Well, it's over. The much hyped return of Saku Koivu to Montreal has come and gone and none are happier that it is over than Koivu himself.
By all accounts, Koivu was extremely nervous before the game in which he received a rousing ovation from the crowd in a moment that was as powerful for Saku as it was for his adoring fans.
Aside from the emotional return of Koivu, there was actually a hockey game to be played and, once it started, it was kind of hard to get into it for the first few minutes.
The first period seemed to take on a strange feel with the game going back-and-forth but not much happening on the ice—few scoring chances and a lot of turnovers. Eventually, the Ducks started to control play as the Canadiens looked disorganize and one step behind the play.
Anaheim opened the scoring at 15:07 of the first period on the power play, when Cam Fowler's shot deflected off Roman Hamrlik's stick past Price.
Montreal got that one back, also on the power play—with Koivu sitting in the box for slashing—as Max Pacioretty putting it past Jonas Hiller 7:55 into the second. After that the Canadiens, carrying the momentum, had several quality scoring chances but Hiller stood tall, keeping them off the scoreboard.
Hiller's excellence kept the teams tied long enough for the Ducks to seize control with two goals in the last three minutes of the second period and at that point, it seemed like the game was over.
But the Canadiens had some surprises in store for the crowd.
With the Ducks collapsing into a Jacques Martin-esque trap for the entire third period, Montreal poured it on, dominating play and outshooting Anaheim 23-5 in the process.
The Habs made it a one goal game when Mathieu Darche deflected a Yannick Weber shot past Hiller with less than four minutes to play. Then, with Koivu again in the box, time running out and Carey Price on the bench for the extra attacker, the Habs tied the game with 13 seconds to play on Max Pacioretty's second goal of the night, sending it to overtime.
The extra period solved nothing and it was left to Bobby Ryan to redeem the Habs former captain by scoring the winner in the shootout.
Final score: Ducks 4—Habs 3 (SO)
Habs scorers: Max Pacioretty (5,6), Mathieu Darche (8)
Ducks scorers: Cam Fowler (4), Bobby Ryan (22), Corey Perry (25)
Three stars: 1. Bobby Ryan, 2. Saku Koivu, 3. Max Pacioretty
1. These two goaltenders are real good.
While neither goalie had to make many spectacular saves, at least in the early portion of the game, a large part of the reason for that is because of their exceptional rebound control.
Canadien fans are used to seeing Price's solid positioning, excellent lateral movement and ability to let out few rebounds, but we don't get to see Hiller a lot in the East. That being said, watching him last night you could see why he is now tied with Price for total wins in the league at 24.
These two teams are very similar in that they don't score a ton of goals and have some small, fast forwards in their lineups. Well the Ducks also have a bunch of big player on their team but with the likes of Jason Blake and Koivu, they are not all big.
As such the Ducks, like the Canadiens, tend to lean heavily on their goaltender for wins.
Hiller responded well, especially in the third period when he was being barraged, stopping 37 shots on the night and 23 in the third alone. Despite the onslaught form the Canadiens, Hiller made things easier on himself by gobbling up rebounds meaning that most of the Habs shots were taken on first chances.
Shot, save, no rebound. Shot, save, no rebound.
That's how you do it and that is the only reason the Habs were unable to steamroll the Ducks in the third.
2. Don't look now, but Pacioretty might be heating up.
It's hard to believe that Pacioretty took a James Wizniewski slapshot in the ribs less than a week ago. It's also hard to believe that he hasn't missed a game due to the injury, despite having a severe rib contusion.
For those who don't know, a contusion is basically a really bad bruise. As such, a contusion on your rib is the type of injury that hurts every time you breath, so the fact that Pacioretty is even playing speaks volumes about his character.
Even more incredible than his character is his play since taking the puck in the chest.
Pacioretty, who has played well with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, has not exactly been racking up the points since being recalled from Hamilton. Over his first 17 games with the team, Pacioretty managed seven points (3G, 4A), but over the last two games, he suddenly has four points (3G, 1A).
More importantly, he has been going to the net with conviction and it is paying off.
Yesterday, Pacioretty scored his fifth goal of the season by grabbing the puck behind the net, coming out front and just shooting it on net, despite Hiller seemingly having all angles covered.
The puck somehow squeezed through the five-hole and is an example of the type of mentality that he has to show to have success in this league: go to the net at all costs.
His instinct to always be around or go to the net is something that has been sorely missing from the Canadiens lineup since the days of John Leclair.
Keep it up Patches, the Habs need your offense!
3. The Habs were masters of their own fate.
The Canadiens didn't play a great first period and while they didn't exactly look tired from their game the night before in Ottawa, they were constantly one step behind the play.
The Ducks, who did an excellence job of shutting down the neutral zone, carried the play and the puck for the first twenty minutes but got themselves into penalty trouble in the second.
With Koivu taking two penalties in the first seven minutes of the second frame, the Habs were finally able to get on the board and the penalties allowed them to grab the momentum and run with it.
As a result, they had a bevy of scoring chances including two partial breaks by Brian Gionta, but were unable to capitalize.
Shortly after the Ducks' third penalty of the period, Tomas Plekanec was called for holding and the Ducks scored, giving themselves a one goal lead. Anaheim put one more past Price, also on the power play, before the end of the second putting the final nail in the Habs' coffin.
Despite the Habs gritty third period play and comeback, this was a classic case of a team not being able to cash in on their chances and it coming back to bite them. The comeback was great and the character displayed was even better, but the bottom line is that Montreal still has to figure out how to score more goals.
4. David Desharnais is becoming an important part of this team.
With news that the Canadiens told Desharnais to get an apartment because he will be here for the rest of the year, I feel that Montreal has added a key component to their team.
Playing his 10th game with Montreal this season, Desharnais finished the night with 14:20 of ice time—3:13 on the power play and 37 seconds short handed.
What is interesting is to see how quickly Jacques Martin has accorded him more and more importance in the lineup by virtue of his increasing ice time. Desharnais' ice time fluctuated between 8:46 and 16:09 over his first five games this season.
Over the last five games, however, his ice time reads as follows: 9:13, 8:38, 15:07, 14:46 and 14:20. More importantly than the stable amount of minutes he is starting to get, Coach Martin is using him in all situations—even strength, power play and short handed.
Despite his diminutive stature, Desharnais is an honest, hard working, defensively responsible player with excellent offensive upside. And like Tomas Plekanec, he is the type of player that Jacques Martin loves, as evidenced by the large role given to him out of the starting gate.
Desharnais is a player that makes the Canadiens a better team, and I would love to see him playing with Max Pacioretty; the two of them ripped it up together in the AHL.
Regardless, Desharnais has become a key cog on the Habs third line with Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche, and with the ups and downs Montreal has had this season it's nice to see some stability in the bottom six.
5. For all the hype, the Habs didn't do much to honour Koivu.
According to Koivu's teammate and former Hab, Maxim Lapierre, he has never seen Saku as nervous before a match as he was last night.
So with the anticipation growing before puck drop, a cheer of "Sa-ku, Sa-ku!" went up when his name was announced in the starting lineup. Then as the players stepped onto the ice there was a another cheer for the crowds former captain.
There had been talk that the Canadiens organization was going to do a pregame montage to honour Koivu's years in Montreal, but all that happened was that there was a brief flash of him on the scoreboard during the anthems, from the game when he returned from cancer treatment.
But that's it.
Now there's nothing saying that they had to do anything more than that, but I truly thought that they would.
Talk about a lunch bag let down!
The national anthems were sung, then the "Sa-ku!" chants were renewed along with a rousing standing ovation for the city's hero.
Koivu's teammates left him at center ice by himself to soak in the moment but a visibly emotional Koivu motioned for them to join him at center, clearly wanting the game to start. Even Scott Gomez and the Canadiens players hung back at their bench, allowing Koivu to be alone at center ice to soak in the love.
The emotions were clearly too powerful for a teary-eyed Koivu and he again motion to his teammates to join him but did not immediately oblige, allowing the crowd to continue with their ovation. But Koivu quickly got the ref involved in the action, signaling the players to center ice to start the game and that was the end of his homage.
Thankfully, Habs addicts are ravenous, and with a Facebook page already organizing a campaign to vote Koivu as the game's first star, regardless of his performance, you hoped he would yet have his time with his fans.
True to their rabid nature, the fans did vote Koivu into the three-star selection, but he was bumped to second with the rule that any overtime or shootout goal scorer automatically gets the first star.
Koivu skated out onto the ice for his second star selection, helmet off, relief on his face, to another standing ovation from his adoring fans, hands raised to the crowd in appreciate of the total adulation he was receiving.
Then after a few laps he skated off the ice and the moment was over.
I don't know about you, but the whole thing made me sad that he is no longer with the team and while I do understand that it was likely time for both him and the team to part company, it would still be great to see him with the CH on his chest.
I think that at some point, perhaps after he retires, the Canadiens will find some way to bring him back into the fold as an ambassador, scout or some other role within the organization.
To me, Koivu is and always will be a Montreal Canadien.
Standings and Next Game
The shootout loss gives the Habs one precious point in the standings for 59 overall with a 27-17-5 record, good for sixth overall in the Eastern conference.
Montreal is two points back of Boston, who has 61 points and one game in hand, for third in the East. After the Bruins—who are in third overall in virtue of their first place in the Northeast division—are the Penguins and the Caps with 64 and 62 points, respectively.
Behind the Canadiens are the Rangers, also with 59 points but one more game played, the Thrashers with 55 points and one more game played and the Hurricanes with 52 points and one game in hand.
The Canadiens, with six wins and three losses over their last nine games—one in overtime and one in a shootout—now enjoy two days off before taking on their nemeses, the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday in Philly.
The game will be the last one for both teams before the week long all-star break and as such, I would expect them to go full tilt for victory.
So what did you think about Koivu's return? Do you feel the Habs did enough? Should they have done more?
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