Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Aftermath: Jaro! Jaro! Jaro!

Why do the Habs do this to us? Why do they let us get resigned to the inevitable playoff failure this season, then, in one game, make us fall back into the vortex of hope? But, what a game it was!

The undermanned Canadiens (has there been any other description of the team this year?) managed to outhustle, outwork and ultimately outscore one of the better teams from the Mighty West. The Canucks had been on a seven-game winning streak too, so they were really hot. Add a depleted Habs lineup and a French goalie for the other team and the stage was set for a loss that didn't happen.

The old standbys that have kept them in games all year weren't the deciding factors for once either. The Canadiens scored all three of their goals at even strength and the usually airtight PK gave up both Canucks tallies. I don't know if it's the addition of Mathieu Darche and his hardworking philosophy, but Maxim Lapierre has been better ever since Darche joined his line. Then again, I suspect being freed of Georges Laraque is more of a factor in Lapierre's rejuvenation. Whatever it is, Max looked like the promising third-line centre he was shaping up to be last season. He was hustling, going to the net and using his size to protect the puck. His goal gave desperately-needed support offence from the bottom two lines. If the team is to have a chance to squeak into the playoffs, he'll have to keep that up.

I liked both rookies last night. Weber makes some first-year mistakes, but over all, he looks good next to Hamrlik. Hammer's got a reputation for helping develop his young partners, and his steadying influence was evident as Weber mostly stuck with making the simple, smart play last night. The kid can skate too, which really helps on those previously-laborious zone clearances. Ben Maxwell thought he had his first NHL point, which the replay gods later cruelly took away from him, but he's showing signs of being much more ready for the big league than he was last year. He's skating well and battling competitively on the boards. You can see he's just a couple of games away from really putting it together at the NHL level. I hope he gets the chance to do that.

Plekanec needs to be re-signed immediately. The clock is ticking on either signing him or losing him for nothing if he's not traded. The Habs can't afford to trade him because there's nobody else on the market, in the farm or available for an affordable trade who can do all the things Pleks does. Need a game-winning goal? He's there. Have to kill a bad penalty? He's got it. Must win a vital faceoff? He's the man. He's fast, durable, young, hardworking, well-liked and productive. If you ordered the perfect centreman from the catalogue, he's what you'd get, when all the identical guys in size Large were sold out. Plekanec's value to the team is bigger than money, and Gainey needs to do whatever he must to keep him.

Gorges and O'Byrne are really shaping into a strong pair of reliable young defencemen. Gorges is so competitive in the corners and makes really nice passes. O'Byrne is blossoming with Markov as a partner and seems to have finally learned to use his size wisely and well. These guys will be foundation blocks of a strong young D in a couple of years. It's great to see them play the way they can, and with confidence.

Halak. What can you say? He kept the team in the game early and gave it the confidence to go out and do what needed to be done. He wins because he's good, but also because he makes his teammates believe he's solid behind them. A goalie needs to give his mates the idea that he's fine on his own, and they don't need to be covering for him. Halak does that really well. It's another statement in the case for signing both goalies for next year.

The only weakness was shots against, but a buddy mentioned an interesting theory about that. He thinks Halak gets more shots because his rebounds go directly into the slot so often, giving the opponent more chances. I don't know if that's true, but it's food for thought. A couple of times too, the Canadiens were hemmed in their own zone for long periods. But they countered by pressuring the Canucks in the offensive zone too.

All in all, a great effort by a team that had every mental excuse to lie down and be beaten. It's the heart that keeps us coming back I think. How can you think of a lottery pick when it means rooting against the will to win these players are showing on most nights? (Florida notwithstanding.) I'm sure the emotional roller coaster will continue before the final standings are determined. But last night reminded me it feels good to win. And it feels good to watch my team with a smile and a racing heart. I don't want to miss the playoffs, even if Boston gets two top-ten draft picks. So, bring on the Bs!


RiRi said...

So true, J.T.!

I really wasn`t looking forward to watching last night. Unless Halak got a shutout, I never thought they`d get a W. For once, I actually wanted to watch Canadiens Express to see all the action again!

Yesterday, I was thinking they should tank and rebuild, but today, I don`t see that as an option.

I strongly believe that Halak making all those great saves in the first 5 mins gave the team the wings to keep going.

I agree with you in that Gainey MUST sign Pleks. If we let him walk, who is going to replace him? Lapierre? I don`t think there are many free agent centers this year...

Unknown said...

I hate to be a wet blanket, but didn't Halak essentially steal that game? We can't reasonably expect to continue getting outshot 47-28 the rest of the season and make the playoffs.

Not having watched the game (my heart has too many stitches from being reinserted into my chest about, oh, 50 times this season), I guess I'm not getting caught up in the moment.

That said, I'd love it if we suddenly, for some reason, became fun to watch on a regular basis again.

subdoxastic said...


J.T. said...

@subdoxastic: Right you are! In my happiness I completely forgot Sergei rose from the dead last night. He was great. That move and shot he scored on was surpassed only by the move and shot he barely missed later in the game. If he can step up like that every night, Cammalleri's loss will be mitigated a little bit.

@David: I didn't mean to get caught up in it either, but I have to was FUN. At last. If they can make it fun, I can forgive a lot. And yeah, Halak stole it. But only because the Habs couldn't capitalize on some really great chances of their own. They were in the 'Nucks zone for shifts at a time, but didn't take a shot. That's got to change. Teams score when they shoot, and the Habs could have had at least ten more shots last night.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this game but keep low profile, I hate the hangovers we get used to this year.

Kyle Roussel said...

The Canadiens' adventures over the past 10 days perfectly sum up the team's year. Some solid, uplifting wins, and some puzzling, deflating, frustrating losses.

Which team is the real Canadiens?

I think we've been given the answer: both.

It's been 57 games now, and the roller coaster has chugged from game 1. Although the team played with spirit and determination last night, we can't overlook the fact that Halak stole yet another game.

We all get sucked back in to the vortex of false hope. People are going to say "wow, if they can play this way with Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn in the lineup, they can do some real damage".


We've had enough of a sample size to say that this team does not sustain the type of game they played last night. To me, this team still needs to be more of a seller at the deadline.

Where I do agree with you is that Plekanec needs to be addressed immediately. He's done absolutely everything for the Canadiens this year...except win faceoffs. He's below 50% and has lost many key draws this year. I'm not going to hold that against him. He's often out there when he's so tired that he has no option but to lose the draw.

Shan said...

Every time they lose we talk about a lack of heart and when they win we say this team has a lot of heart.

I think it's our hearts they're really playing with.

But yeah, there's a glimmer of hope. Just make the playoffs and get healthy.

dusty said...

Am thrilled the Habs beat a Canadian team, love the reaction from the play-by-play guys explaining how it happened.

On the other hand however, when you're badly outplayed for most of the game and only an outstanding performance by the goalie provided the two points, then I can't be too happy with the result. If not for Halak it could well have been 2 zip after the first two minutes. He saved the Habs bacon in the opening minutes of all three periods. With an ordinary performance by the goalie this game would have been a route. If Jaro can keep playing like this game after game I'll be very happy for him, he's earned every win he's gotten and then some. But if this is the only way the Habs can win then I'd rather they lose and get a lottery pick.

One thing I noticed was the Habs third line actually cycled down low for a whole shift once or twice. All they need to do is move their feet. If only they had the desire to do that more often.

Anonymous said...

only thing I have to say is Pleks does not win big faceoffs

Anonymous said...

I also liked how Weber looked on defense. Darche may not be fast, but he is great along the boards and seems to have good hockey sense. I thought the backhand pass to the front of the net while protecting the puck was creative for a grinder. I also liked his first goal this year when he was driving the net. He is setting a good example of some fundamentals of hockey like driving the net, getting traffic in front of the goalie, and hard forechecking.

The Sens benefitted from Spezza and Alfreddson being injured as the the other players had to step up. Remember when they beat the habs with a crappy line up and started their winning streak? Maybe the same will happen with the Habs. There is no denying that Pleks, Pouliot, and SK looked good and were effective all night. Cammalleri's injury might actually save SK's career! (a bit of a silver lining)