Wednesday, September 21, 2011

20/09/11: Dallas 6, Montreal 3; or why losing in preseason is good

So let's classify last night's start to the Montreal Canadiens preseason calendar as anticlimactic. Carey Price warned us prior to the game that he didn't feel ready and thought there were still things he needed to work on before puck drop on the regular season in October, and, well, he was true to his word.

But it wasn't all Price. The Habs were out matched for much of the game by a Dallas team that looked far more ready to play. In the Canadiens' defense, the Stars did dress more of their core roster than the Habs, but Montreal looked rather disorganized and disjointed for much of the game, showing little system or team concept play.

Don't panic folks. It's just preseason. And the first preseason game at that. In fact, losing in preseason can show you areas you need to work on. Last night, there were many. When your team is winning, you tend to overlook the little things that go wrong, but when you lose, they are magnified. Well preseason is the perfect time to work out these kinks, so a loss or two here and there is not something to bow your head about.

Let's talk about individual players briefly. Those who came to watch Alexei Yemelin, Jarred Tinordi, and Raphael Diaz on the blueline may have walked away a little disappointed. Not because those guys were terrible, but the team's surprising best defender on this evening was fringe veteran Jeff Woywitka. Both offensively and defensively, he showed good hustle and smarts with the puck. He may have been off the radar for money, but he looks like he doesn't intend to go down to Hamilton without a fight. Certainly he'll get another chance to prove his worth.

Yemelin, the player coming into the game with the biggest hype, was ok. He wasn't spectacular, showing nerves at times, but laid out a big hit or two and supported the rush reasonably well.

Diaz, similarly, seemed to get better as the game went on, looking most comfortable on the ice in the third period. He should definitely be Hamilton-bound to start the year, but there is potential there, beyond the team-worst -3 rating that shows up on last night's boxscore.

The twin towers of Jarred Tinordi and Hal Gill looked slow and ineffective on the ice. I wouldn't say there is big concern about Tinordi, but his skating is something he will need to continue to work on at the Junior level this season. As for Gill, if the consensus about him is that he's only average in the regular season and good in the playoffs, I guess it's to be expected that he looks subpar in exhibition games.

I will go on record as never having been a fan of Yannick Weber on the blueline. He's small and weak on the puck and struggles against bigger forwards. He doesn't seem ready to quarterback a powerplay unit, though he can be effective if paired with someone to feed him the puck. While RDS praised him several times last night, I thought his game was off. Won't be more than a #6 or 7 d-man for most of the year.

Up front, Mike Cammalleri looked mostly ready to play, showing good speed for the majority of the game, though like much of the club, slowed down by the third period (which is normal given it's the first game and players aren't in mid-season conditioning form yet). Tomas Plekanec was, well, Tomas Plekanec, and there were glimpses of potential chemistry with new linemate Erik Cole. Despite his goal, I was a little concerned over Cole's speed in the game, which definitely looks to have lost a step since his younger years when it was one of his strengths. Once again, it's only preseason, but it is something to be wary of.

The other potential member of the top line, Andrei Kostitsyn, picked right back up where Habs fans expect him to be. A couple of great rushes, and then much time being invisible. He didn't have the best of linemates, as Aaron Palushaj continues to underwhelm and raise doubts about his future in the NHL due to soft perimeter play. At this point, I expect his fate to be similar to Ben Maxwell's last year and for him to finish the season in a different organization. Brock Trotter looks ahead of Palushaj in the call-up line, showing good speed and use of his teammates in the offensive zone.

I'd score round 1 of the Andreas Engqvist - Mike Blunden duel for a roster spot to Engqvist, who, while less physical than Blunden of course, is a much better skater and passer, and showed willingness to use his body and throw a hit or two of his own. It seems evident that Blunden's skating his what has held him back since he was viewed as a high potential prospect in the Junior ranks.

And that's about it. Tonight we'll get a look at a new group including Brian Gionta, Max Pacioretty, and Brendan Gallagher, likely along with Nathan Beaulieu and P.K. Subban on D. But if the team loses again, please remain calm. It's only preseason! In the words of our star goaltender, "Chill out!"

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