Dallas 4 - Montreal 1: Game Review

During the first intermission last night on RDS, Kirk Muller was being questioned about the Habs "terrible performance", to which he objected, "Well, I wouldn't use the word 'terrible'". Hmm. I wonder what word he was using after the game was finished? Well, if he wouldn't call it "terrible", anyone doing last-minute Christmas shopping for Captain Kirk should be advised that he could probably use a new dictionary ... and perhaps a thesaurus.

Anyway, I was feeling for Kirk - and Guy, and Doug - during last night's execrable, vomitous, noxious, abhorrent, wretched, vile, atrocious performance. Muller is my favourite Hab ever, a guy who always played his hardest, hated losing, and embodied effort. Kirk had 2nd-line skills, which he parlayed into 1st-line stats and a distinguished career, the high-point of which has to be his leading the Habs to the 1993 Stanley Cup. Why can't we see some of that drive and will from the present-day team? I'm not saying the current Habs don't always try, just that they don't always aim, work, aspire, attempt, compete, contest, labor, or struggle.

In defense of the Habs - though they probably need a better lawyer than me - they were playing their third game in four nights on the road, and last night's apparent lack of effort was probably mostly a lack of steam. They also faced a very tough opponent in the surging Dallas Stars, led by Mike Ribeiro, whose vengeance was swift and terrible. A goal and two helpers for the former hometown hero, and with Bob Gainey in the audience, you know he was loving every second of it. Let's just be grateful this didn't happen in Montreal!

It's conventional wisdom that a tired team can be forced into penalties, and perhaps that's why the Canadiens spent most of the evening trooping off to the box. I would like to think so, except it seems like they've spent the whole season getting themselves into penalty trouble: they take a lot of unnecessary, cheesy holding and hooking calls, and seem surprised every time they get called. Didn't they get that memo a couple of years ago? Two nights ago, bad penalties cost the Habs a win, and last night, two consecutive, early trips to the bin resulted in two early goals against, and we all knew there was no digging out of that hole. I actually changed the channel at 4-0, and yes, it was partly because my girlfriend was yelling at me because I was watching hockey for the third night out of the last four, while ignoring her on "the night before Christmas Eve," which apparently is now some sort of special occasion, but mainly I stopped watching because when the Habs trail after two periods, a loss is even more of a sure thing than she is. Haha, just kidding, baby.

It was a night to forget for most of the team. Carey Price looked more like the second coming of Jocelyn Thibault than Patrick Roy, going down more often than a (insert joke here). In all seriousness, he has changed his technique since the beginning of the season, hitting his knees much more early and often than he used to. Perhaps this is in response to the five-hole vulnerability he was displaying in October? Probably. And it certainly has helped that problem ... unfortunately, shooters have now zeroed in on the top corners, where he is beatable on either side. On the bright side, you get the feeling from Price that he'll adjust for this difficulty in time; he's a serious student of the game, you can tell, and his devotion to technical precision suggests that he's very serious in practice.

Alex Kovalev showed up to play, and was rewarded with nearly 20 minutes of ice-time (he did take a couple of long shifts) but came away empty-handed. Roman Hamrlik made the blunder of the evening, serving up a juicy one to Mike Ribeiro, who promptly ripped it high, glove-side on Price. Ryan O'Byrne struggled, as did Chris Higgins, whom I would bet must be fighting illness or pain. Actually, it would be fair to say that no-one on the Habs had a great night. The only bright spot was Andrei Markov's ninth goal of the season, assisted - for the first time, but not the last - by both Kostitsyns! Sergei continues to impress.

To accentuate the positive - and we should - the Habs have managed to pick up three out of a possible six points on the road, and are now halfway through the usually disastrous annual Christmas road trip. If they can win two of the next three, they'll be in good shape ... though that won't be easy against Tampa, Florida, and New York.

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