After four long days off the Habs finally got back into action last night and defeated the Dallas Stars 5 - 3 in regulation. While they won the game by two goals, they made it much harder on themselves than it needed to be. From the start of the game, the Habs looked like a team playing with the rust of four days of rest. Up and down the lineup - except for maybe the Gomez, Gionta, Pouliot line - the Habs were shaky and disorganized in the defensive zone. This was evidenced by the 11 giveaways that the Habs had on the night - two of which resulted in goals by the Stars. But, despite coming out and playing a shaky first 40(ish) minutes, the Habs settled down and closed the game out in the third for a much needed two points in the standings.
It was also nice to see Laraque score his first goal in a Habs uniform - on only his second shot of the season - a goal which he dedicated to the people of Haiti who are in deep crisis.
1 - Price looked shaky most of the night but made some great saves including a "TSN turning point" save with about 15 minutes left in the third. With the score tied 3-3, Price stoned Neal with his glove from the low slot. Two minutes later the Habs scored - Gionta's second powerplay goal of the night - to go ahead 4-3 and that was all she wrote. While Price was unstable through the first two periods, he too settled down to close out the game in the third period. And for a rare occasion the team in front of him filled the opposing nets. He has been cursed this season with great play but little to no offense in front of him. Nice to see the change and nice to see his team score more than 2 goals in front of him.
2 - Pouliot continues to impress. When he came to Montreal in the Latendresse trade, I don't think anyone really expected very much from Pouliot. While he was a 4th overall pick in 2005 - one spot ahead of Carey Price - he has been floundering in Minnesota and generally seemed like a bust. Like Latendresse, the knock against Pouliot was that he was not willing to go to the net and pay the price on a consistent basis. Fast forward a month or so, and Pouliot has 6 points (5G, 1A) and is a +1 over 10 games since joining the Habs. Like Latendresse, Pouliot seems like a player that was in a need of a change of scenery and, so far, he is thriving in Montreal. Not only that, but he filled the second line left wing void that he been there since the beginning of the season. It is unfortunate that AK46 is out for 6 weeks, because for a moment there the Habs had TWO good scoring lines.
Pouliot, to his credit, is using his size and skill to get shots away, to grind it out in the corners and to crash the net. If you don't know where to find Pouliot, look to the opposing net...he is always headed towards it or hovering around it. This is skill that has been sorely lacking on the Habs for years. It seems like the change of scenery is working for Pouliot and as such, he might end up being a steal for the Habs. Remember that he was drafted 4th overall and has the potential to be an elite winger. Time will tell.
3 - The 2nd line is firing on all cylinders. With the return of Gionta and the addition of Pouliot, Scott Gomez has got two wingers the perfectly compliment his style and it is showing for all three on the scoreboard. That line finished with 5 points on the evening (Gionta 2 PP goals - in the 500th game of his career - Pouliot had 1G, 1A, and Gomez finished with 1A). Its nice to have secondary scoring on this team, for a change. Now all they need is to find a suitable replacement for AK46 on the top line. Damn the injuries!
4 - Speaking of Gionta's powerplay goals, the Habs finally scored with the advantage at home last night. While the Habs have the #1 pp in the league - clicking at 24.6% - their home PP percentage has been much less effective at 18.6% (including last night 2 goals).
5 - George Laraque, understandably, played his most inspired hockey game of the season and scored his first goal in a Habs uniform. And man was he happy! In case you don't know, George Laraque is Haitian and in case you have been living under a rock you know that Haiti is in the grips of destruction after a massive earthquake decimated the country. That being said, you could see how happy Big Georgie was to score as he mouthed "Finally! F-ck!" on TV. After the game, he told the media scrum that he dedicates his goal to the people of Haiti. Right on man, they need all the positive vibes they can get! Here's the goal in case you missed it:
This goal seemed to give the Habs the emotional lift they needed to get over the hump and win the game.
The Habs looked sloppy in the defensive zone last night leading to turnovers, too many rebounds and allowing the Stars to stay in the game when they could have put it out of reach in the 2nd period. While Montreal struggled to get the rust off after 4 days rest, they ultimately pulled it out in the third and earn a well needed two points in the standings to leave them tied for 8th overall in the East with 50 points.
The Habs have the day off before taking on the Sens in Montreal on Saturday night. With the Sens tied with Montreal for points (50), wins (23), losses (21) overtime losses (4) and games played (48), this is another four-point, must-win game for the Habs. Saturday's game is the first of two back to back games, the other against the Rangers on Sunday.
Friday, January 15, 2010