Sharks-Canadiens: Hold On, They're Coming!

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2009

Montreal 3, San Jose 2 (Bell Centre)

posted by Rocket

The Montreal Canadiens just beat the best team in hockey. They have now won four straight games. Jaroslav Halak made 46 saves. So why am I feeling uncomfortable?

It was a great first period for the Habs. After withstanding an initial onslaught by the Sharks, the Canadiens used their speed to pressure the opposition. Brian Boucher was not sharp particularly when handling the puck.

The Habs made the most of their opportunities scoring three times. Saku Koivu's line was on fire. Andrei Markov had a great first period. The power-play connected again.

But we have seen this movie before. The Canadiens get a lead, then Carbonneau advises his club that its full retreat mode beginning the second period. Some think its just good defensive tactics. But the strategy only works for good defensive teams, and the Habs aren't strong defensively.

Instead, the Canadiens just desperately hold on, while the opposition forms its firing squad. Perhaps Gainey needs to take Carbonneau for a walk in Old Montreal and let me know he is playing with fire.

The Sharks attacked early in the second period. They scored twice before the period was two minutes old. Then another San Jose shot rang off the post. Jaroslav Halak was having trouble tracking the puck. He looked very awkward on the two goals.

The Canadiens were reeling. The period ended with the Sharks outshooting the Canadiens 14-4 (not including three San Jose shots off the post).

“We stopped skating and stopped shooting the puck and we made turnovers in the neutral zone,” said defenseman Andrei Markov. I would suggest that's what happens when you are instructed to abandon the forecheck.

The next period began with another Shark shot going through Halak and hitting the post. Then a shot by Setoguchi went in and out of his glove. Halak confirmed after the game that he was tired late in the game.

The third period played out much the same as the second. It was desperation hockey on every shift by the Canadiens. For a rare time, Carbonneau even shortened the bench, by two. Patrice Brisebois and Georges Laraque didn't see the ice much in the third.

To their credit, every Habs player did whatever was necessary to protect their goal, and goaltender. San Jose is an excellent team who is well coached. They outshot Montreal 34-11 in the last two periods.

“We faced a really good team tonight, and I don’t think we played our best,” said Koivu. “The first (period) was better, but then we became too passive.”

The feeling after the game was that the Canadiens stole one from a superior team. But if the Habs were allowed to play to their strengths, they can intimidate any team.

They have speed, skill and offensive firepower. Their personnel suits a puck position game, and they can be very effective when aggressively pressuring the opposition defense.

As some on the Hockey Night in Canada panel said tonight, "Quit trying to be something that you are not." Or as Elliotte Friedman said a few weeks ago, "Maybe Guy Carbonneau just doesn't understand this team."

It was a terrific night for Andrei Markov, Saku Koivu, Jaroslav Halak, and Matt D'Agostini. Now, the Canadiens go on the road for three games. Three more wins will greatly help my comfort level.


Starting lineup: Lapierre, Kostopoulos, Pacioretty, Komisarek, Hamrlik
Jaroslav Halak and Brian Boucher started in goal.

Evgeni Nabokov had the flu and was unlikely to play under any circumstance.

Dandenault and Chipchura scratched. Bouillon, Latendresse, Tanguay, and Lang were out with injuries.

Rocket's 3 stars:

1. Andrei Markov
2. Jaroslav Halak
3. Joe Thornton

(photo credit: AP)