One game into the season, you’ll read mostly positivity from the Ol’ Pessimist.
The glass is half-full because:
• Carey Price was flat-out brilliant: 35 stops, many of them
difficult. Looked confident. Consistently well-positioned, handled the puck (mostly) well, and the new, skinny Price is very
quick. Maintained his composure despite being crowded by net-crashing
Sabres on a few occasions.
• Robert Lang: Mats Who? The newest
Canadien was the best forward on the ice. In addition to scoring the
team’s only goal, Lang delivered shift after shift of smart, puck-savvy
hockey. He’s got a long reach, he’s strong and he knows how to play the
game. Lang is the kind of cerebral European who’s probably never taken a double-minor in a 1-1 game through his whole career. He, SK74 and Someone-better-than-Kostopoulos give the team what
it lacked last season: a third line that can score.
• The PK: The Sabres went 0-for-6, including four minutes while Steve Bégin sat. It starts with goaltending, of course, but the D and, especially, the forwards – including Lang, Kovalev and Sergei – were outstanding. Active sticks, fast, aggressive and pressured the point (like Don Cherry says they should).
• Five of the defencemen: Chalk Mike Komisarek’s costly mistake up to really bad ice. Andrei Markov played almost 29 minutes and was vintage Markov on the PK and in the late minutes and OT. Some posters didn’t like use of Marky at the right point on the PP, pointing out thatit takes away his playmaking and penetration. But I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve seen more of Alex Tanguay on the other side. Roman Hamrlik blocked six shots. Ryan O’Byrne had some shaky moments and some brilliance. Look, defence is a hard position to play, and big galoots take a while to develop. O’B is not the next Larry Robinson or Rod Langway, but I think he’s going to be a solid NHLer – like Josh Gorges, who played a quietly efficient (or should that be efficiently quiet: he pitched a shutout on the stats sheet) 17 minutes and did a very good job of handling the Sabres’ forecheck.The D will be better when Bouillon is back, and better still when Yannick Weber leads the wave of gifted kids.
• The power play: 0-for-3, but hints of great nights to come. Guy Carbonneau can use two dangerous waves, and Tanguay wil be a huge addition once his teammates figure out his passing. Did you love that sequence ending OT, when Saku won the faceoff cleanly and the PP started ripping? Give them 20 more seconds and the game was over.
• Alex Tanguay: No shots on goal, little chemistry with his linemates and he’ll never win the Selke Trophy. But the talent is there. Tanguay is a smart player, and once he and the Captain find their mojo it’s going to be fun to watch. Christopher Higgins will complement them better than Guillaume Latendresse, but I liked Gui!’s hustle last night (nothing but positivity here!)
• Fourth-line energy: Carbo played them double-digit minutes (except Dandenault), and they did what they had to do: throw some hits, make life miserable for the opposing D, pester the goalie. It would be nice of they could score occasionally, and Bégin has to be more disciplined while still being Bégin.
• Entertaining game: Not bad at all for this early in the season. Pat Hickey is right about the Sabres. They’ll surprise some people.
On to Toronto.
Tonight should be interesting.