For the first time since the NHL was established in Florida, the Montreal Canadiens managed to win back-to-back games against both teams from the sunshine state.
A 5-1 victory over the Florida Panthers completed the Floridian sweep.
Yesterday, the Habs assaulted Tomas Vokoun’s net very early in the game. After only 5:03 of play, the Habs were ahead by 3-0, forcing the Panthers coach Jacques Martin to retire Tomas Vokoun from the action.
Guillaume Latendresse opened the score with his 11th goal of the season. The rush was followed by Michael Ryder, who snapped his scoring slump with his first goal since November 16th. Then, Christopher Higgins’ goal at 5:03 chased Vokoun out of the game. Craig Anderson came in relief for the Panthers.
The Habs continued their good collective work during the second period. Tom Kostopoulos lit the lamp to increase the Habs' lead to four goals. Then, during the third period, Olli Jokinen avoided the shutout for the Panthers.
Finally, late in the game, Mark Streit sealed the deal when he received a great pass from Chris Higgins to score the last goal of the game. Higgins finished the game with a goal, two assists and the first star of the game.
The line modifications of head coach Guy Carbonneau before the prior game in Tampa allowed the team to gel together. First, we saw a very creative Saku Koivu during this short period of time. He seems to appreciate his new linemates, Latendresse and S.Kostitsyn.
The new third line formed by Chris Higgins, Michael Ryder, and Maxim Lapierre at centre also worked well together for a second game in a row as well. Both Higgins and Ryder broke their scoreless streak yesterday, and both looked much more involved in the game.
The secret of this line's progress is Maxim Lapierre’s very effective gritty and intense style of play. After a timid start since being called up with the team last December 5th, we are now seeing the Maxim Lapierre we saw during the late stages of last season.
I have said it last season, and I will repeat it right now: I am seeing shades of Guy Carbonneau in Lapierre. He’s the same kind of effective, gritty, and annoying player, managing to net 15-20 goals per season as Carbonneau did.
Yesterday, Lapierre had an assist, was forechecking, blocking shots, and played on the first PK wave—the kind of assignments filled by Carbonneau himself in the 80s and 90s.
The six-game road trip will end Sunday, when the Habs face the New-York Rangers at the Madison Square Garden.
The Habs have 3-1-1 record to show during this road trip. I personally thought that the team would crumble during this sequence, but the opposite seems to be happening. The new lines formed by Carbonneau could be the turning point of the season, should the Habs continue their winning ways.
As of now, the team is responding well to the changes. Is it only a temporary effect? We will be able to judge in the coming weeks.
(Picture: Lapierre-Higgins-Ryder, Canadian press.)