About last night … and tonight

Obvious deduction: Kyle Chipchura was the problem.

The hard-working rookie watched from the pressbox as his teammates played one of their better games of the season in Tampa Bay last night. Guy Carbonneau juggled three of his lines and no sooner had Canadiens fans stopped scratching their heads than the team had five goals, 10 names on the scoresheet and one of the more impressive Ws of the season.

Are the Canadiens that good, or do the Lightning really suck?

We’ll find out tonight in Sunrise, where the Panthers await. Florida does not have its cross-state rival’s firepower, but the Panthers have several attributes the Lightning lack – notably first-rate goaltending and Jacques Martin’s stifling defensive system.

Canadiens passed a big test last night. Having played horribly in Dallas, the team need a bounce-back game to avoid ominous echoes of last season’s post-Christmas collapse.


After a slow start during which linemates introduced themselves to
each other – "Chris, you  can call me Max …." – Canadiens blew the Lightning out of their own building, where TB has been dominant this season. The guys in white jerseys consistently got the puck deep, which created manifold problems for TB’s lousy defence. Canadiens won most of the battles along the boards and played airtight D against superstars Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards.

In their pre-game segment, RDS pundits Jacques Demers and Benoit Brunet said the Canadiens would have to conform to the league-wide trend toward three lines, using the fourth line for about five minutes per game.

Someone forgot to tell Carbo. The coach continued to roll four. Mathieu Dandenault played the fewest minutes, and he logged 12:24.

Carbo also used all six defencemen. Josh Gorges logged a season high 17:31 and continued to assert himself as a player who compensates for his lack of size with strong skating and excellent puck movement, including tape-to-tape first passes. Memo to Patrice Brisebois: Take your time recovering from that shoulder injury.

Canadiens are going to have some decisions to make when Steve Bégin and Bryan Smolinski come off the IR list. Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre seem to have won spots in the lineup, and I have to think Chipchura’s pressbox stint will be a short one.

Who plays and who sits? And what will they do with Michael Ryder – who was minus-2 last night?

• Canadiens scored four even-strength goals. Eight of Guillaume Latendresse’s 10 goals have been scored 5-on-5; he leads the team in that category. Gui! is playing really solid hockey.

• Cristobal Huet starts again tonight. He’s the hot hand, and fatigue shouldn’t be a factor: Huet had a quiet 28-save night in Tampa.

• Alex Kovalev is aging like single malt and hasn’t played a bad game this season. He is on pace to score 35 goals, which would be the second-highest total of his career. Kovy scored 44 for Pittsburgh seven years ago. His Canadiens’ high was 23 during the season after the lockout.

• Andrei Kostitsyn played for Polimir Novopolotsk and CSKA Moscom before signing with Canadiens and joining the Hamilton Bulldogs three years ago. Kid brother Sergei played two seasons for the OHL London Knights, where he was coached by Dale Hunter. Which of the Belarussian brothers was better prepared for The Show?

• I loved Max Lapierre last season. I love him again this season. He’s a great skater, he wins battles for the puck, he never takes shifts off.

• OK, they’re not Robinson, Savard and Lapointe. But the Big 3 on D – Markov, Komisarek and Hamrlik – are pretty darn good. Think Tampa Bay would like to have them? Or Toronto?




  1. HabsProf says:

    Kane and Gagner, not Kane and Toews. I keep making that mistake (this is not the first time). Repeat until it sinks in – Kane and Gagner, Kane and Gagner.

    I believe you are an Andrei booster – I was referring more to some of the posters that have been on his case. I do agree with you that Sergei seems a little more NHL ready. I also just think that at times we are silent about his contribution. He makes a great outlet pass that springs Pleks and Kovy on a two-on-one, we get a goal, and the talk after the game is about the goal (understandable) but no mention of the pass. I continue to be impressed at his passing. At times, he shows great vision and creativity (he’s not Adam Oates, but hey, not many are).

    I’m pleased to hear that Yemelin seems to be a can’t miss guy – now if we can just persuade him to come over to this side of the pond. (Of course, we will really have a glut of defensemen then).

    I am also intrigued by the possibility of the brothers Kostitsyn on the same line, no matter who centres them (though, like you, I prefer Pleks). I just hope we wait another year for each to get a little more seasoning.

  2. ebk says:

    He looks ok, we just have to many smallish dmen on the team.

  3. RH says:

    Hey, I’ve got to admit you were right all along about Jorges, Boone. Watching him play more and more, I’m gaining more respect for the guy. He keeps his head up, doesn’t give the puck away, and most importantly, hustles on every shift. Kinda cheap of Chris Gratton to pick on him last night. He does look kind of small out on the ice, for some reason though. Or, maybe it’s just me.

  4. ebk says:

    My editor missed my mistake, I was actually referring to their even strength offensive production. Thanks for the pickup

  5. grrrreg says:

    Nice post. But this team is not in desperate need of goal production. Montreal is 12th for goals scored, and 10th for goals scored per game in the league. These numbers are inflated by the excellent PP poduction, but still, it’s not that bad.

  6. Mike Boone says:

    I’m still an AK booster. He’s fast, he has good size and a terrific shot. If that line can remain intact all season, he and Pleks will benefit from playing with Kovalev (although I’m also intrigued by Plekanec centring the brothers.)
    Pierre McGuire says Yemelin is an absolutely blue-chip, can’t-miss NHL player. I trust his judgment.
    BTW, Sergei played with Kane and Gagner, not Toews.

  7. Bill H says:

    Thanks for that analysis. Let’s hope K1 continues to grow and flourish.

  8. Ed says:

    Excellent analysis of Andrei Kostitsyn. What is there to criticise about this guy who is still only 22? He has come a long way this year.

  9. HabsProf says:

    A couple of words about Kostitsyn the Elder, who is clearly still rough around the edges, but who I think is deserving of more credit than he has been receiving.

    -He is 7th on the team in scoring, which is not bad for a kid who started the season without a regular spot in the lineup.

    -He is tied for 3rd on the team with Kovalev for non-power play points. Only Pleks with 19 and Koivu with 16 lead Kovy and Andrei’s 15 each in that category. For a team desperate for 5 on 5 scoring, Andrei is an important cog. Don’t say it is just Pleks and Kovy carrying him – anyone taken a look at some of Andrei’s passes lately? He exhibits some real brilliance.

    -He is tied for 3rd, with Higgins, in plus/minus, at +4. Only Komisarek and Hamrlik surpass him. I believe plus/minus is more indicative of the play of defensemen then forwards, but it is still an indication that his defensive play is not as bad as is claimed.

    -Over the last 10 games he has 10 points (4g, 6a) and is +3.

    -16 of his 18 points have come in the 24 games since he joined Pleks and Kovy, a pace which projects to about 55 points over a full 82 games, which would not have been bad for a player in his first full season.

    -The kid has played a grand total of 67 games in the NHL.

    I happen to agree with Mike Boone that Kostitsyn the Younger shows better hockey sense and better preparedness than his older brother. The fact that Sergei started in North America at a younger age indeed may be a factor (and does not bode well for guys like Yemelin that we are still hoping to entice back here). But he may also just have had the sort of personality that allowed him to adjust better to the culture shock. Playing with the likes of Kane and Toews can’t have hurt, either.

    Whatever the reason for the difference, it seems that some posters (not all) are bashing Andrei because of it, and I just don’t understand why.

  10. Zaskar says:

    My bad. I’m sure you’re right that they still would like to have him back.

    On another note, I think it would be interesting to offer Price, Ryder and a Kostitsyn brother for Lecavelier. I wonder if other Habs fans think that crazy…would it be enough to get him????

  11. The Teacher says:

    Yeah, I remember Higgins exploding during the second half of his rookie season. I think we are all waiting for that to happen again and consistently. Perhaps it was a function of his supreme fitness and that will play itself out over the 82 game schedule.

    Last year he was injured early so had to have lost some of his fitness level, and he did play well despite a broken collarbone for the last 17 games of the season.

    I expect Higgins and Komisarek to improve their game relative to the rest of the NHL during the latter part of the season as a result of their dedication to fitness.

  12. The Teacher says:

    I’m on record in saying SKost74 will be a better player than his brother. He seems to know where to be and handle handle himself in most situations.

    SKost74 has a little feisty-ness in him. I remember one point during the game when either he or a few players on our team were getting hit a little hard by the Lightning. He was near the penalty box and after receiving a hit kind of away from the play, he waited until the puck got to that player and tried to hit him hard and aggressively. Shows me he won’t back down often, but does it intelligently.

    AKost46 will be a good player in his own right, but it is also true that playing on a line with Kovalev and Plekanec doesn’t leave him much time to actually control the puck.

    They seem to be grooming him to be a breaking winger who will get his chances by streaking wide along the boards or placing himself in position to receive a one-timer pass. At the latter he doesn’t see to adept, neither at placing himself, or at one-timing these passes that he totally seems to be reacting way too late on. AKost46 is aggressive, but only after he gets hit once or twice, seems he needs a physical game to get him mad and going. That might bode well for the playoffs, if we ever get there.

  13. Ian G Cobb says:

    Love to read a thinking person,s post!

  14. Mike Boone says:

    He is a HUGE upgrade on Souray. But Hamrlik was lon g gone – to Edmonton, the Islanders and Calgary – by the time Tampa Bay won the Cup.

  15. Ian G Cobb says:

    We must continue to spread our dollars over 25 players, and not do what the Lightning, Pittsburg, Rangers, and others have done. They have locked in big money for three or four players and surounded them with an inferrior balance.

    They will forever stay in the middle of the pack.

    This is a team sport and you need 25 players working as a unit and shareing the same umbrella, not 3 or 4 sharing one CAP.

    Developing your own is a much slower process but a winning strategie.

    We are playing a much better team this evening, I just hope we all will be well entertained!


  16. Bill says:

    Really good points, especially regarding Kostitsyn and Latendresse. I would say same goes for little Kos and Higgins: If just one of these could blossom into an elite scorer, the Habs offensive problems would be over


  17. ebk says:

    The top three lines last night played well, the fourth line, well that was another story. The Habs will need to be a whole lot better tonight. The Lightning looked disinterested and tired. Florida will mount a much stiffer challenge and the Habs need to be better. Two points is two points, take it and move on.

    The addition of the kiddie corps has made a world of difference to the team.
    K2 can play on either of the top two lines and do a good job. Early in the season, when the top line struggled, there were no alternatives who could play up there, K2 has filled the void for a struggling Ryder well. Lapierre is an annoying pest, who works his butt off and has a little offensive wiggle to his game. He is much better than any of their defensive/energy type players.

    Latendresse continues to silence his critics, the big kid is proving on a nightly basis how wrong his critics were about wanting to send him to Hamilton. No he isn’t a great skater, he looks awkward at time, who cares. He has 10 goals and his providing goal production on a team that desperately needs it.

    Kostitsyn the Older is playing the best hockey of his young NHL career. He is the Habs best young forward on a nightly basis and is emerging as a top-tier NHL player. He has 10 points in his last 11 games and looks to be on his way to a long and productive NHL career. After the all-star break two years, Chris Higgins after a slow start to his rookie season, emerged as an NHL scoring threat, Kostitsyn the Older, reminds me of Higgins two years ago. Finally figuring out the things he needs to do to be a productive NHL player.

    With the parity(mediocrity) that exists now in the NHL and the additions of Lapierre, K2 and O’Bryne this team is close to being a contender. Their goaltending gives them a chance to win every night. Their forwards are much improved from earlier in the season. If Ryder can get his game back or Gainey can somehow move him for another struggling top six forward, this team will ice three lines as good as anyone but the top few teams. If Carbo wants to keep rolling four lines, Gainey needs to upgrade the fourth line a fair bit.

    As long as they stay with the kids, this team will be competitive this year and down the road should move into the upper-tier of the NHL. The journey there will be a roller coaster ride, Enjoy it, it should be fun.

    Thanks for reading

  18. Zaskar says:

    Hey Mike,

    Hamrlik was a first rounder for TB and helped them knock Montreal out of the playoffs the year they won the cup!

    He’s an excellent upgrade over Souray in the defensive end. And is it just a coincidence that Phaneuf is struggling this season?????

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