Saturday, February 21, 2009

Game #60

Kovalev Lifts Habs to a Much Needed Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday February 21st, 2009
Opponent: Ottawa Senators
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Score: 5 - 3 Win

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Brian Elliott, Alex Auld (L)

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Alexei Kovalev, Mathieu Schneider, Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault
Opposition goalscorers: Jarkko Ruutu, Dany Heatley (2)


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

Kovalev's goal, our second, was not only the nicest, but I felt was the timeliest. The play allowed the Habs to jump to a rare 2-goal lead and seemed to make the Bell Centre come alive. Kovy stripped a Sen of the puck in the offensive zone and was quickly back the other way towards goal. A quick, low, blocker-side, wrist shot was the end result of what was truly a spectacular one-man effort.


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

Alexei Kovalev
Did Kovalev have something to prove today, or was he simply playing with the team's interests at heart. I for one believe that this warrior is too much of a team-player to worry about anything but the team. So, I think he played his heart out today, not for himself, but for us. He has had such an amazing career and I don't think he has anything to prove to anyone. I don't know why we constantly ask our star to 'prove' he belongs, it reminds me of the way we treated Huet before we traded the All-Star (and he still is playing like one...) for nothing. Today it was obvious, as chants of 'Kovy, Kovy, Kovy' resonated throughout the Bell Centre, that Montreal loves their star and that we truly need him. It looks to me like he wants to be here and I think I speak for the majority of fans when I say that we are glad he still is.


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

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks didn't miss a beat today as he was reunited with Kovalev and Andrei. He was used more than any other forward (besides Kovy), scored a goal and was a very impressive 15/22 in the face-off circle. He distributed the puck well tonight and continued to play with the same speed and drive that we have seen in his past two games.

Christopher Higgins
Chris was the best player on what was a much improved line tonight. He had a good game fore-checking as he continued his strong play. The effort was certainly there as he picked up an assist and took a team-high 4 shots. The one area that bothered me tonight were his 4 penalty minutes, but, considering it is not a recurring theme, I am willing to overlook them.

Alexei Kovalev
Alex's truly magnificent return to the line-up was highlighted by his first 3 point game in over a year. Unlike RDS (who's evidence are stats alone), I wouldn't immediately claim that this was his best game in a year, but I think it was a very strong performance. Aside from the strong offensive play, which also included a few other very dangerous chances, there was also some very strong defensive play. He was our best penalty-killer and played a very responsible 2-way game.

Defencemen

Andrei Markov
Andrei was an absolute rock in our own end tonight. He made so many subtle plays that didn't go unnoticed by this fan. The thing that stands out is the lack of time Alfie and Spezza had with the puck. Heatley managed 2 goals, but, even though he was on for both of them, neither were Markov's fault. He played 28 minutes and added an assist on what is an all of a sudden smoking PP.

Mathieu Schneider
Markov can shoot, but I don't think we have seen a shot like the one Mat scored on since Streit was around. The goal was an absolute bullet to the top corner and was Schneider's 2nd goal and 3rd point in 3 games. Since his arrival we are 7/12 on the PP including 3/4 tonight. He also played a good game in our own end and continues to play very well alongside Markov.

Goaltender

Jaroslav Halak
Now that is more like it. Today we got solid goaltending when we needed it and we never let Ottawa get too close. Halak was very strong at controlling rebounds, handling the puck and facing shooters square on. I felt he commanded the play in front of him way better than Price has done. I don't think I am alone when I say that he represents not only our best chance, but likely our only chance, at winning games. He made 44 saves today (.936) and is the biggest reason we aren't writing about a loss. The best part is he didn't force the offence to score 6+ goals to have a chance, so I think everyone was a little more relaxed. I would keep going with Jaro for now, I mean we have nothing to lose.



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

Let's not get too ahead of ourselves as all that we did today was beat a pretty bad Ottawa squad that was probably more due for a loss than a win. The Habs played well and it was of course great to see Kovalev and Halak play so well, but let's not forget we let up 47 shots. If this is a better opponent, we are on the road or Price gets the start this is no longer a feel-good story, but it just becomes another chapter in what has been a disastrous 100th February for the Habs. We have so much work to do if we want to start winning games more frequently, make the playoffs and then possibly make some noise once we are there. So, we did play as well as Ottawa today if not a little better, but we still let them see too much of the puck. The good news is, however, that to win the Stanley Cup or even make the playoffs you don't have to be that much better than your opponents, in fact you can be worse, you just have to score one more than them. Tonight we proved, hopefully to ourselves, that tight games can be won and that they can be pretty quickly turned into good looking performances. To get out of a slump you need wins, no matter how you get them and that is really what gets the ball rolling. So, while this wasn't a memorable performance against a great team, it was a win. A win, as they say, is a win and I believe this is certainly something we can build on.


Overall Comments

I was surprised right from the start of the game as the Habs were cheered very loudly as they came on. It made me realize there are truly 2 types of fans - those who want to tear this team, and it players, down at any given chance (mostly media members here) and those who still stand by this team and want them to get to the playoffs, thus giving their unconditional support. The Bell Centre is obviously filled with more of the latter group of fans than the former as we just never stopped cheering. We got off to a great start thanks to some inspired play by Kovalev who really led this team all night. Ottawa couldn't contain our PP which in the end proved to be the difference. I thought that we played quite well overall, but we are still giving up too many shots. Many of those shots came on the PP which leads me to my second point - we are taking way too many penalties. Mike (Rivet) Komisarek continued his rapid descent down the depth-chart tonight with a 3-penalty performance. I don't see the penalties as a major problem, but we do need to find a way to give up less shots and I think that could start with a few less trips to the sin bin.

We have 22 games to go and have 29 points to get. We have clearly dug ourselves a big hole, but I think today's win, coupled with how Kovy reacted to his time-off, will be the first step in the right direction. I think Halak is the goalie we need to be playing as he is the only goalie, of the 2, that can keep a game close. Close games mean a chance every night at points and not a chance at a 3-goal comeback.

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