Ladies and gentlemen, we've got ourselves a hockey team. I had the great pleasure of attending last night's beauty of a game between the Habs and the Rangers, and I learned a few things about this edition of the Canadiens.
First of all, they don't quit. Down two goals twice to a pretty good Rangers team, it would have been understandable if the boys had been discouraged and let up long enough to allow that back-breaking goal that would have put them in a three-goal hole. Last year they would have done exactly that, without a doubt. This season's different though. They didn't give in to self pity, and kept doggedly pushing back at the Ranger defence until it cracked and the Habs were back in it. It won't happen like that every night, but if a team works with as much determination and self-confidence as the Canadiens did in that game, it will win more often than it loses.
I learned the team is able to fix its mistakes mid-game in a way it couldn't last year. After a disorganized, sloppy first period with big problems clearing their zone and some pretty awful defensive gaffes, they came out and played a much quicker, tighter second period and a solid, shut-down third. The ability to do that shows intelligence and a reluctance to give into panic. It's also a sign of good coaching.
I also saw a team with an honest-to-goodness gamebreaker in Mike Cammalleri. The man is tiny in stature, but boy, he can change the direction of a game when he puts his mind to it. How long has it been since the Canadiens had a guy like that? Koivu tried like hell, but he wasn't the dominant offensive force Cammalleri can be. Kovalev had the talent but rarely ever turned it on and took the game over like that. When Cammalleri took the puck in OT and beat the four Rangers on the ice by himself, stickhandled it off the boards and then fired that lazer over Lundqvist, he showed us something we've needed to see for a long time. The Habs have a star again.
And I saw a group that's out there to back each other up. When Halak gave up the fourth goal last night...the one that could have been the killing blow...after the team had clawed back to within one, Hal Gill skated back and had a word with Halak and gave him a little tap on the pads. Halak didn't allow another goal after that. And the players were talking to each other, on the bench and on the ice. There's a lot of positive energy and good communication happening with this group. They seem to honestly like each other.
There are good things happening with the Canadiens after ten games. This is not to say, by any stretch, that they're out of the woods yet. They're still playing with a defence that's very suspect at times with the absence of Andrei Markov. Gorges, Mara and Hamrlik are playing their hearts out and although Spacek and Gill didn't have their best games last night, they're trying hard. Bergeron is either still very rusty, or the stories about his wretched own-zone play are all true. (But wow! His point shot is Souray-esque.) There are going to be nights when that D can't hold the fort against a dominant offence and the Habs will get killed. There will be games when Cammalleri gets stifled and nobody else is able to put the team on his back like that.
But after last night, I have hope that the bad nights, and there will be bad nights, won't outnumber the good. I have hope the players will be able to keep their heads above water until Markov returns, which will mean adding a number-one defenceman to a team that's already been baptized by fire and learned to stand on its own. And best of all, I have hope this team will be fun to watch again. Last night was dramatic, scary, exciting and, overall, just a cracking good time. When I left the Bell Centre, I was part of a thrilled crowd, every one of whom felt they got their money's worth. There's nothing as much fun as a winning Habs team, and now I remember why.