So I only managed to get to watch spurts of last night's tilt between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators. I didn't have access to eithe TV, and for some reason, NHL's Gamecenter was booting me off, pretty much between goals, during the 7-1 thumping.
Last night's win was an extreme morale booster for the Habs who were sans Jeff Halpern, Mike Cammalleri and played a Max Pacioretty who just three days earlier was wheeled off in a stretcher. But man do the Senators suck! It's totally evident that the Ottawa club wants no part of Cory Clouston, and to be honest Bryan Murray's time has long passed him. Note to Eugene Melnyk: Get a broom!
It was an excellent opportunity for those who needed to step up to do so, and they did just that.
Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot both played like actual top-six forwards, each notching a goal. Pouliot's tally, to open the scoring, came off a beautifully timed pass from Mathieu Darche that sent him in on Mike Brodeur.
The two call-ups from the Hamilton Bulldogs, Ryan White and Andreas Engqvist both came into the game with the intent to stay up as long as they can. White led the team in hits, and dropped the gloves with the Senators Brian Lee. White seemed to have the upper hand, until it appeared Lee pulled the hair of the Canadiens winger.
Enqvist filled Halpern's shoes admirably and was 5-2 in the face-off circle after two periods, before finishing the night at 6-6. He also earned some penalty killing time, to prove his ability at the NHL level even if it was the lowly Sens. Halpern skated with Friday scratches Tom Pyatt and Alexandre Picard on Saturday, so it's likely the Swedish center will get another start, or maybe two, before the All-Star break.
With a massive lead, Jacques Martin was able to spread the time more equally between his six defensemen. Hal Gill, who was a game-time decision, played just 17:14, while Jaroslav Spacek and Yannick Weber played a couple miutes over their recent average.
Despite the score, Carey Price did have some busy moments, making 33 saves on the night and enough to earn a Third Star.
The game's First Star? Tomas Plekanec, who had two goals and played a complete two-way game from start to finish, even in a blow out.
Whether Plekanec, Price or any other Canadiens player earns the First Star tonight seems highly unlikely. With the Anaheim Ducks rolling into town, it marks the return of former captain Saku Koivu to the Bell Centre for the first time since leaving the team in the summer of 2009.
Fans are now able to vote for the game's Three Stars, and a massive campaign is underway to have Koivu voted the game's First Star. As much as I love and respect what Koivu did for the Canadiens, I am totally against this idea. The Three Star concept is intended to reflect on player's performance on the ice, and I never supported the idea to make it a popularity contest.
What happens IF the game is a copy of last night's thumping of the Senators? Can't happen you say? Well this same Ducks squad lost 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, so anything can happen. If Koivu were to go -3, or even leave the game with an injury, do the fans still vote for him?
It certainly won't be the first time the fans make controversial voting choices, as Koivu was voted in to play in the 2009 All-Star Game. So let's compromise. 4-3 Habs win, with Saku netting all three Ducks goals for the First Star. There, that will work.
Three Star controvery aside, it will be an emotional night once Koivu steps back onto the ice and that's the moment I am greatly anticipating.
Despite never winning a Stanley Cup, Koivu remained one of the most popular Canadiens players in the team's history. His emotional return from cancer, his standing up to those deeming him unfit to lead the Habs due to the non-French factor, and his full hearted play on the ice always kept him in the good books of the Montreal faithful.
When Koivu was drafted in 1993, he immediately jumped into the media spotlight as many felt that the Canadiens would have chosen Quebec native Eric Lecompte instead. The 6'4" Lecompte would be selected three picks later by the Chicago Blackhawks, but never saw a single NHL game. Koivu gave the Habs 13 wonderful seasons.
His offensive totals may have never reached the full potential that was expected, due to health and injury problems, but he made every effort of his 792 games, scoring 191 goals and adding 450 assists and there was never any doubt that the Montreal Canadiens were a much better team when he was on the ice.
Koivu himself humbly admitted he didn't put himself at a level of those enshrined in the Bell Centre rafters, during Friday's press conference, but certainly acknowledged the love and respect that he had in Montreal from the fans.
"The way (the fans) treated me and the support that I got, I feel that I should be the one standing at the red line and applauding for them and give a standing ovation to the fans.
"They've surprised me often over the years. Getting a positive, loving reaction would feel good and that would not surprise me because that has happened before."
Welcome back, Saku! Here's hoping you get a well des
It willalso be a diffent looking Canadiens roster from tho one he left in the spring of 2009. Only Price, Kostitsyn, Plekanec, ROman Halirlik, Josh GOrges and Andrei MArkov remain from that lineup. The latter two are both out for the season, and won't face thier former captain.
Wlcome home Saku, and here's hoping for a well deserved, and earned First Star, win or lose.
P.S. Maxim Lapierre, Kyle Chipchura and Paul Mara also return....Show them the love too!!! Gotta wonder if the CBC will focus on Koivu's return as much, given that fact that the Leafs vs. Washington Capitals match-up is the nationwide game while Habs/Ducks is QC/AB/BC.
Game reaction from Friday from Silver Seven
and a ton of Saku reads from:
Birthday greetings to Habs greats Elmer Lach (93 years young), and Serge Savard (67). Habs HOFer Bill Durnan was born on this day in 1916 and the late J.C. Tremblay in 1939.