Feeling good with your Montreal Canadiens four points clear of those not-so-big, not-very-bad-anymore Boston Bruins?
Want to feel even better?
May I suggest a short stroll down memory lane.
A year ago, this team was in disarray.
Kovalev vs. Koivu for leadership of the room. Off-ice scandals. On-ice garbage, most nights.
Guy Carbonneau, who was in the Hockey Night in Canada booth last night, had been fired on the day the Canadiens returned from a road trip o which they’d lost two of three games.
The team won Bob Gainey’s first game behind the bench, then lost the next five beforte scraping out enough wins to ride four losses into the playoffs.
We remember what happened in the postseason: El Sweepo at the paws of the dastardly Bruins.
That was then.
And while there are still a dozen regular-season games to play and several rivals alive for playoff spots, I think we can agree this now is much more gratifying than that then.
There’s a long list of positives, so let’s reel ’em off:
• Andrei Markov skated around the question when Pat Hickey put it to him, but the advantage of his early-season inactivity is the Canadiens’ leader is fresh for the stretch run. Markov’s 33rd game was one of his best. A goal, an assist and masterful control of he tempo at both ends every time he was on the ice.
• As Craig Rivet, Sheldon Souray and Mike Komisarek could have told him, Ryan O’Byrne is playing his best hockey of the season as Markov’s physical, stay-at-home partner.
• Jaro Halak has won five in a row. When he saved the team’s ass last year, Jaro’s W streak was four. That third period stop on Marco Sturm was a game-saver. Jaro is the Canadiens’ Number 1 goalie: end of story … for now.
• Team D: Dominic Moore talked about taking time and space away from the Bruins. The team is skating, working hard at both ends of the ice and forcing opponents to make fast decisions. Jaro has not faced 40-plus shots since stoning the Bruins with 45 saves in Boston on Feb. 4.
• Props to the pro scouting department that Pierre Gauthier was running before he succeeded Bob Gainey.
– The early-season signing of Marc-André Bergeron saved the Canadiens’ power play after Markov went down.
– Guillaume Latendresse is scoring in Minnesota, but Benoit Pouliot has WAY more upside and has saved the season for Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
– Dominic Moore is a revelation. The guy skates all night and he’s not afraid to go into the dirty areas to fight for loose pucks. He’s developing terrific chemistry with Sergei Kostitsyn, and their speed and skill is nicely complemented by Travis Moen’s grit and work ethic. This is the best third line the team has had in a long time.
• The fourth line chipped in with 11 quality minutes. Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Darche had six and five hits, respectively.
• No goons? No problem. Instead of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around and asking him to fight, Andrei Kostitsyn caught Lootch unawares and knocked him on his no-longer-intimidating ass. Shawn Thornton and Steve Bégin were invisible.
• Special teams had a very good night: PP was 1-for-3 and the PK was perfect on three shorthanded situations.
• Yeah, he makes too much money. But can Scott Gomez motor or what. Those flights through the neutral zone are some of the prettiest rushes we’ve seen since number 10 was flying down right wing.
• Player who benefitted most from the Olympic break? Gotta be Jaro Spacek. Playing brutal minutes while adjusting to the right side, Spatch struggled through tghe early part of the season. But he’s a smart, albeit undersized, Dman whose plus-10 is a team best. Spacek was superb against Boston, and he tied Brian Gionta for the game lead with four SoG.
• As demonstrated by his wipeout of Lucic, Andrei Kostitsyn is strong as an ox. The guy is so gifted in so many facets of the game. He and Tomas Plekanec are primed to explode when Mike Cammalleri comes back.
A year ago, the only thing exploding was Bob Gainey’s head as he watched his Canadiens stumble and bumble into and quickly out of the playoffs.
The late-season fold was so disillusioning Gainey blew up his team last summer.
We’ve spent 70 games assessing the makeover, and there have been nights when many of us wondered what hath Bob wrought?
The season isn’t over.
If it takes 90 points to make the playoffs, the Canadiens will need 14 from their last dozen games.
Not easy … but a lot more do-able than we thought before the Olympics.
And no matter what happens, there’s the satisfaction of taking five of six games from Boston.
Spend St. Paddy’s sucking on that, Bruins fans.
• • •
It’s been two weeks since we’ve had a great Sunday hockey game.
Maybe the Hawks and Caps will deliver.
Puck drops at 12:30.