It Hab-ened Last Night: Leafs Beat Habs; More on Cammy
UPDATE 3:30PM: According to Habs Inside/Out, Hamrlik will NOT play tomorrow night, so yes, Habs fans, there will still be an O'Byrne/Picard defense tandem. You can step back onto the ledge.
Cammalleri will of course be back, so Darche is likely to take a trip to the press box, as most would have expected. Lars Eller looks to be moving down to the 3rd line.
Step away from the ledge.
It was only one game. Of course, it was an important season-opening game against one of the team's top rivals, but nevertheless... it was only one game.
The Montreal Canadiens went into the Air Canada Center last night with a lot of uncertainty, and maybe some negativity surrounding their team, and faced a revamped, refreshed, motivated group of Toronto Maple Leafs, well into Brian Burke's "re-tooling", "rebuilding", or whatever else you want to call it. With two of their top four defensemen out, their goaltender battling the flu and their top scorer sitting in the pressbox serving a one-game suspension for his actions in the pre-season, things weren't looking so good for the Canadiens.
On the other side of the ice, you had Dion Phaneuf in his first game as Leafs captain, Mike Komisarek looking to prove himself to himself, his team, as well as his old team, and a plethora of both young and established talent feeling each other out in the Leafs forward ranks and that made the Toronto Maple Leafs look like a much faster, aggressive (in a good way, not that "belligerent" bullcrap Brian Burke fed the media last year), and motivated team than they were a year ago.
All fan jousting aside, on paper, things were well-weighted in the favor of the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into last night's game. And when the dust had settled, the paper put away into the NHL record books, and everything was said in done, the result of the game was definitely just as much in the favor of the Leafs as it was before the game. Whether they can keep it up for 82 games is an entirely different story, but last night, they earned themselves the win the right way.
While the Canadiens gave it the old "college try", and held on to the very end - quite literally - the Leafs would come out with the 3-2 regulation victory. Jean-Sébastien Giguère was the story of the game, stopping 26 of the 28 shots the Canadiens threw at him, including a flurry at the very end of the game in which both teams were scrambling in the Leafs defensive zone, and earned himself the 1st star of the game in his first win of the season.
On the other side of the rink, Carey Price wasn't too bad himself. He couldn't really be blamed for any of the goals - it seems like we're going to be making this argument a lot this year - as defensive lapses and deflections led to all 3 Leafs goals.Price stopped 21 of 24 saves, including an unbelievable save with less than 2 minutes to go in the game, which could have very well been the turning point and saving grace for the Canadiens if it wasn't for an even-hotter goaltender in Giguère.
Overall, it was a pretty fun and exciting way to start the season, despite the Habs' loss, and there were definitely some positives to take away from it all:
- Lars Eller's stats may not look that great after the game (2 shots, -2, and a penalty in 16:27 of ice time), but the young Dane did not look out of place skating with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. He even had an incredible chance to score while on his knees in the Leafs' crease, a semi-spin-o-rama move that would have definitely put him in contention for highlight of the night a long with Jordan Eberle (I still can't get over that goal, by the way - highlight of the year?).
- Benoit Pouliot actually seemed to belong on an NHL team as well last night. Possibly motivated by Guillaume Latendresse scoring the opening goal of the season earlier in the day, Pouliot made the most of his 12 minutes of ice time, putting up an assist on Jeff Halpern's goal in the 3rd. The kid still has a lot to prove in order to keep his spot amongst the team, but as far as I'm concerned he's earned himself at least another game with the Canadiens, even with Cammalleri returning. I'd like to see him start the game with the other assist on the Halpern goal, Max Lapierre, as they seem to have some chemistry together (ironically).
- Along with Halpern, the other goalscorer for Montreal was Dustin Boyd, who paid immediate dividends for the Canadiens, after being acquired in a trade for Sergei "GTFO" Kostitsyn over the course of the summer. Boyd's goal was a great individual effort, a near-wraparound goal from behind the net which made the Leafs defenseman look like what the Habs' D was looking like throughout the night. He may have been the Canadiens best player last night.
- Finally, PK Subban and Josh Gorges were the highlights of an otherwise lacking group of defensemen. Subban was all over the ice all night, and even got into a little shouting match with Phaneuf. Gorges was a rock, with 26 minutes of ice time in Hamrlik's and Markov's absences, but he might get some reprieve if Hamrlik is ready to go tomorrow night. O'Byrne and Picard were by far the worst pairing last night, playing less than 15 minutes each, but making their presence felt on the ice in their limited minutes, and in a bad way. Markov and Hamrlik can't get here soon enough, but it's clear, at least to me, that Picard will be in the pressbox on Saturday night, with Hamrlik rushing his return by the third game in the home opener at the latest. Hamrlik's return should also make Jaroslav Spacek a lot better, who's also off to a terrible start.
I guess you could call the Canadiens a "work in progress" this early in the season. There are some fresh faces that are impressing, but some major components that are still on their way out of suspensions and injuries. If Hamrlik can go on Saturday, and with the return of Cammalleri, you can expect a much better overall game for the Canadiens at the brand new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, which we'll get a good look at in just under 30 hours.
I'd like to stress that I don't condone any use of a hockey stick as a weapon. Unless it's on a clown, which would make it hilarious.
What Michael Cammalleri did in the pre-season game against Nino Niederreiter and the New York Islanders is well-documented, and I think most of us have come to an agreement that it was stupid, dangerous, and unacceptable. As it was clearly evidenced last night in Toronto, Cammalleri's presence in the pressbox helps absolutely no one, especially not himself.
That being said, since last Saturday, I've stressed that I thought there was more to this incident than just Cammalleri losing his cool. Niederreiter's cheap-shot, the very one-sided game and the fact that the score had been run up to a 7-2 score, not to mention the AHL-caliber line-up the Isles decided to throw on the ice in split-squad NHL action (genius decision, by the way, a week before the season and the Isles are playing two games in one night) could have all contributed to the incident getting out of hand.
Again, there's no excuse for using your stick as a weapon, but there were plenty of factors that may not have helped the situation. While Cammalleri had little to nothing to say on the incident, Dave Stubbs had an interesting interaction with Cammalleri last night after the game, which he chronicled on his twitter:
Joked to Cammalleri on his way out of (the) Habs dressing room postgame: "Stay outta the press box!" ... and I pretty much got a snarl. There's more to that Quebec incident than anyone's saying. That Cammy, one of hockey's great talkers, would barely address the incident, and qualify his regret for it suggests Niederreiter might, repeat might, have said or done something that's entirely unacceptable. Not applying this directly to Cammy case, but "unacceptable" could be spitting, spearing, racist comment. Nothing excuses Cammy's stickwork, but it's possible what led to it was extraordinary. That said, since Cammy's not talking about it, it's left to speculation. Which doesn't help him.
Take it for what it's worth. But there's clearly more to this than just Cammalleri swinging his stick. Niederreiter might have to learn a lesson in respect early in the season, so keep an eye out for what he does on the Island.
In any case, the suspension is over and Cammalleri will be back tomorrow, so there's no reason to dwell on it. Cammalleri is best served sticking (no pun intended) to what he does best - scoring goals and being his normal, cheery self. Tomas Plekanec didn't have the best game last night, and the goal tomorrow will be for both to have one Hell of a comeback game, and try to light up the Pens on Saturday night.
We'll have plenty of coverage over the weekend, including Habs/Pens stuff as well as a Phoenix / Boston Live Blog run by Wally Brennan at NOON, but for now, I leave with you a request for your thoughts on the game, and the following questions:
1) Who was the best player on the ice for the Canadiens last night?
2) Who was the worst?
3) Can the Canadiens rebound and defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow night, with the return of Cammalleri and (maybe) Hamrlik?
4) O'Byrne or Picard, who gets benched first?
5) Who will be the next Hab to score a goal?
We'll have more over the weekend, so stay tuned,