News for Sunday, December 23rd

Most of the news deals with the Canadiens' loss in a shoot-out last night against the Atlanta Thrashers. It was the mirror image of Thursday's game, in which they were outplayed but won two points they didn't deserve: last night, the Habs out-shot, out-hit, and out-everythinged the overmatched Thrashers, but let the game get away from them.

Cristobal Huet was weak on the first Thrasher goal, then very solid through the rest of regulation and overtime. Maxim Lapierre took a terrible offensive zone penalty, and the team paid the price as Marian Hossa fed a beautiful cross-crease saucer pass right onto the waiting stick of Eric Perrin. The Canadiens goals - which had to be good on a night when Kari Lehtonen was very hot - came from Alex Kovalev, a hard slapper that powered its way in, and Sergei Kostitsyn, a third-chancer after shots by Komisarek and Koivu were stopped.

If you're looking for the silver lining, find it in the continuing emergence of Sergei Kostitsyn, who has finally revived the top line, the improving team defense, which just may be based on a system after all, and especially in the overall play of the Canadiens, who truly deserved a better fate, for once.

Given the team's poor history, Canadiens fans were probably feeling a little pessimistic going into the shoot-out, and apparently those feelings are shared by Cristobal Huet, who admits as much to the Gazette's Pat Hickey. "I'm not feeling very confident in shootouts," he says, and verily, it shows. Atlanta only needed two shooters to finish off the Habs and Huet, who was frozen by a Hossa laser and then melted into a puddle by Slava Kozlov's slick move. "It all starts with the goaltender and I have to get better," he concludes. Well, it's good of him to take responsibility and all, but the truth is this game should not have come down to a shoot-out. If the Canadiens had any finish at all, it would have been over before the third period.

The same article contains a conversation with Atlanta scorer Eric Perrin, who hails from Laval, Quebec. Is it just me, or do these French guys on other teams not always manage to kill the Habs? If you're wondering how the Habs overlooked Perrin in the draft, they probably didn't scout him around the same time they weren't scouting his college line-mate, Martin St. Louis.

The Globe and Mail runs an AP piece that fills in the game story from the Atlanta side. Unlike the Canadiens, the Thrashers thrive on the shoot-out, last night's victory improving their record to 4-1 in the duel. When asked why they do so well, netminder Lehtonen was at a loss: "I really don't know," he said. Well, I do, and so does Cristobal Huet: the answer is Hossa, Kovalchuk, and Kozlov. Interim coach Don Waddell anticipated - and receieved - a tough match against the Canadiens, who he says play a "very patient game." That's what you call it when it works, I guess. When it doesn't, it goes from patient to fatalistic. The same piece carries quotes from Guy Carbonneau, who agrees both that the Habs played well - Kari Lehtonen "stole the game for them," he says - and that they need to work on their shoot-out ... to a point: "The shootout is something we try to work on," he is quoted as saying, "but it's not something we can spend too much time on." Uh, why not? Too busy trying out new line combinations, I suppose. Finally, on a humorous note, remember that brilliant poke-check Lehtonen threw out on Koivu last night? The one that had us all complaining that the Captain needs a new move? Well, turns out Lehtonen just got lucky:"I thought he was going the other way. I tried to poke the puck and missed. I guess he added another move since I have seen him. It was luck, I guess." Well, you have to be lucky to be good, I guess. Oh, and sorry, Saku! I didn't mean all that stuff I said. You knows I loves you.

More of the same in La Presse, whose writer Fancois Gagnon concurs with his English brethren that "le CH méritait mieux" (Habs deserved better). The Canadiens, he notes, played much better than they did against the Capitals, but at the same time, the Thrashers are a lot better than the Caps. He quotes Guillaume Latendresse as saying the Canadiens aren't hanging their heads leaving Atlanta ("On n’a pas à partir d’ici la tête basse"), and indeed the young forward sounds quite optimistic: "Les quatre trios ont bien joué, nous avons comblé un déficit pour une rare fois cette saison en troisième période et il y a beaucoup plus de positif que de négatif à tirer de cette rencontre" (loosely, "All four lines played well, we came back from a third period deficit, which is rare, and in general there were positives than negatives in this game"). All true, though I would cite the lack of finish and the continuing struggle in the shoot-out as definite concerns: the Habs will make or miss the playoffs by only a few points, after all.

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