Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Game #25

Ducks Finally Wake Up; All They Needed Was Habs And Their PP

Details



Date: 30/11/2011
Opponent: Ducks
Location: Anaheim

Loss: 1-4

Habs Goalie: Budaj (L)
Opposition Goalie: Hiller (W)

Habs goalscorers: Kostitsyn
Opposition goalscorers: Getzlaf, Smith-Pelly, Perry, Hagman



Play of the game


Gionta made a great play just outside of Anaheim's zone to steal the puck and then made an equally great play by getting that puck to Pleks. Tomas went outside on his man and then spun to find Kostitsyn in the slot, streaking in. Andrei made no mistake and put the puck in with a goalscorer's authority and propelled the Habs to an early lead.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Andrei Kostitsyn
He scored the goal that we so desperately needed at the start of the game. He was alright for the rest of the game, but has to be better. 1 goal on an off night, however, is still better than 0 goals on an off night from the other forwards.

Brian Gionta
Brian started the first goal and seemed to be back to his dangerous self. There were glimpses of that throughout, but he never sustained too much pressure at one time. Maybe he needs Gomez more than Gomez needs him? Who knows, I just know the Habs need scoring from the captain. .

Lars Eller
There were a few times where the Habs actually looked to be getting organized in the offensive zone. It was during those times that more often than not I saw Eller in the right spot. He'll never do too much himself, but with a couple of decent wingers, as we have seen, he has the creativity and skills to keep up.

Defencemen

Hal Gill - Game Puck
I didn't like his play on the first goal against, but after that he turned in a great defensive performance. In all there were 11 blocked-shot and 7+ minutes of PK time.

Josh Gorges
Subban, Diaz and St. Denis all had brutal games. That leaves Josh or Emelin. The fact that I didn't notice either too much means I'll side with Josh here. His work on the PP was no worse than anyone else's but he clearly demonstrated, as many others (not named Markov) have, that he is not the answer to our PP woes.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj
Peter let in 3 goals on 26 shots which isn't fabulous. He also had some dangerous moments that didn't end with the puck in the back of the net. He did, however, make some very good saves throughout and did manage to keep one of the most uninspired Habs teams that I seen this year in it for 2+ periods.


Comments


There was no flow to tonight's game and for that we can thank the refs. It all started when we were getting PP after PP in the first. This ends up being bad for the Habs for 3 separate reasons. The first reason is that we are horrible with extra man and are actually more likely to get scored on than to score a goal of our own. The second reason is that it takes away from our 5-on-5 ice-time, which is really the time that we want until Markov is back. The third reason is that it means penalties are coming against us no matter what we do (and they did and it didn't). Scoring on the PP would have been the answer, but when going 0/7 isn't that unreasonable considering our current rate it is not surprising at all.

We have two games to go in California against better teams. Anaheim was the 'easy game' the one where it seemed OK to start Budaj. Well, we just lost to a vulnerable, almost league-worst, team. The next two games will be so much harder which means we have to start playing well. There won't be any lucky wins this week, they will have to be earned. I have seen this team do crazier things though, so I still have hope. I am not sure why Markov didn't play today and if he is even as close to a return as we all think, but he is the one player that can right this ship. We need him back ASAP and need him more now than we have needed him since last year's playoffs.

Markov No Saviour, But...

A very good article was posted today by JT at "The H Does Not Stand For Habs" that addresses the issue of expectation in Habsburg (thank Dennis Kane).

The article stresses some important points for us fans who eagerly await the return of Andrei Markov, the primary message that a lot of time off will have caused rust that will take some time to shake. I fully agree, but there's a but isn't there.

The but of course is that the Canadiens have been managing this season on the back line with essentially three rookies and a sophomore. When Gill was out it was three rookies, a sophomore and an AHLer.

All of them have been doing a formidable job considering the circumstances, but Markov rust or not is nearly guaranteed to offer a better option than one or two of that crew (and I think nearly makes that statement very conservative).

It's easy to forget what Andrei Markov does. It's been easy because it's been so long that we've really had our memories jogged. The notion remains that the Habs win more when he is in the line up (which I think used to be true, but not for his most recent half season), but the forgotten bit is why and how.

Did you know for instance that during his last half season (2009-10) Markov was on the ice for 3.89 GF/60, which given his minutes played was well over a goal per game? Only Pacioretty can match that level of prolific production (about the same this year and last) and Markov's closest peer (Subban) as good as he's been has been clipping closer to 2.75 GF/60 the past two years.

That season, where there was rust to be shaken as well (severed tendons), he paced the PP to nearly 10 GF/60 during his half season with the team. Last season, a good PP had several members who fit in the 8 to 9 GF/60 range on the PP (helpful to have a QB like Wisniewski), but this season the highest achievers are punching about 5-6 GF/60.

Markov was involved in 44 goals in 2009-10 in 53 games all told. This on a Canadiens team is forward level offensive contribution.

While I think there will be rust for Markov, I think it will affect certain areas of his game more than others.

Defensive coverage? I'm not really looking forward to seeing him paired against the top lines right away.

Skating? I'd be surprised if a few hearty practices bring his legs to full game shape.

But knowing when to send a pass across the middle to an open Cammalleri? Or not employing a pump fake and 180 degree wind up for every PP manoeuvre? Andrei's ability to make crisp cross zone breakout passes and quick reversals on the PP don't come from his superior skating ability or stickhandling or anything physical. Rather they come from his instincts for the game and his propensity to see a pass before the receiver often does. These instincts are things I'm confident his shaky knees will not affect, these instincts have been trained over many years to reach this expert level.

Oh sure, it won't be first PP, first game. But I don't think we'll have to wait too long to notice the difference in PP danger following Andrei's return.


There's more good news

I've focused on Andrei Markov's offensive contributions on purpose. That's where I believe the rust will affect him least, and that's where I believe his talent is truly unique.

But there's another good reason. Since Markov's extended hiatus began, the Canadiens have built a fairly solid defensive system, manned ably by the defencemen in it and Carey Price. Subban, I'll never get tired of saying, stands out more in the defensive zone than any. Hal Gill has little use anywhere but the defensive zone, but there he uses his talents well. Josh Gorges has grown without Markov and plays like a star in some of his functions.

The Canadiens this year have managed to put together an astounding success on the PK. More than anything this stands out as the team's main strength.

This is good news for the team, of course, but also for Andrei Markov.

IN the old days, Markov played in every situation, PP, ES, PK. He shone in all facets of play, but if there was a weaker point, I might have pointed to PK. The team he steps back onto should allow for him to ease back into his NHL life mostly free from PK for a while, perhaps for a long time, to concentrate on being the link between puck recovery and dangerous breakout. This is no longer a team pretending Mike Komisarek or Sheldon Souray or Mathieu Dandenault can be his partners, this is a team that gives him more licence to explore those offensive instincts.


I don't think Markov will change the season for the Habs in 5 minutes. But I do think he'll change the dynamic of the team significantly within a few games of return.

I think other teams will have to re-evaluate the ways they approach Habs games, and perhaps even the freedom with which they are willing to use illegal play and risk penalty. I think all will benefit from a shift of responsibility to Markov, what each does best in better balance.

I look forward to it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shanahan Makes Big Deal of Pacioretty Hit on Letang

Pacioretty will sit 3 games for his colossal hit on Letang Saturday night, despite no penalty being called on the play (if you haven't seen it, you can watch here perjorative-free). Some call it a cheap shot, some a spectacular hockey hit, and maybe some would kind of agree with both. I'm one.

First of all, let's agree that the hit had to be made. Letang was making a potentially dangerous move while in possession of the puck, and Pacioretty had him lined up perfectly. It was very much in the middle of the play, and a solid defensive move for Pacioretty to use his speed and good positioning to deliver some kind of hit to knock Letang off the puck. Just like—and this is a very deliberate comparison—it was a good defensive move for Chara last March to make some kind of play to rub Pacioretty on the boards to do the same.

Pacioretty put it very well himself on TSN : “It's a quick decision there. He's coming across the middle, he's got the puck and is maybe in a scoring opportunity. If I let him go, he could potentially score on us. I knew I had to hit him but I didn't want the result to be like that.” I don't think Pacioretty meant to hurt Letang, but he sure did mean to surprise him with a killer hit and break up the play.

There wasn't a penalty on the hit. I'm not sure that was the right call, because it looks to me like Pacioretty leaves his feet. More importantly, the hit nails Letang right in the head. For better or worse, the refs are supposed to be calling that, partly because of Chara's hit on Pacioretty. I think someone could try making an argument that Letang's head shouldn't have been where it was, but I don't think it's a very strong one for reasons I'll discuss in a moment.

At the same time, it's not like this is the first time someone left their feet do deliver a classic open-ice hockey hit. You know, the kind that guys like Scott Stevens built a whole career around in the pre-lockout and pre-headshot rule era. There was no illegal stickwork involved, no holding or tripping, no running someone's face into a metal pole at full-speed. In many ways, this was little more than a classic open-ice hit that caught Letang unawares, and it was that surprise factor that made the hit as devastating as it was.

At the same time, shots to the head are what we refer to as a “Big Deal” in the NHL right now. There is essentially a crackdown in effect, with Shanahan cast as the new sheriff in town and hopefully handing down the law in a more even-handed way than his predecessor. The rule against head shots is truly to the benefit of the players, the league, and the fans; and it needs to be enforced even if the refs don't call it on the spot.

Pacioretty had this check lined up for what amounts to an eternity in on-ice time. When Chara talked about the game moving too fast to make smart decisions, I found it to be thoughtless and frankly insulting to him and every other world-class hockey player that consistently makes good split-second decisions every moment they're out there. I'm glad Pacioretty didn't try to say the same thing, and I'm proud that he showed the class of approaching Letang pretty quickly afterwards and apologizing rather than insinuating maybe Letang did something ridiculously stupid he clearly didn't do that made the injury happen. I like that Pacioretty took responsibility for a deliberate action on the ice.

The reason I said “some kind of hit” earlier is precisely because of the time that Pacioretty had to line up this hit. Firstly, there was no reason for him to leave his feet to knock a player off the puck. Scott Stevens delivers his most powerful hits in the above video with his feet planted, because the ice provides more leverage and power than hurling himself through the air would. Secondly, Pacioretty didn't have to deliver a high hit. He could have just as easily delivered a wicked hipcheck that would have been equally effective at disrupting the play and knocking Letang out of it without risking the Big Deal that comes with hits to the head. My opinion is that he really did have some time to think about this one, and he made the wrong choice.

Perhaps most importantly, I think that Pacioretty of all people should know better than to make a high-risk play where someone's head even
might be in danger. Sure, he's delivered his share of cheap shots in the past while going through the grand tradition of showing enough “grit” for the NHL by logging physical minutes on the third and fourth lines. These days, however, Pacioretty is our top goal–scorer and doesn't need to make high-risk plays in hopes of winning or keeping a roster spot. He's also suffered the consequences of a questionable hit where an opposing player probably could have shown better judgement.

I love a good hockey hit as much (maybe more) than most. All I'm saying is that there's way to clean a guy's clock without hitting him in the head. In addition to the NHL, the medical and research communities are asserting that hits to the head are, in fact, a Big Deal. Sidney Crosby has done the right thing by saying and demonstrating that concussions are a Big Deal, and I have to wonder if Eric Lindros might not have played a few more seasons if concussions had been a Big Deal back when he was playing.

In my opinion, 3 games for Pacioretty seems pretty reasonable. It's a clear head hit, intentional or not, and I'm glad to see the NHL doing anything consistent with their rulebook or stated policies on head hits. Let us know how you feel in the comments.

Monday, November 28, 2011

News and Consequences

November 28

How does big news actually affect the Habs? This is how we think it does

Big news: Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice replaced

Why a Habs fan should care:Habs fans need to recognize what has been lost here today. Bruce Boudreau was a buffoon who frequently took a hard-headed approach to his team. Montreal beat his Caps in the playoffs because he didn't adapt quickly (ever actually) and they would have been able to beat them again, I propose. Maurice was predictable and probably beyond having a real influence on his players.

Dale Hunter has been a great success with the London Knights and has turned out some great players. More importantly, that team has scored and scored. Ovechkin and co. will benefit from the anyone but Boudreau factor, but this may be amped by Hunter. Muller, well we know him, we know he'll be good.

The Habs wouldn't be beating Washington in the regular season, Boudreau or not, but the Canes still in touch may now become a real rival for a lower seed. Together with the playoff match-up implications, this is news that affect the Habs significantly.


Big news: Pacioretty speaking to Shanahan

Why a Habs fan should care: Besides the fact that the team may lose its best straightshooter for a while, the other news is that Habs fans have a chance to show their sincerity.

The hit Pacioretty laid out was against the rules and accidental or not is exactly what the league needs to root out. Jack Todd was quick to point out the need for suspension. I'd second that. Unless players with no history are suspended, suspensions are a powerless mechanism to change the game. Unless semi-accidental hits are punished, players will continue to "accidentally" cause concussions and broken necks. Power to the consequences, forget partisanship. If you really dislike what the Bruins stand for, a Pacioretty suspension is a step in the right direction.


Big news: Toronto winning again

Why a Habs fan should care: Habs fans have revelled for several years in the fact that the Leafs and their fans were experiencing worse troubles than us. Well, after a quick start, Toronto is winning again. And the genius is looking to be proved right by Phil Kessel's scoring lead with Joffrey Lupul!?! sitting in third.

Losing the Toronto schmozzle is jarring. That comfortable thing you could always go back to for a good chuckle. The mockery of the two loud-mouth buffoons who run the team and their brainwashed players could be lost forever if there's a scoring title or heaven forbid a playoff berth.I'm not sure what's to be done.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Game #24

Pens Grapple Points From Habs

Details



Date: 26/11/2011
Opponent: Penguins
Location: Montreal


Loss: 3-4 (OT)


Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Fleury (W)

Habs goalscorers: Moen, Pacioretty, Cole
Opposition goalscorers: Malkin, Dupuis, Staal, Letang



Play of the game


Goal #2. A simple demonstration of why keeping a line together can work. Cole shoots low and hard, Desharnais is there to recover a rebound. Instead of shooting like many players might, he senses his linemate on his shoulder, sloughs the puck to him and goal. Cole was there on the post just in case.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole - Game Puck
I had doubts in the summer. I had bigger ones after 5 games. But now I want to know what happened in Edmonton. Cole is a great fit for this team and deomnstrated that on several occasions tonight. He set up that goal and scored a good one too, but his breakaway made on acceleration was the most impressive moment for me.

David Desharnais
I don't know if he just liked his match-up or what, but DD looked better tonight than in a long time. He was in sync with his linemates and did the simple plays that made the goals. A few times when I was impressed by the quality of the Canadiens PK, I was surprised to see #51 flash by my eyes.

Travis Moen
Credit where credit is due, this guy is scoring some very good goals this year. Not only that, he is using those goals to fuel a confidence we never knew he could feel - witness the chance he took to drive around a defender and get in on goal (albeit without the puck at the end). Pacioretty should have been in this dome, but his hit on Letang ruined a good night for me. There was no excuse for any player to do that, let alone one who should know so much better.

Defencemen

PK Subban
Pittsburgh has a lot of weapons to storm the barricades with and it takes some steadfast defence to keep them back. Tonight I found Gorges overwhelmed at times. The fact that PK didn't look that way was a tribute to the poise and skill we so often take for granted. Yes we'd still like PK to find that shot he once owned for our PP, but that will come with time.

Raphael Diaz
Did you know Diaz played over 20 minutes? No, neither did I till the stats check. On a night where the defenders didn't cover themselves in glory, it's worth noting that the 24-game vet posted a plus one with a few decent chances at the other end.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj
I didn't like the start and I didn't like the finish from Carey Price. His team came back, but it's still not top-notch to let in the first chance of the game (a frequent occurrence of late). The game ended on a sour note too, with Carey launching his stick across the ice in disgust. The ref's call was bad, but so was his effort to freeze the puck. There were many big saves in between these moments, many highlight moments, but if the puck gets behind a guy 6 times in one game, scrutiny is warranted.


Comments


The Habs let a winnable one get away here. It's not everyday that your team comes back against a powerful Pens start to claim the lead and then extend it. With half a game to close this out, the Habs should have done better than they did. The defenders always looked like they were in trouble when the Pens pressed and too often the calm play of possession was overlooked for the quick fix of a backhand dump out (we know how well that works). The forwards did well to beat Fleury three times and once on the post, but sometimes it was their cheats that let Pittsburgh retain long control.

What we basically saw here was a good team (the Habs) lose to a a great team (the Pens). The Canadiens can't call on a player of the caliber of Sidney Crosby. Witness the same defensive strategy which leads Andrei Kostitsyn into a corner and Crosby fighting with puck to the front of the net, Cammalleri off the scoresheet and Crosby with one point and involvement in two disallowed goals. It begins with Crosby, but it doesn't end with him. Staal and Malkin took their cues from the leader and Letang was predatory, if not ubiquitous. The Canadiens should be happy to keep pace with a team like the Pens, but ultimately must learn how not to loseat the line.

Anyway, the point will help. And now it's off to California for a tough week. Anaheim may just be the sleeping giant of the games, as they have some forwards as tricky as those fumbled with tonight for the Habs to deal with. A good forecast from this week would be 3-4 points. The Markov watch continues, of course, as games where he could have been of great help come and go by the day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Game #23

Flyers Wanted It, Flyers Got It

Details



Date: 25/11/2011
Opponent: Flyers
Location: Philadelphia

Loss: 1-3

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Bobrovsky (W)

Habs goalscorers: Nokelainen
Opposition goalscorers: Giroux (2), Voracek



Play of the game


One big problem with our PP is that we let up chances, a lot of chances, against ourselves. It is bad enough that we can't score, but for some other reason the other teams are getting their fair share of attempts on Price. Today, in the first period, with the score locked at zero Price made a fantastic save on Matt Read on a 2-on-1 while we were a man-up. We could have been down at that point, but instead Carey kept us in the game, and did so for much of the second period too.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole
Cole tried hard today, he wasn't at his best, but still looked the best among our top forwards. He led the team in shots with 5 and had some of our best chances. He can't do it himself, though, that was plain to see.

Petteri Nokelainen
I hardly ever notice Petteri, which I suppose for a fourth-liner is a quasi-good thing. It could be better, however, as we have had players in his position work their way to the top-3, even top-2 lines. That isn't going to happen in his case, but he still can be of use as he was today when he put the Habs in the lead.

Lars Eller
A better game from any of the 'big-name' forwards would have probably earned a dome today, but instead Lars, who played alright, gets in. Let's just say that he was one of the players who played the closest to his best and, dare I say, competed in this one. He is still looking for a home on this team, but if he keeps being a top-3 forward, as he was today, they'll have to give him more ice-time and more opportunities than he is currently getting.

Defencemen

Hal Gill
I almost gave the game-puck to Gill today. It wasn't for the weak (as always) shot that he took that became an assist, but instead for outstanding play in his own end, particularly on the PK. Earlier this week I started to wonder if he had his place in the top-4, top-6 or even top-7 D-men on this team. I concluded that he did, but just. Today, however, he reminded me what he can do against strong teams and I am suggesting that if he plays like he did today he will be as valuable to us this season as he ever has been.

Josh Gorges
Diaz, Weber and Subban all looked unprepared throughout the game. They were making mistakes that they shouldn't be making and were making quite a few of them. Emelin was good for the most part, but also didn't look his best. That leaves me with Gorges who I realized didn't look bad at all. It was another solid game from Josh and he even picked up a whopping 10th point.

Goaltender

Carey Price - Game Puck
Price has played much better than this, but, this afternoon, he was our best player by quite a bit. In fact, apart from some more poor puck-handling adventures, he was dominant for half of the game. It was big save upon big save early and I certainly felt that this was the type of game in which he wouldn't be beat. Maybe his teammates felt the same way because at one point (sometime early in the second) they just stopped playing. The onslaught was too much and no goalie would have had the solution.


Comments


It was never going to last, was it? A 1-0 lead against Philly, in Philly, just wasn't going to be enough. When we scored that lucky goal, however, we tried to hold on. The Flyers, however, have too much offensive power to just sit back and hope for the best, but that is what it looked like we were doing. Our only sustained chances came on the PP (just not as good chances as we are used to) and towards the end of the game which is becoming predictable as this team seems to wait far too long to go all-out for a goal. It almost seemed, from the start, that this was a game that we couldn't win. The question, of course, becomes why good one night and bad the next? The answer, as usual, is that this is the NHL. Teams like Columbus can win, ones like Detroit can lose. It wasn't a fun game today, but I am in no way worried that because of it we will play poorly tomorrow.

Next up are the Penguins at home. Yes they have Crosby back, but we have beaten the Crosby-led Pens before. I really believe that we have to find a way to get the two points tomorrow. Otherwise, it will be 3 losses in 4 games this week with the only success being a shootout win vs. the 'Canes. It's not a must-win and the season won't be lost if we don't win, but a win, a hard-fought one, would be very good for our beat-up squad and would just be more fun to watch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Game #22

Refs Decide Canes; Players, Posts Decide Habs

Details



Date: 23/11/2011
Opponent: Hurricanes
Location: Carolina

Win: 4-3 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Ward (L)

Habs goalscorers: Eller, Cammalleri, Moen (Gionta, SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Tlusty, Stewart, Brandon Sutter




Play of the game

Have to give credit to Lars Eller for finishing a Herculean effort while killing a penalty to wake the Habs and turn them onto the fact that the Canes were starting to play like they had the week earlier. Full speed ahead to make the passing option, he recovered Gionta's first shot and set up a chance, gathered the scraps of that and fed Diaz and then pounced lightning quick on a puck from the mask of Cam Ward to walk it in.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Lars Eller - Game Puck
I knew there would be rebuttal for the C+ I gave Eller. I sort of expected it to come from his legion of new fans. Instead, Lars (probably unknowingly) played in a way that put every assessment made by this scout in dispute. He was aggressive and made things from almost nothing. The highlight goal was the crowning moment of his game.

Travis Moen
The last minute penalty was a blemish, but he had a good game overall. He hit the post squarely early and then set up a nice play he finished for the game tying goal as well. He's perhaps still not the player that we thought we had signed that big summer, but he's better as a 7-goalscorer in November than not.

Michael Cammalleri
Camms too hit the post at one point and scored the critical second goal. He continues to look dangerous most of the time. This game showed what a dangerous player on form can be vs. the dangerous player he sometimes becomes lurking around the fringe.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
Gorges continues his maturing process in this league. While he certainly would be the best 4th defenceman anywhere, he is doing a good impression of a good first option on many nights. Tonight, he was the most heavily used player (excluding PP) and with good reason. When I wasn't noticing him it was good. When I was it was usually because he'd edged his way in to pry away a puck from a Hurricane. His shot redirected by Cammalleri was a good example of simple, well executed offense from the back.

Hal Gill
You want to say something bad about this guy, because he lumbers. But you know he lumbers into some pretty smart coverage. His personal play of the game may have saved a goal as he lost his mark but spun smartly with stick on ice to deflect a quick shot to the corner. That was the kind of night he had. Would it kill him to shoot for a corner on a clean chance, though?

Goaltender

Carey Price
Oh he wrestled this one back from Budaj. I watched on the NHL Centre Ice and the Canes commentators were keen on pointing out how dopey and drowsy Price seemed from the start. That first goal an obvious example. Carey worked his way in eventually and made numerous saves that only he could have made with his suddenly in your shooting lane torso. To top it off, he forced three shooters to miss their plays in the shootout under pressure to earn the Habs the bonus point they deserved.


Comments

Have you ever seen a ref go back on a bad call? Tonight you did when they made an icing call they'd rather not have against the Hurricanes. They could have gone back on the goal that should have ended it when Bryan Allen dragged down Erik Cole and the puck went in, but that would just have been too sensible. Kind of like blowing the play dead when the puck is on top of the net sensible.

I guess on American Thanksgiving when hometown assignments are in demand and games are plentiful the Wednesday-nighter in Carolina doesn't draw the best officiating crew. Never mind. In the end, their blundering got the Canes a point, but cost the Habs none. Thanks to the posts, who really could not make their minds up in this one.

The Habs played relatively well and certainly well enough to win. From a shaky, and indeed strange, start this game evolved into one of the best spectacles of the season. The goals were good and the result turned out better. Gomez went missing some time late in the second period amid trade speculation on twitter. However, it has since been "confirmed" that he has merely been moved to day-to-day status, probably coming back too soon from an injury. His absence again makes space for player of the game Eller, we only hope that Lars bottles what he had tonight for future contests.

Coming up, Flyers then Pens. Two tough ones that pose early tests for the Canadiens aspirations and mettle. I'd look for Price in both given the importance and the alternative. Maybe even some exciting news of returns coming up? One can only hope.

Quarter Season Grades

Habs Forwards

21 games into a season and it's time to have a little look back at what has happened. I read a pretty blunt and unforgiving take on the Toronto Maple leafs the other day that will serve as my template.

There's no point in handing out a C when you mean F or a B+ when you mean a C. We'll grade to the curve so that the forwards as a group get the grade they deserve.


As a group
We all know the team is in the thick of things. 6 points out of first, 2 points out of 7th and 2 points ahead of second to last in the conference. A bottom midddling team so far. And the offense has been OK, but rather middling as well. An acceptable 53 goals over 21 games, however, has been inflated by some big outbursts and masks the losses due to lack of punch.

As a group, the forwards have contributed these outbursts and most of the 53 goals, and have been pretty sound defensively at times too. But it's not all positive. The group has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for lacklustre comeback attempts, a largely ineffective PP and for not being more than middling in goalscoring overall.

As a group, I'd give them a C+, a passable performance thus far, but knowing that one needs to be better than rivals, not enough.


Tomas Plekanec: A-
It's possible he's been cast in a role that it's impossible for him to fill: the all-around leader of the Montreal forwards. It is perhaps not in him to carry a team on his back when a huge turnaround is needed. Still, Tomas provides that reliable Plekanec hockey that any team would be pleased to call upon. Nearly a point per game and lots of impressive performances make him the best of the bunch.

Max Pacioretty: A-
Has stepped into the role of Habs primary goalscorer with panache. His shots are well chosen and well weighted, and he's been rewarded with 9 goals so far.

Brian Gionta: B-
A tale of two 10 game stretches. he was at times criminally absent in the first ten games and the Habs record showed for it. Since that time, he has retaken his mantle as leader and is climbing up in these marks.

David Desharnais: B-
His critics are both right and wrong. he has benefited from a few very hot starts at times from wingers and he has obtained assists on goals where he hasn't been the main protagonist. All the same, he does keep finding men open for good shooting opportunities with simple and unheralded passes. He's been a pleasant surprise given we didn't know we even had this player in the system, but is probably underperforming as a top line centre. When goals are needed, he has sometimes been a conspicuous absentee from danger areas.

Erik Cole: B+
What Erik has provided isn't easy to record. After an unforgivable start (unfit at camp???), he has been a point-per-game sparkplug since Game 8 and his first Habs goal. His main contribution may be keeping the stumbling PP above water, as he creates more than 2 goals per 60 minutes when let loose with the man advantage.

Michael Cammalleri: C-
Too many times we have been left saying how dangerous he looked without real benefit from the danger. teams that win have dangerous players who find a way to score. This is the player that Gauthier presumed he had signed in 2009, not one who would be on pace for 16 goals 2 years later.

Andrei Kostitsyn: B-
He's been a handful for many of the defenses he's faced, but like the Canadiens forwards as a whole has been frustratingly slow to step up to the plate when a hit was required. If he can return soon, the situation may be ripe to move him with Pleks and unite Gionta with Gomez, which could benefit both AK and the team overall.

Travis Moen: B
Travis had a great start, but for the last 14 games (that's 1 7th of a season) he's been busy showing us it was mostly just a fast start. He's been outstanding defensively at times, however, especially at ES (possibly due to a little bit of luck looking at his chances +/-), and has been a workhorse on the very effective PK.

Lars Eller: C+
When someone present you with a silver platter, don't put more than half of your shots off net. It's very encouraging to see Eller's confidence and all that, and he has had some truly impressive carries. He's also had his fair share of great shifts. But at the end of the day he embodies what an average Habs forward has been this season. A lot of fancy possession stats, but too often happy to go round the outside and eschew the best scoring chances.

Scott Gomez: F
Gomez has played 12 games now. He has had one, maybe two games where people want to stick their necks out to defend him. Regardless of his money, he is a veteran and a player who can lead the younger ones. He has too often set the wrong example.

Mathieu Darche: F
It's true that Mathieu Darche only has 4 fewer goals than Tomas Plekanec and 3 fewer than Cammalleri, but can you remember a goalscoring opportunity from this guy? I do remember a breakaway he parked in the pads with a half shot. Darche is on the team to be a veteran player who can pick up some slack when others are having off nights. So far, he has yet to do that.

Petteri Nokelainen: C-
He's been better than the alternative (Engqvist) but not much more.

Michael Blunden: D-
It's hard to give a player like Blunden an F, so I'll give him the grade just higher. He did nothing more than play passable hockey and that's slightly disappointing for a team that seems to be in perpetual need of someone with Blunden's physical attributes. Perhaps he was only the victim of an unforgiving coach, after all, he only took one really dumb penalty to put him in permanent doghouse.

Aaron Palushaj: D
He hasn't seen the best ice time, but after 11 games and 80 minutes of ice time, one might expect more than 0 points and one scoring chance from a forward. Call it fear of reprisal if you want, but Aaron let his true mandate slip away as he tried not to get scored on.

Andreas Engqvist: D-
From training camp through his early NHL debut, he did little if anything to make a fan or coach sit up and take note. His task on the team was to provide an NHL body until injuries returned. His task for his own career was to make an impression. he didn't fulfill either very convincingly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

News and Consequences

November 22

How does big news actually affect the Habs? This is how we think it does

Big news: Crosby returns with 4 points

Why a Habs fan should care:Aside from the fact the Canadiens still have to play Crosby-led Pittsburgh 3 more times, this also changes the whole landscape of the East. Teams that are vying for top spots will push harder to catch the Pens, teams that play the Pens a lot may lose more. This Saturday might tell us which of those two groups the Habs want to fall into this season.


Big news: Markov at practice

Why a Habs fan should care: It's the news we've been waiting for, that's why. Markov won't cure all ills, but he's the best PP QB of any player on the team, injured or healthy and he's a better defender on one leg than at least 3 of the guys the team deploys now. Getting the defence that was intended by the GM will also help the team in general and Carey Price in particular.


Big news: Carey Price NHL Star of the Week

Why a Habs fan should care: You shouldn't. It's nice to get accolades (for Carey), but it means little for the future. In the past, I'd have warned of the growing head of the young goaltender affecting his game (as a Centennial All-Star start did), but those days are behind us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Game #21

Habs Do Their Best; Can't Beat Thomas

Details



Date: 21/11/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Montreal

Loss: 0-1

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: None
Opposition goalscorers: Ference



Play of the game


After Emelin coughed up the puck at the offensive blue-line the Bruins turned around to go in on a 2-on-1. It was Lucic who took the pass and was in alone on Price, but it was Carey who had the last laugh. He stoned the Bruin and gave his team a very good chance at getting those points. The loss ended up happening, but without that save it wouldn't have even been an exciting finish.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Erik Cole - Game Puck
Erik was fast, alert and hungry tonight and looked to be our best bet at a goal. The goal didn't end up coming, but the chances did and that is often good enough. When he plays like he did tonight (and like he has done for the past 10 games or so) he can be unstoppable. Unfortunately tonight, however, Thomas was at his best.

Brian Gionta
Brian has found his game of late and, like Cole, was on tonight. The goals, however, didn't go in, but on most nights, against most goalies he is walking away with some points. I feel that his even-strength and PK games are where they should be, but his PP game could use some work. We talk a lot about point-men being the problem on the PP, but we also need to see more creativity from the forwards like Gionta, Cammalleri and Gomez.

Tomas Plekanec
Is everywhere a good enough description? That is where I felt Tom was tonight. He was our best centre and was involved in all aspects. The only part of his game that let him down tonight was his last-touch offence, whether that be a shot or a pass right before a chance. The Bruins made it hard to play cleanly in this area, but if we are to beat them it has to be more than effort, it has to also be about that last step.

Defencemen

Raphael Diaz
He and Emelin formed our best partnership tonight and while his partner took care of things in our own end I felt it was Diaz who did well offensively. I liked how he was jumping into the play tonight from the blue-line as he can add a different direction to our sometimes linear attack.

Alexei Emelin
The number one difference between Emelin now and Emelin at the start of the season is confidence. It is so obvious to see that he is comfortable out there and isn't mortified of making a mistake. There will still be errors (and there was a big one tonight on the play of the game), but without confidence there would be more and likely very little good play. He seems to always be there in the corners when he should be or breaking things up in front of the net when he should be. He has gone from a player who we expected in the minors to a guy that I would have a hard time taking out of the line-up.

Goaltender

Carey Price
This was another great game from Price, a game in which he kind of got robbed of the win by Thomas. We out-shot Boston 33-18, but couldn't give Price the one or two goals that he needed to work with. There were some questionable passes early in the game that could have cost us, but otherwise it was a clean, solid game.



Comments


On a night when Crosby came back and got four points all I cared about was us getting two. We played our game and basically overwhelmed Boston. We limited their chances and shots and were able to get in their end with frequency and get the puck to the net. We stayed out of penalty trouble, but couldn't do anything with 8 minutes of our own on the PP. Otherwise, it was kind of the perfect Habs game with the main difference-maker being Thomas. I do believe, however, that 9 times out of 10 we come out of this game with at least a point. So, there is nothing to be changed, we just have to move on.

The key now, however, for this week has to be to make our performances count. We let a silly one get away against the dismal Islanders last week and now couldn't turn a strong home performance into a win against Boston. There are three games left this week, 2 on the road, 1 at home to Crosby, so we have to ensure that we keep up our pace and find ways to get points. I would be happy with 4 points from those games and almost think that 3 or less would be deceiving from this group. We can get the ball rolling again on Wednesday when we face the 'Canes, the worst team that we have yet to play this season.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Game #20

Habs Roundhouse Rangers

Details


Date: 19/11/2011
Opponent: Rangers
Location: Montreal

Win: 4-0

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Biron (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cole, Gionta (2), Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers:



Play of the game

Showing his good hockey sense early in the first, Weber held up the play for a second in his end to clear the ice ahead of him a little and start out from the zone. He spotted a streaking Cole on the right wing and put a pass into his skates. Cole slipped past the defender on the outside and cut into the faceoff circle to unleash a blistering shot over Garon's Biron's right shoulder and pick the top corner. A key power play goal that set the pace for the Habs and established an early lead that they never let go.




Dome hockey team


The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Forwards


Tomas Plekanec
It's nice putting Pleks back in the dome. I feel like the last couple times I've blogged the game haven't been his best performances. Tonight he was a force to be reckoned with—especially on special teams—and logged his 20th point in 20 games.

Brian Gionta
Another player I'm glad to put in the dome tonight, as I think our captain has also been all too quiet lately. Two beauty goals tonight earn him dome status, and
it's worth noting that both these goals came off passes from Gomez. Do we dare hope that this is the start of something good?

Erik Cole - Game Puck
Despite a slow start to the season, Cole has become a key piece of the offensive puzzle. He is a consistent source of offensive pressure and no slouch in his own end, either. Tonight was no exception and he set the tone early on for his teammates with a welcome PP goal, and continued a 5-game, 7-point streak with a goal and an assist tonight.


Defencemen


P.K. Subban
With so many of our defense corps injured, we relied on sophomore Subban to play the role of grizzled defensive veteran tonight. He ably shouldered the responsibility and logged workhorse minutes in his own end and on the penalty kill. He kept in the defensive mindset very well and was a key piece of Price's shutout tonight.

Yannick Weber
Weber was another unlikely "veteran" tonight, and it was clear that he was playing the role of puck-moving defender with a green light to shoot. He did that very well and is developing into a strong PP quarterback as well as showing good judgement and defensive sense.



Goaltender


Carey Price

Price wasn't tested as much as he could have been, as overall the team was very good at chasing pucks in their own end, controlling rebounds and keeping any extended pressure from developing. New York still managed some great chances on the run, and his cross-crease save on Gaborik early in the first was spectacular. A flurry of chances in the dying minutes were his toughest test this evening, and he weathered them easily to walk away with a second straight shutout.

Comments


An exciting game to watch, especially through the first period. The Canadiens dominated this one pretty decisively and never really allowed the Rangers to set up shop in the offensive zone.
Garon Biron didn't play badly and had some good saves, but ultimately New York couldn't stop us from playing to our strengths. We chased pucks hard and won a lot more than we lost, and we seemed to be able to walk into their zone at will all game. Some solid breakout passing from Diaz and Weber created goals out of nowhere twice tonight, and it was relieving to see our veteran forwards stepping up to take the spotlight off Pacioretty and Desharnais for what feels like the first time in a while.

For once, our power play didn't seem so pathetic as usual. We went 2/6 (compared to 10/72 before tonight) and had convincing offense during all of them (if only for the last 40 seconds on the 5th PP thanks to strong play from Cammalleri and Diaz). It was encouraging to see some sign of our previous dominance, and both Diaz and Weber are developing into able quarterbacks in the absence of Markov and with Subban being asked to play a more stay-at-home role while Gill, Spacek and Campoli are out. I'm impressed with their vision and patience, as frustrating as it can be sometimes during extended passing bouts on the power play.

Overall a solid showing from an offensively fired-up unit. New York let us have a fair amount of space this game, and that allowed us to use our speed and some smart passing from our young defensemen to play our kind of game. When we're given that space and allowed to play that kind of run-and-gun hockey I think this is a tough squad to beat.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Game #19

Budaj With The Better Aebischer Tribute On Swiss Night

Details



Date: 16/11/2011
Opponent: Islanders
Location: New York

Loss: 3-4

Habs Goalie: Budaj (L)
Opposition Goalie: DiPietro (W)

Habs goalscorers: Pacioretty, Cole, Gionta
Opposition goalscorers: Parenteau, Pandolfo, Streit, Moulson




Play of the game

3-0 down, the Habs looked like they might just check out. But about 13 minutes into the second period, the Habs did something they very rarely do. They took the puck and they penned it in the Islanders zone for what felt like a minute or more. So long, in fact, that they actually performed a line change while keeping up the application of pressure. Subban was involved, Gomez was in on it. In all about 10 players were. It certainly changed the outlook. Less than a couple of minutes later, Eller intercepted a puck and fed Pacioretty for the goal that confirmed the sea change.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec - Game Puck
Not exactly sure how he keeps doing it year after year, but Plekanec is again creeping up the assist leader board. At this point he stands at tied 7th in the NHL thanks to 2 assists in this one. Tonight he did it with little plays, the first keeping the puck under pressure to feed it back, the second keeping the puck until he saw a white shirt. Doing the little things right is a repeated cliche in this league, but in a game like this one can see why the player who does the little things right in the offensive zone gets the assists while the ones who don't always take care of all the details get none.

Michael Cammalleri
Canadiens fans breathe. Cammalleri is injured in name, but he's playing better to start this season than he has done in all his years here. Like many goalscorers he can disappear from view, but when good chances wake you from your haze, it's often the Cammalleri name you here. Tonight it was a few creep ins on the PP, once hitting the post and a fantastic move (if not pass) to settle the final Habs goal.

Brian Gionta
You can't blame Brian for his Gomez minutes, we can only blame the coach for thinking in that mode again. Gionta like the rest of the Habs didn't play a complete game, but in scoring that amazing 3rd goal displayed his amazing will and skill. I'd have him on the ice against the Isles any time I could.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK was on for a couple of goals against. One he scored for the Isles. I'd argue that he was a bit unlucky to come out looking the worst of the Habs Dmen on the stats page. Less than a quarter of a second NHL season behind him and there's no question that PK will play 27 minutes all of a sudden. It's a heck of a rise to prominence in this sometimes youth averse organization. And when we dwell on mistakes we tend to overlook all the good that he does the rest of the time. At those times, he's usually the Dman you'd want on the ice, and hence the dome.

Frederic St Denis
Take a group of fans who get impatient at any November loss, a GM whose decisions are under the microscope and a coach who'd rather play any veteran than rookie and you get quite a situation for Step to step into in Montreal. 2 games into his NHL career, he's doing just fine. Of course he makes the dome because fine on this night looks mighty good.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Budaj had the headstart over Nabokov and then DiPietro in the effort to pay tribute to David Aebischer on this special night for Swiss hockey. At times, you'd have thought you were watching the previous #30 in the blue paint. He made some vintage giveaways and posted a fitting 0.879 save percentage. Carey Price would have done better (at stopping pucks, not emulating 2007 DA30), so he's in the dome.


Comments


What I saw in this game was an opponent that was ready for what they thought they'd be up against. Montreal allows you to take shots from the outside? Great, we'll take those and then work pretty hard to get the rebounds form them.

The Islanders did well to exploit the Canadiens weaknesses and were frankly lucky that Carey Price needed a night off. They need a plan like that at this point to win, but Tavares is noticeably better than the last time we all saw him and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't recognise him much at all the next time we see him. He's slick on the puck and has that drive to get goals that often seems to lack on many teams.

This loss will not go down in the record books as a good game for the Canadiens, but it's not going to derail their season. They suffered a bad ten minutes and paid dearly for it, but they can at least take hope from the fact they almost and really should have been back in it by 60 minutes.

Carolina and the Isles weren't good prep for the impressive Rangers, but this loss may just be what is needed to focus the players into tightening up their play and passes else lose bigger to a team that can really punish and close a game.

All joking aside, it's wonderful to see a game in the NHL with 4 Swiss players. The Davos hockey club is one of the very oldest hockey teams in the world and their Spengler Cup is only a few years the minor of the NHL. Swiss hockey has long tradition and its wonderful to see how their players adapt and thrive in the biggest league in the world. All the more wonderful being that it was the Habs who really enabled this to happen. Hats off to Streit too for scoring in the game.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Game #18

Habs And Price Cruise Against Disorganized 'Canes Squad

Details



Date: 16/11/2011
Opponent: Hurricanes
Location: Montreal

Win: 4-0

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Ward (L)

Habs goalscorers: Cammalleri, Weber, Subban, Moen
Opposition goalscorers: None



Play of the game


The game was out of reach for the 'Canes in the third, but with our history, who knows, a goal could have changed things. So, that is why I am choosing a save that Price made. Well, that and the fact that it was our nicest play of the night, bar none. The save came off the stick of Staal after a great pass from Skinner. Price quickly slid left to right to stone the once-dominant (and once non-league worse in +/-) captain.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks is playing hurt, at least I hope that he is. If he isn't then he must be one weak guy because it seems that once or twice a game he is really shaken up by what seems like the lightest of taps. When he has the puck, however, he is all business and it was he who drove the offence early on with 2 assists to give us the 2-goal cushion that proved to be enough.

Michael Cammalleri
Mike scored a Cammalleri-type goal early on in this game and seemed to feed off of that throughout the rest of the contest. There wasn't much of note in our own zone, but in the offensive zone, where we need him, he was strong and was part of our best line, a line that simply wore Carolina out. He is another guy who may be hurt, but like Tom, he is proving that even hurt he is much better than the alternative.

Travis Moen
I needed a third guy here and had a hard time choosing as my usual selection by process of elimination didn't really get rid of anyone. So, I thought of who I noticed, who stood out on one of the other lines and Moen came to mind. He scored a goal, but I felt did so much more. He played well in the offensive and defensive zones as he played a smart, hard and focused game. I also really enjoyed his hit on Allen in the third, a hit that may not have meant much, but seemed to settle down a player who was running a bit wild on that shift.

Defencemen

Josh Gorges - Game Puck
I don't want to take anything away from Price and you can read about him below, but for me Gorges was the player who really stepped up tonight. This is just a guess (a very educated guess), but I am wiling to say that this was his first NHL game ever in which he was the oldest D-man. That may not sound like much, but let's not forget that he is just 27. He played 10 minutes in the first and set the tone for the whole game in that first frame. He led a very young and extremely inexperienced defensive squad by leading by example. He was an absolute rock in his own end and especially on the PK. The coaches have a lot to be grateful for (as do we fans) as Josh is playing the best hockey of his life right at the time when we desperately need him to.

Alexei Emelin
PK and Weber had great games, but Emelin was the player that I thought was just a bit better than the rest tonight. Maybe it was because he hadn't been put into this role yet and I didn't expect too much, but there was something that really excited me about his play. So far this season, when he has played, he has had limited assignements and usually limited ice-time. Tonight, however, the coaches had no choice and Alexei ran with it. I noticed him on almost all of his shifts as he always seemed involved. Whether it was good, strong break-out passing, winning the puck back, laying hits or blocking shots he was visible. In fact he led the game with 7 blocked-shots and 7 hits. That total of 14 was 7 better than Josh's 7 hits+blocked-shots which says an awful lot about Emelin's game. This is the kind of performance that we had all hoped for; let's hope that it is the kind of preformance that we keep getting.

Goaltender

Carey Price
Carey was great tonight and I never felt that the 'Canes could score a goal let alone win the game. This was his first shutout of the year and quite possibly the easiest game he has played all season. The Habs scored 4 goals for the first time this month and this Carolina team looked to be about the worst competition that we have faced in our first 18 games. A goalie still has to make the saves that he is asked to make and that increased in the third as our 'defensive' system meant more shots for them, more time in our zone. Price has been hot lately and I wouldn't be surprised if this shutout is the first of a few to come in the coming weeks and months.



Comments


The Habs needed an easy win, a win that didn't go down to the wire, in which we could play our own way and not have to scramble in the third (and possibly OT) to get the two points. Tonight's opponent offered us the game we dreamed of. A pretty pathetic looking Hurricane team came to play tonight, a team that still is happy to say that they won the cup in 2006, but that hasn't done anything (save one good draft pick) to improve on that unlikely (thanks Justin Williams) win. I don't want to take anything way from Montreal, though. We played a good game and got contribution from all 19 players. This is a team that has 7 points in its last 4 games, a team that is stubbornly playing its type of hockey and is getting the results to back it up. A team, that I can now say with certainty, is back on the right track.

I didn't like the penalties tonight as it seemed like a bit of a return to that start of the season for us. Here we are in a non-rough game and we are taking penalty after penalty, usually of the weak variety. What I did like, however, was the work of our D, our penalty-killers and the PP. Tomorrow we face another weak team on the Island which is good timing considering our defensive-corps situation. A win in that game would put us just one point out of first in our division (just imagine we held on to beat Buffalo in regulation) and would put us into the playoff picture at long last. There is no reason for us to not believe that we can keep winning after watching tonight's game, let's just hope that the players can remember to do tomorrow what they did so well today.

Five Things You May Not Have Noticed

I keep a lot of statistics. I like to share them now and again. If I had more time, I'd share more.

As it is, time is limited, so after poring over my enormous spreadsheet I have chosen a few stats that I thought might catch the eyes and imagination of some of the Habs fans I know.

1. PK Subban Powerplay Efficiency (2.048 GF/60)

PK ended last season 8 minutes after he basically willed the Canadiens into another period of playoff hockey with what was becoming a reliable feature of his game: the PP goal.

This season has been different. Drastically so. Barely over two goals per 60 minutes of PP hockey. If you assume that all powerplays are 2 minutes (which they are not because goals end PPs) then that gives him an efficiency rating of 6.8% on the PP.

More astounding perhaps is that PK is near bottom on the team in this regard. Weber is on while the team clicks at a 5.045 rate and the much maligned Plekanec is doubling Subban's efficiency.


2. Jaroslav Spacek limiting goals against (0.968 GA/60)

Speaking of much maligned, the "fitter" and oft-injured Spacek has made goal prevention his early season highlight. 0.968 GA is much better than the team average and only second to Palushaj who has yet to be on for a goal against of any kind.


3. Lars Eller's crooked shot (45.5% of chances on target)

As you may or may not know by now, a scoring chance is a shot or indeed a missed shot from within a defined area of the ice. Lars Eller has had moments this season where he made everyone think we should have thrown more to St. Louis in that trade. However, this hasn't necessarily been reflected in wins or even goals.

One of the reason may be that Eller has missed the net 12 out of the 22 times he's had the chance to release a shot from the "slot". This is unusual when you compare to players like Plekanec, Cole, Cammalleri and Kostitsyn who all have been putting more than 2/3 of these golden opportunities on target.


4. Carey Price's Win Threshold (0.902)

Remember the old days when people defending one goalie or another would invoke the win threshold -- the save percentage required to win games.

In the past, this was pulled out because sometimes the low scoring and free shot giving Canadiens would be asking a very high percentage of their goalies. I thought it was worth highlighting that the Canadiens now seem to have got this area of their game in order. The average win threshold has been 0.902, which means plenty of games where Carey only needed to post 0.900 to win (He's 2-2-1 in those).


5. Scott Gomez's ghost (0.051 goal created/60)

Frame of reference, we have two players creating more than 1 goal per 60 minutes played, and two more over 0.9. With 122 minutes played (23 of which have been on the PP) over 8 games, one might well expect a player who routinely gets trotted out on a scoring line to have played more than a bit part in one PP goal.

At his current rate, Gomez would have to play 472 more games to duplicate the contribution Pacioretty has made in less than quarter of a season.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Game #17

Habs Get To OT, But Let It Slip Till A Shootout

Details



Date: 14/11/2011
Opponent: Sabres
Location: Montreal

Loss: 2-3 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Enroth (W)

Habs goalscorers: Cole, Pacioretty
Opposition goalscorers: Pominville, Roy (Vanek, Boyes - SO)



Play of the game


Pacioretty's goal demonstrates all that is good with his line, with the hottest line on our team. Desharnais, who is playing some fantastic hockey, started the play at the blue-line and put in a nice little pass for Max. Pacs beat two defenders and then got off a weak shot. Not to be outdone, Cole went hard to the net, as usual. The puck trickled in, but one has to think that it would have gone in somehow as Cole and Desharnais were ready to pounce.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais
This line did it again and makes you wish that one or maybe even two of the other three lines would have stepped it up too. Desh was on for both goals and probably should have been asked to take a shootout shot instead of the slumping captain.

Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
Saying he is our best player doesn't even feel weird anymore, it seems kind of right. Players like Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri have made it easy for Max this year as the competition for best forward is really not as hot as it should be. He was all over the Buffalo coverage tonight and could have had a hat-trick had the bounces gone his way. If he keeps playing like he does a 35+ goal and 70+ point season will be reality.

Erik Cole
It was too bad that Erik took that penalty in OT, otherwise it would have been the perfect game from him. Nevertheless, he played very well as he used his speed time and time again against a quick Sabre defence. He isn't scared to stay out on a shift if a chance is there, he isn't scared to go to the net and rough it up and most of all isn't scared to take on any defender on the ice.

Defencemen

Raphael Diaz
No Markov or Campoli, no Gill tonight and we were only halfway through the game when Spacek went down. That means a young D and a win (or point in this case) requires certain guys to step up. I thought that Diaz was one of the best out there as he played with poise, patience and creativity. He was used by his coach in all situations and did a formidable job. When all those guys are back will he have a place? At this rate, who am I kidding? When will we ever have all of them back at once.

Yannick Weber
Yannick was our best defender tonight. One of the best aspects of his play was that it was simple, yet confident. PK, the perennial dome selection, made some poor choices that eventually cost him a selection and in a way the Habs the game. I have no doubt after watching this game, with all of the absnses on D, that Weber has his place as a permanent defender on this team. He is great at even-strength, can play the point nicely on the PP (I am assuming, of course, the results will improve for him and the team when Markov is back) and, boy, can he kill penalties; tonight he was fantastic in that area.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I have certainly been more severe before, but did think that Price played two of his best periods tonight and didn't want to overlook that. He played the puck well and smartly, but more importantly made each and every save and made them look easy. In the third he was average, but that isn't bad considering the first two. He was good again in OT and did enough on our PK to give us a serious chance at the win. In the shootout, however, he was again pathetic. I know that is a harsh word, but he isn't just letting goals in, he is letting in goals that make him look like a much worse goalie than he is. When he moves, he guesses wrong, when he doesn't move he is beaten easily by good shooters. That makes him 0-4 in shootout attempts this year and my suggestion to the Habs would be to win in OT, at all costs. The back-up plan (until Price proves himself against non-Gionta/Plekanec shoot
ers in practice) has to be to put Budaj in if only to confuse opposing shooters who seem to know the book on Carey.


Comments


We played a good first two periods and seemed well on our way to a third straight win and to above-.500 territory. The third period, however, started poorly and since we aren't the best (or a good) team at scoring goals we were playing with fire. Our game-plan is to get the lead and to almost hope that we'll hold on; once again, it almost worked. We had our chances in OT, but when that came and went it seemed like an opportunity at gaining on Buffalo had just slipped through our fingers. This result won't matter in the end (if it does we have a lot more than tonight to blame), so it should be lesson learned and move on. We need points this week and if we can manage to get points in our losses then I suppose it isn't all that bad.

Our PP may have scored tonight, but it is really painful to watch. It actually sucks all of the excitement out of the game as we slow it right down waiting for that perfect play. The seconds tick by as we work it around looking for a tap-in. 20, 30 even 40 seconds of controlled (contained?) passing can go by before a shot. Buffalo, on the other hand, seem to get a shot off every 5 seconds and maybe they lose the zone more frequently, but they still have more action than we do. For so many years we worked the puck around until that perfect and pretty play presented itself and it worked, it worked well. It can't however, work with this squad. No offense to the current squad, but there are no Kovalevs, Koivus, Markovs, Sourays, Streits, Schneiders, Bergerons, Wisniewskis out there. The coaches have to adapt because we are losing games because we can't score when most teams can. We need a new plan, one designed for the talent that we have now (and I do believe we have talent). Surely there must be a way that Diaz, Gomez, Gionta, Desharnais and Darche can find a way to score with a bit more regularity.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Game #16

Habs Back To .500 With Another OT Win

Details



Date: 12/11/2011
Opponent: Predators
Location: Nashville

Win: 2-1 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Budaj (W)
Opposition Goalie: Rinne (L)

Habs goalscorers: Desharnais, Pacioretty
Opposition goalscorers: Weber



Play of the game


Our first goal was a beaut and was surely my pick for play-of-the-game, I swear. But, the Habs, once again, exceeded my expectations and pulled some magic off in OT. It was Subban, really, who made our goal possible with incredible poise, patience and control at the blue-line. With that came time and space for others as 3 defenders rushed to him. So, MaxPac was wide open when he took the pass and he even had about 2 seconds, while standing completely still mind you (Flyers trap-breaking still), to get off the perfect shot up and over the arm of one of the league's best.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

David Desharnais
David has been playing well, well enough to be on a top-2 line, but with the return of Gomez tonight it looked like he was out to prove that one more time. He scored our first on a very nice play and then was in on the winner too. He makes things happen in the offensive zone and with the solid D and goaltending we are getting lately that is really what this team needs.

Max Pacioretty
Max's best play was certainly his OT-winner (thanks PK), but he was pretty decent throughout. He hasn't been the red-hot player that he was in October of late, but has still been one of our best forwards on most nights. It would appear that he is settling into a partnership with Cole quite nicely which excites me as it is possible that we'll have 2 other equally good lines out there when we are healthy. Max took a lot of hits and contact tonight which is the thing that amazes me the most about his play this year. It would (somewhat remarkably) appear that he isn't afraid one bit to be out there and in a way is even playing faster, stronger and more courageous than he was before Chara assaulted him.

Erik Cole
I liked Cole again tonight and continue to like the new dimension that he is bringing to the Canadiens. He may not have scored or had many chances of his own, but one can never under-estimate the value that his fast, physical play has as it wears the opposition out and, more importantly, creates openings for his teammates.

Defencemen

PK Subban
We can't seem to go a game without an injury or a scare; tonight it was Subban's turn. When he wasn't out there to begin the third I was worried, not just worried for the next few games, but worried about how we would bag the win (or at least one point) tonight. Luckily his absence was short-lived and he was back taking regular shifts early in the third. He was a big reason that we held Nashville from going ahead and the biggest reason why we ended up winning.

Josh Gorges
Josh isn't the same player that he was a month a go; he is better. In fact, Josh isn't even the player he was a year ago; he is better. The biggest change for me is how he is getting involved offensively and how he is actually doing a good job of it. There was another assist tonight giving him 8 points, tops among our D-men. He has stepped up in Markov, Wisniewski and Hamrlik's absence which is good to see. I hope that it continues when Marky is back, however, as it doesn't seem to be affecting Josh's defensive play one bit.

Goaltender

Peter Budaj - Game Puck
He never had to be spectacular tonight, but made all but one of the stops that you would hope he would make. He has only played twice, but has delivered in both games (we lost the other one, but he did play well and only allowed 2 goals). I think that any person can see the value in Price getting 20 nights off this year rather than 10 and Budaj is telling his coach that that is quite alright.
His rebounds at times were juicy tonight, and it may be lucky that they didn't cost us, but that also shows how well the D (and forwards coming back) have been playing. His numbers now speak for themselves, so let's hope we see more of him as the schedule ramps up.


Comments


Montreal played another good road game tonight by staying out of penalty trouble (have to do something about the SH goals though; how about D at the point?), for the most part, created chances in the offensive zone and imposed their game-plan on a pretty decent Nashville squad. The Preds certainly took over parts of the game with strong play, but with a combination of luck and hard work we weathered the storm. For our part we didn't generate too many chances (not enough really, considering the quality of their D and goaltending), but on the road if you can grab a point, I don't care how you do it. Winning in OT was a bonus that I wasn't expecting as I was already calling it a win with the 1 point. This team has talent, though, and surprising depth, so it wasn't too shocking, really.

Things seem to be settling back to normal around the East. We're back into that 6-12 range (2 points out of the playoffs) where I think we'll be all year, the Islanders are last and the Leafs only have 10 points in 10 games after 11 in 7 to start. The flip-side to that is that Boston is moving up and so are Tampa. It will be a battle, as it is every year, but that is good news. 3 weeks ago we wondered if it would be a battle at all. We have shown, however, that we are still an NHL-level team who can win on any given night. Our depth is showing and is paying off as is the play in our own end. Once the PP gets going (79 is surely the key) we'll hopefully be back to our old selves, back to that team that doesn't have to sweat until game #82.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Game #15

Gorges' First Gives Habs First Extra-Time Win

Details



Date: 10/11/2011
Opponent: Coyotes
Location: Phoenix

Win: 3-2 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (W)
Opposition Goalie: Smith (L)

Habs goalscorers: Gionta, Moen, Gorges
Opposition goalscorers: Boedker, Torres



Play of the game


After the first period it was looking like Pleks could be hurt, it was looking like Desharnais was now our top centre. Tom came back to start the second, however, and did very well on one of his first shifts that period. He fore-checked hard and created confusion behind Smith's net. Then came his linemate Gionta (noticeably fueled by the prospect of having Pleks healthy after that scare) who made a fantastic play to strip Gordon of the puck and stun a flat-footed goalie. That goal changed the Habs's gameplan; it gave us a serious chance to win from that point on.



Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome

Forwards

Tomas Plekanec
Pleks played a great first period, but really seemed to step it up after that as to show us all that he was fine. He was in on our first two goals; something that we have now come to expect. Losing him would be as bad as losing Markov or Price so I do hope that he is OK. He seems to have good chemistry with Gionta which may work well for Gomez's return as I really think Scott needs a fresh start, with 2 new faces on his flanks.

Brian Gionta - Game Puck
The skipper was the biggest part of our two first goals, our two best plays of the game. This was one of those games where you really noticed Gionta, a game where he led his team as a captain should. The points give him 10 on the year which isn't horrible considering the slow start that we had. I hope that Martin keeps him with Plekanec for now as we really need 3 strong lines and I think that the G-G combo has become too predictable for our opponents.

Erik Cole
Cole impressed me with his speed and strength tonight. I normally hate seeing our players go to the outside of defenders as more often than not it ends in a turn-over. Tonight, however, in Erik's case he was beating his men, he was creating chances by going around the outside. He is still trying to find his true spot in our line-up, but the better he continues to play, the more options he gives his coach.

Defencemen

PK Subban
PK stayed out of trouble tonight in that he kept things clean in his own end and in that he didn't get sucked into any tussles or into taking any penalties. That meant that he could really focus on his game which is to win the puck back in our end and do something with it in the other two zones. He didn't factor too heavily on our goals, but he did end up +3 which is a number that I think speaks for itself.

Josh Gorges
Gorges has been better of late after a bit of a slow start. Tonight he played as a true #3 or even #2 and that is what we need, especially while Markov is out and 3 youngsters are in. He scored the OT winner which may go down as his only goal of the year, but wouldn't you rather that than the 5th in a 5-1 win or the lone goal in a 1-4 loss? I am not suggesting that he is clutch offensively, but it was nice to see him join in at exactly the right time, even if this is the only time we see it all year.

Goaltender

Carey Price
I thought that he made some poor choices handling the puck in the first period, but aside from that played a very solid game. Phoenix managed 34 shots, so to make 32 saves, on the road, is certainly a great performance. One thing that he did well tonight (and maybe this was purely in stark contrast to Smith) was that he found pucks well after they dropped below or near him. There weren't many second chances and that ends up really helping a fragile team like the Habs out and can very well make the difference between W and L.


Comments


It is always nice when a losing streak is stopped at 2. I have heard a lot about how we were all over Edmonton and could have or even should have won. Too many of those games in a row, however, is a Florida or Columbus type of thing. We have to win the majority of our games some how, some way. Tonight we found a way to walk out of their with the full two points all the while staying out of any real trouble penalty- or injury-wise. Phoenix aren't the most exciting team to watch, but I do respect the clean type of hockey that they play as it means (unlike games against Boston) you don't really have to worry about losing guys to dirty and unnecessary plays. In fact, this is a team that we match up well against and we proved that by matching them step for step throughout the whole game. It is hard to say that either we played better than them or they better than us, nope, it was just a good old (used to be called a draw) even game. It is good, however that we got the extra point as we need it badly.

We're entering an interesting stretch over the next little while. It is a stretch that has us playing more games than we have been doing and a period in which we may get as healthy as we'll be all year. Getting Markov back will be a huge boost. I am sure that a lot of people have forgotten just what Andrei can bring to this team, but I am sure that within mere days of his return they will be reminded. Until then we have to hold the fort and win games like we did tonight. Each loss makes it 2 more games back to where you want to be, so let's hope the Habs take the easy route and win each of their upcoming games.