I visited Montreal on Wednesday and was fortunate enough to get tickets to the Habs and Penguins game. While the game did not go the way I wanted, I did love watching my favorite team play live instead of just on TV.
I know a lot of people have done midseason report cards on the Habs, and I also want to offer up my take on a few things I observed about some of the players from my excellent seat in the fifth row.
Tomas Plekanec—He’s a lot smaller than I thought and quite possibly the smartest player on the Habs. He’s very aware of every other player on the ice at any given moment and is unbelievably fast to skate, predict and react to plays. I was impressed with the guy before, and my respect for him has only grown even more.
Brian Gionta—Like Plekanec, he’s quick, but because he’s small he’s easy to lose track of. I’d hate to have to defend the guy because he’s perfectly capable of disappearing, only to pop up somewhere opposing teams don’t want him to. He uses his size and speed intelligently to his advantage, and it wins him puck battles.
David Desharnais—Like Gionta, he knows how to battle despite being covered by much bigger players. I saw this kid take a full face plant into the ice, then jump up and race after the puck like his hair was on fire.
Andrei Kostitsyn—When the puck is in the offensive zone and he has possession, he’s fully committed and dangerous. When it’s in the defensive zone, he sometimes battles half-heartedly for it, but more often than not would rather skate lazily back to the bench and is disengaged from the play. It speaks volumes about his relationship with coach Jacques Martin.
Scott Gomez—Before the skirmish that saw Gionta take some abuse, which Gomez felt compelled to defend, I really didn’t notice him doing much except gain the offensive zone and pass to the left whether he had a winger there or not. Once he got mad, he played much better and with greater effort and focus.
Max Pacioretty—This kid is pretty much what the Habs have been looking for all season. He’s big, fast, with great hands and a fierce passion to win. If only Montreal could clone him and Plekanec.
Benoit Pouliot—I’ve been pretty hard on the kid, and the game versus the Penguins was probably his worst of the season. However, he was devastated at the penalties he took and the damage it did to his team, and he has excellent chemistry with Darche and whoever is centering them. He needs to move his feet more and make better decisions, but like Pacioretty he brings a lot to table, including a lot of effort and grit.
Mathieu Darche—I’ve never been a huge fan, but he talks a lot to Pouliot and the other kids who listen and learn, so his veteran presence is a nice bonus. He’s also one of the few who consistently goes to the net regardless of any abuse, and some of the others might want to follow that example.
Travis Moen, Jeff Halpern, Tom Pyatt were pretty much invisible non-factors to me during the game. Halpern fell down a lot, Pyatt skated hard but not much else and Moen couldn’t win a puck battle if his life depended on it, let alone score a goal.
Jaroslav Spacek—He can skate hard on occasion, but then he also set up Jordan Staal with a beauty of a game-winning goal. Like the rest of the season, he’s either having a good game or a really bad one. He had a really bad one against the Pens, and all I could think watching him was it was a great pity the Habs have him for at least another year on a contract with a no-trade clause.
Roman Hamrlik—He’s probably the best defender the Habs have right now without Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges. This is a fact not a compliment. He works as hard as Plekanec and Gionta, but the fact remains he’s too old to be logging these minutes.
James Wisniewski—He took a couple of dumb penalties, but he’s sound defensively and is pretty much the only reason the Habs power play has a modicum of respect. I really hope Montreal keeps him and lets Hamrlik walk instead.
PK Subban—The kid still has a lot of growing to do, but he’s thick and tough. If he would shoot more and spinorama less, he’d be more effective. There’s no doubt he likes to show off now and again, despite having been relegated twice to the pressbox by Martin. He also needs to learn when to cover Hal Gill’s butt and when to back off, but that’s going to require some more tutoring yet.
Hal Gill—Before the game, he was interesting to watch in warm-ups. He’s about as big as a wall in my house and moves even slower. But he’s very vocal with his teammates, keeping them focused when he can, and he brings a lot of intangibles. What he really needs is a couple of Acme rockets strapped to his skates, but it seems he’ll have to make do with the still raw Subban.
Yannick Weber—He sometimes takes a beating online for being small and making foolish plays, but like Subban, he’s still a rookie and prone to these mistakes. He’s very quick on his feet and not as easy to move off the puck as I had previously believed. He also has a pretty accurate point shot, and he is willing to take a beating to move the puck out of his own zone.
Carey Price—He let in a couple of soft goals, but he also made some really nice key saves as well. When he’s having a good game, he’s got good lateral movements and is big in the net, challenging the shooter. When he’s tired or facing some unlucky bounces, he tends to slow down and retreat a bit, and I saw a bit of both up close.
The game itself was one to forget. The Habs managed to hold their own for the first period, and even had some nice back and forth with the Pens during the second period.
Alas, the usual late period goal pretty much deflated the team to the point where it was almost visible from where I watched. The Habs really didn’t even bother to try much during the third, except for the usual hard workers.
While the Penguins won the game, they really didn’t have a whole lot of competition to worry about for much of it. The Marc-Andre Fleury pose at the end came across as a bit juvenile to me, but Matt Cooke challenged my long-standing dislike of him by going out of his way to ensure a Pens fan who was about six-years-old received a game puck souvenir.
The Penguins themselves are a tight knit team, but they did not have to play exceptionally well against a Habs team that was playing some lazy, careless hockey. I just hope the next time I buy some pretty terrific Bell Centre seats, the Canadiens play some pretty terrific hockey.