Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Best of the Year

Guy Carbonneau put the emphasis on fundamentals like defence and transition and forced his players to watch hours of tape after they didn't show up in Toronto on Saturday night. The result was what he described as ""the best 60 minutes we've played this year and probably the last two years." High praise for a group that gave him "the most embarrasing effort" he had seen in his career on Saturday night.

Last night, CH stood for Chris Higgins. His lightning-quick acceleration was on display throughout the game. He had more confidence than usual shooting the puck and some slick passing from his teammates earned him his first career NHL hat-trick and first since his Ivy League days at Yale. Carbo singled Higgins out for well-deserved praise after the game and Higgins himself dedicated his effort to his mom. Awwww.

Carey Price was very solid and more importantly, his defence was mean and spirited defending their end. Roman Hamrlik's return was a huge boost to the group and Ryan O'Byrne had his best game of the year with an assist and a +2 rating.

24 hours ago, it was doom and gloom for the Habs. Now as quickly as fall becomes winter, fans are back on the bandwagon and optimism is again the theme for radio talk shows throughout the city. The Canadiens served their fans and critics with a reminder of what this team is capable of when they work together and get on the same page.

Explosive in transition. Deadly on the PK. Tough.

Georges Laraque kept his gloves on all night but Chris Neil didn't take his usual liberties with the Habs late in the game when it was no longer in doubt, definitely a testament to what BGL brings to the table for opponents mentally.

Guillaume Latendresse scored his first goal in eleven games on a beautiful set play off an offensive zone faceoff won by Robert Lang. GLT roofed it about 1.7 seconds after the puck was dropped with the kind of release that elevates the unrealistic hopes many have for this kid.

One of those nights where it all comes together in a game with a late season level of intensity. The Sens did not go easily but to have a game that spirited this early in the season bodes well for this rivalry going forward. These two teams flat out don't like each other and it's becoming more and more obvious each time they meet.

Jason Spezza demonstrated this admirably by going after Saku Koivu away from the play as both were skating to the bench and Jarkko Ruutu took it a few steps further by attempting to decapitate Maxim Lapierre later in the game. Ruutu then did what he does, clutching his way through a terrible fight with Habs little big man Francis Bouillon that ended no contest.

Would've been nice to see Laraque get his hands on Ruutu, his former teammate.

The Canadiens 9-2-2 mark and 20 points in 13 games is good for first in the Northeast division and second only to the New York Rangers 24 points in 18 games, five more than the Habs. They have one point and a game in hand on the Sabres.

It gets no easier for the Habs who travel to Boston tomorrow and are back home to face Mike Richards and the Flyers on Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Lack of Inspiration

As regular readers of this blog (hi Mom!) already know, I'm not a diligent poster. I have taken this to a whole new level through the first twelve games of the Habs centennial season by pretty much never updating this blog. That all changes today.

It's Remembrance Day. One of the rare days on the calendar that puts things in perspective as we reflect on the sacrifices made in generations past and today by the men and women of our armed forces. Having said that, the Habs are the subject of this blog and I will now proceed onward into hockey-talk.

The Canadiens haven't been overly impressive in any of their first twelve games. They looked pretty good in Buffalo on opening night but lost in a shootout. The next day they decimated the Leafs in what was likely their most complete performance to date, a 6-1 final at the Air Canada Center.

Fast forward four Saturdays. Mikhail Grabovski and the Leafs put on a clinic beating the Habs by crashing the net, winning battles and pounding the Habs D which was without its cornerstone, Roman Hamrlik. The Canadiens played an undisciplined game and you almost got the sense they were waiting around to start one of their famous comebacks until they realized they were out of real estate.

The Leafs got to Carey Price much the same way Philly did in the playoffs last year. They ran him and got in his face. When opponents get into Price's head, the Habs are in trouble.

With an 8-2-2 record it's hard to get too dramatic but that hasn't stopped Habs fans. They're freaking out and the bandwagon is actually losing passengers which isn't surprising given many fans never left it after the shock of last season's playoff exit.

Fortunately, 70 games remain. Starting tonight against a team the Habs struggle against. The Sens' line of Heatley, Alfredsson and Spezza have teamed up for 41 points so far this year and always they do well against the Habs. The Habs need to get back to the three-pronged attack that looked so promising early in the season.

Guy Carbonneau thinks his team needs to get back to playing fundamentally good defense. He's right. With Hamrlik back tonight things should improve on the back end and that's great news for Price and the Habs.

As for this blog, all we can hope for is a more inspired effort from its author which will hopefully be inspired by his home town team getting out there and working.

Alex Kovalev needs to play like he just got high-sticked and the ref missed the call. Andrei Kostitsyn needs to play like Kurt Sauer didn't make him scared to take on NHL defencemen by trying to take his head off. Mike Komisarek needs to continue to make opposing forwards pay when they choose to attack his side of the ice. Andrei Markov needs to get his legs back under him after looking tired in Toronto, not a good sign at this point of the season.

It's going to be a long ride of ups and downs this year but better to hit a roadbump at this point of the campaign. The sign of a championship team is how they handle adversity and this team still has a lot to prove.