Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 10/18/10 at 10:59 AM ET
The Montreal Canadiens had a productive weekend, taking four points from two divisional rivals in wins over the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators. On Friday night, Carey Price was the hero, making a number of good saves against a Buffalo team that often seems to have Montreal’s number when playing South of the border. On Saturday, it was the team’s turn to bail Price out from a couple of unfortunate goals, as the Tomas Plekanec line put on a show, recording 15 shots in coming back from a 3-1 deficit. Andrei Kostitsyn, who has looked like a different player sans Sergei, scored the winner with minutes to go.
Where did Lars go?
One negative to come out of the weekend was the play of Lars Eller, who has seen himself go from a potential top line winger to fourth line scrub.
As many fans noticed, the young Dane disappeared mid-game against the Senators. Eller played only four minutes on Saturday night and was nailed to the bench following the third Senators goal, which made Eller a -2 on the night. Many Canadiens fans are questioning coach Jacques Martin’s handling of Eller, especially after Martin’s infamous benching of Jason Spezza when Spezza was a rising star with the Ottawa Senators. Does Martin have a problem handling young players?
Benny with the jets
I am also curious as to what Martin’s plan is for Benoit Pouliot. The gangly winger has not hit the twine yet, but does have two assists in five contests. More important, however, is Pouliot’s work ethic, which has been off the charts over the first five games. Pouliot was criticized for being lazy last season, but we have seen a new player this year, working hard in the corners and quickly rushing back to defend every time the puck goes the other way. Pouliot has had a few good chances to score, and has been foiled at every opportunity. Over the past three games, his linemates have changed, going from the offensively gifted Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta to the rugged Dustin Boyd and Tom Pyatt.
Many fans are upset with the handling of Eller and Pouliot. However, I see signs of optimism. Coach Martin wasn’t too critical of Eller’s effort after Saturday’s game, and noted that as far as he was concerned the next week was a fresh start and thus Eller would be back on a regular shift. As for Pouliot, he started Saturday’s game on the third line but ended up taking a shift with Gomez and Gionta late in the third. That tells me Martin has noted Pouliot’s progress and effort, and I believe it will be rewarded in the coming days. I think Pouliot is the perfect complement to Gomez and Gionta, and I still believe Eller will end up as the third line centre. Eller looks a bit uncomfortable on the wing and is occasionally caught out of position. A move back to the middle would allow him to learn at his natural position, and hopefully give the Habs another solid scoring threat.
PK looks OK
PK Subban rebounded from a -1 against Tampa Bay, and a less than stellar defensive performance, to go +1 against Buffalo and +3 against the Senators. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Subban, who had taken many a minor in the pre-season and early going of the NHL campaign, took zero penalties on the weekend. Some may point to the power play’s lack of success as a chink in Subban’s armour, but the reality is that the Habs power play rarely performs without its general, Andrei Markov (who should be back by the end of the month). Subban is incredibly gifted but occasionally takes too many liberties with the puck. However, he continues to play a bit more conservatively and shore up his game, he’s going to be a very good NHLer.
Alex Kovalev was roundly booed on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, a far cry from the cheers he got as a visitor last season. Kovalev has had a terrible start to 2010, no doubt related to the knee injury from which he is still recovering. Kovalev appeared slow and his timing off as the Canadiens held him off the scoresheet. If his woes continue, one has to wonder if his heart is still in Montreal.
The Price appears alright
As for everyone’s favourite rodeo competitor, Carey Price had an off day Saturday but he was still good. Many pundits suggested Price would fold under the pressure of the Halak deal and the expectations that come with being number one in Montreal. So far, so good. So very, very three wins and .914 save percentage good.
The major difference between Price of this season and last? He’s making the important saves even when down, rather than folding up shop. Price made a couple of key glove saves on Saturday while the Canadiens were down 3-1 to Ottawa. If either shot goes in, the Habs go down 4-1 and it’s game over.
It was interesting to note some of the Price discussion on Hockey Night in Canada, as the commentators spoke quite a bit about the “book” on Price being out – that book apparently a story about a weak glove hand. Habs fans will no doubt recall the incessant “Book on Huet” conversations of three seasons ago. Needless to say, if the book is out then Price has changed the plot, as he has been solid through five games. Sure, he appears a tad rattled sometimes after goals, but he seems to settle down much better than he did in seasons past.
He may not be the Chicoutimi Cucumber, but Price stayed cool and barred the door against the Senators after they scored their third goal, allowing the Habs to storm back and get the 4-3 victory. That would not have happened in 2009, a sure sign, in my opinion, that we are witnessing the emergence of a new Carey Price.
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