Sunday, April 4, 2010

Aftermath: Habs 3, Heart Attacks 0

Sometimes, in the heat of the action, you can't consciously absorb enough of the analytical detail of a game to break down whether the team is playing really well or just being lucky. A sure sign for me is how nervous I get when it's close. If I'm on the edge of my seat, hands gripped and heart pounding, I know the team is pushing its luck and, if they have a lead, it isn't really safe. I didn't have an ounce of stress last night.

Halak was solid again, but didn't have to be superman for once. He was there when needed, but he didn't need to lug the team to the final siren on his slight back. The third and fourth lines, which I maintain are the difference between a winning team and a losing one, played their hearts out. I think most teams with similar payrolls will have a respectable level of scoring talent on their first two lines. It's the other two that have to bring the heart, grit and checking ability. They're the ones who have to carry the heavy load of grinding out a win against good teams who can shut down your goalscorers. That's exactly what the Lapierre and Moore lines did last night. They forechecked hard and they used their speed to force the Sabres' checkers into rushed plays that worked in Montreal's favour. What makes the Habs' bottom third line, in particular, slightly better than that of a lot of teams they play is the "almost" ability of Sergei Kostitsyn and Dominic Moore. Both of them are "almost" good enough to be regular second-liners, so they make exceptionally good third-liners when used in that capacity. Kostitsyn is a gifted passer with a great shot and chippy enough to be in a checking role. Moore is tenacious, smart and has enough scoring ability to make the third line a bit of an offensive threat. The fourth line, with Pyatt's speed and checking ability, really comes alive when Lapierre plays the type of annoying, physical game he's capable of playing. We saw it last night, for one of the rare games this season. If he can bring it like that in the playoffs...especially if Buffalo is the opponent...there's hope the Habs might even win a round.

The top lines weren't exactly bad last night, but they weren't the offensive dynamo they need to be. Cammalleri is just snake-bitten. He had Miller one-on-one in the third and completely froze. I'm not overly concerned about the rest of the top-six production though. Pouliot didn't score, but he played a much more responsible all-around game than he's been playing lately. Gomez, Gionta, AK and Pleks all played pretty well and had their chances, but just didn't connect last night.

The defence is looking really good in the last few games. Even in the close losses, the D was keeping things pretty tight for the most part. Bergeron on the blueline is scary, so a recovered Spacek should help out there. O'Byrne is really rounding into form, though. He certainly has the potential to be what Komisarek was as Markov's partner, with a bit of added mobility and better puck handling. He was just a force of nature in the last few games.

On special teams, the Habs are 50/50. The PK is good-to-brilliant, but the PP is desperate. It's the last huge thing the team needs to fix before it can be a winner in the post-season. Then again, in the playoffs everything starts anew. Teams that score four goals a game suddenly can't find room to move and teams that haven't had a shutout in months find their smothering defence working for them again. I think the PP will unlock itself when Cammalleri gets scoring again. Hopefully that will be soon.

All in all, the Habs played an excellent game; a playoff kind of game. The only thing missing was the stress. Somehow, I think if these two teams meet in a series later this month, it won't be such a relaxing ride for Habs fans.


Anonymous said...

Agree on the 3rd and 4th lines being key to winning. This team has driven me nuts the entire season, one day looking like a lottery team, the next looking pretty decent. At this point I am once again optimistic. Along with my favorite Hab Moen, the Habs added good playoff performers in Gill, Gionta, Gomez and Spacek. Moore and Darche are good additions providing hockey smarts and some toughness. Tom Pyatt is solid and as good as Higgins. He makes the Gomez trade a good deal for the Habs. Now if Lapierre shows up and AK46 continues to play physical and Cammalleri starts scoring we fans could be looking a good playoff run. Never thought I'd be saying that after the last Ottawa game. Thank you Halak for making all this optimism possible.

Anonymous said...

I have major doubts about our defence but I do not think Bergeron is that scary. Hamrlik, Gill and Spacek are costing a lot of money and not bringing all that much. Bergeron should stick to defence in a limited role. I love the way he moves the puck. Every defenceman makes mistakes so I would not blame him that much with his salary...especially based on this he still is a great plus to the team. He is very small which is his biggest problem. My secret evil plan that I wish the Habs direction follows: we sign him for next year at a small salary and give him 20 000$ to get the best personal trainer to gain 10 kilos of muscle over the, is that a master plan or what?

MC said...

I agree with JT that Bergeron is scary on defense. He will be especially bad in the playoffs without home ice advantage, when the Habs will not have the last change to control the match ups. The thought of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, or Crosby flying into the zone against Bergeron is the stuff of nightmares, ulcers and angina attacks.

But all the games since the olympic break have proven that the Habs are better off with him on defense or in the pressbox. When he plays forward he makes the fourth line ineffective. The Pyatt goal against Buffalo showed the importance of Lapierre having line mates that can skate with him. Bergeron would have never made it to that rebound. (I love how the ex-Bulldogs drive to the net!)

When Spacek is back, I hope the Habs keep the four forward lines together. I don't see who would sit on D for Bergeron, maybe Gill. But he is a good depth defenseman to have on the roster when the inevitable injuries occur.