Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Game 31: Montréal 5, New York Islanders 3

As the game started, I decided to pay attention to the defensive play of P.K. Subban, as I had read a few reports recently about how he had concentrated on this aspect of his game and Jacques Martin had praised him accordingly. Sure enough, right away I saw a couple of instances where his mobility and anticipation allowed him to snuff out an incipient threat before it had a chance to develop. I was of a mind to begin composing a congratulations/apology open letter to P.K., having been critical of his tendency to try to do too much and to do the complicated, dangerous play instead of the simple one since the start of the season. As if to reassure me that I wasn't off-base and that my observation skills were still sharp, P.K. made a pass/clearing attempt in his zone through the middle of the ice instead of off the boards, and sure enough Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau easily intercepted it and fed the puck to Matt Moulson for an easy goal.

Another of my whipping boys, Andrei Kostitsyn made me jump off the couch because of a beautiful goal he scored, one that wasn't just a sniper's goal or lucky, but rather one that he created by playing hard and smart. He accepted a pass in the neutral zone and then did many little things he often forgets to do. First, he skated hard into the opposing zone, instead of coasting or being hesitant. When challenged by a defender at the blueline, he pushed the puck ahead, and this is where it gets really interesting, he kept skating hard and outmuscled his coverer. He then reached the puck at the same time as another Islander, won a brief puck battle by lifting his stick up and stealing the puck, and then went hard at the net, shooting after a couple of strides. These are the kind of goals we envision Andrei scoring all the time, and why we accuse him of being asleep or lazy or not caring when he disappears during a game or ten. Maybe being exposed to the rampaging Erik Cole, who every game plays like he wants the puck and knows the way to the net, is having a positive effect on le Frère Andrei. The rest of the game, Andrei was hungry and energetic, and fought for the puck and created scoring chances. Good on him, and good for us.

Speaking of whipping boys (not mine but possibly yours), both Mathieu Darche and Petteri Nokelainen scored, ending personal droughts and chipping in the secondary scoring we need with the Plekanec line not clicking right now. A good aspect was that they were confidence-building goals, on strong slapshots rather than lucky deflections, and hopefully these guys will have a weight lifted off their shoulders and a spring in their step for the next few games.

We have two players who were injured early in the season and are starting to attract attention for their lack of contribution on the scoresheet. Mike Cammalleri tweaked a knee and missed a couple of games, but has come back and has not met expectations since. I think we need to be patient with him, he's playing hurt and it's affecting his speed, his strength in the corners and his mobility to get in position to get his shot off. Same goes for Max Pacioretty, who hurt his right wrist and has been carried a little bit by Erik Cole and David Desharnais. While he's not being the dominant player we got glimpses of last season and we hoped for, he's being a warrior, knowing there isn't anyone else available to allow him to take a few games off. Now with Brian Gionta and even maybe Travis Moen missing time, we have to applaud Mike and Max for soldiering on, instead of grumbling.

Erik Cole continues being a one-man wrecking crew, skating hard and battling for the puck, he's an inspiration and everything we hoped for. His rushes where he sweeps around the opposing left defencemen are bound to draw attention from future opponents who will back away to protect their net, and give more room to the other Canadiens.

Hal Gill sealed the win, finally, when he lobbed the puck out of the zone, intending just to clear his zone but almost causing an icing. Instead, it dribbled into the Islander goal, and he sheepishly accepted the congratulations and good-natured ribbing of his teammates. I thought I even saw a bit of a facewash by P.K. A good ending, but Mr. Gill according to Marc Denis played an even greater role in the second intermission, when he button-hooked Mr. Subban and took him aside for a heart-to-heart as they left the ice. Mr. Denis respected the confidentiality of the chat, but broadly implied that Mr. Gill brought his former protégé to account for his mistakes in the game. While Mr. Gill is slow as honey from the fridge, his presence and leadership are hard to sacrifice, and while he may not be talentwise properly in the top 6 of the defencemen on the roster when everyone is healthy again, he will be hard to keep off the ice. I've been advocating that he should be given occasional games off to rest, but I can see how Mr. Martin would be leery to willingly forego his services.

Overall, a salutary win for the Glorieux, but nothing to crow about, the 'weak' Islanders having pushed us right to the end. Let's hope the Good Guys can play up to the Flyers on Thursday, who will be without Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux, and therefore more susceptible to surrender another important two points to the Canadiens.

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