One good period.
One great period.
One lousy period.
One emerging star.
Two valuable points.
The Canadiens should have won easily. They would have were it not for some great saves by Brian Elliott.
Shootouts, however, are not Elliott’s forte.
Jaroslav Halak stopped Daniel "No Longer F." Alfredsson.
And Maxim "Guy Lafleur" Lapierre put it in the W column.
The emergence of Lapierre is a tribute to the Canadiens’ drafting (second round, 61st overall in 2003) player development (129 games in Hamilton) and coaching: he’s a fast-skating, hardworking righthanded centre who has learned to win faceoffs …. like that Carbonneau guy who used to play for the Canadiens.
Patrice Brisebois hung the Lafleur nickname on Lapierre after last night’s game. That’s a bit of irrational exuberance on Breeze’s part, but Lapierre is good … and he’s getting better.
His emergence creates an interesting situation:
Last season, Lapierre averaged 13 minutes of ice time in 53 games. Last night he played 18:27 – more than Tomas Plekanec (17:28) and only 10 seconds less than Robert Lang.
The question for you, Canadiens fans: What happens when Saku Koivu comes back?
The team lost the first two games they played after losing the Captain went on the shelf in early December.
Since then, the Canadiens are 11-1-2.
There was an interesting verbal slip during Carbo’s French remarks after the game. He said the Canadiens were "in a good situation, we’re healthy". Then Carbo caught himself and hastily added a reference to six injured players.
Thing is, the injury-ravaged Canadiens are playing like a ealthy, fast and very good hockey team.
Would you mess with the top three lines?
Michel Bergeron says he loves Tom Kostopoulos but would play Matt D’Agostini with Lapierre and the rejuvenated Guillaume Latendresse to give the line more scoring punch.
The former Nordiques coach has a point, but I don’t know that I’d want to alter the line’s chemistry. Tom the Bomb blows scoring chances in every game, but the energy and work ethic he brings to every shift won’t be matched by D’Agostini.
OK, so let’s say Carbo leaves the Lapierre line intact – but, hopefully, gives them less power-play time … or at least subs for Kostopoulos in PP situations.
Robert Lang was brilliant again last night. Andrei Kostitsyn is on fire and obviously loves playing with his brother. Sergei is consistently first on the puck, makes brilliant passes (and a few wacky ones) – and he’s gone two games without taking penalty.
(Note: For the secod consecutive game, the Canadiens were assessed only two minors. The team is playing superby disciplined hockey.)
Tomas Plekanec has figured out Alex Kovalev, to the degree that any centre can anticipate what the Artiste might do with the puck. I like Max Pacioretty on their left wing, but someone is going to Hamilton when Christopher Higgins and Alex Tanguay return.
I’d keep Max-Pac over D’Agostini. But the organization’s philosophy of player development suggests that D’Agostini – a righthanded scorer in the last year of his contract – will stay while Pacioretty gets more pro experence down on the farm.
Again, where does Koivu play? On the PP for sure, but beyond that?
Gregory Stewart (eighth round, 246th overall in 2004) played very well last night. He’s a big, tough kid who can skate and has learned how to play hockey during his progress through the Canadiens’ development system, starting in Cincinnati. Stewart’s assist on the D’Agostini goal will not be his last point in the NHL.
Once Koivu, Higgins and Tanguay are ready to return, the Canadiens are very deep at forward. Bear in mind, also, that the Captain is playing for his next contract, as are Tanguay and Higgins. Ice time in general and PP time in
particular are very important to players in that situation.
What about Steve Bégin? Kyle Chipchura? Not to mention BGL, who – inshallah – could be valauable in the playoffs.
My prediction: Bob Gainey will trade for a defenceman.
Andrei Markov was excellent again last night. He’s playing himself into contention for the Norris Trophy.
His partner, Mike Komisarek, is a team leader whom Gainey has to sign before 29 other clubs join the chase on July 1.
Roman Hamrlik’s mishap led to Mike Fisher’s tying goal, but that’s a rare mistake by the Hammer. Josh Gorges was minus-two on the game, but he’s become a dependable number-four D.
Then there’s Breeze and Francis Bouillon. I like them both. Frankie the Bull has the heart of a lion. Breeze has become a respected veteran in the room who’s very adept on the PP.
Guy Carbonneau has his forwards coming back in puck support to help the defence. But there are still moments – particularly with the Lang and Plekanec lines – when the forwards’ backchecking lacuna are obvious and chaos ensues in the Canadiens’ end … especially if Breeze is on.
Bottom line: Down the stretch and into the post-season, the Canadiens need an upgrade on D.
When they visit Atlanta on Tuesday night, keep a eye on Niclas Havelid. Experienced, steady and plus-8 on a crap team this season.
Also available: Tomas Kaberle.
This has become a fun season.