Tag Archive | Sergei Kostitsyn

IT’S TIME TO SEE WHAT SERGEI CAN DO


It’s time to see what Sergei Kostitsyn can bring to the table.

After being banished to Hamilton and the American Hockey League Bulldogs for the past dozen games (which included a stint on the sidelines as a result of injury problems), it’s time for the Montreal Canadiens to give Sergei Kostitsyn another shot at the big time.

Seriously.  What do they have to lose?

At a time when the Habs can not find the back of the net, having been shut out in two of their last three games, what harm would it do to call Sergei up from the ‘Dogs in time for tomorrow night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes?  Whether or not you think Sergei has a long-term future with this team, is not the point.  Sergei Kostitsyn is currently a member of the Montreal Canadiens organization.  Period.  Regardless of what you think of his conduct at times (can you say “spoiled brat?”) the Habs still have him on the payroll.

And at this point, if you’re going to pay him, you might as well play him.  ESPECIALLY with the way this team has been struggling to score goals.

Say what you want about Sergei Kostitsyn, we’ve seen the young man put the puck in the net at the NHL level.  Yes, we’ve also seen him dog it at the NHL level: as was the case in the opening days of training camp this season.  But goodness gracious, at a time when the Canadiens can not buy a goal, why not reach out to one of the most promising offensive talents in this organization, and give him another shot.

What do you have to lose????

Seriously.  At a time when Maxime Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse, Max Pacioiretty, Matt D’Agostini, Andrei Kosttisyn (!) and Scott Gomez (!!!) have combined for a grand total of eight goals, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE?!?!

There is also the possibility that Sergei’s return to Montreal could light a fire under brother Andrei’s butt. We’ve seen it before.  We saw it two years ago, when the Canadiens  first called up Sergei from the Hamilton Bulldogs at a time when Andrei was still searching to find his game.  Well, with Sergei in the lineup,  Andrei found it.  And the Canadiens also found out that Sergei could also play this game.

Then again, it could also go the other way.  Last season the Habs recalled Sergei from Hamilton late in the season at a time when Andrei was faltering, and the move paid zero dividends.  Sergei failed to help a floundering Habs’ team, and Andrei continued to put in a lacklustre effort.

That was then.  This is now.  What do the Canadiens think of Sergei’s progress down on the farm?  Well, take a look at this Nov. 11th Bulldog Report as found on the canadiens.com web site:

“Should certain trends continue, No. 74 could find himself in the running for the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award, given annually to the player best exemplifying sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. Prior to last night’s game with the Rochester Americans, Kostitsyn had yet to serve a single penalty, his high level of intensity never once compromised from a lazy play or being caught out of position.”

That’s all fine and dandy. But the Montreal Canadiens don’t need Sergei Kostitsyn to be in the running for the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award for his sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey.  They need him to be in the running for a spot on the Habs’ two two lines.

In addition, that entry was made before Kostitsyn picked up two assists in Hamilton’s 5-1 win over Syracuse on Saturday night.  Kostitsyn currently has three goals and six assists in 12 games with the Bulldogs.  Granted, those are numbers that aren’t going to win you many scoring titles.  But with Sergei Kostitsyn, it’s always been about more than just goals and  assists.  It’s all about attitude.  And if the young man has found himself in Hamilton, it’s about time that he find himself back in Montreal.

Seriously.

 

HABS’ CENTENNIAL SEASON HANGS IN BALANCE


Some celebration.

The Montreal Canadiens’ Centennial Season is turning into a non-stop nightmare, both on and off the ice.

The action on the ice took a back seat, earlier this week, as a result of the unusual move by General Manager Bob Gainey to leave Alex Kovalev behind before the Canadiens moved on to Washington and Pittsburgh, to close out this disastrous six-game road trip.

Then, today, news broke  in the Montreal newspaper La Presse that Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn had social ties with a man who has just been arrested on criminal charges.  Roman Hamerlik was another member of the Habs identified by La Presse as someone who hung around this character.

It must be noted that there are no charges against the three Habs’, according to the crown prosecutor, and there is no information linking them to the operation cracking down on alleged drug traffickers.

Still, Gainey felt the need to address this swirling controversy at the club’s practice facility at Brossard, while the Canadiens’ took to the ice in preparation for their next game, tomorrow afternoon at the Bell Centre, against the Ottawa Senators.

Gainey told reporters he’s concerned by the published report in La Presse that three of his players have been hanging out with an alleged underworld figure.

And then there’s the concern on the ice.

The Habs, so anxious to hit the road for this six-game road trip, returned home with their tails between their legs, after accumulating a grand total of three of a possible 12 points.  One point came in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals Wednesday night, which was followed by a 5-4 loss to the Penguins on Thursday night, to close out this road trip.

Despite the suggestions by some that Alex Kovalev had played his last game with the ‘Bleu, Blanc, Rouge,” number 27 was back on the ice at practice today. And head coach Guy Carbonneau confirmed that Kovalev will be back on the ice tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators, along with his familiar line mates: Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.

Mind you, Plekanec and Kostitsyn did very well, thank you very much, with Max Pacioretty as a member of that three-some, while Kovalev cooled his jets back in Montreal.  In fact, the three were, by far and away,  the Habs’ most effective forward unit in the loss to the Penguins.

But Guy Carbonneau  has decided to give Kovalev his greatest chance at success by returning him to the scene of his biggest triumphs as a member of this team: playing with Plekanec and Kostitsyn.  In effect, he’s told Kovalev: “You think you are ready to help this club when it needs you the most?  I’m going to give you the resources to help you get it done. Now,  show me what you’ve got.”

And just exactly what does Alex Kovalev have left?  With the Mar. 4 N.H.L. trade deadline looming, are these Kovalev’s final days as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  Is he destined to exit this city as a mere footnote? 

Or will Alex Kovalev seize the opportunity that has been afforded him by Canadiens’ management and grab this team by the scruff of its neck, and pull it out of this quagmire of controversy and shame, and lead it to the promised playoff land?

Is it even fair to ask this question of one man at a time when the Canadiens continue to lose hockey games as a team? 

Right now, at this point in time in Canadiens’ history, in this, the 100th anniversary of perhaps the most storied franchise in all of sports, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding:

Yes.

IS THIS THE END OF THE LINE FOR KOVALEV?


Has Alex Kovalev played his final game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens?

That’s the question Habs’ fans are asking themselves after general manager Bob Gainey sent jaws dropping today at the team’s practice facility when he informed reporters that he has told Kovalev to take a few days off in what the G.M. acknowledged “wasn’t a normal player move.”

And how long will Kovalev cool his jets from the sidelines?  “A short period of time,” on the one hand.  But on the other hand, Gainey refused to speculate on the likely hood of Kovalev returning to the lineup.

Or not.

“I felt that in the games that I watched, in my discussions with the coaching staff, and my understanding of Alex, that it was my suggestion, for him to relax for a couple of days and stay away from the team.  We’ll evaluate over that period of time and make decisions accordingly.”

Those decisions could come as soon as Saturday, when the Canadiens return home to face the Ottawa Senators.  But in the meantime, the Habs have arrived in Washington to face the Capitals Wednesday night before they move on to face the Penguins in Pittsburgh Thursday night. 

Minus Alex Kovalev.

With the Mar. 4 trade deadline just weeks ago, Gainey was asked if Alex Kovalev is on the market.

“I haven’t talked to any teams about him,” said the G.M.

If teams were interested, would he talk?

“We’re in the trading season,” was Gainey’s response

Gainey clearly isn’t enamored with Kovalev’s work ethic.  That, coupled with his lack of production, has left number 27 in a state of suspended animation with this organization.  Gainey suggested if Kovalev had twice as many points and goals as he has right now, he’d be willing to overlook those shortcomings, saying  “we probably wouldn’t be standing here.” 

Gainey says Kovalev wasn’t happy when he received the news, but added that Kovalev agreed it could be a good thing in the long run.

“Alex and I have a good communicating relationship.  He’s proud. He doesn’t want to leave this team.  He doesn’t want to not be with the team when he feels like they need him most.  So he was not in direct agreement with me.  But at the same time I think he felt that he could trust me enough so that my suggestion to him could be positive for him and team.”

All right.  Let’s step back and look at the situation from that standpoint.  How could such a move be positive for Alex Kovalev? 

The only way Alex Kovalev will get a chance to prove that Gainey’s move will be a positive one, for Kovalev, at least, is if the G.M. gives number 27 another shot.  That is the only way Kovalev will get an opportunity to prove himself.  To prove that he belongs on this team.  To prove that he can rise to the challenge, when the team needs him the most.  Otherwise, Gainey’s words will have rung hollow. 

And that is not Bob Gainey’s style.

Yes, I know that Gainey said that this is the trading season.  Gainey was simply stating the obvious.  More than that, I believe he was sending a message to Kovalev with that kind of statement.  Not that Kovalev needs any kind of reminder, after today.

So, if you’re asking me if I think that Alex Kovalev has played his last game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, my answer would be:

No.

I don’t believe that Gainey is prepared to write off his enigmatic all-star at a time when they indeed need him the most. 

What Gainey did do, however, was rock the very foundation of this franchise with his move to send Kovalev to the sidelines, and send Sergei Kostitsyn packing to Hamilton, while re-calling Gregory Stewart from the Bulldogs.

His unspoken message to every single player on this club?

You want to play for this team, then play.

KOVALEV THREADS NEEDLE FOR WINNER IN O.T.


Alex Kovalev always predicted that, when the goals started coming, they would start coming in bunches.

He was right.

Kovalev scored his third in three games, this one the winner in overtime, to lead the Canadiens to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night at the Bell Centre.  The deciding goal came on the power play with 25 seconds remaining in the fourth period, as Kovalev delivered a wrist shot that found a one-inch opening over Ryan Miller’s shoulder, on his 8th shot on goal.

The goal was Kovalev’s 8th of the season, and capped a dominant performance by the Canadiens’ captain, at least while Saku Koivu remains on the mend with a lower-body injury.

What was even more impressive than Kovalev’s winning goal was the fact that he played this one as if he had missile toe in his boxers.  He was mean, he was ornery and he worked hard all night long: particularly on Sergei Kostitsyn’s second goal of the night; Kovalev going strong into the corner and dishing the puck out to Kostitsyn, who sent the game into overtime.

More on Sergei in a moment.

Now, the trouble is, the penalties also came in bunches for Kovalev: as he picked up two of them that led to Buffalo goals.  Kovalev was in the box when Clark Macarthur scored late in the second period to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead.  And Kovalev was also cooling his jets when Andrej Sereka drifted one past Jaroslav Halak midway through the third to make it 3-2 Buffalo.

But there would be no “quit” in this Montreal team; not on this night.  Three times they fought back from one-goal deficits, taking matters into their own hands in a third period which saw Steve Begin set the tone with a series of punishing body checks that seemed to light a fire under his team mates, before Sergei tied it at 15:06 of the third, and Kovalev won it in O.T.

Ah yes, Sergei Kostitsyn: two goals, to give him six on the season, and seven shots goal, in his best performance as a Hab.  Finally, number 74 is beginning to look like the player who opened the season as Montreal’s most effective forward. When Sergei replaced injured brother Andrei earlier in the season on the Kovalev-Plekanec line, after Andrei had his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes, he looked out of place.  Not any more.  With Andrei now nursing a knee injury,  Sergei has stepped up and delivered.

Another player who delivered last night was Robert Lang.  True, he was held off the score sheet, but Lang owned that little black disk all night long; the Sabres simply unable to move number 20 off the puck.  And Lang’s 71 per cent efficiency rating in the face off circle spoke volumes for a team that has struggled to win the draw, all season.

Alex Tanguay had the other goal for the Canadiens.  And boy, was HE ever due.  It was only Tanguay’s second goal in his last 15 games.  The next guy who needs to wake up is Tomas Plekanec, who has but two goals in his last 20 games, and just isn’t carrying the mail.

Jaroslav Halak?  He fought the puck at times and fanned on a couple of shots that eluded him. But he came up huge midway through the third period, when the Sabres used the Montreal netminder as target practice.  Whether or not Halak gets the start tonight, when the Canadiens play host to the Carolina Hurricanes in their final game heading into the Christmas break, remains to be seen.  Carey Price, who is coming off a lower-body injury, was on the bench as Halak’s back up last night; Marc Denis having been sent back down to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The smart money has Price returning to action tonight.

ONE STEP FORWARD…


…two steps back?

We’ll begin to get the answer to that question Saturday night, when the Boston Bruins come to town on a night when the Montreal Canadiens retire Patrick Roy’s jersey number 33.

We’ve been down this road with this Canadiens‘ team before, of late. I take you back to the 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 8; a setback described by Habs‘ head coach Guy Carbonneau as “embarrassing.”

Three nights later, the Canadiens came up with with Carbo called his team’s best performance of the season, perhaps of the last two seasons, in a 4-0 whitewash of the Ottawa Senators.

One step forward…

Unable to build on the success of that victory, the Canadiens took to the ice two nights later in Boston and were humbled 6-1 by the Bruins.

…two steps back.

After a reasonable, but losing, effort against the Flyers Nov. 15. at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens played in St. Louis the following night and beat a struggling, injury-riddled Blues’ team 3-2 in a shootout. Hardly the stuff of champions, but two points nonetheless.

One step forward…

Then, two nights later in Carolina, another listless, losing performance in a 2-1 setback to the Hurricanes.

…two steps back.

Then last night in the Nation’s Capital, we witnessed Montreal’s best effort since the 4-0 win over Ottawa. Ironically, it came against these same Senators; a struggling, injury-riddled Ottawa team that is going nowhere, fast. The thing is, you could say the same about this Canadiens team. Fortunately for the Habs, they proved to be the better club.

You don’t think Guy Carbonneau is relieved? Did you see The Coach’s fist-pump after Alex Tanguay buried the winning goal in the shootout? A happy camper, Coach Carbo was. Who can blame him? As I like to stay: Two points is two points is two points. Something to build on.

One step forward…

Two steps back?

We’ll know more tomorrow night when the Big, Bad, Boston Bruins are at the Bell Centre. Has Coach Carbo finally come up with some line combinations he’s willing to live with for awhile? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Guillaume Latendresse doesn’t deserve to be playing with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, as was the case last night. At the same time, based on his two-assist performance in this one, helping out on goals by Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov, I don’t think Sergei Kostitsyn will hang around the fourth line very long, which is where he found himself playing with Steve Begin and Georges Laraque.

In the good-cop, bad-cop world of Guy Carbonneau, it’s time for The Coach to give Kovalev, Plekanec and A.Kostitsyn another shot at playing together. I like Koivu, Tanguay and Chris Higgins as a trio. And I’d give Tom Kostopoulos third-line duty with Robert Lang and Sergei K. If you don’t want to put Latendresse on the fourth line, then put him in the press box.

Carey Price? Very good last night, despite losing sight of the puck on the power play goal by Nick Foligno that gave the Sens a 2-1 lead, five minutes into the third period. And he was terrific in the shootout, holding down the fort until Tanguay slipped one past Alex Auld with the winner. Dany Heatley had the other for Ottawa.

And lookey here: the goal by Koivu came on the power play.

One step forward…

CARBONNEAU LEFT SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS


Midway through this hockey game, it looked like a rummage sale out there:  head coach Guy Carbonneau sifting and sorting through his bench in an effort to find a line combination or two worth throwing out onto the ice.

By the end of the night, nothing worked.  Certainly not his players, as the Canadiens followed up their solid 4-0 win over Ottawa Tuesday night with another mind-numbing loss, this one a 6-1 setback, to the hometown Boston Bruins.

When it was over, The Coach questioned his team’s heart, work ethic, and mental toughness, which is becoming somewhat familiar territory for Carbonneau, who watched his club put in a similar non-performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night.  On Tuesday, the Habs answered the bell at the Bell with their best effort of the season against Ottawa.  Tonight, they were up to their old tricks again.

The question now, is:  which team will show up Saturday night when the Philadelphia Flyers are in town?

It’s a question that Guy Carbonneau must grapple with over the next 48 hours.  Does the answer lie in exploding the lines, as he did midway through tonight’s game, after the Bruins had taken a 4-0 lead on Carey Price?

Mere moments after Marco Sturm’s second goal of the night, at 3:44 of the middle frame,  Alex Kovalev found himself playing with Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Dandenault.  Later in that period, Kovalev lined up with Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse.

Then in the third period we saw a sign of things to come, when The Coach went with a chemistry experiment that we’ve all been waiting for:  Kovalev with his old line mate in Pittsburgh, Robert Lang, on a line with Latendresse.  You can take that one to the bank as The Coach searches for solutions heading into Saturday’s game against the Flyers.

Guy Carbonneau is a patient man, up to a point. He is usually loathe to juggle his lines because of the disruptive trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the forward units.  But clearly, he has little choice.  The Kovalev-Plekanec-A.Kostitsyn unit isn’t working;  neither is the Lang-Latendresse-S. Kostitsyn line.  Might as well mix them up, and keep your number one trio of Koivu-Tanguay-Higgins intact.

For the record, Saku Koivu, who blew a tire on the play that led to Boston’s second goal of the game, by Stephane Yelle at 17:00 of the opening period, scored the lone goal for Montreal and was the Habs’ best player on the ice, which isn’t saying much on a night like this.

Now on to other matters, like the ongoing series of brain cramps this team is suffering from when it comes to taking care of the defensive aspect of this game of hockey.  What were Mike Komisarek and Mathieu Dandenault thinking when they played patty-cake with the puck and allowed Shawn Thornton to sweep in on Price and tuck a little backhander past the Montreal netminder just 2:31 into this one?

That’s another question The Coach is going to have to grapple with.

Here’s another one while we’re at it:  does he go back with Carey Price Saturday against the Flyers?  After this one at TD Banknorth Garden was over, Carbonneau admitted that he considered pulling Price on a number of occasions, during the course of tonight’s hockey game.  But he didn’t.  Do you give Price a chance to get back on his horse against Philadelphia, or do you look down your bench and point a finger at Jaroslav Halak?

So many questions, so little time.

HABS EMBARRASSED BY LEAFS


Embarrassing.

That is the only way to put last night’s 6-3 setback by the Canadiens at the hands of Mikhail Grabovski and the Toronto Maple Leafs. When this one was over, Habs‘ head coach Guy Carbonneau called it the most embarrassing game he’s ever been associated with.

And for good reason.

The Canadiens walked into the Air Canada Centre after having used smoke and mirrors to forge a record of 8-1-2 through the first 11 games of this season. And they proceeded to fall flat on their faces against a Leafs’ team that won all the battles. Every single one of them. They outplayed, outworked, outhustled, out “everythinged” the Canadiens, all night long. In the end, the 6-3 final score actually flattered the Habs, who were outshot 41-20 (12-3 in the first period, alone) on the way to losing 61 percent of the faceoffs.

Can you spell U-G-L-Y?

This is a clearly Canadiens team that has spent too much time admiring itself in the mirror; too much time believing in their pre-season press clippings after being called the “team to beat” in the East. This is a Canadiens team that might have more talent than the 2007-2008 edition of the club, on paper, at least. But the last time I checked, this game is played on the ice. And last night, the Canadiens left their game, in the locker room.

It would be easy to point a finger at someone like Patrice Brisebois, who was playing patty-cake with his man along the boards, on the play that led to the goal by Grabovski, his 7th of the season, to put Toronto ahead 2-0 early in the second period. But with Brisebois, while the talent might not be there, at least the effort is, on most nights.

How about all-star defenceman Andrei Markov, who did a terrific imitation of a pile-on as Nick Hagman blew by the Canadiens‘ D-man and proceeded to blow the puck past a beleaguered Carey Price to open the scoring eight minutes in.

While we’re at it, does Mike Komisarek look like a guy who is trying to play his way into a big, fat contract?

And where are the forwards when it comes to being responsible on the ice, when you DON’T have the puck???

Unfortunately, ten fingers aren’t enough when it comes to singling out the culprits on this Canadiens‘ team. For all the talent this club possesses, none of it will mean a lick, if it’s not accompanied by good, old-fashioned hard work. And on this four-game road trip, despite capturing five of a possible eight points, there wasn’t nearly enough of it.

So, now what?

Now what, indeed.

Well, how about we start by taking a look at the score sheet from last night’s game, down on the farm in Hamilton, where the Bulldogs beat the Toronto Marlies 5-2.

Let’s see now….Kyle Chipchura, the “C” on his sweater, having been named Captain of the Bulldogs 48 hours earlier…with a pair of goals; Max Pacioretty, who dazzled at training camp and has picked up the pace of late as a Bulldog…two assists; and Matt D’agostini, another solid performer in the pre-season and a proven point-getter at the AHL level…with his 7th goal of the season.

Why don’t we ask any or all three of these players if they’d like an opportunity to show the Canadiens’ brass that they have the work ethic necessary to make it at the NHL level? How about we give the likes of Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan O’Byrne the opportunity to get a different perspective on this game of hockey?

In Hamilton.

Now what, indeed.

FIVE OF A POSSIBLE SIX


It’s hard to argue with a team that has picked up five of a possible six road-trip points, and one that is 8-1-and-2, overall.

However, I will. Argue, that is.

Yes, the Canadiens beat Minnesota 2-1 to open this four-game road trip. But only because of the heroics of goaltender Carey Price. Yes, the Canadiens did beat the New York Islanders two nights later, but only because of a four-goal explosion in the third period. And, yes, the Canadiens did emerge from Nationwide Arena last night with a single point, but only because of a goal by Sergei Kostitsyn with 41 seconds remaining, to tie the game and send it into O.T. and the shootout; the Jackets winning this one 4-3.

Costly defensive breakdowns last night enabled the Jackets to get back into this one; which resulted in goals by Marc Methot at 5:21 in the third, and Freddie Modin just 34 seconds later. Head coach Guy Carbonneau has no doubt seen too many costly brain cramps in front of his goaltenders for his liking so far in the early going this season; with both the forwards and defencemen guilty of questionable decision making in the defensive zone.

Then there’s the goaltending. Jaroslav Halak was not among the game’s three stars last night. We’ll just leave it at that. Carey Price will be back in goal tonight in Toronto.

Up front, you know the Canadiens are in a spot of trouble (as was the case last night) when Tom Kostopoulos is your most effective player (as was the case last night.) Kostopoulos, on a fourth line with Georges Laraque and Maxim Lapierre, logged only 12:43 of ice time, but made the most of those minutes with four shots on goal and a number of good scoring opportunities. Truth be told, 12:43 is a rather substantial amount of ice time for a fourth-line player. With the way Kostopoulos is playing, you could argue that the gritty veteran deserves to be playing on the first line.

Ah yes, the first line. You remember them, don’t you? Alex Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, who lit it up last Saturday night in New York to power the Habs to their unlikely 5-4 comeback win? There would be no late-game fireworks from this trio at the Nationwide Arena on this particular night. It was only when The Coach played a hunch (which I’m sure it was) and put Andrei and Sergei together on a line in the final minute of play that the name Kostitsyn showed up on the scoresheet; with Sergei converting a perfect pass from Andrei from behind the net to send this one into overtime, and the subsequent shootout.

Which brings us to tonight’s game in Toronto against Mikhail Grabovski and the Maple Leafs. Does The Coach put the Brothers Kostitsyn together on a regular line, for the first time this season, in the hopes of capitalizing on the kind of chemistry that resulted in the late goal last night?

I suspect the answer to that question will be: no.

Guy Carbonneau is a patient man. He will give Alex, Andrei and Tomas all the time they need to rediscover the form they exhibited as the number one line last season.

Food for thought, however, as the Habs prepare to close out this four-game road trip tonight against a surprising Leafs team that is doing quite well, thank you very much, in the post-Mats Sundin era.

KOIVU AND HIGGINS REUNITED, FOR NOW


No surprise to see Chris Higgins skating with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay as the Canadiens were back on the ice at practice today at the Bell Centre, preparing for their next game Friday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.

Higgins was reunited with Koivu in the third period of Saturday night’s game against the New York Islanders, and the move paid instant dividends, as The Captain set up Higgins with the tying goal at 14:06 of the third period.  Alex Kovalev sealed the deal some 73 seconds later, completing a spectacular comeback, resulting in a 5-4 win by the Habs, leaving the team with a perfect four-point record midway through this four-game road trip.

The goal was Higgins’ first of the season, in only his fourth game of the season.  The New York-area native started the campaign on a shelf as a result of a lingering groin injury, which prompted head coach Guy Carbonneau to wonder at one point, while Higgins was on the sidelines, whether the injury had become more of a mental issue with his alternate captain, than a physical one.

When Higgins did return to action, he skated on a line with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn that showed little spark as a unit.  Sergei just doesn’t seem to be the same player he was when he started the season, while Lang has quietly put up three goals and three assists in opening 10 games.  The reality is, S. Kostitsyn and Lang were more effective when Tom Kostopoulos was the third on that trio.

However, when a player of Higgins’ caliber is ready to rejoin the lineup, you make room for him.  As much grit and determination that Kostopoulos has brought to the team, he’s a guy destined for the fourth line, which is where he now finds himself: fighting for elbow room among the other fourth-liners.  However instead of reuniting Higgins with Koivu (the two have played together extensively in recent seasons) The Coach opted to keep the Koivu-Tanguay-Latendresse line intact because, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That was four games ago.

Since then, Latendresse, who started the season in fine fashion, is struggling and has but one goal to his credit.  Sure, he delivers the odd big check out there, but so does Tom Kostopoulos.  The Canadiens need more out of Guillaume Latendresse than the occasional big hit.  And if today’s practice is any indication (and I’m willing to bet it is) Latendresse will have to find his game playing with Lang and Sergei K.

 

A MOST IMPROBABLE VICTORY


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.

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