The team was reeling from a horrible loss to the Capitals. Lots of meetings. Lots of grumbling. The coach wasn’t very happy with his players. The players really didn’t think much of their coach.
So how to solve this impasse? Yes, there was the much talked about Gainey — Kovalev meeting this morning. But a bigger impact came from an unlikely source.
Rollie Melanson had an idea. With Doug Jarvis still spending time with his very ill father, Melanson suggested that Mike Komisarek take a turn behind the bench. Melanson was on the bench for a rare visit on Friday night. Perhaps Rollie suggested MK take the bench spot as he wanted to escape the tension of the bench to his more familiar perch high above.
Whatever the reason, coach Komisarek was just what the doctor ordered. For the players, Komo is someone they respect and trust. And with Carbonneau struggling to get through to the players, MK was a welcome ally. By Komo’s own modest admission, he was there to be a “big cheerleader” and to help the bench “stay positive”. But the camera shots seemed to suggest that Komo was doing more leaning over and providing peer advice to Latendresse and others.
It was an important win against a division opponent. But it was three steps, forward two steps back. First the positives. Once again Carey Price led the team stopping 26 shots with some great saves early and late in the game. Andrei Kostitsyn had a huge game with a goal, an assist and numerous chances. He was certainly the first star. Robert Lang also played very well with a team high 6 shots.
Saku Koivu had his typical solid effort. His work in the Buffalo crease especially during powerplays was textbook and should be a lesson for his teammates. He was getting hammered but maintained positioning.
Matt D’Agostini was steady and didn’t look out of place. He played hard on the boards and isn’t easy to knock off the puck. He also went to the front of the net. He had power play time and was on the ice during the last five minutes of the game with the Canadiens protecting a one goal lead.
The three Canadien goals were all result of hard work. Andrei Kostitsyn stole the puck, wheeled around the defenseman and put it past Lalime. After a botched Buffalo line change, Lapierre made a nice pass to Begin for the second Canadiens goal. Markov weaved through the Buffalo zone dishing to Koivu and then Andrei buried the return pass for his goal.
Apart from Markov and Hamrlik, the defensive corp had a rough night. Dandenault had some signs of rust but he will get better as he readjusts to playing defense. Bouillon and Brisebois were both responsible for several bad giveaways. Sabres had two great chances to score in the last minute due to Brise. Not sure why he was on the ice at that time of the game. And Josh Gorges was primarily responsible for both Buffalo goals by Tomas Vanek. On the first goal, Gorges was already heading to the bench on Higgin’s backswing. When the puck wasn’t cleared, Gorges had left Vanek all alone in front of Carey Price. (Vanek is at the top of the league in goals, Josh). On the second Gorges got turned inside out by Vanek. After regaining the puck, Gorges put it on the stick of Roy who went to Stafford and then to Vanek for the goal.
The Habs were also back to their undisciplined ways. Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn took bad penalties and Begin took an ill-timed penalty. Sergei had 3 minors in total with 2 being poor decisions in the offensive zone.
The Canadiens power play was 0 for 5. Particularly disappointing was a full two minute 5 on 3 in the third period. Andrei Kostitsyn looked very good playing the point. He has the best shot on the team and the Habs need a point shot to spread the defenders. Nice work by Buffalo’s Toni Lyman with 4 blocked shots on that power play (7 in total).
And then there’s Alex Kovalev. More ice time tonight with 3 shots, a few chances and several giveaways. He is not a happy guy.
Time to mention two more Sabre defenseman. Craig Rivet is a classy guy who doesn’t deserve the booing from a few moron fans. It was good to see Rivet but equally good to see the way his pal Koivu boxed him out to set up Markov for his goal. Teppo Numinen gives exactly what you want from a veteran defenseman. He still skates well, is an excellent passer and is smart defensively.
Still the same problems tonight but a win nonetheless. Job well done Mike! Your coaching record is now 1-0.
An inexperienced coach taps the favorite item in his toolbox once again. He turns it on high to shake up the lines:
Koivu, Higgins, D’Agostini
Plekanec, Kostopoulos, Begin
Lang, Kovalev, Latendresse
Lapierre, Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn
Dandenault will play defense for the first time this season paired with Bouillon.
O’Byrne – scratch Laraque – groin Tanguay – sore neck
Mike Komisarek will be behind the bench. Doug Jarvis spending time with his 93 year old ailing father.
Rocket’s 3 stars:
1. Andrei Kostitsyn
2. Tomas Vanek
3. Andrei Markov
(photo credit: AP Photo)