Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Fleury (W)
Habs goalscorers: D'Agostini, Hamrlik
Opposition goalscorers: Gonchar, Cooke, Dupuis
Oddly enough in this game, I will choose a play that happened after a whistle. No, it is isn't the legitimate goal that would have tied the game. Rather, a play made by Tomas Plekanec to "protect" his goalie (or himself). The play itself started unremarkably as a little bit of pushing, but then in a way that you would never see from Georges Laraque, emotion took over Pleks and actually started punching Malkin in the face along the boards (or so it seemed). The immediate was Malkin off the existing PP (good move) and Plekanec off the PK (not good, but still a good trade). But funnily, after that point Evgeni, who had been running roughshod through our zone peppering shots and attempts at the net, seemed to go quiet. On a night where most were content to let Pittsburgh get their own way in every aspect of play, Plekanec in this moment served notice he had his eye on Malkin - and for some reason it worked.
Mike played a strong game with the puck, as we've become accustomed to. He was tasked this time with monitoring the suddenly extremely dangerous-again, Crosby line. And, while the stats will show he was a -2 on the night, one of the goals against was that Dupuis fluke and the goal he was on for was PP and not scored in +/- terms. There were two plays that really stood out for me in Mike's game this night. The first was his stunning no-hesitation pass for the Hamrlik goal (that was Markov material). The second was a a shot he let fly with venom and accuracy from a nothing play – one through a screen that almost came off.
I realise he didn't play for his money. I realise he didn't "score". I realise this one is going to be up for discussion, but so be it. Scott played the second-most minutes among forwards, many on the penalty kill. I'm not exactly sure why I noticed Scott Gomez on this night, but I did – and that in itself tells me something. I think what I noticed was his ability to win the puck, to try interesting things and most importantly the way he led the line when the chips were down at the end. Don't get me wrong, there were bad moments too, a few questionable line changes, but that was the team this night, the game puck man wasn't perfect either. I think this game, the past few games, have really told me what I needed to know about Gomez – get him a winger...
Oh, did I say Gomez needed a winger? I wonder who that should be? Andrei on this night played a very Andrei game. Those who disliked Kovalev will probably have disliked this. However, in his own way he managed to lead the team in shots, just about lead in hits, and lead in chances missed (which says something not only about finish, but also positioning and instinct). The play of the game for Andrei had to be his screen on the PP, notable for two reasons – first that he would even stand in the line of fire, second that he had to hustle to get into that position after floating into free shot territory seconds earlier. It was a sign that even in games without points, he's heading in the right direction.
You wouldn't think it from a 41-shot game, but many (including players and coaches) actually thought this game was a decent effort, even defensively. One good reason for that is because certain players were excellent. First among those for me was Roman Hamrlik. For a guy who took a beating from the press for a sluggish finish last season, one has to think vindication is being achieved. While the Pierre McGuire's of the world will point to monster shot blocking numbers again, that only gives pale impression of his value. For me, Roman is the standard carrier (perhaps the only true carrier) for the Jacques Martin philosophy. Most times he got the puck in this game, he took responsibility, meaning either he made the play or took the hit, etc. This is what good defending is all about – wanting the puck, winning it back. To top it off he had a pretty nice goal with the best goal celebration of the year.
I have to say I thought most defenders played alright, even O'Byrne and Bergeron. But Gorges makes the dome because unlike Spacek he doesn't play with Hamrlik, he plays with Gill. Now I know we're all in love with Gill because we misjudged him and all that, but listen to me: Gill without Gorges is not a very useful player. For every time Gill splays himself across the ice, it's Gorges who scurries in and makes the next, and perhaps more critical play. On this night, he did that repeatedly.
Carey Price - Game Puck
There are two ways to go here. In one review of the goaltending, having Carey in kept us in this game and gave us the chance at blaming the ref for our loss. In another review, one looks at Carey and say there were errors (in puck handling, in over-playing the shots, caught behind the net again, etc.) and he wasn't at his usual standard. Either way, there's no doubt Carey makes the dome, because all goalies make errors and when he's not making errors in the game, he's an absorbent wall to be shot at. But the game puck was a harder decision. Yes we could look at shots and say that any time he saves more than 90% he should be automatic as the three star selectors do. But let's not pretend we didn't watch. Many of the shots he saved were easy ones for him, the Pens missed badly on their most open chances, the shot count for me was dubious, many of his stand out saves were still positioning saves – so do we give him the game puck simply for playing his position properly? On this night we do. For one thing, he was the only player to consistently do that for the Canadiens all night. For another, the biggest saves were at the right times (1-0 down, 2-2 tie, even at 3-2 down), and that is what makes a goaltender great in the end. So not his greatest effort, but if this was just a good effort (and it was in the context of his latest starts). If he was a goalscorer, he would have scored the critical go-ahead goal from nothing at just the right time.
I don't think anyone who missed the game this evening will be surprised that the Canadiens lost to the Penguins. Add the knowledge that the Penguins played well in both ends, and you wouldn't expect any other result. But this game was precariously close, and one or two referee calls away from a victory.
The first descent into dubiousness for Christopher "Chris" Lee (aka Saruman), was on the Canadiens very first powerplay. On a clearing attempt by the Pens, the puck left the rink. Stamping his "authority" on the game, he chose to see the puck hitting the glass on the clearance – the only fudge available to save a 5-on-3 there for the Habs. Infuriatingly, he then pandered to the Pens by awarding a holding penalty to Gorges after Stall skated into Josh's outstretched stick. It was a taste of the robotic reffing that was to come. For those who haven't seen the tying goal, your best bet is on the far more Montreal-slanted RDS who show the overhead shot. I understand how a ref can make the call when he can't see the puck, what i can't understand is how he expected to see the puck anyway from where he was standing. Maybe that's a question for his programmers...
Anyway, at the end of the day, the Canadiens wouldn't have won with that goal, nor would they have necessarily escaped into OT, since there were 6 minutes to come. The Penguins missed more chances than they got on net, it seemed, so the right team won. The refs merely give us all a nice excuse to soothe our soreness. And, I think, a topic worthy of discussion – why can't referees themselves ask to go upstairs to check their decisions. It seems only natural after you blow a play dead and find the puck in the net.
My second rant of the night is this: can we please find a sensible person to record subjective statistics in Montreal? It's getting embarrassing. Some trigger happy fellow recorded 11 giveaways for Jaroslav Spacek. Murray Wilson (and I didn't think he was way off base) claimed it was the best game he'd seen Spacek play. 11 giveaways and best game ever don't jive, especially when a very very bad season is 100 giveaways, not 1,100. The same hyper-responsiveness is at play for other stats like blocked shots, hits, missed shots and others. I know the Pens had a lot of shots, but even some of those looked like they were going wide, yet ended in Carey Price's suddenly flattering save % calculation. It's frustrating because there are people who could do this well in Montear, but also for a statsophile, I hardly want to call into question the value of every number I have to look at.