There is a tome among the annals of Christian literature that purports to give us glimpses of the future and warnings of our fate. The Book of Revelations is oblique and open to many interpretations. Similar things can be said of the Canadiens' second game of this lockout-shortened season. They might not be profound, but there were certainly revelations about what the team can do when properly motivated.
First among them is Andrei Markov. It's no revelation that Markov is a supremely intelligent and skilled player in all parts of the game. Those whose memories stretch back longer than the last two years are able to appreciate how much he's meant to the Canadiens, and how much they suffered in his absence. Since, however, the memories of most hockey fans are akin to goldfish being surprised by the appearance of the castle on every pass around the bowl, Markov's value has been lost in the inevitable "he's washed up, let's trade him" talk. Well, last night he exploded...twice, actually...back into the collective consciousness of Canadiens fans with brilliant defensive play, smart passing and two laser-guided missiles that made the Habs power play a real weapon for the first time in more than a year. A healthy Markov is a tremendous asset that cannot be underestimated. Picture any team missing an elite defenceman, like Boston without Chara or Nashville without Weber and you get a better understanding of what Markov means.
Then there's Raphael Diaz. The second-year NHLer is showing a poise he didn't have last season, and that's enabling him to make the most of what's turning out to be a surprisingly varied set of skills. The first goal of the night, a beautiful series of passes ending with Tomas Plekanec threading the needle (no revelations there!), began with a very nifty play by Diaz. He outskated the Panthers forechecker in the corner, then made a quick and accurate pass up to a hard-skating Brian Gionta, who then saucered it to Plekanec. Diaz showed agility, smarts and skill, all within that 10-second play. His contributions on the power play could end up being very significant for the Habs this year.
Rene Bourque revealed another side of himself too. The player who looked disinterested or lazy when you actually remembered he was in the lineup last season was hitting people like a mob boss. After showing up as one of the better Canadiens in the season opener, he continued to prove he deserves a place on the second line. (Soon to reclaim the title of first line if early trends prevail.) Last year, Bourque looked nothing like a player who's scored 27 goals in consecutive seasons. In the last two games, as he's hitting, constantly moving, forechecking and going to the net, we can see why the Flames gave him a long-term contract. Unfortunately we've also see the other side of Bourque, so it remains to be seen whether his new-found intensity will be long-lasting.
The Gallys, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, with a grand total of three NHL games between them, were like eager puppies, rushing around, sniffing in every corner and jumping on strangers in an effort to get to the front of the net. It worked, as both registered their first NHL points. Better, though, was the impression of readiness they exuded. Both were involved and smart, and both have undeniable skill. They're going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Brandon Prust was a bit of a revelation too. He's not exactly an unknown quantity, but you don't pay attention to him when he's with the other team until he hurts you. When he's part of the home team, however, you notice all the little things he does right, and the decision to appoint him Guardian of the Gallys turns out to be a lot smarter than it looks on paper.
On the other hand, last year's first line isn't connecting like it did last year. That becomes very obvious when compared to the hard-driving, dangerous Plekanec line which was a threat on every shift and underlines how greatly Plekanec suffered with the merry-go-round of linemates he was given last year. Erik Cole, in particular, looks out of step. That may be simply because he's the oldest guy on that line and may be feeling the lack of a training camp more than others. It may be because last year's success is forcing other teams to defend him more closely. One can hope it's not because of his pre-season comments about considering early retirement. If his heart's not in it, that's a much bigger problem than a slow physical start. The Canadiens need him and his linemates if they hope to improve over last season. A nagging problem with the team's lineup is the failure to ever have two strong scoring lines working at the same time. With Plekanec's trio working, the Habs could be really competitive with Desharnais' line going as well.
There's nothing new revealed in the number of penalties the Habs took. Admittedly, some of the nine calls against them (including Ryan White's 17 minutes for instigating a fight) were questionable. Josh Gorges' hit on George Parros was borderline, for one. Still, the Canadiens have to be very careful about putting themselves into position to take those iffy penalties. They were lucky Florida took nearly as many minors, but they'll pay for their lack of discipline against better teams.
The greatest revelation of the night was the team itself. They proved if they hit and don't stop skating, they have the skill to compete. Carey Price, stellar and, at times spectacular, again last night, gives the Canadiens a legitimate chance to win every night. A revitalized power play with Markov and Diaz on the points makes the team better than it was last year.
The first win of the year was against a tired team playing its third game in four nights, and even working as hard as they did last night won't translate to a Habs victory every time. Just as after the first game of the year, we have to be careful about reading too much into a single 60-minute segment in a team's life. There's a lot of growing and learning to do, but last night proved there's raw material there to work with. That's a revelation.