Two games does not constitute a trend, of course, but after watching the Habs split their road openers against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins, several things have already caught my eye about this year’s team.
Let’s start with the good.
I was one of the fans who disliked the Jaroslav Halak/Lars Eller trade. It’s not that I preferred one goaltender over the other; I mostly disliked the return and the instant mega-load it dropped on the shoulders of Carey Price.
There were other intangibles that bothered me about the trade, too, but I’d rather not rehash history. It’s done, and now I’m happy to see that it seems my fears about Price’s confidence issues have been proven unfounded.
Price was solid versus both Toronto and Pittsburgh, and more than anything I like his focus and his ability to remain unruffled after each goal goes in. If the Habs can offer up a bit more goal support this year, they’re going to help their netminder make the naysayers eat some large helpings of crow.
I like mine well-done.
I liked PK Subban a lot in the playoffs, mostly because he didn’t play like Marc-Andre Bergeron. He took the hit, he moved the puck forward, and he made some smart plays.
I’ve heard his name associated with the Calder Cup Trophy a few times this past summer, but I’ve refrained from hopping on that bandwagon. He made mistakes in the playoffs, too, but because of the magical fairy ride the Habs were on it sometimes got overlooked.
Tonight he played like a veteran despite being targeted for extra special attention by the Penguins. He failed to take the bait, worked hard to get the job done despite a stick to the face, and helped keep the puck out of his own net.
In the Toronto game winger Michael Cammalleri sat in the press box due to the now-infamous suspension. Meanwhile, Tomas Plekanec was largely invisible and uncharacteristically failed to take a hit to make a play that resulted in a goal against.
He appeared to be a little off-balance all night.
Tonight he made a beautiful dash-and-pass to Cammalleri, made smart plays along the boards to win possession, and was a solid part of the penalty kill. He was back in his usual top-six form, and all I can think is that he’s making Pierre Gauthier’s deal look a lot like a K-Mart Blue Light special.
Pundits like to talk about the chemistry between Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta holding over from their time together in New Jersey, but lately the Plekanec/Cammalleri love-fest is putting them to shame.
Fingers crossed that they both stay healthy this year.
Okay, time for the bad.
The Entire Second Line
I’m not sure where the second line spent most of the night, but I rarely saw it on the ice. Sure, Scott Gomez got the game-winning goal, but it was his first shot on goal in almost two full games.
Newly-minted captain Brian Gionta was inexplicably invisible, though when I took the time to focus on him, I could see he was still trying to do all the right things. I’m just not sure why they’re not getting done.
Benoit Pouliot delivered a few hits and even got an assist on the Gomez goal. I’m still not convinced that he’s got any kind of chemistry with the other two, who themselves seem to have lost their mojo at this point.
Why this line can’t kick it from neutral into drive is puzzling and worrisome. Preseason is over.
Carey Price has had this team’s back twice now. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect him to hold off the opposition by standing on his head while the Habs get out-shot and out-chanced. It's a recipe for disaster.
Marc-Andre Fleury should have stopped the eventual game-winner, and there were a couple of times the Penguins should have potted it but didn’t. The Habs aren’t always going to get that lucky.
I’m pretty sure that last-minute panic is not going to get the job done. Playing a bit more desperately well before the clock ticks fatefully down at the end of the third period would be a nice change.
The Power Play
Even if Markov wasn’t missed on defense, his absence from the power play was unmistakable. Tonight Jaroslav Spacek managed to blast a couple of shots at the net, but he’s really a poor substitute for his more versatile blueline teammate.
While the penalty killers are getting a workout, I’d much prefer it if the Habs would maintain a bit more discipline and not take some truly stupid penalties.
Last but not least, the ugly.
I really only have one thing that’s outright got me rolling my eyes at this team right now and that’s tape-to-tape passing.
The Canadiens seem incapable of doing it.
More often than not the shooter will try to pass the puck either too far in front of the receiver or too far behind. Even if he does manage to hit his man, usually the puck still ends up in his skates or bounces off the stick to an opposing player.
In stark contrast, the Penguins routinely completed their passes and used that speed and skill to gain entry into the offensive zone instead of just relying on dump and chase.
I know coach Jacques Martin prefers to focus on defense, but I’d really like to see some improvement in this area. It was downright brutal to watch.
All things considered, I like a lot of what I saw the first two games out of the gate, so I remain cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the season.
How about you?
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