Wednesday, September 21, 2011
9:04 AM Kamal Panesar No comments
It's the pre-season so, in a lot of ways, the final score is kind of irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is how the players look on the ice. How ready for the NHL speed the prospects are. Who looks good playing with whom and, overall, how quickly the players can shake off the rust to re-establish their game timing.
Last night was also the first glimpse many had of newcomers like Alexei Yemelin and Eric Cole, among others. While the Habs lost the game there were still several highlights and points of interest. What follows are the things that stood out, to me.
Brock Trotter - Trying another kick at the can in the NHL after spending last season in the KHL, Trotter looked good on the ice. He is quick, has some slick moves and even did a nice spin-o-rama in the first to evade his defender. It will be interesting to see him play with some of the veterans going forward.
Eric Cole - The Habs prized offseason acquisition wasted no time showing his team and fans why he was such a good pickup. Big and strong with a solid skating stride, Cole is constantly going to the net. Playing on a line with Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec last night—a line that seems destined to start the season together—Cole's size was the perfect complement to his diminutive linemates.
Like Max Pacioretty playing with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta last year, Cole's presence opens up a ton of space for Plekanec and Cammalleri making both more effective. In addition, Cole has excellent finish as he showed when he took a pass from Plekanec and fired a shot past Dallas netminder, Andrew Raycroft, to put the Habs on the board at 5:36 of the second.
With Cole playing on the top line, Plekanec now has two legitimate scoring wingers for the first time since he played with Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn in 2008.
Raphael Diaz - Another in a series of promising Swiss defenseman brought over by the Habs made his debut last night. It took a little while for him to get going but he did show great vision, slick passing and some smooth skating.
That being said, he was mostly quiet last night, except for on the power play where he looked really good and demonstrated his blistering shot from the point.
Diaz seems like a player who needs to adjust to the smaller ice surface of North America. Not only is the NHL game faster than the one he's been playing overseas, but the smaller ice means that players and plays come at you that much faster. This was only the first game of the exhibition season however, and he'll adjust.
It's early but I still think he should do that adjusting in the AHL.
I liked seeing Diaz and Yannick Weber on the point on the PP. Both have great vision, passing and solid shots. The duo kind of reminded me of P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski from last season, where both could fire howitzers at the net.
Andrei Kostitsyn - Kostitsyn—who scored on one heck of a hard wrister in the second—looked as good as I've ever seen him look. I don't know if it is the one-year contract, the fact that he seems destined for third line duties this year or perhaps even just getting his head screwed on straight, but he looked hungry and dangerous all night.
In essence, he played like the player that everyone hopes and feels he should be.
Now it's only one game and against an incomplete NHL lineup, but if he can keep up that kind of intensity and focus over the course of the season, he should have no problem scoring 20-plus goals for a fourth time in five seasons, possibly landing himself a new contract in the process.
Alexei Yemelin - For all the talk about Yemelin's meanness and physicality he showed last night that he is a multi-dimensional player who can not only play physical but who actually has some great hockey skills.
His excellent passing and great vision led to the Jeff Woywitka blast from 10 feet out, making it a one-goal game half way through the second.
Almost more important than his on-ice skill—which is considerable—he carries himself like a veteran and plays with brimming confidence. You can see his experience at work when he takes his time to make plays rather than rushing the pass, which often leads to scoring opportunities.
The perfect example was in the third period where Yemelin made a calm, cool pass to Michael Blunden in the high slot, under pressure. Blunden fumbled the pass but the play shows the kind of on-ice awareness and poise Yemelin has.
Oh, and he can still hit as he showed by going low on Thomas Vincor, sending him head over heels with about four minutes to play in the third period. The best part is that after the hit, Vincor went right back at Yemelin. Yemelin took the hit and just focused on the game rather than getting involved in any shenanigans. That ability to "walk away", so to speak, is the sign of a mature player.
Jarred Tinordi - My god is he big. I mean, really freaking big.
Tinordi skates very well for a big man and has excellent positioning. He still needs some seasoning, however, and you can see he has not yet fully adjusted to the speed of the NHL game. But he'll figure it out in time.
Tinordi will play in Junior again this year. He was cut from the World Junior Championships US squad last year but he should be able to secure a roster space this season. That experience at the WJCs should go a long towards making this kid a gamer.
Sweet spot: Jeff Woywitka scoring against his former team. That's got to be sweet and you could see how happy he was. Oh, and did anyone else notice how freaking big he is? Yowza! That and he has decent wheels, likes to hit and has a blistering shot. Looks like a good pickup for Montreal.
Throw down: Man can Ian Schultz throw a punch! He and Francis Wathier went toe-to-toe at 13:09 in the third in a pretty even bout. Both players are big and each landed solid shots as they were both surely trying to get their respective team management's attention.
Stat of the night: The Habs were absolutely obliterated in the faceoff circle winning only 14 out of 51 draws for a sad 27.45 percent success rate.
Up next: The Canadiens are back at it tonight when they welcome the Buffalo Sabres to the Bell Centre. Game time is 7:30 pm.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)