The Olympic break seems to have done a lot of good for the Montreal Canadiens.
Not only did they get their walking wounded back from injuries -- with the exception of Michael Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron -- but they seem invigorated for the stretch run.
Despite losing to the Sharks the other night the Habs played some great hockey against one of the league's powerhouses. Last night in L.A., they continued their speedy, aggressive game and the result was a well earned 4-2 road win over the Kings.
The best line on the ice all night for the Habs was the Gomez, Gionta and Pouliot line. They seem to complement each other very well on the ice and as they get more and more comfortable, are causing all sorts of problems for opposing defenders.
With Gomez's incredible speed and on-ice vision, Gionta's quick-step-and-release, and Pouliot always going to the net, these three have become a real force for the Habs.
The story of the game, however, was the three goals that the Habs scored within the first five minutes of each period. They say that goals early or late in a period can deliver the strongest killer blow to your opposition and the Habs did exactly that last night -- Gionta scored his 19th, 22 seconds into the first, Dominic Moore scored his 10th, 4:43 into the second, and Pouliot scored his 15th, 36 seconds into the third.
For the Kings, Anze Kopitar got one back at 18:16 of the first and Fredrik Modin scored at 7:12 of the third to make it a one goal game. Up until the Modin goal, the Habs were really limiting the Kings to shots from the outside and as such, Jaroslav Halak wasn't tested all that much.
Once Modin scored, however, and as the Kings started to press for the tying goal, Halak was forced to come up big and he delivered in the same Olympic form that allowed the Slovaks to be the surprise of the tournament.
Thomas Plekanec scored into an empty net with less than two minutes left to play in the third, to seal the deal and that was all she wrote. This game was probably one of the most complete or 60 minute efforts that the Habs have iced all season. If they can keep playing like this they should have a good chance of make the playoffs.
The problem for the Habs is that their margin of error is non-existent. If they fall into a two, three or four-game losing streak they can almost certainly kiss the playoffs goodbye.
Final score: Habs 4 - Kings 2
1. Halak looks to be picking up where he left off before the Olympic break. Despite having a relatively easy night, Halak made the key saves that you need your goalie to make to help deliver the win.
For most of the season we have gotten used to the Habs winning games almost uniquely on the backs of their goaltenders and special teams. Last night, however, Halak didn't have to be a hero.
What he did do, however, was make the key saves at key times and that is what winning goaltenders do. With his play, and the play of Price the previous two games, the least of the Habs worries are in nets -- despite what the panic-mongers would have you believe.
No, goaltending is not a problem for the Habs but 5-on-5 scoring is. That's why it was refreshing to see the Habs score twice, 5-on-5, last night. Hopefully this trend can continue, going forward, as it will greatly increase their chance of making the post-season dance.
2. Dominic Moore continues to show that Pierre Gauthier made a shrewd move in acquiring him.
Moore is a responsible role player who looks good in all situations whether killing penalties, grinding it out in the corners or battle for space in front of the net. Moore is the type of player who isn't afraid to get his nose dirty and who can chip in the occasional goal, as he did shorthanded last night.
Look for Moore to play a more prominent role with the team next year as Gauthier shuffles the line-up.
3. Last night was the second game in a row that the Habs played an aggressive, attacking style and it looks to suit them well.
Rather than playing the sit-back-and-wait Jacques Martin trap, the Habs used their speed and skill to wreak havoc on the opposition. Speed and skill are the hallmarks of this team and when the coach let's his them play an aggressive game, they are much more effective on the ice.
Unfortunately, Jacques Martin doesn't tend to coach an aggressive style but rather a more passive-resistance game. And, as I have said before, the problem with that style is that you need bigger bodies to play it effectively. Considering that the Habs are relatively small up front, it often gets messy for them.
Let's hope that Martin continues to release the hounds for the rest of the season because if not, I fear they will continue to be a win one, lose one team and ultimately miss the playoffs.
4. The Plekanec line needs to start scoring. While there is no shortage of encouraging signs for that line, they need to start scoring immediately as the Habs do not have the luxury of time.
The last two games, this line seems to be on the verge of breaking out and last night things were the same for them. Both Kostitsyn brothers and Plekanec had scoring chances last night, but they have to start cashing in on them in order to provide some support for the Gomez line.
You can't win with one line in this league and if the Plekanec line can't find their wheels soon, the Habs might slide right out of playoff contention.
Standings and Next Game
Last night's win gives the Canadiens 68 points in 66 games, good enough for sole possession of the eighth spot overall in the East.
As is always the case, their hold on eighth is tenuous with Atlanta (66 points, three games in hand), the Rangers (66 points, one game in hand) and Tampa (65 points, two games in hand) just behind them in the standings.
In front of the Habs are Boston with 69 points and Philly with 70 but both teams hold three games in hand.
Today, the Habs ride into Anaheim to take on the Ducks and former captain Saku Koivu. It should be an emotionally charged game between two teams who are life and death to make the playoffs.
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