Montreal 3 Washington 4 SO (Verizon Center)
Coming into this game, most of the sports talking heads hoped that the Canadiens wouldn't be blown out too badly by a very hot Washington Capitals team. Suffice to say, expectations were extremely low for the Habs given the turmoil of the past few days.
I have been generally supportive of the moves made by Bob Gainey, but one must wonder, was the circus really necessary? Without question, the criticism surrounding Guy Carbonneau quickly moved to Alex Kovalev and the rest of the team.
To their credit, the team really responded tonight.
Andrei Markov had 3 assists. Andrei Kostitsyn had a goal, an assist and looked like a sniper. Chris Higgins had a goal, and won puck battles. Tomas Plekanec had a goal, 6 shots and played excellent two-way hockey. Saku Koivu won important faceoffs. Max Pacioretty and Matt D'Agostini played with energy. Carey Price was superb.
Mathieu Schneider fit in quite well. He tallied an assist and moved the puck effectively. His defensive flaws were evident especially when Semin walked around him with ease. Matt is an upgrade over Bouillon, Gorges and Brisebois. And he logged the most minutes of any Habs player. But, is he a $6 million defenseman? That's another story.
The biggest change tonight is that the Canadiens actually had a forecheck. That coupled with the ability to move the puck from their own end was the biggest impact. Spend less time in your own end and the team gives up fewer chances. It's that simple.
The Habs power-play produced all 3 goals on 4 chances. The PP success had little to do with Schneider but instead was a result of players going to the crease.
After being the Canadiens best defenseman for several games, Roman Hamrlik took a step backwards. He was out of position, soft on the puck and guilty of giveaways. It may simply be a coincidence but why does he play so much better with O'Byrne.
Again tonight, I was puzzled by the bench management. Max Lapierre had much more even-strength TOI than Tomas Plekanec and Saku Koivu. Lapierre lost an important face-off in the third that led to the tying goal. Greg Stewart had more even-strength ice time than Andrei Kostitsyn and Chris Higgins. Stewart had 5.5 minutes more than Pacioretty. Stewart was unimpressive. Tom Kostopoulos and Lapierre were the two Canadiens forwards with the most ice-time. Does that make sense? Georges Laraque took a dumb penalty and was a wasted line-up spot.
In the battle behind the benches, Carbonneau seemed thrilled to dress two 4th lines. Boudreau tactically waited for Carbonneau's predictable roll of the lines, and then attacked with Ovechkin. Carbo was probably really good at paint-by-number art. Slam dunk, Boudreau.
This was a very good hockey game...exciting and entertaining. This week, Bob Gainey sent the team a message. Tonight, the team sent one back: hey, it's not us.
Tom Kostopoulos will wear the alternate captain 'A' in place of Kovalev.
Starting line-up: Koivu, Higgins, D'Agostini, Schneider, Markov
Carey Price will start in goal. Jose Theodore for the Capitals.
Mathieu Schneider will play his first game after the trade. Greg Stewart will be in the line-up. Patrice Brisebois, Alex Kovalev and Steve Begin are healthy scratches.
Latendresse, Tanguay, Lang out with injuries.
Rocket's 3 stars:
1. Tomas Plekanec
2. Alex Ovechkin
3. Andrei Markov