Wednesday, September 21, 2011

That's More Like It

The Buffalo Sabres brought pretty much what will be their opening-night roster to Montreal last night, and to many people's surprise, the half-staffed Canadiens gave them a serious challenge. There was so much to like about the way the Habs played last night.

Among the kids, Brendan Gallagher had a couple of nice chances, and played a very high-intensity game. Young Nathan Beaulieu made a couple of mistsakes, but he showed offensive flair and poise on the point during the PP, and he played nearly half the game.

Of the returning guys, P.K.Subban was flying, Max Pacioretty and Josh Gorges looked like they'd never been away and David Desharnais showed his typical tenaciousness and creativity. Peter Budaj made enough good saves to make us feel okay about him backing up Carey Price. Jaro Spacek appeared to have picked up a step.

All that is the good news, but, while it was great to see the Habs give Buffalo a good challenge, it didn't answer a few outstanding questions. For example, how much is Travis Moen still able to contribute? Moen has dropped another notch down the forward depth chart with the addition of Erik Cole this year. Last night, he looked awkward with the puck and didn't play a particularly physical game either. He needs to prove he can still make a difference on the ice for the Habs, and that means he has to be better than he was last year. He didn't look any better against Buffalo.

Also of concern is the failure of either Aaron Palushaj or Andreas Engqvist to step up and prove they deserve to be on the big team. There's a spot available, presumably for one of those guys or Brock Trotter, but none of them has yet proven they're ready to be NHL regulars. If none of them wins the job outright, Pierre Gauthier will have to go shopping in a very thinly stocked free agent market.

The hope had been that Engqvist in particular would stand out because the Canadiens desperately need a centreman who can win faceoffs. Again last night they were repeatedly booted from the circle and spent a lot of time chasing the puck after losing draws. With the departure of Jeff Halpern, either Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez need to get better on faceoffs pronto, or Gauthier finds a high-percentage centre somewhere. If Engqvist isn't that guy, the Habs could be in trouble. Faceoffs are important, and the Habs don't win very many of them.

All in all, though, last night's game told us a couple of things about our team. We know they're going to be super fast. We know they'll challenge any team they face. We know the PP will be deadly in a couple of years when Nathan Beaulieu and P.K.Subban are manning the points full time. And we know this is going to be a really fun season.


Anonymous said...

Fast is nice. Doesn't do much good if you can't do something as a result of "fast". I liked the chance to see Beaulieu play when he was tired. I hope they work him hard today and see how he acts around the regulars, how he performs when he is beat. Does he get all kid goofy or calm and serious then go to another level.

I think many of the others do not appear to have the confidence needed to play at the NHL level. They appear lost. The guys like Beaulieu and Dietz have pretty well figured out they are going back to junior and this is an adventure to enjoy.

Is Gomez the first player ever to vow not to continue a slide to oblivion then get injured in the training camp medicals? This guy is either going to come back to life with a vengence or actually play in Hamiliton. No halfways with him.

Strength down center is pretty important. Take the puck, keep the puck, make the plays, see the ice. The team is pretty weak down center. Your favorite is NHL level caliber. They need more than that to win.

Jody Shelly should be gone for 20. He doesn't learn and doesn't care.

Anonymous said...

Very nice to see Beaulieu and Gallager play so well......also Yemelin the other night....we can't expect all the prospects to reach the NHL....but these exhibition games just show how most of the other Hamilton guys will never make it........too bad. They are going to have to beat out Darche, who actually brings something every game....I agree, a strong defensive face off guy is crucial. Don't know if there is someone out there though.......

Anyway.......can't wait to see a bit more of the young guys

Anonymous said...

There is one guy out here. He wont cust too much on the cap and wont cost too much to acquired!!!
Paul Gaustad. The sabres need to cut some salary to become cap compliant. Gaustad is the typical 4th line center. Plays really good in the D zone or in the corner. He has a huge frame at 6'4 225 ponds. He his also a beast in the circle for face off. He can also provide a steady 30 pts/year.
What would be the cost? since the sabres dont want to take any salary in exchange. I'd say a draft pick with a prospect(Palushaj,trotter,Nash) should be able to get us Gaustad.
Sabres will need to be cap compliant in less then 3 weeks. Come one PG, get us that big hulking center for once.

moeman said...

Nice read. Merci J.T.

"Max Pacioretty and Josh Gorges looked like they'd never been away".

Like a good wine, these boys'll get better with age and they better be Habs for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...