What more could you ask for from a game of hockey?
This Canadiens - Flyers contest was a game that had everything going for it, from a pair of pre - game controversies, passing through an impassioned Bell Centre crowd, down to the final, I say correct, good guys 5 -2 winning outcome. This game had it all.
For starters ( or distractions depending on your personal stance ) there were polar language controversies involving Habs captain Saku Koivu's tangle with a Quebec politician, and that of Daniel Briere, native son and all, who shunned the Habs as the potential top catch in last summer's free agent open season.
Add in that Flyers games always take in a colliding of past rivalries with present hockey philosophies, and you have a mouth watering plate to dig your pre - game forks into.
This matchup amounted to big, slow, and goonish versus speedy, elusive, and intelligent.
Before the 60 minutes were over, this tilt had it's fisticuffs, it's dubious officiating calls on both sides, powerplay and PK sparks, a penalty shot, a boo birds paradise, goalposts rung galore, and a captain displaying class on and off ice.
Concerning the lead in stories for this game, Habs captain Koivu addressed the language broohaha via an RDS splice in between faceoffs, by nailing, in french no less, a simulated re-enactment of his opening game script speech in which he proclaimed his "My City, My Team" dedication.
He didn't need to go this length, but the simple fact that he complied with doing so, showed one more great gesture of class.
Hopefully, this same address was blasted over the Bell Centre video screen.
Our captain reminded me of a Finnish Jean Beliveau on this evening - in doing the proper thing, gesture - wise, simply because it was the proper thing to do. Koivu, who is admittedly and understandably insecure with speaking his third language, was impressive in his intonation and his words were surely spoken with the deliberate aim to shutting down this week's fermenting of political idiocy.
Add in a goal and assist for Koivu, and call it a slam dunk down Guy Bertrand's throat.
In it all, through this misguided language issue mess, we have discovered that Koivu's children are his most comfortable language teachers. I've often found Koivu to be not only a model competitor on ice, but a consciencious and appreciative athlete off ice. One could also now suggest that Koivu is the model immigrant citizen, despite his profession, in raising his children to embrace the culture they are fortunate enough to partake in.
His words and actions, on and off the ice, in the last two days, amount to making Bertrand appear exactly as the fool he is.
On the coin's flipside, was the Briere snuff - the second impassioned lead in to Thursday's game.
On that matter, rarely have I heard a crowd so prepared to send a message to a player so many were ready to welcome home and embrace just a few months back. This Bell crowd can sure be the Lorraina Bobbit of jilted girlfriends when it wants to be!
The Briere slight will last only as long as the realization by Habs fans that this boy's gonads are simply too small and shrivelling to handle Montreal hockey demands.
This player actually did us a favor by signing with the Flyers. Understand that we are not talking about Vincent Lecavalier here!
Booed beyond sheer spurned pain, Briere never found his head in this game. If he would have signed with the Canadiens only to suffer such treatment, he would wilt faster than a wet Kleenex in a thunderstorm. Briere reminds me of Pierre Turgeon!
Our young, up and coming Habs have earned 11 of a possible 12 points in their last six games. Witnessing what free agent Chris Drury has so far given the New York Rangers, I say it is doubtful that Briere, for all of what his gutless skill enhanced package offers, would have made the Canadiens a better team right now.
It is his loss, not ours.
Perhaps he was being booed to extremes for having suggested that he signed with the Flyers because they were a better team, in his assessement.
From what I saw of Thursday's Flyers demantling at the hands of the Habs, Philadelphia still does not measure up to the Canadiens in just about every regard.
Not only did Briere play as if he were wearing three jocks on backwards, Montreal owned this game from start to finish, outshooting the "Orange Crushed" by a 41 - 19 margin.
For all the Flyers wannabe reincarnated Broad Street Bullies reputation threatens, the Habs proved to be faster, bigger, tougher, and smarter.
I saw 1976 all over again, and enjoyed the flashback - Komisarek pummeling Hartnell and all.
Obviously the Flyers are not the same team without Steve Downie, Jesse Boulerice, and that Jones guy in the lineup.
As for the game played itself, there were many left over Halloween goodies for Habs fans to lick their chops over. With boos shrinking Briere down to size, this contest gave way to more treats, as opposed to Tuesday night's tricks the Habs played on themselves against Atlanta.
Koivu, for starters, set a tone that never dimished. Lonely was the doubt that the Canadiens would pull this one out. Our captain's effort set the ball rolling.
Kovalev's seventh goal of the season - I didn't see it go in! Neither did Martin Biron!
If you are still wondering why Tom Kostopuolos upseeded Mike Johnson's spot on the team, you may just be cheering on the wrong sport. TK plays with unquenchable zest in every square inch of the rink. I believe his fight with Ben Eager, in this game, was his third of the season. TK is no mammoth, but when a player takes on another three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier and holds his own - I want him on my team!
Kostopoulos was my second star choice tonight, earning the nod by scoring his first Habs goal shorthanded, the game breaker, on a nifty give and go with Andrei Markov joining the PK rush.
In the post game interview, the bilingual TK unwittingly summed up the recent language controversies by answering questions while alternating tongues. When asked about his play, and his shorthanded goal, he replied something like this:
"Le but, a venu a un good time. Markov a fait un perfect setup. Je suis contant d'avoir made a contribution."
Eat that, Guy Bertrand!
Other than "Boo" the second most prominant on ice sound was "Ping'', twice behind Biron and three times behind Cristobal Huet. Analysing goalposts hit, can often earn the same analogy as prospective bar pickups - something in the delivery was simply insufficient. To put it squarely, neither goalie was destined to be a star in this game.
Keep eyes and ears open for a soon to be brewing controversy, involving Michael Ryder and Guillaume Latendresse.
Both players have been at the top of Habs fans wrath list so far this season, as each have been slow in finding their prime game form from 2006-07. Watching the tentativeness of both players, in respect to the three zones the game is played in, it becomes obvious that there is a concentration on positional play that is comprosing the offensive output these two sharpshooters are capable of.
Different assessments are branded onto each forward.
Ryder is concentrating on hitting more, but seems to be standing still when opportunities to shoot and score arise. Some opinions suggest he is squeezing the stick too tightly while trying to command the slot position as his usual firing line. Despite this lacking, Ryder is not providing the Canadiens with what he is being paid to do. He is however, demonstrating more willingness towards defensive sacrifices.
While understanding that the team has been able to win without Ryder's goal scoring contribution, leads management to question how vital he is in the grand scheme of success.
Latendresse throws more hits than Ryder in trying to convert chances, but often seems a second or two behind the play. Focusing on one aspect seems to detract from another one in Latendresse's case, as he simply may be trying to accomplish too much all at once.
Often Latendresse's efforts amount to missed chances while playing on the second or third lines. On the top line, with only a few shifts to gauge concrete results, Latendress has shown an ability to convert Koivu's plays, and this is going back to last season.
In certain ways, Latendresse brings a different dynamic to Koivu's line than Ryder does. If Ryder continues to be dry, unfairly perhaps, Latendresse could be the solution. Against the Flyers, Latendress had 8 shots on goal and played his best game of the year.
The fourth line continues to be a sparkplug for the team as a whole. Steve Begin was a pinball hammer, nailing everyone he could without sparing any effort. For Carbonneau's coaching style, having a line that can match up against many team's top lines allows him the liberty of rolling his own any way he chooses. This will be a recurring theme this season, as the Habs surprise and undo several seemingly better, albeit, thinner opposing lineups.
Roman Hamrlik, who continues to impress, almost scored on a penalty shot. After jumping out of the penalty box, a pass sent him into the clear. The defender chasing him did manage to touch the puck before bringing Hamrlik down. Last year, calls like this went against the Habs - so we'll take the breaks anyway they come. Unfortunately, Hamrlik hit the post trying to duplicate Andrew Markov's shootout winner against the Penguins.
Referee Chris Lee was equal to his reputation - which isn't good. He missed a bunch last night, including a dubious call on Briere, who seemingly hauled down Higgins by breathing on him.
The best thing about yesterday's game is the confidence this type of win brings two days before meeting the Leafs. A gut check, it certainly was, and the Canadiens boys will be tuned up perfectly to host a Toronto team Saturday that has the habit of testing them to the max. It should add up to an interesting weekend.