Kostitsyn, Kovalev and Begin Lead Canadiens Past Sabres

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Coming off a solid effort against the Flyers on Thursday, the Canadiens were tested even further on Saturday in a contest they never led until the final whistle - the occasion being Alex Kovalev's overtime winner!

The Canadiens came from behind three times, in a match that became more entertaining as it went along.

Curiously, both clubs increased their shot totals by period (9-11-12 for Buffalo, 10-12-18 for Montreal), with the Canadiens adding six more in overtime for whopping 46 shots in total. With one third of that total coming from the sticks of Kovalev (8) and Sergei Kostitsyn (7), slotting the younger bro in the elder's spot was an astute move by Carbonneau.

With wins in their last two games, the Canadiens are rounding into form at just the right time in the season. I've noted it before - they are beginning to resemble themselves again, and that is great news.

Four players impressed me most in this game, and each of them have had their share of rough spots this season.

Kovalev, after a nineteen game scoring drought, has goals in three consecutive games. Despite the recent surge, it seems to me that he had been playing well all along for the most part. The difference lately being, pucks are going in. I'm not ready yet to subscribe to the notion that his skills are diminishing.

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It was said recently that Kovalev seems to give a fuller game when Saku Koivu's "C" is sewn on his jersey in the captain's absence. That's an unfair knock on the Russian in one sense, but likely very true, as it ought to bring a higher awareness from him. Kovalev will always be a case study in opposites, many fans have accepted such. Now in his fifth season with the Habs, I'm starting to used to his "bad, late game penalty / bouncing back for the winning goal" schtick - it kills me everytime. Last night, even Benoit Brunet of RDS called it. "Watch Kovalev come back!" he made amends once again.

Steve Begin, a human pinball on this night, had seven hits in this game, earning the second star. Several folks thought Begin was done in Montreal after sitting off for all but a few of the team's first 12 games this season. Back then, I lamented the team missing his contribution, spark and leadership, and he magically (Carbonneau must have read this!) he returned to the lineup and hasn't sat out a game since.

Begin is the perfect fourth line player for the Canadiens. He takes his role seriously, and no one is better at sparking the team when it needs it. Contrary to Kovalev sometimes, Begin plays every shift as though there is a "C" sown onto his jersey. For him I believe, the "CH" is more than enough. Begin is no spare part on a talented team.

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Another player coming into prominance after a disapointing start to the season is big Georges Laraque. Any game now, Laraque will score what will be his first goal in a Canadiens jersey, and I'm hoping that it occurs at the Bell Centre, because it will bring the roof down.

Laraque took care of Andrew Peters in fine fashion early in the game, and the Buffalo forward was unusually quiet thereafter. Often it is said that when Laraque plays his role effectively, that it offers more freedom and room to work for the Canadiens more talented players. Against the sabres, I found that after Laraque had taken care of business in the early going, that it actually helped to created more space for himself. You could almost see Sabres players kid gloving their way around him. The more Laraque was able to hold onto the puck, the better his linemates could enforce pressure in the Buffalo zone.

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Young Kostitsyn, the game's first star, produced an effort that should remove a great weight off his shoulders. Recently banished to the press box in what was seen as a disciplinary measure, he has resumed being a key cog in the Habs attack.

Against Buffalo, Kostitsyn was used as a pointman on the powerplay, and for the third consecutive game, the unit has produced results. Sergei is a very instinctive player who plays best when things come naturally to him. Sometimes, by wanting to do too much, he loses the simplicity of his natural talents.

In a post game interview, Kovalev suggested as much, noting that that was the advice he offered the young star to see him through his roadbumps.

Since being drafted by the Canadiens in 2005, 200th overall, Habs fans have watched each stage of Kostitsyn progession anxiously. From his two excellent campaigns with the London Knights, through a 20 game stint with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and his ascension to the Canadiens lineup last December, we've all seen so much of his skillset that it feels as though he has been with the Habs much longer than he in fact has. It is surprising to know that he has only played in 81 regular season games and 12 playoff contests thus far. One gets the sense sometimes, perhaps because he is so sound defensively, that he's a fourth year veteran. Once he has put a few full seasons behind him and gains more experience, the Canadiens will have quite the player in their midst. This game was a preview of that.

Photos courtesy of Montreal Canadiens.com

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