Daily Hab-it: How to make a loss feel like a win
Montreal Canadiens left wing Benoit Pouliot, top, is congratulated by teammates Montreal Canadiens center Lars Eller and defenseman Alexandre Picard (45) after his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Friday, Dec. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
By Arpon Basu
Published Saturday, December 11, 2010 12:26AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:11AM EDT
No one knows if the Habs would have capped their tremendous third period against the Red Wings with a tying goal Friday night were it not for Jaroslav Spacek making a poor decision with the puck.
That tying goal appeared to be coming, but no one can know if it was for sure.
It is tempting, considering his brutal training camp and very difficult start to the season, to heap loads of blame on Spacek for thwarting any chance at completing the comeback by blindly passing the puck to an unmanned point as the Canadiens were pressing for the equalizer.
But that would be ignoring what he and his defence partner Roman Hamrlik - who should have been on that point - accomplished in this 4-2 loss.
About as positive as a 4-2 loss can be.
Consider this, Pavel Datsyuk spent only 7:32 of his 20:36 of ice time in this game without Spacek and Hamrlik on the ice. That's a pretty incredible number considering the Wings benefitted from the last change, though I don't think Mike Babcock was overly concerned about the matchup.
Yes, Datsyuk had a goal and an assist, but both came with Josh Gorges and Hal Gill on the ice, and the assist was on a 5-on-3 (the game sheet inexplicably states that Spacek and Hamrlik were on for that 5-on-3 goal, though it's pretty irrelevant).
And yes, Datsyuk was dangerous all night, and if it weren't for Carey Price perhaps his stats would be even gaudier.
But consider that in the past week, Spacek and Hamrlik have been assigned to contain Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, and then Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom.
I'd say they did a pretty admirable job, except the lasting image of the pair for a lot of people coming out of this game will probably be Spacek making that ill-advised pass to no one, when he had a much safer and smarter pass option in Mike Cammalleri standing right in front of him.
Rust can be selective
The game also marked the return to the lineup of two players after extended absences, but I would say I was more impressed with how Dustin Boyd handled himself than I was with P.K. Subban.
It's not an entirely fair comparison considering Subban's age and inexperience, but for both players to be thrown back in at Joe Louis Arena of all places was a very difficult task.
Boyd only played 11 shifts on the night, but five of them came in the third period, one in the final five minutes of regulation time where his line with Maxim Lapierre and Cammalleri (at the time) pinned the Red Wings deep and applied a ton of pressure, adding momentum to what was at that point already a rolling tide of it for the Canadiens.
Subban was clearly jittery early in the game, but I liked his poise in the third period for the most part. It's funny, but just when you think the pressure of a game situation may be high enough to get him rattled, that's when he appears to settle down and just play his game.
Prior to that third, it appeared as though he wanted to make up for those three missed games in one shot on every shift.
A sign of a winner
The way the game was going in the second period – with the Canadiens having come just over a second away from having a 1-0 lead after 20, from the continued parade to the penalty box, from the fact the Red Wings were practically not allowing them to even touch the puck – I was expecting a minor meltdown in the third.
If there's one thing this team has not shown a consistent ability to do this season, it's playing from behind. It gets them out of their comfort zone and forces them to be the aggressors, which is not what Jacques Martin's system is built on.
It is built on patient passivity, waiting for errors from your opponents and capitalizing on them when they come.
But down two goals, the Canadiens turned it on to another level to the tune of a 19-3 shot advantage in the third, and it was an extremely encouraging sign. It was something I wasn't sure they had in them, because we hadn't seen it too often this season.
Friday night's game was only the eighth time this season the Canadiens entered the third period trailing a hockey game. That is tied for the third-lowest number in the NHL, behind only Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
They had lost in regulation their previous seven times, and now it's eight, accounting for nearly all of their nine regulation losses on the season.
I haven't gone through all those games, but I would venture to say the pushback the Canadiens showed in a very daunting building Friday night was a first. If it weren't for some brilliant play by Jimmy Howard in that third period this game would have been tied up.
But the Canadiens, led by Martin, love to say how the result is not as important as the process needed to get that result.
And while the Canadiens largely ignored that process over the first 40 minutes, it was encouraging to see they had some semblance of an idea what it took to get back in a hockey game when trailing by two goals with only 20 minutes left against the league's top team.
That is the trait of a winner, and it almost made this game feel like a win.