Pre-Season Game 1: The Habs Review

Well the pre-season has finally started, and I’ve got to say that after last night’s game I am quite impressed.
Now I know it is pre-season, that the games mean nothing and they are often completely irrelevant when it comes to judging a team, but the Habs looked very strong with a rookie filled lineup against a Penguins team that iced mainly starters and veterans.

The first period of last night’s game I spent trying to learn all of the new players’ numbers… a task I quickly gave up because only 2 of those players really have a chance of making the team, Plekanec (obviously making the team) and Chipchura. It was a pretty decent first period for an exhibition game. It had a nice quick pace and even though I felt the Habs were outplayed they went into the intermission tied at 0, thanks to the surprisingly strong play of Cristobal Huet.
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought Huet would play like garbage against such a strong offensive team, and when I saw that stick save I could see the Cristobal Huet who only had to play half a season two years ago. It was a Huet who looked rested and ready to go. That said; Huet should be splitting the goaltending duties with either Halak (50/50) or Price (66.6/33.3). I sat 66.6 to 33.3 for Price because Montreal can not afford to rush Price into the NHL. Look at the way the Rams brought Steven Jackson into the NFL, and you see a perfect example of what giving a player time to develop does. Let the veterans teach the rookies and prospects how to play. Now I’m not saying that Huet is the Marshall Faulk of the NHL, but along with the help of Rollie Melanson Price will become a superstar in a few years.
Now that the whole goaltending thing is out of the way I’d like to get down to my studs and duds. I’m sure you all feel the exact same way about this but I’m going to say it anyways; THAT IS THE ALEX KOVALEV MONTREAL PAYS FOR. I can only hope that somehow, someway, somebody has lit a fire under Alex Kovalev. A fire that when lit can produce these 3 goal games, score under pressure and set up magnificent chances. Last night we saw the Alex Kovalev from Pittsburgh and his early days in New York. I really hope that this year will finally be the year that Kovalev scores 40 goals. Something that he can easily do, but has not had the drive to do since coming to Montreal. When was the last time Kovalev dominated a game like he did yesterday? Whenever he touched the puck, people noticed, and it wasn’t the same attention as in past years, which was a noticeable worry whenever he had the puck near our defensive zone. And I’m sure most of you felt this too, when Streit circled the net, broke out and passed to Kovalev near the blue line, you knew something was going to happen.
I was watching with someone who had never really gotten into hockey, and I was explaining to him about 3 on 3 play. “You’ll see, this is the best hockey there is, lots of odd man rushes…like right now” I told him, just as Streit came out from behind the net with a Penguin trailing after him and created a mini 2 on 1 with Kovalev. And when I saw Kovalev coming over the blue line with that much room I knew it was lights out for Pittsburgh. For some reason, the usual sense I had last year that Kovalev would ring it off the post or send it an inch high was gone, replaced by an air of confidence in Kovalev that I have not felt since he’s been in Montreal. Now all that being said about Kovalev, I know it’s pre-season and it is by NO means an indicator of how Kovalev will produce, but it was a pleasant surprise and one can only hope that he will be to play like that in the regular season.
We’ve probably all been spoiled by the consistently strong play of Mike Komisarek, but I have to give him credit for pissing the hell out of Sidney Crosby, eventually forcing him to take a stupid penalty. With that said I also have to give props to Andrei Markov, simply for his ability to take a punch to the face and not retaliate. That sent off Recchi and led to the 3 on 3 play. Honourable mention goes to Corey Locke and Andrei Kostitsyn.
On to the disappointing players. I really didn’t’ notice Sergei Kostitsyn and Duncan Milroy when they were on the ice. I know they’re inexperienced (especially Kostitsyn) but I was expecting a little more from them. The only other guy I had a problem with was Yann Danis. I know I’m probably biased because I was at the 5-1 shellacking he received against Washington, when people were chanting for Théo because Danis was playing so poorly. I know it was banked off of Komisarek, but if Danis had been playing his position properly and had been quick enough to position himself against the post, we would be talking about that great defensive play by Komisarek to break up a 3 on 1 instead of the Penguins first goal. Overall Danis was not too bad, but personally I do not want to see him as our backup or 1-B goalie.
In all, it was a solid performance by les Habitants, especially on the penalty kill. Montreal took thirteen penalties and only allowed 1 goal, but you should NOT be taking 13 penalties against an offensive powerhouse like Pittsburgh. I can say with a definite certainty however, that if Montreal can consistently play that well during the season, they will do much better than the projected 11th to 13th.
Expect my next review to be a little different because I will be attending the game against Pittsburgh tonight (1st row Red), and I find you always see things differently when you are actually there.