About last night …

Man, where to start?

Guy Carbonneau thought his team played an"almost perfect" hockey game, their most complete 60-minute effort in "maybe two years."

The Senators are not the team that tore the NHL up early last season. Their D shows the effects of the cumulative loss of Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Joe Corvo and Andrej Meszaros.

Alex Auld, his glittering GAA coming in notwithstanding, is not Martin Brodeur.

But Dany Heatley is Dany Heatley. Jason Spezza is Jason is Jason Spezza. Daniel  Alfredsson is  Daniel Alfredsson. 

nd – drum roll please – we’re bestowing a new F. designation:

Jarkko Ruutu is Jarkko F. Ruutu.

Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, hris Kelly, Chris Neil …. that’s not exactly the Little Sisters of the Poor on whom Carey Price hung a goose egg last night.

For almost 35 minutes, it was a 1-0 hockey game. The turning point came 12 minutes into the second period, when Robert Lang was penalized for clearing the puck into the stands.

facing a formidable power play in a one-goal game, the Canadiens penalty-killers put on their best display of the season. Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev got on the puck, and the Senators couldn’t get it back.

The Bell Centre was going nuts as Lang’s seconds ticked down. Then on the next even-strength shift, Sergei Kostitsyn found Christopher Higgins on his off-wing, and Higgins fired his second of three into an open net.

The party was on.

Some notes:

• Prior to last night’s game, the Canadiens LWs had scored three goals this season. They got all four last night.

• I’ll admit it: I was ready to throw Chris Higgins under a bus after the Canadiens’ first dozen games. Here’s what I wrote in an e-mail to a fellow Canadiens fan, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, who likes Mikhail Grabovski and was giving me some stick after the Toronto game:

"(Higgins) gets down on himself. A guy like Kovalev could go a week without scoring and be utterly convinced that he was going to get a hat trick in the next game. He’s good, he knows he’s good and, as we say in Quebec, that’s it, that’s all.
"Higgins misses a chance, as he does six times in every game, and he starts thinking. When Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay are putting goals on your stick, muscle memory works a lot better than cogitation."

I don’t know that I’m completely wrong. I think confidence is still an issue with Higgins. But last night’s effort – his first hat trick since Yale – was a helluva confidence-booster.

Georges Laraque did not throw a single punch. But his mere presence inhibited the kind of dying-minutes BS we might have seen from Chris Neil in a 4-0 game. In addition to providing deterrence, Laraque played 10 error-free minuteson the Canadiens’ highly-effective fourth line.

• Canadiens have won eight of the nine games Mathieu Dandenault has played this season (and lost the other in a shootout at Buffalo). He’s a superb skater who’s smart and knows how to play. I think the fourth line should be Dandy, Max and, deopending on the opponent, either Laraque or Tom Kostopoulos. Plus he can fill in if one of the defencemen is either injured or tossed.

Roman Hamrlik is the steadiest defenceman on the team. As his coach said, Marlikis experienced, knows the league and makes the correct,if unspectacular, play in every situation.

• And that – minus theexperience factor – goes for Josh Gorges, as well.

• I’m not quite ready to dust off the Norris Trophy for Ryan O’Byrne, but the big galoot was good last night. O’B showed his coach something, and maybe his confidence and minutes will start to grow.

Alex Tanguay had no shots on goal, but what a treat he is to watch. Amazing vision. Brilliant passes. And he bakchecked all night long.

Sergei Kostitsyn has started his season. His line, with Robert Lang (9-7 on faceoffs!) and Gui! (first goal since Game 2) may be coming to life.

• And as Bruce Springsteen says, to a swelling crescendo of wild applause, when he gets to Clarence Clemons in his E Street Band introductions, "last but not least …. last but not least … do I have to say his name?":

Ladies and gentlemen, Carey Price.

They jostled him all night, and teams will do that all season long. But Price kept his cool, and his defencemen and checking forwards made sure he saw every shot.

"And when Pricey sees ’em," Gorges said, "he’s gonna stop ’em."

At the end of the game, O’Byrne gave Price the puck to keep as a memento of his shutout. He tossed it over the glass to a kid in the crowd.

"I’m going to play another 20 years," Price said. "I hope I’ll have enough shutouts I won’t know what to do with all the pucks."

• Canadiens goal differential of plus-13 is second to San Jose (plus-15) and tied with … wait for it … Chicago.

So, a lovely win – and a crucial one, because if the Canadiens had followed that ACC debacle with another L, the whole city would be popping Paxil.

And the schedule is finally normal, and the Canadiens will have a superlative 60-minute effort fresh in their minds when they take the ice in Boston tomorrow night.


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