Saturday, April 04, 2009

Game #78

Markov, Schneider Fall in What Could Be Costly Win

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Saturday April 4th, 2009
Opponent: Toronto Maple Leafs
Venue: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON

Team Stripes

Score: 6 - 2 Win

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Gerber (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev, Guillaume Latendresse, Alex Tanguay, Christopher Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, Josh Gorges
Opposition goalscorers: John Mitchell, Boyd Devereaux


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

Toronto never looked like a threat tonight, but there is still nothing like a 3-goal lead. Therefore the timing of this goal, coupled with its beauty, made this a no-brainer. The play started from our own end and it was Kovalev who eventually redirected the puck to Saku near Toronto's blue-line. Koivu did well to control the bouncing puck and then went outside with speed. He got around the Leafs defenceman and sent a perfect pass to the front of the net. There, a very poorly-marked, Tanguay awaited. It didn't take much of shot to beat Gerber on this one as the pass was really that good.


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

Alexei Kovalev
With 16 games left in the season I sensed a change coming in not only Alex's play, but in the team's as well. It was after our 66th game that I said this 'His goal was his first in 4 games and I know that as we move down the stretch we'll be seeing more of this. He currently sits at 16 goals and 31 assists and I wouldn't be surprised if he hit about 23 goals and 40 assists - I expect a strong push from the Habs over the next few weeks and Alex will certainly be at the centre of that.' The next day Carbo was fired and within a few more Kovalev and the Habs were back. Alex's goal and three assists on the night take him to 24-39-63 on the year with 4 more games to play. I am happy I was right when I predicted what I did, but not for my sake, for the Habs'. Without Alex playing the way he has done (and did again tonight) we may not be in such a favourable position.


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

Guillaume Latendresse
Gui played another strong match tonight as he picked up a goal and an assist. He was stoned by Gerber on a penalty-shot soon after scoring, but did well on the preceding play to strip Schenn and draw the penalty. He and his linemates are providing a nice secondary option to Gainey which will take some pressure off the big boys. You won't, however, read any negativity about Plekanec and the Kostitsyns in here as they are not costing us wins right now. Latendresse is doing the job at the moment and is hopefully reminding people that our team is built around balanced scoring.

Maxim Lapierre
Max is exactly the type of player you need on your team. He fights hard on every shift, is quite decent offensively and rarely misses assignments in his own end. He went 6-3 on face-offs and also picked up 2 more points. His assist on Latendresse's goal came after some very hard work at the end of a penalty-kill and his goal was the result of a fantastic pass from Gui.

Alexei Kovalev
15 points in his last 6 games is no small feat. The fact that we went 5-0-1 during that stretch, however, is the more important stat. What Alex did tonight (and what he has been doing for awhile) was he took control of the game. He skates around so effortlessly, but still dominates the players around him. He made every one of his teammates better when he was on with them as he creates so much space for them. I wouldn't want our best player to be hotter at any other time of the year and can only hope that he can keep this play up right until the last game of the year, whenever that may be.

Defencemen

Roman Hamrlik
Who knows, but as of tomorrow this may be Roman's brigade. Injuries to two of our top four couldn't have come at a worse time and one can only hope they'll be OK. If needed, however, I think Hammer could step up. He has played that role with other teams and played well enough tonight to suggest that he is on form. He collected 2 assists tonight (and now has 30 points) and was +2.

Josh Gorges
When Gorges scores you know things are going well. Josh actually became the fourth of our defencemen to score in the past two games as we are now getting contributions from everyone. Josh also finished the game with a +1 rating and another point, an assist. Like Roman, Gorges could (and has done before) fill in and take on more of a role as he is back to his old steady self.

Goaltender

Jarsolav Halak
Tanguay really coughed one up towards the end on Toronto's second, but I am sure with the win in the bag he'll be forgiven by Halak. Jaro, once again, started the game very strong and set the tone; this was not something that Gerber was able to replicate. I never thought that the Leafs really got going offensively, but when all was told they did fire 36 shots Jaro's way. I liked how he played a simple game tonight and was virtually unnoticeable. Not noticing your goalie, especially when you concede 36 shots, is a very good thing.



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

You can thank people like Don Cherry if you are looking for anyone to thank for losing two of our top four. Tonight you had a team, Toronto, that has been eliminated from the playoffs and all but eliminated from the race for Tavares. Last night they let in 8, tonight it was 6; if one thing is clear it is that they don't care (don't get me wrong, they are really bad too). When people don't care about something you see them slack off as we saw with Toronto tonight. What players tend to do, rather than giving a 60-minute effort, is they try to leave their mark on the game with a play or two here and there. They therefore will do plays that they think the fans want to see and that won't cost them any effort, or heaven forbid, give anyone the impression that they are trying. That is where the words of Cherry come into play. What does Don want to see out of bad teams? He wants to see hits, fights, blocked-shots and someone playing hurt. Then 'in his books' you are alright. That is why players like May and Grabovski, who both played very little hockey tonight, will jump at the opportunity to make that big hit. They see two of our best players in vulnerable positions and they start drooling. I have nothing against hitting, but where is the effort the rest of the time boys? Those two hits were unnecessary and uncalled for, but were indeed legal. It was clearly a matter of two frustrated players, on a dead-end team, trying to bring some 'life' to their team without actually having to exert any effort.

Maybe being eliminated from the playoffs should mean being eliminated from the season? What is the point (other than money) of having these players, who don't want to be there, running around and hurting teams that actually have something meaningful to play for?


Overall Comments

I remarked during the game that it had been a long time since I have watched a Habs-Leafs game with so little energy in the building. It didn't start that bad, but by the time we were up 4-0 there was as much atmosphere as at a Thrashers-Lightning pre-season game. Montreal did well to go ahead early in this one and it is thanks in large part to the solid play of both Halak and our PP. Aside from losing two of our best players (it is still unclear what their injuries are) we played a complete game and did what was required. Toronto may have outshout us, but there was no doubt that we were not only the better team, but were also, by far, the more threatening of the two. Towards the end of the game we saw more and more of our lower lines as Gainey did not want to risk another injury to a top player. Koivu and Tanguay, in particular, spent most of the third period glued to their seats which I think was probably a wise move. Our four lines played well tonight, but, more importantly, skated and moved the puck well. We have some great chemistry on the first and third lines now as I think we have found some combinations that will stick. The second and fourth lines remain open to audition, but I believe that within our group we have the players that can fill those posts.

This ended up being another good week and we are now ever so close to a playoff spot. One more win by us and one more loss by the Rangers will clinch it for the Habs which is a nice feeling with 4 more to play. We can take care of business on Tuesday against New York in what will be one of the biggest games of the year for both teams. In the meantime we play Ottawa on Monday to start the last week of the season.

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