Habs Goalie: Halak (L), Price
Opposition Goalie: Leighton (W)
Habs goalscorers: Gionta, Gomez
Opposition goalscorers: Briere (3 – incl Pen Shot), Richards, Carter, Betts
If the guy who controls the Bell Centre siren had sounded it early, that would have been the play of the game. Such was the sorry state of this affair. There was a brief period of light, though, for Habs fans from the PP on which Gionta scored to the PP on which Hamrlik and Halak conspired to end the game early. During that stint, Gomez was briefly on fire. After Gionta had scored, he won a faceoff and retreated into the Habs zone to support the rush. There he took a short pass and set to work. Picking up speed, he skated at the forecheck. Once the forward committed he deftly sidestepped and catapulted into empty space, continuing right through until he was at the Flyers faceoff circles. His individual play continued as he put in a testing shot (one of very few in the game) and pursued a rebound on which he almost scored. That would have been 3-2, that would have been nice.
8 shots, a goal and some of the best chances that didn't go in. Gomez and his linemate knew they were alone out there in this game and put in a valiant effort. Since December, Gomez has done enough to earn the #1b centre tag, and were it not for a couple of million too much, his money too.
Brian Gionta – Game Puck
7 shots on target, 11 attempts on net and a goal for him as well. Against a team built on the philosophy that the only thing better than being big is being a big prick, the little Gionta did well to make space and show life. Apart from his goal, he drew the penalty that kick-started the period of hope and I think I even caught him ramming Coburn's head into his knee at one point. A gritty effort from a great player.
This really is a case of injuries catching up with the team. Tomas didn't look good, but by simply being NHL-level mediocre on the night, he exceeded the multiple AHL mediocre players. As a passer, one has to think that playing on lines with borderline NHLers who are having off nights would reflect on him badly. I give him a bit of a pass then for pushing through this unlucky personnel situation without complaint. His hit on a hulking Dman into Leighton was dirty, but hardly dangerous like the prudes in the RDS booth were claiming. It was a rare and welcome sign that someone cared about this game.
The defence was also victim of untenable promotions and unsustainable solutions. Markov lost, and Hamrlik visibly struggling to make this finish line, Gorges was the #1 for the night. He carried himself well through this, as he's always done in the past. On for 2 against, but only 1 at ES, I couldn't fault him for Halak's largesse. Hopefully by the time we start back up in March, injured will have rehabbed and fatigued will have rested so Gorges can return to being the very excellent #4.
This was nothing like Game #1 for PP. That said, he still easily surpassed his vastly overpaid and overplayed partner, the frustratingly slow-footed and slow thinking Ryan O'Byrne and the cruising Czech brothers. His highlights were again rushes, but once Philly knew to expect them, their effect was somewhat muted. Even so, having a defender who can actually live up to the tag that a fast team gets for skating fast is gold dust when you play the suicide pass game.
I've been keeping an eye on scoring chances and how many shots the goalies face before letting in goalies. I was all prepared to write a glowing review for Halak. He must have got wind, because he turned in one of the most atrocious performances that any Habs goalie has had since the season began. He let in goals on shots 4, 6, 10 and 12. If you consider good shots only (or scoring chances), it was scoring chances 1, 2, 3 and 5. That means his save percentage on key chances, real chances for the first half of the game was about 0.200. Carey's dome appearance was made right there. As it happens, Price ended up playing and doing alright. The dome was his to lose in the 3rd (the game was not at issue) and he did a fine job of playing the reliable of the pair.
Can you tell this game left me out of sorts? I can accept the loss, it's just what 0.500 teams do, after all. But with the Olympics starting, it was horribly disappointing when each commercial break ended to go from athletes competing with heart and soul to this mess. Thankfully, the NHL has limited the overlap to a night.
In a strange way, I think this loss may actually be a good tonic for the Canadiens. For a month or more, the Habs have been scraping results through either goaltending or comeback heroics, with very very few wins for the system. Now a win is a win, but the reason coaches have systems is that it has been shown that systematically playing a certain way can cut scoring chances against and provide counter-attack windows. By suffering a bad loss, the players will have a sour taste for these two weeks, rather than perpetuating the illusion from Philly the night before that comebacks are a viable strategy. If it means that 10 of the 20 players train more seriously, that'll be a good thing. And combined with some lucky news from the clinic, it may mean the team comes back rejuvenated and with something to prove. That's probably best, because we've all seen what they do when given a full-on beach break.
Enjoy the Olympics, enjoy the hockey, skiing, skating, curling, sledding and general sight of athletes who bring it all together at one critical time. And come and visit as we catch up on things we've been wanting to say about this team but for games getting in the way.