The Vatican has its way of doing things.
In Montreal, the canonization of Brother Andrei came by fan vote.
AK46 – the Belarusian Bafflement, the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma under a bad haircut – continued his torrid early season with a goal, an assist and a First Star selection.
With agent Don Meehan in the house, Kostitsyn offered compelling evidence that he understands at least two English words:
Jacques Martin alluded to AK46’s pecuniary motivation during his postgame remarks. But he also praised Kostitsyn’s rare skill set.
“He’s strong,” the coach said. “He goes to the net and he has an intimidating shot.
“Andrei is learning,” Martin added, “and his puck management is improving.”
Martin was not satisfied with Kostitsyn’s conditioning level a year ago. He pointed out that the talented winger took a while to get untracked during the 2009-’10 season but excelled in Games 20 to 40 before being injured and turning into a non-factor.
Well, he’s back, using his are combination of size, speed and strength at both ends of the ice. And while AK46’s inconsistency will have second-guessers analyzing the 2003 draft from now until 3003, Kostitsyn is showing flashes of why he was selected ahead of Mike Richards, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf and …
Let’s not go there.
Instead, let’s celebrate the Canadiens taking five of a possible six points while playing three games in four nights.
And playing the second half of a back-to-back against divisional opponents, the Canadiens held the Senators to 19 shots on goal – eight over the game’s last 40 minutes, and only two in the third period.
That’s a pretty thorough butt kicking, against a team that beat the Canaduiens five times in six meetings last season. Moreover, the usual suspects – Daniel F., Mike Fisher and Chris Neil – did not inflict their customary damage on the home team.
The Senators were stifled by a D corps that included old geezers Roman Hamrlik and Jaro Spacek, playing heavy minutes for the second night in a row. There were moments when Spacek caused some anxiety – particularly his SoG against Carey Price – but Hamrlik has been predictably steady.
And as Martin pointed out, the Spatch-Hammer pairing – along with the stalwart Josh Gorges and Hal Gill – is letting P.K. Subban hone his defensive game in a third D role with Alexandre Picard (plus-3, to drive another nail in Ryan O’Byrne’s coffin), where the exuberant rookie is not matched against opponents’ top two lines.
Some bullet points:
• Plekanec pointed out that AK46’s aggressive play is opening the ice for Mike Cammalleri. The latter had eight shots on goal, and the line had 15 total – only four fewer than all 18 Ottawa skaters.
• Benoit Pouliot constinues to skate, hit and play like he cares. The goals will come, and Benny’s industrious was noticed by Martin and merited promotion back to the Scott Gomez line for the latter part of the game.
• Price, who faced 48 shots against Tampa Bay, had 42 against Buffalo and Ottawa. Most encouraging sign: Two quick goals to his glove side sent anxiety rippling through the Bell Centre crowd, but Price was not rattled and continues to display the maturity and confidence of a Number One goaltender.
It’s still early,. but all the Price indicators are muy positive.
• Alex Kovalev, booed lustily by the Bell Centre crowd, looked slow and lost the puck at the Canadiens net to start a sequence that led to Kostitsyn’s winning goal.
• Lars Eller was minus-2 in a bit over four minutes of play and was benched during tghe second pertiod, never to return. Martin described Eller as a “young player of great skill” who’s going through a learning process. Martin said Eller played well in Buffalo, not-so-well against the Senators.
“In this league, we’re in the business of winning hockey games,” Martin added, explaining why he shortened his bench to the exclusion of the rookie.
• The power play continues to sputter: one goal in 17 opportunities, 0-for-5 against the Senators. But Martin, in glass half-full mode, said the Canadiens are scoring goals at even strength – a notable improvement for a team that was one of the league’s worst at 5-on-5 last season.
The Canadiens have played five games, each of which has been decided by a one-goal margin. Mathieu Darche said “you don’t make the playoffs in October”, but the veteran also pointed out that points are precious no matter when you get them.
In a playoff race that will go down to the wire, October points – bagged in tight games – will be crucial.
The Canadiens are off for two days and will return to practice on Tuesday morning.
Next up: Martin F. Brodeur and the Devils on Thursday night.