What a difference a week makes. Two weekends with back-to-back games with two completely different outcomes. While after last weekend, many of the Habs faithful were ready to throw in the towel, this weekend many are hoping that the Habs have turned a corner. I have to caution that until the Habs get on a roll and start putting some separation between themselves and the 8th and 9th place teams, they will remain a bubble team. Keep in mind that this two game winning streak - and two of the best games that Habs have played this season - are on the heels of two of the worst games they have played this season.
In drubbing the Rangers 6-0 in front of their home crowd, the Habs got revenge and more. With Halak in nets last weekend, the Habs fell 6-2 to the Rangers but returned the favour by spanking their New York rivals to the tune of 6 unanswered goals. In case anyone is counting, that is 9 unanswered goals (3 against the Devils and 6 against the Rangers) for the suddenly offensively magical Habs. While Halak wasn't tested all that much last night, his 1st period heroics kept the Rangers at bay long enough for the Habs to get the 1st goal and run with it. Bad penalties, weak turnovers and poor defensive zone coverage allowed the Habs to run amuck and bury the memory of last weekend’s embarrassing efforts.
1 - Halak is hitting his stride. Over the course of the first 50 games of this 2010 NHL season, Halak has calmly and quietly asserted himself in nets. In that process he has found and held onto the consistency that his counterpart, Price, has yet to find. While Price seems frustrated and inconsistent, Halak has seemed unflappable. Since asking Gainey to trade him, a few weeks ago, Halak has gone on a tear. Over his last 13 games, Halak has 9 wins including 3 shutouts, has a 2.07 GAA - including the 6-2 loss to Rangers - and a .944 save percentage. Scintillating numbers for any goaltender. While Halak wasn't really tested all that much last night, he definitely made some key saves in the first period to keep his team in the game. After that, the offense took over and that was all she wrote!
2 - Cammalleri is a true sniper. Just when you he starts trailing a little in the stats department, he rips off a 4 point performance, like last night. In scoring two goals and two assists, Cammy was the offensive catalyst for the team last night. In case you were wondering, that gives Cammy 46 points in 53 games - 5 behind Plekanec - with 26 goals, 20 assists and a +10 rating. His 26 goals put him 8th overall for most goals scored and on pace to score 40 on the season. Wow! Not since Stephane Richer have the Habs had such a prolific scorer on their team.
3 - Speaking of prolific scorers, Benoit Pouliot continues to blow the roof off. His goal last night was his 12th of the season (10th in a Habs uniform) and mean that he now has 10 goals, 1 assist, 11 points and a +3 rating in 15 games since joining Montreal. A fabulous ancillary benefit of all of this is that Pouliot is clearly the missing pieces from the Habs' second line. Now if they can just figure out an acceptable replacement for Ak46 on the top line, the Habs might actually be able to do some damage.
4 - The return of Sergei. SK74 made his long awaited return to the Habs lineup, last night, on a line with Maxim Lapierre and MaxPac and they did not look out of place together. That line had a great combination of speed, skill and size and caused havoc for the Rangers defenders every time they were on the ice. Their hard work paid off last night with Maxim Lapierre's 1st goal in his last 29 games. Wow. That was a long time coming!
5 - Speaking of Lapierre, last night was easily his best game of the season. From the start of the game where he was tussling with Sean Avery, to his 2nd period goal, Lapierre was the Energizer Bunny last night. Flashes of 2009. Hopefully Lapierre will keep it up, because when he plays the way he can he becomes an extremely important asset in the Habs lineup.
6 - A few interesting non-game related notes to keep an eye on. Jacques Demers said, on RDS during an intermission, that he spoke to Habs assistant coach Kirk Muller about the Cammalleri/Lapierre incident. He asked Kirk if Cammy was a difficult teammate. Muller, apparently, said that it was quite the opposite and that when he sees a player dogging it or not playing up to their potential he has no problem getting in their face about it. This seems to have been what the fight at practice, the other day, was all about. Well, it seems like it worked because Lapierre looked like a man reborn.
The other bit of slightly disturbing news was during l'Anitchambre, also on RDS, where Bob Hartley was talking about Carey Price. He said that during the pregame warm-up, Price was one of the first players off of the ice. He explained that this is a no-no and an unwritten rule that if you are the backup goalie for the night, you are one of the last players to leave the ice. The starter gets to choose who shoots on him, in the warm-up, and then it is the backup’s job to stay in the net and take all the rest of the shots. The team on l'Anitchambre all seemed to be in agreement that this does not show a good attitude on Price's behalf. Moreover, it shows a lack of guidance from the coaching staff as someone should let him know that that is not the way things work.
Now, this could be nothing more than an isolated incident but I somehow doubt it. Either way, it is a data point to keep an eye on going forward.
Max Pacorietty has been sent to Hamilton. It would seem that the combination of MaxPac spinning his wheels and Mathieu Darche finding his groove has spelled the end of the line (in Montreal) for MaxPac. In reality, this is a great move as far as the development of MaxPac is concerned. There is no question that he took a step back this year and a few months, or even the rest of the year, in Hamilton will make him into the surging power-forward he is destined to be. Can't hurt to play under Guy Boucher either!
Here's the Habs Inside/Out story:
With their wins over the Devils and Rangers, the Habs collected 4 well needed points against division rivals. The Habs now have 55 points in 53 games, good for sole possession of the 8th overall spot in the East. The Bruins and Islanders sit one point behind the Habs with 54 each and holding 3 and 1 game in hand, respectively. The Habs are also tied, in points, with the Rangers (55), and Flyers (55) who each have 1 and 3 games in hand, respectively.
The Habs now have two days off before heading to Florida to take on the Panthers and the Lightning in back-to-back games.
Sunday, January 24, 2010