The constants that the Canadiens need to be there to be successful were present tonight. Carey Price was solid in nets, and handled the puck skillfully, save for that instance when he got caught icing the puck. The defencemen were effective as a group, and the forward lines seem to be clicking.
The Eller-Moen-Kostitsyn line is a revelation. Lars Eller now seems ready to play, after last season's apprenticeship, which I thought might have been better served in Hamilton playing first-line minutes. The long minutes spent on the bench seem to have been put to good use, he used them as motivation to play with inspiration in the playoffs, and for a good summer of physical conditioning and shoulder rehab. It's noteworthy that he also missed all of training camp, but he now seems to be regaining his timing.
Travis Moen took a few barbs from fans last season, but most understood that he was miscast as a powerplay guy and first-liner. Most expected him to assume a grinding role as a fourth-liner this season, but he has shown surprising touch and the customary heart on the Eller line. On a team like the Canadiens, with no clear offensive stars like Steve Stamkos or Sidney Crosby, so-called secondary-scoring is crucial to the Canadiens' success. We hope Travis can continue on the productive streak he is on.
Canadiens fans are divided into many factions: the Fire Jacques Martin crowd vs. the Chill-Out crew; the former Halak-Price controversy; the anti-Gomez vs. the homicidally-anti-Gomez feud. Andrei Kostitsyn has been a target for years now, with some accepting him for what he is, which is a pure scorer and effective passer who can be a 25 goal 50 point winger who can throw a good bodycheck when called upon. Others are infuriated by his apparent lack of effort, his coasting on the ice and his frequent brain cramps. Both sides of the debate amassed ammunition tonight.
Andrei scored a goal on a beautiful pass by Lars Eller, a goal which might have seemed easy, but which was only possible because he drove to the net and provided Lars with an easy set-up opportunity. Andrei was also singled out for plaudits by Gaston Therrien on L'Antichambre, who showed a sequence where Mr. Eller and Moen were both forechecking, and ably backed by Mr. Kostitsyn who was properly positioned and checked his man effectively.
I have to pick at warts though, and couldn't help notice Andrei in the first period, once again gaining possession of the puck behind the goal line in the offensive zone, then skating softly toward the blue line, where he caused a turnover. He has made that soft, low-probability-of-success play twice before this season, once in Game 9 against Philadelphia where it was noted and lowlighted by Ray Ferraro on TSN. In this instance, the Sens were in a box as if they were killing a penalty, and had a fifth skater peeled out of the frame to take a position in front of the net. Andrei was indecisive and dragged two checkers with him towards Josh Gorges, and then handed him the puck. Of course, Josh lost it, and this set up Jason Spezza for the scoring opportunity where he crashed into Carey Price. Andrei gains back half a point by at least having positioned himself to back up Josh, but then loses another quarter-point in my, and probably Mr. Martin's, notebook for his poor attempt at bodychecking, which Mr. Spezza deked out of.
All in all, a good game for Andrei, but he needs support by the coaching staff to stop this negative pattern of behavior. They need to show him this on video, and practice this situation with him. He needs to take a page from Erik Cole's book and reverse his direction, drive toward the net while buttonhooking the defender, or at least just dump the puck back behind the net for another cycle.
Another player I've been noticing who's been making mistakes is PK Subban. He has calmed down quite a bit since his ragged start to the season, but he still is trying to do too much. Tonight, he took two penalties that were unnecessary. The first tripping call he took was due to him being too aggressive in the neutral zone, trying to get a puck without anyone backing him up, which meant he had to stick his leg out to prevent a breakaway. His slashing penalty was also preventable. While he was being aggressive and fighting for the puck, which is laudable, he needs to use that gym strength of his and drive opponents off the puck, instead of hacking at their sticks, an easy, automatic call for referees these days.
Finally, other fans and posters noticed Erik Cole squirting water from a bottle for Carey Price during the postgame handshakes. I'm as puzzled as everyone else about that. I see it happen regularly now on football sidelines, and I wonder why grown men need someone else to give them a swig of water. It seems awkward, like having your mom wipe your nose for you as you approach teendom. I know that coaches are always on you to drink during the game, because in the heat of the battle you don't notice that you're thirsty and dehydrated and your performance may suffer. Maybe research has shown that your players will be better hydrated if you have trainers running around actively making players drink. In this instance, I don't know what was gained by having Mr. Cole show such solicitude for Mr. Price.