It’s easy to see why Christopher Higgins was the most popular guy in the Canadiens’ locker room following last night’s 4-0 victory over the Bell Centre against the Ottawa Senators.
Putting three past the opposing goaltender tends to make you a V.P.P. (Very Popular Player), and Higgins clearly deserved the limelight as a result of a break-out performance that led the Habs to a resounding victory following a humbling loss in Toronto three nights earlier. When this one was over The Coach called it the team’s best 60-minute performance of the season, perhaps all the way back to last season. And it could not have come at a better time as the Canadiens put the brakes on a slippery slope that saw them hit a brick wall in Toronto Saturday night.
The hat trick was Higgins’ first of his NHL career. In fact, he never scored three in a game while he was a member of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Higgins figures the last time he came away with a hat trick was while he played college hockey at Yale, from 2001-2003, and seemed to recall it was against his former Montreal teammate, Yann Danis, now a backup with the New York Islanders.
Although the performance by Higgins, which included eight shots on Alex Auld in the Sens’ net, warranted him V.P.P. status, it was the play of Ryan O’Byrne that got my attention.
After playing his way in and out of the lineup through the first dozen games of the season, head coach Guy Carbonneau went with O’Byrne along the blueline last night. And the native of Victoria, BC, responded with his best performance of the season, and one of his best performances as a member of this team.
Far too often this season, O’Bryne has been all “arms and legs” on the ice. Last night, O’Bryne played a controlled game and finally used that 6-5, 234-pound body of his in an effective manner, dishing out six hits on the night, to tie Mike Komisarek in that department. (Maxim Lapierre led the way with eight bodychecks.)
With one assist and a plus two performance in almost 16 minutes of ice time, O’Bryne has earned himself a third straight start tomorrow night in Boston against the Bruins, although that has yet to officially be confirmed by The Coach. The only thing Guy Carbonneau would confirm following today’s morning skate was his goaltender of choice for tomorrow night: Carey Price, who kicked out all 28 shots he faced against the Sens.
O’Byrne, himself, admits he’s going through a sophomore jinx, and his erratic play in the early going has left him in the press box in three of 13 games this season.
“It’s tough,” O’Byrne admitted after today’s skate. “You never know if you’re in the lineup or not. You show up to the rink and you don’t know if you’re playing. It’s a viscous cycle but you try and get out of it. And last night I thought it was a great start.”
He’s right. It was.
It’s a golden opportunity for O’Byrne to step into a regular role with a team that is lacking in depth along the blueline. A player like Patrice Brisebois is going to have an edge over O’Byrne when it comes to The Coach pencilling in is lineup on any given night, mainly because Brisebois gives Carbonneau somewhat of a weapon on the power play with his shot from the point. However, up until now, O’Bryne has been making it too easy for The Coach to go with Brisebois. That may have all changed with O’Byrne’s performance last night.