The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Canadiens 4-1 Flames

It’s far too early to consider any one game or even one ludicrously-long homestand to be of crucial importance. But, let’s not kid ourselves…the clear objective at the friendly confines of the Bell is to amass as many points as  possible. Minus one hiccup against the Devils, mission accomplished so far. Once a shaky opening 10 minutes was successfully navigated, the good guys maintained control with aggressive forechecking and some timely saves.

Jaroslav Halak got the start in net, and this was apparently stop-the-presses news. This isn’t an XBox game…the backups do play sometimes! Worse, the retards calling the game (normally, you’re supposed to get the home team’s feed on the NHL package, but for some reason I was forced to endure the monkeys from the Calgary broadcast) made a big show of saying that Halak hasn’t won since 10/20. Yeah, he’s on a cold streak for the ages considering that he was playing in his sixth game today. Urgh.

Anyway, he had to be sharp early as Calgary came out firing. You have to give them credit – the last time I saw this mob, Jamie McLennan was losing his mind as the Flames capitulated in their first-round series with Dallas. That was the fate that team deserved. This version is much better – they skate better, they pass better and they seem to play a better team game. As Calgary buzzed around, the Habs looked listless in turn.  A horrendous giveaway from Alexei Kovalev on the sideboards gifted the Flames their first good chance. Luckily, Halak turned aside Rene Bourque’s effort, then stopped the same player again a minute later.

Momentum is critical in hockey, and it would have been far different if Calgary had opened the scoring. Instead, the excellent Robert Lang abused Mark Giordano down the wing, and fired the puck towards the middle.  It struck the leg of Cory Sarich, and somehow dribbled behind Miika Kiprusoff. We’ll take it!

Admittedly, I worried a bit about a dumb penalty taken by Josh Gorges soon after. The PK made a mockery of that fear though, much as they would for the entirety of the evening. Kovalev (early error aside) had an excellent defensive game, and his dipsy-doodling can actually be good when killing time is the idea. He stickhandled around the entire Calgary team in a 14-second virtuoso performance, bleeding off the last of the PP. Brilliant.

Around the halfway mark of the period, the Canadiens made inroads against the constant Calgary pressure. Steve Begin and Maxim Lapierre provided wonderful energy shifts, and all of a sudden, the Habs forecheck began to pay dividends. Andrei Kostitsyn’s long drive hit the boards, and Kiprusoff had to recover quickly to save Saku Koivu’s follow-up effort. The signs were there that another goal was coming.

Our opponents did occasionally counter, and another AK27 turnover resulted in another Halak bailout. That said, he did leave a bunch of juicy rebounds out in the first two periods, and the D-men – who were largely stellar tonight – were alert and quick to clear them out. It’s a good thing, for as many turnovers as our forecheck created, we in turn squandered with an overly-casual pass or six.

Kiprusoff wasn’t half bad himself, and after kicking out a point blast from Dandenault, he sealed up the near post to continue Kovy’s misery. In turn, Halak made up for his own awful rebound by kicking out a point blast from Adrian Aucoin that he barely saw in time through traffic. You have to love it when your backup goalie can go save-for-save with one of the best in the world.

The PP was much improved from the Canadiens tonight, even if they couldn’t light the lamp on them. Their passing, movement off the puck and shot selection just about resembled a top-quality power play. Kipper saved a couple (including one count of Grand Theft Hockey on Alex Tanguay with the trapper) and a few went wide, but sooner or later they’re going to hang 4 or 5 PPGs on someone.

At the end of the period, I decided that I hate Robyn Regher. Matt D’Agostini was lucky to be OK after Regher boarded him, and karma went unserved in the second when his lazy back pass led to a 2-on-1 the other way. Aucoin did yeoman’s work to take away the cross-ice pass, and Kiprusoff came up with his best save of the game (again with the trapper…STOP SHOOTING THERE!) to deny Tomas Plekanec’s tricky deke and shot.  Dammit.

The Habs’ dominance was rewarded though, and goddamn if it weren’t The Kid again. D’Agostini stole the puck at the blueline, cruised through the static D-men in the neutral zone, and took advantage of Kipper’s ill-advised poke check attempt to slide it into the empty net. What a goal, and what a player. I (heart) this guy already.

It should have been 3-0 a bit later, but AK27 came up short again and Gorges missed an empty net. The whole sequence was a shooting gallery that looked like a PP, and it could have been a killer considering the Flames got one back almost immediately afterward. Andrei Markov got caught up the other end, and Lapierre failed to track back. Jarome Iginla’s wonderful pass found Dustin Boyd, who had torched Gorges. Halak had no chance, and all of a sudden it was a legitimate contest again. If Todd Bertuzzi had done better with a glorious rebound right after, it may have been worse than that.

A hard-working PK kept the momentum with us, and soon the killer goal came. Off a faceoff win, Kovalev found Tanguay on the side of the net, whose shot was saved. Lang shrugged off Mike Cammalleri in the slot, and easily slid home the rebound. At that point, the game was essentially over.

The Habs still had a lot to do, but they played one of their better third periods all season. Few mistakes were made, the energy guys were awesome, the PP almost padded the score once or twice, and Calgary still was forced into constant turnovers. Even worse from the Flames, the Canadiens took a penalty while already short-handed…now, would you rather have a 6-on-4 or a 5-on-3? Personally, I’d choose the latter – but, Calgary opted for the former. They held the puck for a good 30 seconds, killing off the whole time they would have had a 2-man advantage! Dumb, dumb, dumb. On top of it, Kovy JUST missed finding SK74 for a SH breakaway later in the PK.

The coup de grace came with more hard work from Lang, and more comical defense from Sarich. Lang forced him into an o-zone turnover, and Tanguay gave it back to him. He found Markov on the point, and his HAMMER OF GOD went five-hole on Kipper. Game really, really over. If that weren’t enough, Halak made one more exclamation-point save on Daymond Langkow at the death.

All in all, it was nice to see everyone contributing towards a solid win over a quality team. There is no one who we’ll be screaming at Carbo to sit in the press box for the next game. It may not be entirely untrue to suggest that bar Halak’s excellence, this could have been 5-4 the other way…but that would be selling our Slovakian netminder short. We should expect him to make some great saves on occasion, as he is a quality goalie. End of story. I choose to simply enjoy and savor this win, and look forward to the next one…it’s the Lightning next, yeah?

TSBS Three Stars of the Game:

1. Jaroslav Halak
2. Robert Lang
3. Matt D’Agostini

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December 10, 2008 - Posted by | Montreal Canadiens

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