Well, I guess we know now what the Habs' defence would look like if Hal Gill were the only available blueliner with NHL experience. That was some rough D against Dallas in the first pre-season game. It was one of those games in which you just have to take a deep breath, forget about how excited you were to see hockey...any kind of hockey...and how much you wanted the Habs to dominate, and replace those thoughts with the mantra, "It's pre-season, it's pre-season."
Carey Price warned us before the game. He said he wasn't ready yet and he probably wouldn't play well. He was right. Four goals on 13 shots, two of which were simply cases of Price losing sight of the puck, was pretty bad. Unlike last season, however, Price's pre-season performance is of little concern, as was evidenced by the complete lack of booing from the Bell Centre rafters.
That's not to say there were no highlights. The Tomas Plekanec/Erik Cole/Michael Cammalleri line, even at pre-season's half speed, were buzzing on every shift and made some tantalizingly creative plays on the PP. Andrei Kostitsyn looked like he's getting ready to burst out of the gate next month and prove he deserves another contract. Alexei Yemelin looked poised with the puck and showed a nice ability to hold it in at the blueline. He also laid a couple of noticeable hits. Young Nathan Lawson made some nice saves in his allotted half game. The brief spurt of energy in which the Habs scored their three goals showed us a group of players who can really skate, when they want to.
What I found disconcerting about the whole thing, however, was the lack of "want to" from the prospects. Nobody really showed a great desire to make an impression. Maybe they're just nervous to be playing at the Bell Centre, or they know there's not much chance of making the big team, or maybe they're just not good enough. Either way, the Danny Masses and Alain Bergers of the world didn't do a whole lot to prove they want to make an impression. Brock Trotter, Aaron Palushaj and Andreas Engqvist, who are the front-runners to grab the last roster spot among forwards, showed a bit of speed, but not much else. Ian Schultz tried to showcase his toughness with an uninspired staged fight. Raphael Diaz showed some nice moves on offence, but looked confused on D. All in all, nobody among the Hab wannabes took his fate in his own hands like David Desharnais did last fall.
Still, it's pre-season. Most of these guys don't have a real shot at the big team anyway, and they'll have lots of time to build a case for themselves in Hamilton, junior or wherever else they end up. The regulars are easing into shape and are well aware none of this counts for anything. As fans, we know there's another bunch of prospects ready to show...or not...their stuff tonight.
It may not be great hockey, or very inspiring, but, hey! It's hockey.