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?