Sunday, October 2, 2011

01/10/11: Montreal 5, Tampa Bay 1; raising the spirits

Just as we were quick to say "it's only preseason" during all 6 of the Montreal Canadiens' losses, we need not be reminded that it was STILL "only preseason" last night as the team got their revenge on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a big way with a dominating 5-1 win. Given the lack of a boxscore, I'll inform those that missed it that the goal scorers were Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Mathieu Darche, Erik Cole, and Mike Cammalleri.

BUT this was a big one. A big one because, given how poorly preseason had gone thus far, the team needed to get another win on the board. Sure, 2-6-0 is still a pretty crummy record, but ending on a high with the team's through and through best effort while playing its most complete roster will be good for the group's confidence as they prepare for the season opener this Thursday in Toronto.

As with previous games, we'll talk about some specific players, but focus more on the collection of their work over the course of the preseason than just last night specifically. If a player isn't mentioned below, that means he was basically as expected. If it's a veteran, it means he wasn't awful, but looked preseasonish, and if it's a rookie, it basically means "see: other prior reports."

Scott Gomez: From his first game, it was clear that Gomez has no intention of repeating last season's disappointment. This year's Gomez seems quicker, more involved and determined, and more willing to put the puck on net rather than make soft passes. While it's possible he will be deemed expendable as of next season depending on the progress of David Desharnais and Lars Eller, he will be an important part of this year's team and the club will need a strong performance out of him if they are to make a deep playoff run.

Erik Cole: No disappointments here thus far. He has been a productive player in every game he played except for Thursday night's shutout loss, and even then he was one of the team's better forwards. He has shown an uncanny ability to rip the puck off opposing players as they try to start a breakout or skate through center ice, creating turnovers and high percentage scoring opportunities on a nightly basis. He also has the ability to finish plays that often lacks on the Montreal roster with his quick shot and positioning in front of the goal.

Mike Cammalleri: I've said this in virtually every review, but Cammalleri is another player who looks determined to have a good year. He also looks faster than in the past, and has shown frustration over his numbers not being better than they have been. 30 goals is not out of the question if he can stay healthy.

Aaron Palushaj: I've given Palushaj a hard time throughout most of camp, but it was deserved. In rookie camp and into his first two preseason games, he simply didn't look good. A soft, perimeter player who wasn't generating any offense. To his credit, he managed to flip a switch and has made a camp out of it, with 2 points in each of his third and fourth games, and then a solid effort last night, putting his speed and size to good use. It's not clear where he might fit on the roster, and he's likely headed down to Hamilton when everyone is healthy, but PERHAPS there is still some hope for him.

Mathieu Darche: Love the guy. Keep him out of the top 6 please, but as a third or fourth liner, he definitely has a valuable spot on the team. He forechecks hard, goes to the high-traffic areas, is a good enough skater with good enough size, and has a solid shot. Works well with David Desharnais.

Andreas Engqvist: A disappointing camp continues. He's a fine penalty killer, but he doesn't look NHL-ready. Certainly must be making the Canadiens wish they had signed Zenon Konopka over the summer, but at this point, he'll get the 4th line center job by default and just have his minutes limited until everyone is healthy.

Chris Campoli: I'm impressed by the signing. Good skater, good puck mover, supports the offense well with a quick release shot. The waiting game now will be an update on his health tomorrow, as he left the game following a hit to the head by Ryan Malone - a troublemaker throughout the game - in the third period. Was the hit suspension-worthy? Based on Brendan Shanahan's rulings thus far in preseason, I would say so, but judge for yourself:

UPDATE: - There is good news, being that Campoli was on the Canadiens' flight to Toronto and will accompany the team on their retreat to Collingwood. If he had shown signs of a concussion, it is likely he would have returned to Montreal for treatment.

Josh Gorges: The Habs' best defenseman in preseason, Gorges hasn't lost a step with his surgery of last year. In fact, he looks quicker. A great teammate, willing to step in to defend anyone in trouble, and so very sound defensively. He'll be a big part of the group this year, and MUST be retained next summer when he'll be UFA eligible.

Jaroslav Spacek: I never thought I'd say this, but wow. I've been impressed by Spacek, who got into much better shape over the summer and has shown the kind of focus and determination needed to turn the twilight years of his career around. I think he knows that with the way he had been playing, he was not going to be offered another NHL deal after this year, and while it's still probably his last season in Montreal, he looks poised to be a solid veteran presence on a D that will be injected with some young talent throughout the season.

Raphael Diaz: I'll admit to being a big Alexei Yemelin fan for the physical elements he bring that are lacking in our group of d-men, but I have to give a lot of credit to Diaz. He does have some defensive shortcomings, but as camp as progressed, he has looked more and more confident with the puck. His control at the blueline on the second powerplay unit is definitely NHL-calibre, and his breakout passes are crisp and effective. For now, he has earned a job, but I do hope Jacques Martin finds a way to get Yemelin some ice time.

Carey Price: This wasn't the busiest of nights for him, but he looks well prepared to undertake the long and grueling year that lies ahead. As many in the media have said recently, he's well on his way to being one of the top netminders in the world, and this year will hopefully be another stepping stone towards that end.

The Canadiens weren't the only game in town yesterday, however. Here's a look at how some other members of the organization played:

- The Hamilton Bulldogs had their second and final preseason game, earning a 4-3 win to finish with a 2-0 record. Brian Willsie had the winner with his second goal in as many games, both Gabriel Dumont and Philip DeSimone got on the board, and Josh McFadden, participating in these preseason contests despite being told he would not be signed, had a goal and a helper. With Peter Delmas still on the shelf, Robert Mayer was in nets for a second straight game. The 'Dogs open their regular season at home next Saturday night.

- Brendan Gallagher returned to the Vancouver Giants' line-up, wearing an A, and scoring a goal, finishing with an even +/- record in a 6-3 loss. This was Gallagher's first game of the regular season.

- Both Nathan Beaulieu and Darren Dietz were on the receiving end of big blowouts (7-0 and 6-0), and each finished -2.

- In NCAA preseason play, the University of North Dakota posted an 8-1 win, with Danny Kristo scoring a goal and adding a helper, and freshman Mark MacMillan contributing 1 assist.
Michigan lost their exhibition match 3-2, but Greg Pateryn scored a goal with Mac Bennett earning an assist.

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