Daily Hab-it: A turnaround for embattled veterans
Published Wednesday, November 10, 2010 12:20AM EST
I can admit it, and I hope all of you can as well, that when I saw Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek were going to be paired against the Sedin twins all night Tuesday, it was a good sign that the Canucks pair would be having a banner night.
Spacek, we can very comfortably say, has had a nightmarish start to the year, and those fears I had looked to be validated when he was sent off for tripping Daniel Sedin late in the first period, giving the NHL's top power play their first opportunity of the night.
But once that penalty was killed off, a funny thing happened: Hamrlik and Spacek turned into that great pairing we saw at the beginning of last season, the one that allowed the Canadiens to tread water long enough for Andrei Markov to make his way back from injury, the one that ultimately allowed the Canadiens to make the playoffs by doing so.
And we all know what happened once the Canadiens made the playoffs.
"I go back to last year, in the first half of the season I felt those two really kept our team afloat. They were a big part of keeping our team in the race for a playoff spot," Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin said after the 2-0 win over the NHL's second-hottest team. "They ended up playing every night against the top lines, and I thought they did a pretty good job. Tonight they had good support from our forwards, but they're both skilled and it was nice to see them elevate their game."
They did indeed, limiting the Sedins and their linemate Alexandre Burrows to two shots on goal all night.
"Those guys, if you give them too much space they really like to play around the net," Spacek said. "We wanted to collapse on them and give a chance to their defencemen to shoot the puck."
The Canucks defence pairing of Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Edler took that invitation, firing 14 shots on Carey Price between them and combining for 23 shot attempts on the night. But the way Price was zoned in, those long shots were not going to beat him.
That is the real story of this game, how Price erased the memory of last year's fiasco in Vancouver where he allowed seven goals in a 7-1 loss by pitching his second shutout of the season, providing a perfect example of what's different about last year's Price and this year's version.
But for me, I couldn't help but feel good for Spacek, simply because of the abuse that's been tossed at him thus far this season by fans who think he is the team's worst defenceman since Patrick Traverse.
He may be overpaid and he may have one too many years on his contract, but Spacek is not a horrible defenceman, he's only been playing like one.
Except he didn't in this win, shining along with his partner Hamrlik, who scored on the power play on top of his defensive gem of a game.
His goal in the third completely deflated the Canucks, whose league-leading power play was shut out on four occasions and lost that battle with the league's worst power play. Hamrlik, oddly enough, has been in on all four Canadiens power play goals this season.
"That's news to me," Hamrlik said. "It's nice to be there to be able to help on the power play, but I have to just keep things simple, keep shooting and getting pucks through."
Keep it simple.
It should be this duo's mantra whenever they are on the ice, because if Hamrlik and Spacek can reproduce what they gave their team Tuesday night it will be just fine.