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12-18-2003, 06:27 PM
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I think it's strting to become evident, over the last ten games or so, that this team is becoming more combative, more energetic, and more exciting and tonight was a great example of all three things. Never did they give up, they were the more physical club, and there were a great number of chances to score, particularly on the power play. I would imagine most of Julien's critics will be hiding themselves in the woodwork now, since you can see he's gelled the team nicely and he's using the elements available to him in an advantageous manner.

What's particularly nice to see is that we've a group of defenders who are willing and able to add some attack to their game, and I don't just mean by scoring or assisting, but by cutting out plays (Markov, Komisarek), by pinching to keep things alive, (aforementioned two and Bouillon, Breezy and Souray), and by occasionally looking for the daring pass (particularly Rivet and Breezy, but at times all of the others as well). It adds an extra dimension and I think you can tell it's something that's been worked on significantly in the past month or so. Another excellent point is that we have three who can consistently hit the net with hard and low shots (Markov, Komisarek, and some guy who scored three tonight).

Of course, there's still plenty of room for improvement in many areas of the game, and there are still a fair number of passengers along for the ride. There are a few who are consistently in that boat, and another few who go either from game to game or shift to shift being passengers. Of course, it's tough to make large changes in the current economic market, so we'll probably have to deal with many of these passengers for the rest of the year, but if we can mix in a solid group of consistent performers and good goaltending, I think we'll be in the race at the end.

A large part of our problems are going to rest on our second line because, as was evident tonight, the first gets all the best defensive players to fight against. When the second plays well, we'll compete, when it takes the night off, we're in trouble. Another key, of course, is a solid checking line that's consistently in the face of the opposition's best, and also able to make things happen. Finally, you need a fourth line that's able to go out and stir things up at a moments notice. There are games when we have all four, but it's rare, and something we have to work on and work towards.



Theo: Tough period, and I think it was fairly obvious from the beginning that he was hurting. There was once, early on, when he tried to move the puck and it looked like his arm was molasses. That second goal, breakaway that it was, was a weak one to concede. Shame about the injury, let's hope it isn't serious. N/A

Garon: Always tough to come in off the bench cold and take over, but he did a stand up job. The first goal against him was a deflection from about five feet and the second was a deflection from the blueline - which by all rights he should have had - but the nature of the deflection was such that he completely lost sight of the puck until it was about two feet from his head, and there's not much chance to react then. B+

Bouillon: I'm always amazed when the smallest Hab player gives out the biggest hits, and he did again...up to a certain point in the game when the bigger men finally came out. B

Rivet: The first goal was Rivet making a blunder, but after that he played pretty consistently and was a solid blueliner. I'm satisfied. B-

Komisarek: The third goal was a result of good forechecking when Komi was hit and went down in the corner, his man rushing off to the net to deflect the puck. Other than that, he made his share of errors, for sure, but still played a fairly consistent game. He is getting more and more punishing, though, and is bringing people to their feet more and more often with really nasty hits. Gotta love that. Unfortunately, those mistakes he did make were enough to cut his ice time down considerably, which I'm not satisfied with, since he's got to learn somehow. C

Markov: TOugh luck for Markov this year, who was paired with slumping Rivet to start it off, then a Breezer just before he turned his game around, and now Komi. No disrespect to the others, but Markov has had a tough time adapting to all these changes and to trying to bail out his defensive partners of the time. Personally, I think he's acquitted himself fairly well, but there's no denying he's not playing like he was last year. Time and patience, particularly for a young guy like this, is well worth everyone's while, as I think he'll come out of it better than ever. C+

Quintal: It's really hard to notice him when his partner is all over the place all night. Still, he played a consistent if not great game, and I think we can all be satisfied with that. B-

Souray: The best part about his night wasn't the three goals or the four points, it wasn't the constant pressure he applied on the Pred defense when he was pinching or holding the puck at the point or even his big body checks, it was the little defensive plays that are hard to notice in the big picture, but which make all the difference. The poke checks, the angling out of his player, and the board wins were the keys to the game. A+

Langdon: When your team is behind and you're a fourth line player, you don't see much ice. He didn't. N/A

Kilger: When you're a big man and a former 4th pick overall, you should be giving more, despite ice time - or indeed to force the coach to give you more. D-

Audette: Since he was relegated to the fourth, I'll slot him in here. Now, what do I have to say about him. Well, he was smiling and laughing in the third. It's such a shame, because despite what many say, he was a really productive and useful player a couple of years back until that injury, and he's just never been the same since. He's a guy who used to have all the talent in the world, but this year, even when he does get in position to fire off his shot, he usually muffs it. Reminds me of Linden when he was here - loads of talent, but perhaps he just needs a change of scenery. F

Sundstrom: Looked better tonight and worked hard at both ends. I like that his game has turned around for the most part, because it really helps out that third line now that Bulis is playing on the first. B

Dackell: Have I mentioned that I love this guy? I know, half of you want him gone because he's redundant or some such nonsense, but when he's playing like he's played the last few, he deserves to be there no questions asked. Ward? Even at full steam he's not half the player Dax is - only thing he brings is a more physical aspect and a penchant for overpursuing the puck and therefore getting himself out of position. B+

Juneau: Well, the second goal was partially his fault because of a communication mix-up. And aside from that, he just didn't seem to be looking his best out there. It's such a shame in some respects, but I really feel that he lost his spot to Begin on that third line. What that means for a guy who's still really good at marking out the oppositions best? I just don't know... C-

Dagenais: He's a goal scorer, no doubt. When he gets the puck in the slot, he knows what to do to get a shot on net, and that's a good thing. The bad thing is that he's really not much good at doing anything else. He wins some of his board battles, is not very good in his own end, skates poorly, and really doesn't look particularly good in the neutral zone, but when you get him in front of that net - or around it with the puck - he makes things happen. That's great. For filler. Not so good for a real second liner. C

Zednik: Boy, can you tell that Ribs really likes passing with Dagenais. I mean sure, he passed to Zed that once when Zed had no one within about fifty feet, but other than that? Not much at all. Then again, it's hard to pass to someone who's play is to grab their stick lower, bend the knees, then try to beat everyone to the outside. C+

Ribeiro: Great vision, and wonderful play on the PP. THe third period was fun to watch as well when he put himself into the game. Shame he didn't show up 5v5 for the first 40 minutes. And that's his real problem, he can't show up for a period and expect that to cut it on the second line, it's just not good enough. Sure, he picked up a plethora of points tonight, and that's great, but had the PP not been scoring, he would have had nothing, and only 20 minutes of solid playing time to show for his game. And that's just not cutting it at all. (For all his points, he was -2 on the night.) B+ (mostly for those lovely passes)

Ryder: Okay, I think I've seen enough of him to start to make a determination on what the future might hold. FIrst of all, while he was rickety on his skates early on (and still is now and again) he's infinitely better, has good to very good straight line speed, and an uncanny ability to hold the puck when he's moving. Second, he's got a nose for the net that we've not seen since I don't know when. He's a pure scorer. Third, despite the fact he holds on too long at times, he's trying to make things happen, and I can't fault that as long as when he passes, they're good passes - and when he passes, sometimes they're brilliant. Fourth, he's really *really* picked up his defensive game. He's not great now, but he's good, and still getting better. He's 23, still improving, in his first year in the NHL, playing on the first line. His future as I can see it? I honestly think he can be a real first line player. The improvement I've seen just from the first game of the year is amazing in itself. Just imagine where he'll be at the end of the year, at the end of next year, and in three. Sky really is the limit. B+

Bulis: I think he discovered another gear tonight, lightspeed. Was he flying or what? And he's also discovered a few one-on-one moves that he's used in the past few games and tonight it almost worked for a goal. He's only 25 and his best years are still ahead of him. A-

Koivu: I think that line was dominant pretty much every time it was on the ice again - against the Preds defensive best as much as they could muster it with line changing. He was spectacular with the puck, made scintillating passes (thank you Danny Gallivan for that word) and his shot was a rocket and accurate. Looks like he's come out of his mini-slump of three games, and may I just say that with his two points, he's now point-a-game (if you don't count his first five which were the equivalent of his pre-season). Not bad for a guy everyone seems to like to take shots at. A-


At first I would have poo-pooed the idea of putting Sax on the point for the PP, but having both him and Ribs out there to run it, with the cannon Souray on the other point and Zed and Ryder as the others up front? That's a pretty damn good PP, and can rival a great many in the game. Two seeing-eye passers feeding three guys who can put the puck in, or at least on, the net with regularlity is exactly what the doctor ordered. Too bad the second part of the PP is going to be rather lame. Bulis, Markov and whomever they can scrape from the bench - not particularly scary.

The PK seems to have really found it's groove. Juneau, Dax, Sunny and Bulis are awesome as the top four, and Sax fills in nicely as the fifth whenever needed. It's an extremely high-energy PK, and that pus the opposition on its heels a lot, and is particularly hard when passes aren't perfect. I believe that was a perfect game in terms of special teams, and when was the last time we can say we were perfect!!

The most important thing you can take from this game, though, and the last bunch, is the overall consistency. Sure, there have been a few times where we've not looked good, but overall, I think the improvement from the beginning of the year to now is incredible. This is a team that was a group of individuals to start the year, but has been moulded into a real team that works hard, for the most part, night in and night out and is keeping the fans happy. I think the patience shown by Gainey in the face of derisive elements has been remarkable, and the best thing to happen to Montreal since Courtnall was attained for Kordic. Julien also deserves more than just passing applause for his work at pulling this team together. He's made the tough choices and has really pulled this bunch together to the point where you can almost expect them to play a solid game every time they show up.

It's not perfect by any stretch, but the turn-around has begun.

Off to the Centre of the Universe where we face Leaf squad that found it's game. My only advice for Hab fans is to turn off the sound when you watch if you're going to see it on CBC. Personally, I can't stand Bob Cole and his, "ANd Sundin, up to Roberts, to Nolan and a great save by the Montreal goalie. Puck picked up by the Montreal defender who posses it out to the wing, centred and GREAT SAVE BY BELFOUR! That was a show-stopper folks!" (Puck whiffed off the end of someone's stick into Belfour's waiting glove.)

Ahem. I look forward to Cherry's suit and tie.

A Concerned Fan.

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