Friday, February 20, 2009

A tale of two Kostitsyn

credit habs inside/out

Tonight the Habs played a better game than yesterday against Washington. I know, it’s not a huge statement to make considering Friday’s game but it’s still something positive to work with. Against a surprising (at least to me) Sabres team the Canadiens ended up outplaying a hard working team. But not all was well.

Now what the hell is wrong with Sergei Kostitsyn? He took three fully deserved and entirely unnecessary penalties with the first one leading to Buffalo’s opening goal. Yes, he redeemed himself a little after his second penalty when he screened Patrick Lalime on Steve Begin’s goal but he has to be smarter than that. It’s not like it’s the first time he takes bad penalties like that, he’s already at 30 PIM this season. That’s 5 shot of Kostopoulos who fought twice and got 17 minutes against Toronto for his check from behind. Right now, I hope he’ll be sent back to Hamilton for a couple of games when Tanguay comes back.

I was against Matt D’Agostini playing on the first line as a general concept but then again, why not see how he reacts under pressure right now? We know his stint with the big club is only temporary so giving him a chance to shine is understandable. He was out of position a couple of times, especially in the offensive zone but you can see the kid has talent and will probably be in the lineup to start the next season. I would love to see him a couple of games more playing on different lines to see how he handles third or fourth line duties. Again, send Sergei down for a couple of games. It could do him some good.

His big brother, however, played a much better game. I’ve said recently that Andrei is at his best when he is physical and today he registered 4 hits and scored a somewhat lucky goal. After fanning on a shot attempt he tried a second time and buried the puck. He also was very close to score the third goal of the game when he missed an empty net from a closed angle but Markov ended up scoring less than a minute later from a beautiful play he set up himself with help from Koivu.

Again the captain was working hard and it got me to think about Kovalev. Since the beginning of the season Saku saw his ice time go down significantly compared to last year but it also let him be much more efficient on every shift. Maybe Kovy needs to do the same. Kovalev was sometimes very efficient tonight, especially on some penalty killing missions but he also was trying to deke too many players at some times and that’s something that he does too often. Every player in the NHL knows how good this guy is, one of the best stickhandler in the league, but they also know how much he loves to keep the puck. That’s why he can often do a great set up for his teammates; his opponents don’t expect that. I think AK-27 should pass on every opportunity he can until the NHL start taking notice and start adjusting. Then he will be able to use his deking abilities more and with a better impact.

Carey Price was good and even spectacular in the last minute of the game. Those who doubted the kid ability to be a starter in the toughest city for a goaltender can relax. He is calm, collected and can obviously lead his team to victory if given the chance. Bob Barker would be so proud…

Josh Gorges had a difficult night being somewhat responsible for letting Thomas Vanek score twice. On the first goal, Higgins missed his clearing attempt and Josh took a risk trying to poke the puck away but instead left Vanek alone. He also missed his chance to clear the zone and ended up giving the puck to Buffalo for the second goal. But I have no fears, he’ll be back with a big game on Tuesday.

The last thing I want to touch upon is the 5 on 3 in third period. I was happy for multiple reasons. The first one being that while I am not impressed with the calibre of NHL referees I am at least glad to see that they aren’t afraid of calling two penalties on the same play, something that was nearly unheard of before the lockout. Also, the puck movement was efficient and I prefer Markov as the set up man rather than taking the shot. And since I love Andrei Kostitsyn shot, I was pleased to see him there. Buffalo played very well for the whole two minutes and you have to give them credit for their numerous blocked shots on that particular sequence.

Overall a feel good victory with the Canadiens coming back twice from one goals deficits. Not a dominating performance by any means but at least some good moments and a much better effort than the day before.

Now let’s all pray the Habs don’t fall into the same “not showing up against inferior opponents” pattern that plagued them all season.

Another solid effort

credit Habs inside/out

You can’t ask for much more. Against the red hot Wings, the Canadiens played a very solid game. From start to finish I saw a team that understood what it took to win games. Finally! Even when Detroit opened the machine in third period, the Montreal players didn’t panic. They nearly scored but the goal was called back since the puck never entered the net. I would love to see the Habs take control of the third period when they lead by three goals but against a team as good as Detroit, it was a very solid effort. But let’s start back from scratch.

After a first period that ended up scoreless, Lapierre scored with a shot from the corner while Kovalev was fighting it out with Lidstrom who ended up deflecting the puck in his own net. For the past two or three games Kovy started to go back to the net even if it means getting hit behind the back of the head (think Mark Streit in overtime last game who took Kovy’s helmet off). Kovalev was also a big part of the second goal with a nice three way passing game between him Markov and Plekanec who scored on a sharp one timer. Conklin couldn’t do much about that one. And then Higgins made it 3-0 after him, Koivu and Kostopoulos buzzed in front of the net for quite some time.

My favourite part about the first two period was Andrei Kostitsyn hitting Hossa hard at the blue line. Hossa spent two players trying to get retribution from a legal hit, got a penalty for his efforts and it’s on that penalty that Plek scored the game winner. Andrei does a lot of little things that don’t appear on the score sheet and that was one of them. He also tried his laser screened shot entering the zone but Conklin got a pad on it.

O’Byrne played more game that I would have gave him (I would have aimed for about 14 minutes) and played a solid game overall but for the 8th game in a row he did a mistake that directly cost a goal. In this case he played the puck instead of the man and you can’t do that against a player as talented as Franzen. He’ll make you pay. He did. O'Byrne has some potential but he'll have to do less mistakes than that. This is becoming an habit and it has to stop.

Josh Georges impresses me more every game. He was solid and won most of his battles in the corners against guys bigger and more talented. He is by far the player who helped the most negate the Komisarek injury. Markov was back to his usual self and that’s a good thing. Hopefully he’ll offer another solid outing when asked to check his buddy Ovechkin on Friday. Strangely enough Hamerlik seemed a bit off his game today. Nothing specific I could talk about, just some weird positioning.

The Captain is really showing he is underrated. At one point in third period the Habs were short handed and he asked Higgins to go around Detroit’s winger to get the puck he’d force back. The play worked and nearly created a scoring opportunity. Higgins was also very good today and Kostopoulos worked better than I expected on that line when asked to replace Tanguay, injured. From what I heard it was a neck injury but we’ll have the official “upper body injury” version tomorrow.

Carey Price was very good again, as predicted. When he position himself to stop the deflection of a shot, he just amaze me. An athlete like him want to prove he can beat Detroit. He did it in preseason. He did it in season. You know what he want to prove now.

Overall a great game. Not perfect but considering the way the team was playing a week ago, I’ll stay on my usual positive side and see that as I said after the last game: I’m happy to report the Habs are back on the right track.

Montreal Detroit bullet point preview

Hey guys, just a couple of details before the game. Stuff to look for and random information. Bullet point style baby.

• In the preseason game between the two teams, TSN called it the Stanley Cup preview. While it may still be true, it looks more like an All Star starting lineup preview.

• Will Carey Price realize another miracle tonight? In you remember, he did that unbelievable save by hitting the puck with his stick behind his back in mid air that forced Pierre McGuire to scream “That’s the save of the year and it’s not even the year yet”. Good times.

• How much time will Ryan O’Byrne play tonight? Hopefully, not much. A smart team like Detroit will put a lot of pressure on him. They will dump the puck his way all game long and try to get in his head to force him to do mistakes. He needs to play less than the 20 or so minutes he played last game. Oh and pair him with Hamerlik as much as possible.

• Will the offense finally convert on more opportunities? The reason I am not too alarmed with the Habs play is because they have their chances, they just missed too often. There are a lot of streaky players on that team and if half of them can finally wake up, the Habs will be in business.

• Will they show the same effort as last game? If they don’t you can forget the last point and the game. But if they do, it’s only Chris Osgood. He can give up fat rebounds and get beat by good shots. They need to play a simpler game. Put the puck on the net and go for it.

• Guillaume Latendresse shouldn’t be playing tonight and Georges Laraque stayed in Montreal so he won’t play before Saturday at the earliest. Will the “Latendresse not playing on Koivu’s line” curse be lifted up? Let’s hope this curse is just something I made up...

Well you have it. Those are my little comments before the game. Hope you guy enjoy it. I’ll have my review later on.

Finding new ways to lose

credit for the picture to Ryan O'Byrne and Habs inside/out

I am more than happy to report that the Montreal Canadiens are back on the right track. Tonight your beloved team played a solid game. From start to finish, from the first line to the last one, everybody played hard and with a passion we haven’t seen enough this year. There are only two players who made me cringe today. And I’m not even talking about Ryan.

Tanguay looks like a guy who doesn’t want to play the style of game the Habs played today. No shot, no hits and he seem to try to play like he doesn’t want to get hit, like he doesn’t want to get his nose dirty. He is the only player who entered the offensive zone with a backpass tonight. It was towards Higgins and as soon as he got the puck he pushed it hard in the corner. More on Higgins later.

The other player I have troubles with is Sergei Kostitsyn. He has a cocky attitude I like to see when he refuse to back down from any opponent but at the same time I think he’s playing over his talent level. Maybe he thinks he’s Kovalev. The 27 takes risks but at the same time, it’s a player who has great vision and more than 1200 games of experience in the NHL (regular season and playoffs). It was Sergei’s 83rd game tonight. He should keep things a lot simpler than he makes them. Some of his decisions are borderline stupid. I’m not doubting his talent but his play his inconsistent and erratic. Come back to the basics Sergei.

But those are only two players in a game that was a big team effort. Kovalev played one of his best games this year. Maxime Lapierre is back and Steve Begin was also solid. Koivu is always good this season and Higgins finally showed he deserved to play on the first line this year. Josh Georges got his first goal as a Habs and Price was his usual self. He doesn’t deserve the L. But without naming each and every player deserving of a pat of the back, the team played with energy. They were going hard in the corners to get the puck, they were circling the puck well and were avoiding fancy plays overall.

You have to give credit to the Islanders, they protected the slot all game long and blocked many shot. Richard Park and Trent Hunter in particular played a very solid game. Then again, the referees helped them a little bit too. The early whistle on Andrei Kostitsyn no-goal is a good example but my main complaint is how sometimes the interference penalty is forgotten.

And then there is Markov, hitting Price on a backcheck before the first goal. Markov isn’t playing well lately and I’m wondering why. And then… there is the other gift. I have been patient with O’Byrne even though he looked bad on at least one goal allowed in each of his past 6 games. Now, he just overdid himself. I’ll give him credit to face the Montreal media after the game but as an NHL player you have to look where your pass is going and he obviously didn’t. Guy Carbonneau said he didn’t think less of O’Byrne after the game, stating that accidents happen. I agree. Now we’ll see if O’Byrne can give a huge effort Wednesday against Detroit. He played well but his confidence could be shattered after this.

It’s a shame O’Byrne blundered like that. If the goal was scored any other way, we would talk about how the powerplay didn’t produce yet again. Or how the team isn’t able to kill penalties. But instead, we’ll talk about how a young player just gave a victory away late in the game.

We’re talking about how the Habs are finding new ways to lose…

Welcome home Pat


It wasn’t surprising to see the goalies steal the show on St-Patrick’s jersey retirement. Tim Thomas just happened to be a better thief tonight. The all-forgotten All-star was spectacular at times and lucky when he needed it. Markov’s open net late in the third period had me curled up in foetal position for hours after the game. But then again, it’s not like he was the only one missing chances. Kovalev had a breakaway and the puck slipped on his stick. Again. I am wondering if it’s Kovy’s bad luck this year or if the ice at the Bell Center is sub par. If there is one thing I’d love the Montreal Canadiens organization to work on, it’s the ice. Make a statement: The best place to play ice hockey!

But back to the game, I cringed when I saw that Carbo’s option to replace Guillaume Latendresse was Georges Laraque. I don’t like Georges. I would rather have him lose it on Lucic and scare him and the rest of the league but instead, he politely asked for a dance. And as the reject he is, he can’t get a partner. However, no matter how painful it is to admit it, when he was shadowing Lucic in the first period, Milan was invisible. Two hit; one against Tom the Bomb and one as a retaliation to Ryan O’Bryne who hit him seconds before. That’s it. Actually Lucic only came to life in the 2nd period. On the second shift of the period where he didn’t have to bother about Georges he hit Koivu, Kovalev and score. All within a minute.

To an even bigger surprise to me, Laraque Koivu and Tanguay had one of the best scoring opportunities in the first period with Tanguay barely missing a backhand rebound. I hate to say it but for the 6 minutes he was on the ice, the Habs 17 was effective. It’s a shame we can’t say the same of 27. On Lucic goal, Kovalev was replacing Bouillon who ventured in the offensive zone to keep the pressure. That’s the perfect play. But when he had to backcheck and keep it up with Lucic, he failed. That’s on top of many missed opportunities. I can live with giveaways from Alex, his style of play will create as many scoring chances as turnovers. I expect that. But losing the puck on breakaways, that’s a problem. Another big surprise was how totally ineffective Lapierre was tonight. No shots, no hits and a very poor 33% on faceoffs. Keep Begin if Max can’t get the message after missing 3 games.

Sometimes I feel like I’m saying the same stuff over and over. Again tonight the captain of the ship was good. His hit one Wideman was a highlight moment and created a turnover. I loved it. Again Price was solid. He can’t do everything by himself. Again, I’m wondering where the hell is Higgins (good job of closing your eyes on that one Rocket). Again O’Byrne looked bad on the first goal. I’ll give him some room, again, for not having support but that’s got to stop. Maybe he’s not as ready as we all hoped he was. Again the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge was playing in shootout. 7 games already. That’s way too much. With the talent this team has they have to score that goal that gives them a clean win and avoid giving points. Although tonight, the shootout was a point the Habs could have lost.

The Lang, Andrei K and Tom Kostopoulos combination seems to be working better than I expected. Hell, Tom even looked liked a superstar with that deflection from Breezer point shot. But Tom is working hard every night. Every shift. He deserve the credit for never giving up. That’s a positive.

And I think I’ll leave it on a positive note. Against the red-hot Bruins, the slumping Habs came out with a point. They played their better “jersey retirement game” in a long time. They failed to score on many occasions but the occasions are there. It’s only a matter of not losing the puck next time…

Best of the worst

credit habs inside/out

Well, I said that the Montreal Canadiens stand a better chance of winning when Guillaume Latendresse is playing next to Tanguay and Koivu. And while the Habs won, it clearly showed that the problem/solution wasn’t Latendresse playing or not on that line. Guy Carbonneau said after the game he was happier with his team effort, especially on the defensive side. It’s true. They played better defensively. But I think the coach tried his best not to simply lash out on some players.

Koivu was a lot more honest about his team play. They need to do better than that. They need to play better as a unit and the solution/problem can’t be imputed on a single player. Or even a couple of players. Or the coach. EVERYBODY has to give more than they are giving right now. Well, to a couple of exceptions.

Carey Price is playing his ass off and the team owes him a couple of victories. He has been spectacular multiple times this year and yesterday wasn’t different. I can’t blame him on the first goal, a shot that deflected off Markov and ended up on Heatley’s stick. I was wondering why put Ruttu and Vermette before Heatley in shootout but then again, I don’t really care. You could blame Price on the second goal, I guess. But he can’t do everything alone and Bouillon didn’t help on that play, letting Foligno get to the puck without doing much.

Saku Koivu has been one of the most consistent Habs this season. Tanguay is getting results and shows how talented he is but he isn’t working as hard as the captain. Clearly, Saku wants to win. It’s a shame not enough players show the same intensity because we wouldn’t have to talk about a team nobody feel confident about despite a very respectable 24 points in 18 games. The team is getting the results their talent should get them, but they are lucky. It could easily be 8 points less by the way they played.

Now we know officially that Komisarek will be missed longer than we all hoped. Five weeks is a long time in this sport. Will Bob Gainey be able to move some of those extra veterans on offence to help his defensive corps? Let’s just hope because neither of the players we have right now are able to effectively replace Big Mike.

I really liked Begin reaction, when facing Cody Bass. As soon as he saw Laraque over his shoulder he dropped the gloves. F*** you Georges. I’m fighting for ice time here! Also, I swear I saw Carbo talk with his players on the bench before the shootout and say “five hole”. Saku tried a different move than usual (that was a big surprise) going between the legs and both goals were there. The only player who didn’t try it was Kovalev.

So there you have it. Out of two teams playing way under their talent level, we are the best. Yay! I guess… Now we’ll see if they can pull it off against Boston.

Urgh. This has the potential to be another ugly jersey retirement…

Use the players who will help you win


I said in my game review that I had another complaint about the coach and I think this is the biggest problem on this team right now. It’s about the use of some players. I won’t touch the defence today because of Komisarek being injured so the coach doesn’t have nearly as many options. But on offense, it’s high time we smell the coffee. Tom Kostopoulos is NOT as good a player as Guillaume Latendresse. And Gui doesn’t deserve to play on the fourth line. He needs to be on the top offensive lines. Sergei Kostitsyn should be reminded that we can still send his ass to Hamilton without having to put him on the waivers. Not be used as the sixth men when you take Carey Price out late. Maxime Lapierre played his heart out but he’s pretty much interchangeable with Begin. I can understand the coach giving a couple of game to his veteran. I just hope he’ll see action before Laraque.

If Guy Carbonneau is serious about using the players that will help him win, he needs to realize which combinations work and which don't. After playing 17 games, we can come to some conclusions. Some players work well with others. Some players are used to other players and Guy is falling into the same trap he accused his players of not seeing. Let me quote him

“Guys need to realize that what happened last year is last year. You don’t start the season with 12 or 40 assists, you start from scratch.”

Well coach, you are doing the exact same thing. You think some combinations are working. You think some players are adding to a line and some don’t. But you mainly looked at how Higgins and Koivu used to work well together and how Koivu and Tanguay are getting points together.

The truth is: Guillaume Latendresse makes the world go round.

Here are the Habs results with various players on what has been the best line this year.

Latendresse on Koivu’s line: 7-1-1

Higgins on Koivu’s line: 2-3-1*

Kovalev on Koivu’s line: 1-1-0

* I counted the NY Islanders game as a Higgins victory since he played the third period with Koivu. It was Plekanec’s line scoring 3 times in 3rd period who stole the game but let’s be generous here.

Do I need to explain more? I will. Here are Tanguay and Koivu numbers with and without Gui.

(using the “goal-assists-points +/-” format)

With: Tanguay 6-5-11 +7 and Koivu 4-6-10 +9 in 9 games.

Without: Tanguay 2-4-6 -1 and Koivu 2-4-6 +0 in 8 games.

It’s more than time we admit a couple of things about Guillaume. He’s a hard working, honest power forward who will apply good forecheck, be physical and has good enough hands to score every once in a while. I think many people expect so much of him that they see how he fails to achieve standards that don’t fit the player. He’ll create space for Koivu and Tanguay. He’ll get secondary passes most of the time, score about 20 times and end up with around 50 points but so often he’ll be the guy who skates hard towards a defencemen, forcing him to cough up the puck to Saku or that body in front of the net to screen the goalie.

The Montreal Canadiens are a better team when Latendresse is playing on the first line.

He makes the Habs a better team than Higgins does.


I said it.

Let the hate mail flow.