Blues-Canadiens: Late Surge Can't Make Up for Habs' Missteps

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2010

MONTREAL- JANUARY 20:  Erik Johnson #6 of the St. Louis Blues body checks Scott Gomez #91 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game on January 20, 2010 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Blues defeated the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

There was one player that made the difference in tonight's game.

Was it Mathieu Darche? Darche is a journeyman who was called up for tonight's game from the Hamilton Bulldogs. At 33 years old, he got his first opportunity to play for the Canadiens. Darche is one of a select few McGill University graduates to wear the bleu, blanc et rouge. The list includes Jack McGill (1934-37), Nels Crutchfield (1934-35), and Ken Dryden (1971-79).

Darche was replacing Matt D'Agostini on the Canadiens top line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. A common complaint about D'Agostini is that despite possessing a good shot,he rarely uses. it. Darche is a player who is unafraid to go to the front of the net and leads the Bulldogs in shots on goal.

Unfortunately Darche was not the spark that coach Jacques Martin hoped for when adding him to the lineup. Darche played almost 10 minutes, took two shots, and was a minus one. Darche was partly responsible for the second goal by the Blues. He looked lost and failed to pick up coverage in the defensive zone.

In a surprise move, coach Martin inserted Ryan O'Byrne in a forward role in place of Georges Laraque. Not that sitting Laraque was a surprise. Laraque, D'Agostini and Max Lapierre are the worst players for the Canadiens' game in and game out and are deserving of more press box time.

Laraque didn't even involve himself last game against the Rangers when Plekanec and Andrei Markov were being abused. It was left to Benoit Pouliot and Josh Gorges to stand up for their teammates. In fact, Laraque has only four fighting majors the entire season. All have taken place in the first period and all have been staged, meaningless fights.

No, the surprise was that Martin chose to put O'Byrne on the fourth line with Glen Metropolit and Marc-Andre Bergeron. What was Martin expecting to happen with four of five players on the ice being defensemen? While O'Byrne is an upgrade over Laraque, it was unfair to put him in that role. O'Byrne played only six shifts and was not a factor.

Some may suggest that Carey Price was the stand-out player. Certainly Price did everything he could to keep his team in the game especially in the second and third periods.

Price was even willing to take on Cam Janssen, who had left his feet to level Price as they were racing towards a loose puck. Price pulled Roman Hamrlik away to try to get at Janssen. Price's courage immediately rejuvenated the Bell Centre crowd and sparked his teammates who scored a power-play goal only eight seconds after the incident.

"It was the right play to come out and play it," coach Martin said. "The player hit him and it started something. I thought he reacted well. He gave us a strong game."

Goaltending could not make up for the truly awful play by the Canadiens and the inability to get the puck out of their own end. In the first period alone, the Habs committed seven defensive zone turnovers.

"I didn't like how we played in the first two periods, but we battled in the third," Martin said. "We were playing too much in our own zone in the first two."

Benoit Pouliot had a good game, but is not the player that comes to mind. Pouliot had two goals on seven shots and set a pick to clear a lane for Spacek for his point shot on the tying goal.

The player who had the most impact on tonight's game was Scott Gomez. Gomez was on the ice for five of the seven goals scored. Not only was he on the ice, but Gomez played an active role in each goal.

Gomez stole the puck and made a nice pass to setup Pouliot for Montreal's second goal. Gomez was standing in front of the net with Cammalleri on the Canadiens' third goal and seemed to tip Spacek's shot.

But it isn't all bouquets for Gomez. His inability to ice the puck while short-handed directly resulted in St. Louis' first goal. Gomez's lazy back-check is responsible for Alex Steen's goal for the Blues. And Gomez's brutal giveaway to Paul Kariya was the difference-maker as he setup Andy McDonald for the winning goal in overtime.

Coach Martin also deserves an assist for his curious game plan, and his inability to prepare his team to be ready to play.

The Habs deserve credit for coming back to gain a point. They were hoping for more with two tough games upcoming against the Devils and the Rangers.

“It’s a huge point for us,” Pouliot said. “The standings are tight right now. We need to gain a little ground but we’ll take any points right now, that’s for sure.”

The Canadiens leave Montreal on Thursday afternoon for New Jersey where they will play on Friday night.

Rocket's three stars

1. TJ Oshie
2. Alexander Steen
3. Benoit Pouliot

Material from wire services was used in this report.