Habs Fever: Bouncing Back
Brian Wilde, ctvmontreal.ca
Published Saturday, November 27, 2010 10:04PM EST
One sign of a good team is they follow a bad game with a good one.
Completely without life in Atlanta, the Habs took a long flight from Georgia, got home in the wee hours, and responded with a solid effort.
And it came at a time when many would have forgiven them if they just couldn't find their legs.
The Habs concluded a stretch with some ridiculous scheduling by the league's computer with seven games in 11 nights. Apparently, the computer doesn't know how far Atlanta is from Montreal. Even with a charter that's a long night for the Habs.
The Sabres also played on Friday, but at home, so all the credit goes out to the Habs who this entire season have lost two in a row only once and they responded to that by winning five of their next six.
So many things to like about the Buffalo game, including the emergence of last year's form for Brian Gionta.
There is such an outstanding compete level from Gionta that to believe he would stay stymied is not likely.
One of Gionta's goals was Gretzky-Kurri-esque in its execution of a two-on-one. The entire building thought when Kostitsyn got the feed from Gionta that the sniper would shoot, but the pass to Gionta left Ryan Miller realizing that he played the percentages and this time he was burned.
That wasn't the most surprising moment of the night though. That honour had to belong to Tyler Myers.
How the 6' 7" Myers got pushed off the puck that easily by Tomas Plekanec on the all important third goal is beyond the laws of physics. Plekanec tossed Myers aside and then set up Gionta for another snipe - a superb quick release upstairs.
Credit too to the penalty killers who just keep getting it done.
Tom Pyatt earned a breakaway, and Jeff Halpern dove to get another puck just over the line. It is efforts like these that win games. The Habs are 4 for 4 in kills, moving to the top of the league -- essentially tied with Pittsburgh.
The defensive corps has a desperation level to help out Carey Price that is full of courage.
They block shots, push opponents to the outside, fight for every inch, but the skill I like the most is every time there is trouble, this team clears the puck into the corner.
The instinct is to try to get the puck out in desperation by pushing it forward, but that usually leads to a scoring chance for a forward in the high slot or at the point.
The Habs defenders regroup by throwing the puck into the corner where the opposition has to first win a puck battle there before they can think about earning a scoring chance.
It seems like such a simple thing but watch how often poorly coached teams just clear it feebly into a scoring zone.
Remember well that Roman Hamrlik against the Bruins two years ago in the playoffs in game four cleared the puck into the high slot for the winning goal.
Now it is the corner, and on the rare ocassion because of body position that is not available, then it is to the boards, but never into scoring position.
Little things count
The overall case study here is that Jacques Martin has them doing so many little things right: pushing the puck forward in the neutral zone to safe areas, good puck management, good back pressure from the forwards, dump ins away from the goalie, support from the forwards by tightening the space between when d-men are vulnerable, a respect for the defensive blue line that you can just feel, timed puck pressure on the penalty kill for maximum effect, smart line changes.
You can count on one hand how many clear cut breakaways the Habs have given up this year, and you can count on two hands how many 2 on ones they have allowed.
When the Leafs were here last week you would have needed an abacus to count their odd man rushes they gave up. It is simply a very well coached team.
That leaves to the final and most important piece of this puzzle -- the piece that makes every other thing work.
It is the play of Price that allows all of these players to have such confidence.
That if they do fail, there is maybe the best goalie in the league right now who has their back.
'Attitude of humility'
Price is leading the league in wins, already with 14, that's more than last year, and one of the best save percentages over .935, four shutouts to equal his career total before this year, and it's just past the quarter pole.
Better than all the numbers, though, is a newfound attitude of humility that means these guys are ready to go to war for him now, and we are not sure we could have said that before.
Sure, some nights the legs aren't there. What team can boast that doesn't happen?
But on most nights, this team gives you the feeling they are better than the one that made it to the final four.
And all of this without Andrei Markov. Imagine that.