, where he completes the 4-touch play by one-timing a shot himself. Kovalev, not involved in the play himself also played a nice part as he signaled to his old buddy Lang that the puck was coming around cleanly.

This is the Canadiens PP of last season. It's been a long time...



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Robert Lang
It's a sure-fire system for getting nominated for player of the game: score three goals, make one the game winner, one an incredible individual effort and one to finish the game off. Amazingly, Robert Lang was in the running for this place even before that first goal of his. He played a smart hockey game on the best line we were putting out there for the first two periods. With his 15th goal already and his willingness to play with anyone, he's turning out to be quite a find.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Robert Lang
Lang the offensive machine churned into action again tonight. It seems he could be part of the bigger answer for PP revival as his first goal showed and he could also be the key to unleashing the power of Andrei Kostitsyn at even strength. On the ice for two goals against as well, but neither was his fault as he had his men covered.

Andrei Kostitsyn
For the first two periods of the game, Andrei was the best offensive threat the Canadiens had to offer. As luck would have it, his only statistical contribution in that regard was an assist on a missed shot. But add to that, two periods of buzzing around, shooting with abandon (though not as straight as we've become used to) and generally scaring Rangers defenses. Amazingly, his ice time was low. He had 15 shifts in all and 12:22. He was being punished for his defensive coverage, no doubt, as he was on the ice for 2 Rangers goals (one, the beautiful Zherdev pass, for which he was accused of being personally responsible). I leave him in the dome despite that, because as a winger on a team that looked like it might have trouble scoring (as it was being kept in the periphery), he was the one player who was consistently opening up seams and getting quality chances for about 1/2 and hour.

Alexei Kovalev
A lot of players played quite well tonight and could have made the cut here. Kovalev played quite well in some tough situations. Carbonneau clearly trusts his interim captain, as he was on the ice at the very end for the 6-on-4 kill and played the most among all forwards. His 3:05 on the PP was also a team high and telling as the Habs only spent 4:40 on the PP altogether. Of course, he did also score a beautiful goal, which demonstrated the abilities of sniper perfectly. His tight turn and float unaccosted to the front of the net in anticipation of a scrappy feed was amazing to watch on replay.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
If the PP is back for a short stay, it's because Andrei Markov has dragged it back. His goal on the PP was opportunistic and patient at the same time. He sprung to get to the puck but waited to unleash his accurate wrist shot until Lundqvist was sliding. His involvement in the second PP goal was textbook Doug Jarvis PP work. His game up front was impressive and his game on defence this game was solid, despite being on the ice fr a couple of goals. That's to say, his play also prevented a number of chances.

Roman Hamrlik
It seems I am constantly being impressed with Roman Hamrlik these days. To watch his positioning, his play in the defensive end, his timing is to learn a lot about being a very good NHL defender. No matter how many goals Souray scores in Edmonton, I wouldn't trade Hamrlik for him in a million years. Oh, and by the way, Hamrlik had 3 assists tonight - including the goal-making shot that led to Guillaume Latendresse's free opportunity.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Jaro plays and makes the dome, that's a change. I have to come out in full defence of Halak tonight. As evidenced by Marc Denis' two consecutive domes, I have been realistic about him this week - he's been poor. However tonight, Halak played a stormer really. The Rangers throughout the game were peppering the net with shots (they had 39 all told in the end) and he save 36. Now Halak may have looked weak on the first goal - these things happen. But, the only other two goals he allowed were perfectly set-up and executed cross-ice one-timer opportunities. The goals were beauties. And those are the kind of goals that 95% of goalies let in 95% of the time. To save one of those two would have taken highlight reel stuff.

Halak did have some highlight reel stuff in this one. Mostly, though, he just stopped every single shot that came through traffic. It was uncanny really. I mean, rebound or not, how can a defence complain when their goalie makes every first save to be made but the two perfectly set-up opportunities? They can't. This game should give Jaro some much-needed confidence to build on.



Eye-Openers
In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

My eyes are opened - the Canadiens are a different team this year. And that appears to be by design. Not only have the Habs piled up more points this first half, and relied on less OT losses to do so; they have also done so by playing better defence and without the help of a functional PP.

The Canadiens played 30 minutes of this one at even strength to start out. Over that half an hour, they competed well, held lots of possession and created 2 goals for a lead. To say they would have beaten the Rangers at even strength would not be stretch. To have said that last season would have been.

This game was refereed as if it were one of those Don Cherry favourite playoff games. The refs were lax to say the least and both teams adjusted to their laxity. The Rangers more so than the Canadiens, as they took plenty of liberties assaulting the crease of poor Jaroslav Halak. In the past (as in last year's playoffs), the Habs were lost on nights like these. While waiting for a penalty to spring Markov-Kovalev-Streit on the opposition, their play was sporadic and misdirected.

The difference now is marked. The Lang-Kostitsyns line doesn't disguise the fact that their goal is, well, goals and they are at their best at even-strength. Similarly for Kovalev-Plekanec and whoever suits up on their wing (Pacioretty for now). Even Lapierre's line, which is not blessed with the same shots or talents as the others seems to now understand that keeping the puck in the opposition end may be winning the shift, but does little to win the game. In sum, our even-strength play has become more about scoring goals than preventing them or biding time.

You see, there is something good to come from this PP fiasco. Come playoffs, we'll appreciate players who've learned to make space for themselves without relying on the referees.


Overall Comments

A feel good effort in the first of a double header. A great victory, especially considering we are missing both Koivu and Price at the moment. The test of depth that these injuries have forced has been working out well. Kudos to the healthy players and Kovalev, who has stepped in and done a solid job as captain and go-to PK man since Saku fell.

The Habs now have 52 points over a mere 39 games. Not much of it so far has been pretty. We can't look to an extended winning streak like Washington or Boston has enjoyed to explain what's happened. Along with the evolution to a team that can get it done at even strength, the Habs have become one of those quietly successful teams - speaking out wins and piling up points without much bravado. It's the goal of a 5-year plan to create teams like this - one that can make the playoffs with energy to spare. Let's hope a second half in mirror image of the first is on the horizon for us.

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