Let us take you back to the 3:54 mark of the second period, when Alex Kovalev took a bad penalty: a hooking call with the New York Islanders leading the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 at the time.
Kovalev knew it was a bad penalty. Everyone in the Nassau Coliseum knew it was a bad penalty (many of them Canadiens‘ fans who made the trip to The Island). However, when Kovalev emerged from the penalty box, after the Canadiens had successfully killed off the infraction, he did so as a changed man; a man who began to take matters into his own hands; a man who almost singlehandedly took this Canadiens team by the scruff of the neck and led it a most improbable victory.
The Islanders would eventually go ahead 4-1 late in the second, on a goal by Franz Nielsen, after Ryan O’Byrne deserted his netminder, Carey Price, who was left hung out to dry. Nielsen had nothing but time as he buried the puck, and presumably, any hopes the Canadiens might have had of salvaging this one.
Then Alex Kovalev got busy.
After taking a high stick that left him with a cut below his left eye (no penalty called on the play), Kovalev set up Tomas Plekanec who finally had a chance to celebrate his 26th birthday (which came the day before) with his second of the season. Two minutes later, at 9:55 of the third, Plekanec continued the celebration with his second of the night, third of the season, with Kovalev helping to set that one up, as well. Then, five minutes later, Chris Higgins scored his first of the campaign, a perfect pass from behind the net by Saku Koivu (make note of that twosome, for future reference) to tie the game at four. Seventy-three seconds later, Kovalev redirected a perfect feed from Plekanec behind the Islander net at 15:19 for the winning goal.
Game, set and match.
So, after stealing two in Minnesota Thursday night, the Canadiens steal two more in Uniondale, and return home with four of a possible four points in the middle of this four-game road trip. The Habs will taste home cooking for five days before they return to action Friday in Columbus and Saturday in Toronto.
After reuniting Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins during a third period which saw the coach mix up his lines, big-time, look for Guy Carbonneau to keep Higgins on the line with Koivu and Alex Tanguay, for the time being. And look for The Coach to drop Guillaume Latendresse to the third line, to play with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn.
Carey Price? Yes, he had an off night, after a spectacular showing against the Wild the other night. After bailing out his teammates in Minnesota Thursday night, the Canadiens bailed Price out, last night.
Of more immediate concern is the play of Ryan O’Byrne along the blueline. His brain cramp on the Neilsen goal helped lead to a minus two performance on the night for the young defenceman; a performance which may very well have earned him a ticket to the press-box for Friday’s game in Columbus.
Also of concern, the ongoing listless play of Sergei Kostitsyn, who started the season like a house-afire after a sensational pre-season. Sergei just doesn’t seem like the same player after brother, Andrei, took that massive hit in the game against Anaheim earlier this season. Andrei has since returned and is rounding into form. Sergei, however, isn’t.