Are the Canadiens that good? Or are the Islanders lousy?
The first question will be answered, to some degree, tomorrow night in Buffalo, where the Canadiens begin a home-and-home.
Prospects are good, if they play as well as they did on the Island. It was a very solid team effort, keyed by excellent work from the defencemen. I thoght Roman Hamrlik and Patrice Brisebois were exceptional.
Cristobal Huet faced 44 shots – a season high – but his night kind of duplicated Martin Gerber’s at the Bell Centre. The Islanders were kept to the perimeter for the most part, while the Canadiens did to the Islanders what Ottawa had done to them – cash scoring opportunities.
Canadiens are 7-3-1 on the road, best in the Eastern Conference. The guys on 110% last night said the team plays with greater focus away from the Bell Centre because there are fewer distractions than in Montreal.
There was also some talk about whether the Canadiens need an enforcer. The 110 crew thought that hits like Mike Sillinger’s on the captain and that dirty, late-game shot Mike Richards gave Alex Kovalev will multiply in February and March if other teams perceive that Canadiens lack toughness.
Chris Simon had tried to goad Mike Komisarek into a fight, which would have been a very bad trade-off for the Canadiens.
I’m still with Guy Carbonneau on this. The coach is adamant he doesn’t want some goon who plays two minutes a game. Carbo likes to roll four lines, and I think that will pay off in stamina down the stretch.
It would be great to have a Chris Neil. But players like that are rare in the league.
• Great night for the Bryan Smolinski line. Steve Bégin scored twice. Mathieu Dandenault played as good a forechecking game as we’ve seen this season, and Smolinski bounced back after a few indifferent outings that can be a cause for concern with a player his age.
• What a joy to see Christopher Higgins score a honey of a goal in his hometown. Higgins provided tickets for 66 family members and friends.
• Coming back with Carey Price tomorrow is a bit counter-intuitive after Cristobal Huet stopped 43 of 44. But by laying out his goaltending plans – Price in Buffalo, Huet at the Bell Centre Saturday night – Guy Carbonneau pre-empts the kind of media and fan speculation that leads to a "goaltending controversy."
• We don’t see much of Nick Lidstrom, but there isn’t a better offensive defenceman in the Eastern Conference than Andrei Markov. The skating, the tape-to-tape passing … Marky Mark is somethin’ else.
• What’s with Mark Streit? There are times when he seems nervous, tentaive with the puck. It’s worrisome.
• Here today, goon tomorrow: On 110%, Michel Bergeron pointed out that Jacques Lemaire, arguably the best coach in the NHL, has ALWAYS had a fighter … and sometimes two of ’em. I think Carbo is more highly evolved.