Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Game 50: Blue Jackets vs. Habs

THIRD PERIOD:

- Max Pacioretty is done for the night, which is all you need to know that the injury he sustained is serious. Remember, this is the same guy that played 48 hours after an emergency appendectomy.

- Well, eventually something has to give - Habs on their 6th powerplay, finally strike, lots of permitter passing, which is usually bad, but Galchenyuk with a perfect shot off the pass to bring the Habs to within one. Yes, they scored - but the manner in how they scored with the man advantage is still the wrong way to produce with the man advantage.

- 5 minutes left, Habs still showing little signs of desperation. Fans getting restless in the arena (again).

- Poor pass by Subban in the neutral zone picked off by Atkinson who whiffs on his shot, but Scrivens also whiffs, and the Habs are toast. Two straight losses in two nights to the 30th overall team.

- Not even going to bother saying this really should be Therrien's last game as Habs coach, because it's pointless. Bergevin has claimed his hill, and come hell or high water, he'll die there.



SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Blue Jackets after 1 terrible period of hockey:


- So, how low can the Habs go? I'm expecting this team to show some signs of life, but if Columbus scores the next goal, watch out. This game could get real, real, real ugly.

- During the intermission, it's announced that Daniel Carr is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Laugh? Cry? Scream? Pick one. They'll all work.

- Just an awful holding penalty by Galchenyuk, behind Columbus' net. The only thing that could make this work is another Jackets powerplay goal.

- Well, Smith-Pelly scores, right place, right time, benefiting from the hard work of his inmates. The fans have something to cheer about.

- Good lord. Suban hits Pacioretty in the face with a slap shot. Yeah. This whole year can get worse.

- Another, yes, another horrible turnover by a Habs defender in his own zone, this time it's Subban with the awful unforced error. Dubinsky with all day and night to tuck the puck home top corner. Killer goal. Pins can now be heard to drop in the Bell Centre. 3-1.

- Habs look like a pretty defeated group right now. On the powerplay, but no sense of urgency or even try.

- Four straight minutes of powerplay for the Habs, absolutely nothing generated. Not a scoring chance, barely a shot attempt. And here comes yet another Habs man advantage. Let's see how terrible this one is.

- Nothing, although Habs did do a good job holding the puck in. Gallagher doing his damnedest to try and carry this team forward, but most everyone else is a passenger.

- Pacioretty hurt, hasn't returned. Carr done for the season. Just Gallagher trying his best. That's about all. Habs falling deeper into the abyss. One more period of this agony left to endure before the All-Star break grants Habs fans a week vacation from the misery.


FIRST PERIOD:

- Welp, Therrien has the blender running at 10 tonight, with Galchenyuk playing on the wing next to Plekanec, Smith-Pelly on the 2nd line next to Eller, Dale Weise on the 4th line with De La Rose, and Pacioretty with Desharnais and Flynn. Yeah. I have no idea what's going on. I guess this is just grasping at straws.

- Stilly baffling how Therrien continues to put Galchenyuk on the wing. There's more than ample simple statistical evidence (points per game) clearly illustrating that Galchenyuk is a far, far more dangerous and productive forward at centre. Yet, he gets plunked on the side. It's maddening.

- For the first time in many, many years, there are numerous empty seats at the Bell Centre tonight. While Geoff Molson has already provided his vote of confidence in Bergevin and Therrien, he can't ignore fans not coming to the games.

- Habs first powerplay, first half is spent simply trying to get the puck out of their own zone.

- Therrien puts Flynn out on the powerplay. It's as though he's determined to lose in the flames of glory.

- Soft holding call on Mitchell, Blue Jackets score on the powerplay in about, oh ... 5 seconds. Scrivens not looking good. Does it matter?

- Good lord, why is Smith-Pelly even in the lineup, never mind on the 2nd line? This is pure unadulterated insanity.

- To call the Habs powerplay a tire fire is to insult melting used rubber.

- Pacioretty just lets his stick drift out making a half-hearted attempt to make a check at centre ice, and gets nailed for a trip. The Habs leadership is pretty much doing the bare minimum. This team really has given up.

- Dear lord, it's 2-0, another Jackets powerplay goal. Habs slot coverage MIA. Habs defence again guilty of firing the puck blindly up the boards, generating a direct turnover.

- That. Was. Embarrassing. This team has given up. They're getting mauled by the Columbus freakin' Blue Jackets. Therrien standing behind the bench with his hands in his pockets. Hundreds of empty seats in the Bell Centre. Those in attendance donating boos from the rafters. Just embarrassing.



EIGHT YEARS ON, SEEMS LIKE LITTLE HAS CHANGED

So apparently we're not good enough to beat the 30th place NHL team? So what's the next step? Relegation? Would the Ice Caps give our butts a whoopin'?

Last night - wow. Losing badly to the supposed worst team in hockey, I guess that means you take the crown? It was more of the same old story for the Habs - sloppy puck control by the backend, little in the way of a coordinated offensive attack, and almost zero push in the 3rd period with the game up for grabs. This is a Habs team totally deflated. It is a team that finds a way of losing. There is no bottom. There is no upside. All that remains is darkness. And the occasional face palm by the coach who, apparently, will never lose his job.

Is there any light in the dark? Even a glimmer? Well, there was this earlier today:

RDS
Woah. Price is in gear! Uh, well. Kind of. Oh well. It's a start.

Tonight can the Habs make it two in a row!?!?!? Strap in, 'cause there's always hope for even more Canadiens ineptitude. Both teams are going with the same lineups tonight, except for Daniel Carr, who's out with injury, giving Justin De La Rose a start, as well Ben Scrivens  in goal for the Habs.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Game 49: Habs vs. Blue Jackets

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Blue Jackets after 40 minutes, with the 30th place team taking it to the Habs in the 2nd period:



- Clean sheet of ice, Habs powerplay to start the period goes absolutely nowhere. Not even to generate a little momentum. 

- Desharnais line with their best shift of the night, Barberio nearly backhanding one in, Habs appear to have some wind in their sails. Surely this team knows it cannot afford to lose two "easy" points.

- Puck luck still violently against Habs, point shot hits Petry and goes right on the stick of Saad, who has 6 feet of wide open net to choose from. This team, I tells ya ... 

- Less than 6 minutes left, desperate times ... so Therrien puts out the 4th line, which has been a train wreck the past two months. We shrug our shoulders.

- Sense of urgency? Habs trouncing the Jackets for shot attempts in this 3rd period, but nothing really urgent. Team needs to push with everything they've got.

- Columbus just dumping, icing, repelling pretty much every Habs "attempt" to attack the zone. Canadiens have 4 minutes left. You'd never know it watching right now, though.

- Why is Therrien sending out the 4th line with 3 minutes left? WHY.

- Dismal. Habs couldn't even gain zone possession. Just dismal. Habs lose to 30th ranked Blue Jackets. Just. Abysmal.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Blue Jackets after 20 minutes:


- More sloppy zone play by the Habs defence, coughing up the puck deep, with Atkinson with a meek backhander that Condon whiffs on. 2-1 Columbus. Sigh. Habs can't afford to surrender weak goals like that.

- Plekanec line, and Galchenyuk in fine form tonight, the later determined to do it all on his own (to his detriment, I suppose).

- Uh. Kay. Subban with a shot from centre ice that Korpisalo can't pick up, an incredibly weird goal. Then the officials give Subban a two minute unsportsmanlike call after he gives Dubinsky a little shove while going back to his bench. An incredible call by an NHL official, giving us all the fodder we require with the belief this League's officials target P.K. 

- Kendrick Nicholson, who officiated his very first NHL game 8 days ago, gave Subban that penalty. Not saying the League is breeding a new generation of targeting officials, but that's definitely not a good sign.

- Puck luck (negative) continuing the hamper the Habs - Eller a crossbar in the first, Petry a post in the 2nd. 

- Win or lose, there will be conversation about that Subban penalty, because his minor denied the Habs of momentum they would have enjoyed from tying the game.

- Not a good period for the Habs, started slowly, then made more deep zone errors, undisciplined penalties, and Condon failing to stop a routine backhand shot. Subban managed to get the Habs back on even terms, but the Habs simply can't afford to play the 3rd like they play the 2nd, or another loss is on the way.


FIRST PERIOD:

- So Subban will start after all, the question being, will tonight's Subban be the regular P.K., or the one we saw struggle through much of the game Saturday night.

- Jackets starting their backup tonight in Korpisalo, so Habs would be wise to shoot early and often.

- Habs defence continues to struggle effectively moving the puck out of their zone, doing the usual bank job along the boards, which two times out of three, results in a puck turnover. Columbus' defence by contrast, more patient, more effective moving the puck forward.

- A Habs-friendly bounce? Yup. A Habs-friendly bounce, with Gallagher a shot that goes off Jack Johnson's foot and in. 1-0 early. 

- Lars Eller continues to play excellent hockey, especially so since his return to his natural position at centre. Hopefully that will be the end of his endless shuffle from there to wing.

- Habs with blind attempt to clear the zone by firing the pucks up the boards (Barberio) results in, you guessed it, a direct turnover, and zone coverage chaos, with Atkinson burying the puck to tie the game at 1. It's maddening to see again and again, how poorly this team handles the puck in its own zone.

- Carr takes an awkward spill into the boards, his leg getting pinned under his body. On the bench in obvious discomfort, has missed two consecutive shifts. 

- Now Torrey Mitchell is off to the room, with a leg injury. 

- One period down, Habs the better team, much more puck possession and shot attempts, but it still isn't going to mean a hill of beans unless this team takes firm steps towards correcting its sloppy play, specifically in its own zone. This team is getting killed firing pucks up the boards, giving the puck away, and scoring chances. 



GAME PREVIEW: WE CAN'T LOSE TO THIS GUY. WE JUST CAN'T
John Tortorella! How is this guy even employed? Well he is, and he's the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I'd had this date circled with great anticipation because it always brings joy to my heart to have my team beat one of his teams. So I've been, to say the least pretty bummed out this week because Tortorella won't be behind the bench tonight because he's recovering from broken ribs. DENIED. Gawd. This season has sucked.

Anyway, besides not getting to beat Tortorella, are we dream to dream the undreamable? Dare we think the unthinkable? A Montreal Canadiens winning streak?

Well hey, that's what's up for grabs tonight as the Habs take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio. The Canadiens, fresh off their skin-of-the-teeth win over the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, look to get back into the playoff race with a (count 'em!!!) 2nd straight win.

The Jackets, in case you somehow missed it, pulled off a rather large trade three weeks ago, in which they sent young star forward Ryan Johansen to Nashville, in return for young star defenseman Seth Jones.

The net effect from this trade since it was announced? Both the Jackets and Predators have fallen off the cliff, with Nashville putting up a 3-5 record, being outscored 21-23, while the Jackets have faired even worse, going 2-6 since the deal, in which they've been outscored 18-28.

See? Making big deals does not necessarily cure all that ails a team, something every Habs fan should take to heart, and Marc Bergevin ought readily consider.

So the Habs might, yes ... just might have a decent shot of actually winning their second straight game tonight. Although even that hope is being tempered by news that P.K. Subban has been puking his guts out the past 24 hours, and may or may not be available for play. If Subban can't play tonight, it'll be the first time ever, yes ... ever, that Subban will miss a game because of injury or sickness.

In any case, with or without Subban, the Habs will tackle this Blue Jackets lineup:

L1: Junner/Dubinsky/Atkinson
L2: Hartnell/Wennberg/Saad
L3: Foligno/Karlsson/Rychel
L4: Calvert/Campbell/Bourque

Murray/Jones
Johnson/Falk
Tyutin/Prout

Korpisalo.

Habs will be playing same lineup as Saturday, and if Subban can't go, Greg Pateryn will probably slot in for third line duty, likely promoting Beaulieu up on the first line next to Markov.

Mike Condon in goal for the Habs.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Game 48: Habs vs. Leafs

OVERTIME:

- So will Therrien put Markov out in OT?

- Heck of an entertaining OT, pretty shady defence both ways, but the finishers in question, DD, couldn't finish.

- Habs really needed to win that via 3-on-3 because Mike Condon, full respect, is not good in shootouts. Heavy, heavy Leafs advantage here.

- A nail-biter shootout, Lars Eller a deserved hero. We breath. Habs ... win?? Yes they did.


THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Leafs after 40 minutes, Leafs with not so much a great 2nd period, more a reflection of how poorly Habs performed in that frame.


- Eler line is having an amazing night for the Habs, Lars' CF% after 40 minutes is a crazy 88% (!!!!), and yet, he, and the rest of his mates, are fighting hard to see much in the way of shifts. This Habs team defines dysfuctionality to the extreme.

- Is there any bigger diver/embellisher in the NHL than Kadri? You can't take anything he does seriously.

- Leafs pressing out of the gate, Habs need an insurance goal desperately, because when you're a losing team like the Habs, you'll find a way of losing.

- Whelp, too late. Lupul off a juicy Condon rebound ties the game. That great first period, just a distant memory. Habs on their way towards another loss. You can just feel it coming.

- Habs, to borrow a three year old phase coined by Mike Cammalleri, play like a loser. It's now firmly in their heads, and the deeper that's embedded, the more difficult it is to overcome.

- Desharnais line nearly twice as much ice time as the Eller line, even though possession is night-and-day in comparison between the two. Insane.

- Gallagher a quick blind shot beats Reimer clean, hits far post, then drifts right across on the line. Pretty symbolic for this team this year. Nothing going right, no bounces going their way.

- Habs with a powerplay chance, at least this time Therrien sends out Plekanec line to start the man advantage.

- Atrocious powerplay attempt. Just atrocious. No other way of describing it.

- Habs "earn" at least a point against a pretty awful opponent. An average team would have put the Leafs away in the 2nd period. An average team. This Habs team is not average. It's awful. Defence is dysfunctional, powerplay in an abomination, and the coach continues to make baffling deployment choices. Leads blown, games blown, points blown. There appears to be no bottom for this hockey team.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Leafs after 20. It's hard to believe that the Leafs will be worst in the 2nd period. They were really that bad in the 1st:




- Carr thinks he scored on a wraparound, but no replay is conclusive. The NHL could very easily implement goal line technology, but why do something that makes total sense?

- Another bad defensive breakdown, Subban who's struggled tonight, with a poor decision to pinch hard, leaving Markov in the lurk, and because Andrei can't stake any more, the Leafs had free-flight on Condon. Kadri makes it 2-1. Bad teams, like the Habs, do this night in, night out.

- Habs powerplay a terrible mess, no shots, no scoring chances, and Dale Weise gets nailed for 2 minutes at the end. The Canadiens man advantage has been running at an awful 9% success clip since early December, and yet nobody is held accountable.

- Leafs powerplay, they do everything the Habs haven't. Puck to the net, dangerous scoring attempts, bodies around the goal and in the slot. I mean, this isn't really rocket science. And yet, the Habs never figure it out, because nobody is held accountable.

- Habs sitting back much of this period, while the Leafs doing their best to at least keep their head above water. Habs searching for that magical goal #3, of which they've done very few times since the club starting going off a cliff December 3rd.

- Habs defence continues to be awful getting the puck to the forwards. Just passing the pucks up the boards, like they do almost all the time, and the Leafs have adjusted, anticipating the play, and generating zone turnovers, which is in turn generating shots and momentum.

- 2nd period, yup this is the Habs team we've come to know and not love the past two months. Really sloppy in their own zone, breakouts are awful, puck control by the defence just awful, the basics, the fundamentals, are simply not there. This team played like a loser in the 2nd as they have for 8 straight weeks. Leafs, who are totally overmatched, easily win the period, and may very well win the game.


FIRST PERIOD:

- It's not rocket science to say that a productive David Desharnais will make this Habs team imminently more competitive. So it's heartening to see him actually score a goal to give the Habs an early lead.

- Plekanec line buzzing all over this weak Toronto defence, while Babcock matches his troops against the Habs weak 4th line.

- Habs first powerplay is a oh-fer, the same old symptoms. Lots of passing, but no real dangerous shots.

- Habs look like they're going back to last year's offensive template of dump-and-chase. So far it's worked against an overmatched team like the Leafs, beyond this game, however, that's a losing strategy.

- Pretty atrocious period for the Leafs, at least first 11 minutes. Almost no meaningful puck possession, Condon facing virtually no shots.

- Another nothing powerplay. Lots of zone time, lots of passing, but no real threatening scoring chances being generated. It's easy to look pretty, but it means nothing if you can't at least fire challenging shots at opposing goalies.

- Leafs breakouts so far have been atrocious, as in, they haven't had anything resembling one.

- Just rewards for the #Habs, as Fleischmann scores to give the Habs a 2-0 lead. That's something we haven't seen for awhile - Montreal actually finishing while dominating.

- Pretty solid period for the Habs, everyone playing well except for the 4th line (but that's an old story). Subban and Markov again looked a little shaky, I'm not sure what it's going to take to get Therrien to give Andrei a couple of days off. Maybe he's hoping to limp him through to the All-Star break? It's genuine folly.


Graham Hughes, La Presse
YOU'RE LOOKING AT A MAN WHO IS NOT AGING WELL

This weekend I'm writing an article about Marc Bergevin - specically the media conference he held on Thursday, to address the numerous questions revolving around the team in the midst of the worst stretch of hockey in more than 80 franchise years. While Bergevin was straighforward on some questions, he was evasive, even cryptic about others. Regardless, lines have been drawn, and I'll be taking a look at where this team is headed, and the future of Bergevin, in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, we do have a hockey game coming up tonight in Toronto, and it does feature a few lineup changes for the Habs, with some players out of the lineup because of injury. Paul Byron has been sidelined, which significantly reduces the Canadiens' speed at offence. So with him removed, the lineup will look as such:

Line 1: Pacioretty/Plekanec/Gallagher
Line 2: Galchenyuk/Desharnais/Weise
Line 3: Fleischmann/Eller/Carr
Line 4: Flynn/Mitchell/Smith-Pelly

Markov/Subban
Emelin/Petry
Beaulieu/Barberio

I'm not going to get all nit-picky about the same old things, but really, it's the same old thing. Poor line structures. The Desharnais-Galchenyuk combination has been awful, but they still plug along. Andrei Markov, who's desperate for some kind of ice time relief, is again on the #1 line with Subban, while Beaulieu, for reasons that are beyond me, gets demoted to 3rd pairing along with Barberio.

In any case, the Habs are moving forward for the rest of the year with what they've got on, and behind the bench. That much is clear from Bergevin's statement.

Who knows? Perhaps that will have a positive effect in helping the team to rally. Or, it could result in this team going through three more months of dreadful hockey.

In any case, the schedule is finally granting relief to the Habs. From this point forward, the vast majority of their games will be against teams with sub .500 records.

Mike Condon is in net for the Habs. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m., EST.



Monday, 18 January 2016

Game 47: Bruins vs. Habs

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Bruins after two periods:


- Quiet night for the Plekanec line. If their main responsibility is checking, then fine. Check. But don't do with the Max Pacioretty on the wing. 

- Byron appears to be another casualty tonight. Still in the dressing room as we progress through the 3rd period.

- So with Byron apparently injured, the door opens to reunite Galchenyuk with Eller. Therrien, however, elects to put Weise next to Lars. Sigh.

- Another dumb penalty by Marchand, Habs powerplay blue line is Subban and ... Barberio, interestingly. 

- I'm not saying the players have given up, but with the period half over, the effort out there is lacklustre at best. There is no urgency to the Habs game, their pace, their skating. It's as though the team is playing the first period. It's very strange. 

- Eller gets a nice shot off with Rask making a glove save. Apart from that, Habs haven't threatened to score this period. Not once.

- Yeah. That's it. Condon can't move across the net as Pastrnak wraps the puck in. Desharnais, for whatever reason, on Condon's back. Dead silence in the Bell Centre. 

- Marc Bergevin, our sad eyes turn toward you. It's in your hands.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Bruins through 20. CF percentages are even, but don't account for some pretty bad mistakes, mostly by the defence, in that period. Bright spots for Habs was the Eller line, and Barberio and Petry on defence. Condon was also solid. Everyone else? D+ at best.



- Looks like Beaulieu is done for the night. Laugh. Cry. I'm not sure which to choose. 

- We've been on Therrien like a wet rag most of the year for his deployment choices, but functionally speaking, there's no way a Habs defence with this much talent and experience, Subban, Markov, Petry, Beaulieu, Barberio - should be so structurally horrid as it has been for most of the season. Clumsy passes, deep zone turnovers, poor slot coverage, you name it, this defence has done it wrong. That's a definite symptom of a team that's practicing poorly guided by very little structure. If Therrien is to die as head coach, it should mainly be on that hill. 

- Markov gets nabbed for a vicious elbow. That's one very frustrated Russian out there. 

- Oooh, nice. Desharnais to Subban and the line who feed Barberio for a beautiful one timer that left Rask with zero chance. Brilliant shot by Barberio, who's arguably been the Habs best defenseman the past 3 weeks.

- Markov is a mess right now, can barely handle the puck. Clearly exhausted. Maybe even trying to play through an injury. Whatever. He needs rest. He needs a game or two off.

- Subban with a near 4 minute long shift. I don't think I've seen anything like that before. Thing is, it was a great shift. Every second. The guy is amazing.

- Habs have Bruins on the ropes, and then Emelin bodychecks Condon into his net, Bergeron easily deposits the puck in. Words escape me. 

- Habs with a little push after the Bergeron goal, but it's futile. Really feeling the doom settle in here. Team must be ready for the insane asylum, given how absolutely nothing seems to ever work out. 3rd period may very well determine the future of this team, not only for this season, but years down the road. A loss tonight would be absolutely devastating.



FIRST PERIOD:

- So Barberio starts tonight, his 10th game of the season, meaning he can't be sent back to the Ice Caps without clearing waivers. Which means the Habs have likely chosen to stick with him from here until the end of the season.

- Well, if the first shift is any indicator, the players aren't tossing this one away to get their coach fired.

- Eller line is flying tonight. Two shifts so far, both of them excellent, really working forecheck hard.

- Another fine shift by Eller and his line mates, Lars denied an empty net goal by an overly anxious referee who blew the whistle with a lose puck right in front of him.

- Classic examples. 3-on-2 break, Desharnais carries the zone, passes over to Weise, who immediately floats a useless slow weak shot 20 feet high and wide of the net. Then Subban dances in all alone on Rask, and instead of shoot, passes off to nobody. We wonder why this team can't score? That's way.

- Hoo boy. Sloppy Habs D springs Talbot in alone, Condon a great save, and then Markov inexplicably passes the puck right back to Talbot, who buries it. 1-0 Boston. Hoo boy.

- That Bruins goal appears to have had a significant impact on bench moral. Habs now getting overrun by Boston, where moments before, they were dominating.

- Bruins to the powerplay, last 10 scoring chances in this game, all taken by Boston. Ouch.

- And Beaulieu heading to the dressing room early, apparently injured. Make. It. Stop.

- Habs started strong, and seemed to be going well enough, but then the Talbot goal, and everything just fell apart. This Habs team is ridiculously mentally fragile, every little mistake gets magnified 10-fold. And so the Bruins dominated the period. Looks like another same-old tonight for the Canadiens.



GAMEDAY PREVIEW: IS THIS THE LAST CHANCE FOR MICHEL THERRIEN?

The Montreal Canadiens host the Boston Bruins tonight in a game that some believe, will be Michel Therrien's final broken straw if the Habs, mired in a near two month long losing streak, go down in another defeat.

Yesterday the speculation about Therrien's future heated up following an interview with Francois Gagnon of RDS, who stated that it's likely Therrien would be dismissed if the Habs were unable to beat the Bruins tonight.

Funny how things change. It was just two months ago that Habs fans, specifically yours truly, were counting down the days remaining in Claude Julien's tenure as head coach for the Bruins. Back in those days, Boston, who started the season badly, looked destined for a near last place finish in the Eastern Conference, while the Habs looked like a cinch not only to make the playoffs (which at the time was a foregone conclusion), but as the probable Eastern Conference first place team.

Then December came, and the world, at least for Habs fans, began to crumble.

It's been a remarkable fall of grace for Therrien, who not so long ago, appeared a coaching genius, commanding a team that for a few fleeting weeks, looked unbeatable. But then, suddenly, injuries, something the Habs had been riding a near two year streak of good fortune, started happening. First Carey Price stepped on a puck during a game warmup in Edmonton. Then three weeks later, Brendan Gallagher had his hand broken off a slap shot. 

And the Habs, who knew in advance their early winter schedule, went into a tailspin to beat all tailspins. The past 50 days for the Canadiens have been the worst period of losing in 80 years, since Adolf Hitler was in power. This being, except for the injury of two key players, the same team that had only weeks previous, gotten off to their greatest season start in the 106 years of franchise history.

Therrien's reaction to the Price and Gallagher injuries did not inspire confidence among his directors, who focused on his deployment decisions. Specially, Therrien's willingness to give players who struggled to produce, namely David Desharnais and Dale Weise, top line minutes, while scaling back minutes of players who, statically speaking, were far outproducing, name Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller. 

The net effect, of course, was a near dead-stop, team wide, goal drought. From positing easily the best GPG averages through the first two months, the Habs have tumbled all the way to the League's basement in most offence categories. 

And the losses mounted. And still, Therrien refused to change course. When he wasn't mixing and matching a dizzying assortment of line combinations, he was continuing to give favourable time to unproductive players.

There comes, of course, a breaking point. A team can lose only so many times, fall down the standings so far so fast, before actions are taken. Ergo, the speculation about a major shakeup has really gained traction this week, with rumours (mainly baseless) that the Habs were in hot pursuit of Tampa Bay Lightning's Johnathan Druoin. Complicating the Habs ability to make a bold move, is widespread knowledge among everyone around the League that the Canadiens are a desperate hockey team. Other team G.M.'s are fully aware of the crisis in Montreal, so any trade offers that Marc Bergevin might want to enter would come at a very steep price tag.

Which is to say that trades aren't particularly realistic for the Habs- at least, not ones of substance. Assuming a "shakeup" isn't possible via the trade front, the only other recourse is to look internally. That usually means a management shakeup. More often than not, it means the replacement of the head coach.

So tonight, the Habs, who just three weeks ago manhandled their Boston rivals at the annual Winter Classic, could, quite literally, be playing for their coach's future.

The question is begged. Does this hockey team want to continue full steam ahead with Therrien behind the bench, or does it want to take itself in another direction?

The answer may lay in the hands of 20 hockey players over the span of 60 hockey minutes.

Puck drops at 6:40 EST.



HAVE WE FINALLY REACHED THE END OF THE ROAD?

Take it for what it's worth, but Francois Gagnon thinks Therrien's down to his very last chance - tomorrow night against Boston.

Me? I'm surprised it's taken this long, and gone this far.

Do we cheer for the hated Bruins tomorrow night?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Game 46: Habs vs. Hawks

THIRD PERIOD:

- Upon review, the Toews goal was offside, but Habs bench, which wasn't paying attention, didn't challenge it. Inexcusable, but hey. What else is new?

- Andrei Markov hurt? That's lovely. Just keep piling it on.

- Thing is, the Habs aren't getting their clocks cleaned out there, but they're getting beat because they make too many little mistakes that often separate good teams from bad. The Habs are a bad team because even with all of their talent, they play a very un-structured game. Against a well structured team like the Hawks, especially on no rest, it's no contest. 



SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Hawks after 20:


.- Hawks first powerplay looking really good, Habs not doing a good job guarding the rush, Hawks zone entires carrying whole lotta speed which is resulting in quality shots at Scrivens.  

- Habs can't catch a cold, never mind a break, as Mitchell is given a high sticking call for not high sticking anyone. Sigh.

- Habs first powerplay cut short by a careless Plekanec high stick. Still, while it was on, Subban was fed numerous times, his shots looked pretty meek. He's either lost timing, velocity or confidence. Or all three. Whatever it is, he's not nearly what he used to be.

- And Hawks capaitize off Plekanec's huh stick, at the benefit of favourable puck bounces, something the Habs never seem to get anymore. 2-1.

- Various unforced errors by Torrey Mitchell tonight, who continues to struggle badly on that 4th line. Looked so good early in the year, but since return to injury, has become a definite defensive liability.

- Toews from behind the net tucks it in. Not sure what Scrivens was doing, not sure what the Habs defense, if you'd like to call it that tonight, were doing. I guess taking a stroll? Killer goal. I think this one is done.

- So, yeah. Habs pretty atrocious defensively, and the team as a whole, looked to have pretty much packed it in. Not sure what it's going to take to get Bergevin to make some sort of a shakeup, but now is as good a time as any.


FIRST PERIOD:

- And .... we're off. Two minutes in, snap shot beats a slow moving Scrivens top corner. 1-0. Hoo boy.

- Hey, maybe all is not quite lost yet - Eller finally buries a shot off a Beaulieu rebound. Game tied. 

- Sweet carry and pass by Barberio that ought have sprung Eller in alone, but Lars muffs the pass. Nonetheless, Barberio continue to prove his mettle by making good decisions with the puck.

- Habs defense is just a mystery. Somali and confident the first two months of the season feeding the puck forward, now totally inept and inefficient. A fundamental reason why the Habs can't buy a win since early December? Puck transition and zone clearances.

- Don't know what Therrien Speer sees in this Desharnais line, other than wasting Galchenyuk's talents, but the line, in particular 51 and Weise, continue to be a defensive mess.

- Hawks pretty much carrying the zone at will, one big reason why their shot attempts are outpacing the Habs 2-to-1. 

- While the Desharnais line continues to go nowhere, Lars Eller is having himself an excellent outing. Again. Lars hasn't been given nearly enough recognition for his play, which gets us right back to the usual topic of Therrien's deployment strategies. On most nights, Eller is usually the 2nd-5th least used Habs forward.

- Period started ominously enough, but Habs managed to not unravel. Still, Hawks ad an awfully well structured hockey team,  which means the Habs will need to count on a few bounces and favours tonight if they hope to escape with any points.



THE HABS MAY NEVER WIN AGAIN, BUT THEY CAN NEVER TAKE THIS AWAY:



Habs will try to avoid their 814th loss this season, as they take on the Blackhawks tonight, right in Chicago.

Won't someone please have some mercy on us?

Friday, 15 January 2016

Game 45: Habs vs. Blues

OVERTIME:

- Intestinal fortitude. That's what we need, boys. One goal. A big win. Let's do this.

- Great save Elliot off Plekanec. Argh.

- Good lord. I'm speechless. Heartbreak. The season is a disaster. 

- Markov made the turnover that lost the game, but in reality, there was no way, no way, he should have been out on the ice for overtime. He'd played 26 minutes up to that point, and given how tired his legs are, it was a monumental mistake by Therrien to send him out there. A momentous, devastating loss for the Canadiens, brought on, once again, by horrid decisions behind the bench.


THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Blues after 40 minutes: 


- Of note, the Plekanec line is having a tremendous game, he, Pacioretty and Gallagher pushing 80% CF 5v5. 

- Habs continue to demonstrate those December snakebit statistics, with team shooting percentage the past 5 periods at 3.8%, which is bad. NHL average is around 8-9%.

- Strong start for the Habs, doing a nice job fighting for pucks in the Blues zone, and feeding the crease. Team looks very determined to score the next goal.

- Canadiens totally hemming Blues into their zone, possession has been pretty dominative but again, again, no pucks are being put into the net. Something's gotta give.

- Habs dominating, and then ... Emelin takes a dumb dumb penalty in his own zone, putting the Blues on the powerplay. You know what's gonna happen. You can just feel the dread. 

- Habs kill the penalty very well, Blues can't register a shot. Whether that penalty will have any effect on momentum, we'll have to see.

- Question answered. Brilliant breakout by this Plekanec line which as we noted, has looked excellent tonight, with Plekanec, yes ... Plekanec, scoring off a pin-perfect cross-i

- ... and ... we have our answer. Sweet jesus. 

- That goal mostly on Condon who totally muffed the puck from behind the net, and got caught. Just about the worst way you can give up a goal after fighting so hard to take the lead. 

- This game pretty much a must-win for the Habs. A loss would wreck the team emotionally. They've done everything possible to win tonight, and if not for a bad bounce and mental breakdown by Condon, they'd have this game won.

- Sigh. Well, I guess the boys will get at least a point.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Wow. Subban scored. Double wow. On the powerplay. 24th Habs shot finally registers a goal. Game tied.

- Habs with a much better 2nd period, breakouts are much faster and cleaner. Plekanec line getting some good looks.

- Nifty play by Pacioretty to take a feed from Plekanec off his skate and put it to his forehand. 2-1 Habs. Montreal starting to get rewards for having the lion's share of scoring chances.

- Well, that didn't last long. Not even a minute later, Parayko with a floater that somehow beats Condon. Blah. Terrible luck, but it underscores something troubling we've seen from this team all year - the tendency to have letdowns after scoring. Another example right here. 

- Oh, com'on. Gallagher bumps Elliot going to the net, and Elliot with an obvious embellishment, and we have a near line brawl as a result. The Blue totally overreacting, perhaps out of frustration of being totally outplayed so far, and they end up drawing an extra two minutes.

- Have to wonder if that brawl, which clearly the Blues were in the wrong, might give the Habs a little collective mo'. Something that fires that bench up. A win tonight will have to be one requiring great determination. 

- An incredible, but clean hit by Emelin, one of the hardest I've seen in the NHL this season, maybe the hardest, on Stastny. Blues react with fury, but the reply show it was a clean check. 

- Blues need a time out. They're overacting to every play, every hit. And now they're in significant penalty trouble. Two men down for nearly a minute.

- Blues in full meltdown now. Shattenkirk gets a 10 minute misconduct.

- Ferocious period of hockey, incredibly physical and feisty, with St. Louis reacting very badly to Habs tenacity. The game incredibly one-sided in favour of the Canadiens, but as per usual, shots on goal mean squat unless they go into the net. 3rd period should be nothing short of fascinating.


FIRST PERIOD:

Nothing much to say about this contest in advance, except that the Blues are not unlike the Habs, in that they've been struggling mightily the past few weeks. Alexander Steen is in tonight for the Blues, while Dale Weise makes his return from the injury list. Also, Jacob De La Rose gets a start tonight, as the Habs shift their lineup towards "bigger/physical" in attempt to turn their season around. Yeah, okay. Let's see how that works out.

- Michel Therrien two days ago called out Alex Galchenyuk, for some insane reason, for not being defensively responsible, like David Desharnais. First minute, Desharnais loses the puck in the corner, then his man in the slot, and the Blues take a 1-0 lead.

- Therrien, in a desperate move, burns his challenge on interference that pretty clearly didn't happen on Condon. What a start.

- Blues look pretty focused and energized tonight. The Habs ... do not. At least, early on.

- Vladimir Tarasenko, who in a mini-goal slump, looks on fire. Habs would be advised to assign someone to shadow him (not Desharnais, duh).

- Habs first powerplay, as per usual, goes nowhere. Permitter passing, no real threatening shots on goal. Meanwhile team passing in general has been pretty awful. 

- Habs transition game is a mess. Pucks are being turned over like crazy at centre ice. Canadiens look like a team that hasn't practiced. They do, of course - so that this team plays a progressively worse game as the season ticks past, is a very bad sign of what's to come.

- David Desharnais and Dale Weise are being very defensively irresponsible in their own zone tonight. In other words, the usual.

- Well, at the very least tonight's first period isn't nearly as lopsided as their first period in Chicago, but Habs offensive threats have been pretty meek. This team really struggles to get shots away from scoring areas in the slot. Perimeter shots won't beat Elliot, but that's what he's been facing.

- Habs seem to be taking a more physical tact at this stage of the period. I'm not sure if the "wear-em-down" strategy will have payoff off against a team like St. Louis, but at this point, it's worth trying anything.

- Habs powerplay oh-fer-two, although the second did create shot attempts from the slot, Habs players though, just can't seem to hit the target. When I mean target, I mean actually shooting on goal. Sigh.

- Same old story. Habs in that period, with greater territorial advantage, puck possession, and shots on goal, but no actual goals. Shots are being made, but traffic in front of Elliot has been minimal. 


OH YES. IT GETS WORSE. IT GETS MUCH, MUCH WORSE

So the Habs have traded Jarred Tinordi to the Arizona Coyotes for John Scott.

So, I read about the trade via Twitter. My reaction was pretty much this:

As always, there's never a dull day in Habsland. Never.


HERE'S WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A HABS FAN THIS MORNING:




Are you sitting down for this?

Habs sent down Sven Andrighetto and Daniel Carr, who are amongst the Habs top 6 in 5v5 goal scoring this season. They brought up Jacob De La Rose, who has managed two ... count 'em, two goals in the AHL this season.

Devante Smith-Pelly is expected back into the lineup Saturday night.

I have no explainations. Sorry.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Game 44: Hawks vs Habs

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Hawks after 40, that 2nd period might have been in the top 3 of periods played by Montreal over the last two months:


- Of note, I think it's safe to say nobody is communicating to Therrien some of the raw data. Thomas Fleischmann, who has the worst CF% among all Habs players after 40 minutes (38.1%), has the most ice time among all Habs forwards.

- Hmm. Galchenyuk now playing on the wing next to Desharnais. One of Therrien's baseless hunches, methinks.

- Looks like Therrien has the blender out and running. Eller centering Fleischmann and Flynn. Uhhh .. no idea. Dunno what to say.

- Anyway, crazy line combinations aside, Habs continuing to apply pressure here, looking for the tying goal. Credit Habs for their efforts, at least.



SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Hawks after 20 minutes. Pretty .. um .. bad.


- Well, it's not quite the same horrorshow as the first period, Habs seem to be settling down a little bit in their own zone, making it less of a freewheel for the Hawks offence.

- Pacioretty getting good looks tonight, just not clicking for him. We speculated last week that he was on the cusp of a big scoring outbreak, but that event never arrived. We're still waiting.

- Habs generating intense scoring flurry on Crawford, who just barely keeps his team ahead on the scoreboard. Barberio with some nifty passing courtesy smart decision making to set up the play. Habs getting close, here.

- Carr on the 4th line is just a total waste.

- Two shift, two huge bodychecks by Emelin, which may or may not give Habs some energy here. Plekanec with a chance that should have been buried. Habs winning the period, but not converting. You can only do this so long before there's a let-down.

- Quite a bounce-back period for Montreal - it's a very strange thing to witness. They looked so awful in the 1st, so good in the 2nd. Can't explain it, other than the defence doing a much better job covering their zones. Habs still a goal down, but reckon to have pretty good odds if they can carry the 2nd right through the 3rd. We'll see.

- Habs first powerplay of the night looked decent enough, but the unit struggled to set up any shots in and around the slot.

- Credit where it's due - Alexei Emelin has been excellent tonight. One of his strongest games in a very long time.

- It's only been happening for 15 minutes, but it's pretty clear that Galchenyuk next to Desharnais is a pretty bad move. Hopefully Therrien pulls the plug on this little experiment before it's too late.

- Habs with a pretty brave performance. After 1 period it looked pretty clear the Habs were well on their way to getting bombed tonight, but they've come out with two excellent periods against a great Chicago team. Will be very disappointing if they can't find a tying goal, given their tremendous efforts.

- Three minutes left, Hawks in full sit-on-the-lead mode. Can the Habs find a way?

- Nope. Exasperating. An heroic effort wasted, Corey Crawford was outstanding, but still, this Habs team can't use that an an excuse. The offence, once again, just couldn't bury their chances - and there were numerous ones generated tonight.

Eyes will again turn to Marc Bereavin. Will he do something, or will this season, with this incredibly deep Habs roster, be frittered away?


FIRST PERIOD:

- With final change, there is no reason for Therrien to get outmatched tonight. That is to say, no reason why Emelin or Desharnais line should be out against either of the Hawks' two two lines.

- Sloppy turnover by Beaulieu with Hawks forwards doing some pretty aggressive forechecking, Deshnarnais forced to take a hooking penalty. Surely the Habs knew this was going to be Chicago's game plan, right?

- Alexei Emelin seems to be more focused on delivering thundering body checks than he is defending Blackhawk rushes. It's that kind of decision making that will inevitable burn the Habs against a team like Chicago.

- Habs lose zone faceoff, and proceed to completely lose all sense of structure, Toews with an easy tap in goal. Pretty abysmal stuff. Hawks have won 25 of 30 games this season in which they scored first.

- Hawks absolutely dominating the Habs, and then Desharnais carries the zone and feed Byron who knocks the puck off his body behind Crawford to even the score. Montreal will need many small miracles tonight, and that the score is tied right now is one.

- Habs defence is just a mess tonight. Again its the Petry/Beaulieu duo, again they're blinding firing pucks up the boards to try to clear the zone, again the Hawks are easily anticipating this terrible strategy, and again they strike again to make it 2-1. Condon doing his upmost, but pucks are coming at him from all directions, rapid-fire.

- Just watching this team is painful. It's simply unfathomable how a roster with so much talent is being made to look like AHL fodder against most of the NHL.

- Therrien sending out Emelin to handle Kane, which is just all kinds of insane. Fans starting to get very restless in the Bell Centre. For good reason.

- That was bad. Really bad. But pretty much what we feared. Hawks are playing at a completely different level than the Habs, who are mostly a defensive catastrophe. This game will almost certainly have a very ugly final result, unless the Canadiens are beneficiaries of some pretty spectacular puck luck, which isn't very likely (nor something you want to count on).



GAME PREVIEW: THIS SCHEDULE ISN'T GETTING ANY EASIER

Are we in last place yet? (no). Is Michel Therrien out of a job yet? (no).  Is Devante Smith-Pelly STILL in the lineup? (no). Is ... woah ... wait. No?!

In case you haven't been paying attention, and heaven knows you'd be forgiven for just turning your head the other direction and ignoring the whole sorted affair - Alex Galchenyuk and Devante Smith-Pelly have been making some pretty stupid headlines in Montreal this week, after it was disclosed that Galchenyuk's (ex?) girlfriend had been chaged with assault. Apparently, this woman, who shall not be named, discovered Mr. Galchenyuk and Mr. Smith-Pelly together, which is innocuous enough. However, in this instances, Mr. Galchenyuk and Mr. Smith-Pelly were in the company of, shall we say, other individuals of the XY chromosomal variety. At that juncture, things got out of hand.

Actually, things really got out of hand when Mr. Galchenyuk, for reasons that still baffle the mind, was made to apologize to the city of Montreal for ... his girlfriend assaulting him (I guess?). Or maybe it was because Alex was being a bad boy in the company of other women? Who knows?!? The bottom line here is that the Montreal Canadiens are fast become the backside punch line of a bad joke, notwithstanding their abhorrent displays of actual hockey the past 45 days.

In any case, Mr. Smith-Pelly, one assumes because he was a participant in this tawdry affair, has been scratched for tonight's game.

So now, the traveling circus that are the Montreal Canadiens host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks tonight. The Hawks, even though decimated by cap mismanagement the past few years at the cost of some pretty darned good hockey players, continue to just roll along in the Western Conference. There is no other way of explaining the Hawks continued path of success, except to look at what hasn't changed - Chicago's most excellent head coach Joel Quenneville, who has an uncanny knack of being able to turn whatever is shoved on his plate, into a four-star, three course hockey team.

Hey, remember the time when there were rumours flying when newly crowned Habs G.M. Marc Bergevin was knocking on Quenneville's door about filling a vacant head coaching job in Montreal? But then Marc remembered that Quenneville didn't speak french? So instead he hired Michel Therrien? Remember that? Yeah. Good times. Good times.

Sigh.

So tonight, Les Habs will face the music of having to face another well coordinated, well structured, well coached hockey team. The Hawks starting lineup tonight:

1: Shaw/Toews/Hossa
2: Panarin/Teravainen/Kane
3: Panik/Rasmussen/Garbutt
4: Mashinter/Danault/Desjardins

And for the Habs? It's:

1: Pacioretty/Plekanec/Gallagher
2: Eller/Galchenyuk/Andrighetto
3: Fleischmann/Desharnais/Byron
4: Carr/Mitchell/Flynn

Keys for the Habs tonight? Hope for a miracle? Keep Desharnais away from the Toews line? Keep Desharnais away from the Teravainen line? Maybe lock Desharnais away in a vault until 10:30 p.m.?

Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Hawks. Mike Condon for the Habs. Puck drops at 7:40 EST.



CAREY PRICE WHEN-IS-HE-COMING-BACK!?!?-UPDATE:

Closer. He's getting closer. It's gonna happen. Don't worry.



TVA Sports

WHY, HELLO THERE

Got sore eyes? That picture oughtta help a little.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Game 43: Pens vs. Habs

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Pens after 40. Pretty much more of the same, only not quite as bad as the 1st period:


- Lars Eller getting lots of ice time tonight, since being moved to the Desharnais line, and it's certainly helped that 3rd unit improve possession numbers. Meanwhile, the 4th line is just a black hole. 0% CF (5v5) over 40 minutes. That's ... well ... they really shouldn't be getting very many shifts for the rest of the night.

- If Therrien is going to start spouting out line combinations with the ol' blender, would it hurt to maybe try 67/27/11? Just a little bit? Or maybe 27/81?  Eller is carrying Desharnais at the moment, so put him with someone capable of scoring. Just thinking out loud.

- Pretty listless period so far, 7 minutes in. Pens not really gunning hard for an insurance, Habs not really playing with any sense of urgency. Both teams trading mild punches. 

- Well hey there, Eller is with Galchenyuk. Just like we asked for? Annnnnnd .. first shift Eller nailed for a trip (head on desk).

- Mike Condon doing a very good Carey Price impersonation tonight. Might bail Habs out of another poor PK again.

- Why is Therrien putting Smith-Pelly out on the PK? If not for Condon, it would be 3-1 (actually, 5 or 6-1).

- Habs showing some push here with 7 minutes left in the 3rd. Eller/Galchenyuk reunification looks good. Really good.

- Subban playing the left side of the powerplay tonight, and he looks great. It's kind of crazy that it's taken half a season for the braintrust behind the bench to figure this out, but here we are. Game 43.

- Pens basically hung on for the final 5 minutes, and hang on they did. Excellent start by Condon wasted, because this team has reverted right back to December's form - unable to put the puck into the net. It wasn't a complete whitewash tonight, but the game is a pretty stern indication that the Habs are no longer icing a competitive hockey team, even though, sans Price and Petry's day-to-day injury, they have a healthy lineup. Something's gotta give. The situation is now getting serious. 


SECOND PERIOD:

- So just how bad was that first period for Montreal? This bad:



- Habs 4th line, which has been a disaster zone since Therrien cobbled together Mitchell/Flynn/Smith-Pelly, was 0.0 CF% in that period. They were absolutely owned by the Pens every time they stepped on the ice. Therrien cannot, and must not, put that unit out against either the Malkin or Crosby line, AGAIN. 

- Crosby gets nailed for an early trip and while it (again) does not result in a powerplay goal (Therrien steadfastly refusing to not remove Desharnais from that unit), it does appear to have given the Habs a little momentum. Canadiens are at least competing with the Pens now with their legs. That's something.

- The tire fire that's passing as the Habs 4th line gets nailed for a penalty, and the Pens (finally) strike with the man advantage, some slopping PK zone coverage, and Hornqvist with an easy shake and bake around Condon to make it 1-0. In light of how one-sided this game has been, I suppose that goal was merely inevitable.

- P.K. Subban. It finally goes in for him. Subban almost looked in disbelief as he raised his arms down on the ice. Tie game.

- The shocker Subban goal seems to have energized the troops. Habs are actually competing right now. Who knows? This game might not end up as a disaster after all.

- Uh, maybe hold that thought. Monumental defensive breakdown between Pateryn and Beaulieu, with both defenders going left, leaving, well, pretty much the entire ice in front of Condon completely wide open. Pateryn, perhaps inspired by the foolishness of Emelin, tries for a big hit, instead of making a responsible play. Brian Rust, an unlikely candidate, scores to make it 2-1. That was pretty awful. 

video

- Habs can't afford to keep taking penalties. The Pens powerplay has been dangling the puck on a string tonight. 

- Well, I guess that was something of a better period for the Habs, which still isn't much. Pittsburgh isn't playing a particularly extraordinary game, it's just that Montreal looks completely disorganized, as though they've only just strung together a roster. No rhythm to their game, the breakouts have been pretty awful, and now the team seems to be more inclined to dump and chase pucks, which is a bad strategy against Pittsburgh's skill-based offence. Sure, it's only 2-1, but I can't fathom for a moment this Habs team getting anything but an L tonight.


FIRST PERIOD:

- Obvious key for the Habs tonight will be keeping guys out of the penalty box. Also, deployment. Doing it well, for once.

- So Michel Therrien, the luxury of last change, sends out Emelin against the Pens top line, and within seconds, he hooks a speeding Crosby in the Habs zone. Oy.

- Pens definitely outskating Habs early, the loss of Petry is also having an impact on Montreal's ability to make effective transitions. 

- All Pens in this one, shot attempts are nearly 4-to-1 ratio, as the Habs haven't had much of a forecheck going. This could be shaping up to be a long night for the Canadiens.

- Desharnais is so easily worked off the puck, even the defence-thin Pens line has little difficulty stripping him. This is a big problem, because it's constantly surrendering zone puck possession. 

- So the Habs powerplay appears to have taken a step backward, if such a thing was possible. Instead of carrying the zone, unit appears to be reverting to last year's strategy of the dump-and-chase. Looking forward to seeing team ranking to soon be amongst the bottom five.

- It's a disaster zone out there, if you're a Habs supporter. 4th line with a wretched shift against the Malkin line, Condon forced to make two very difficult saves to keep this game scoreless. It's a minor miracle right now that it's still 0-0.

That. Was. Awful. No other way of describing how the Habs played in that first period. The only glimmer of positive light was Mike Condon. Otherwise, not much. The Pens totally owning both ends of the ice, outskating, hitting, shooting, attempting, and possessing. One of the worst periods of hockey the Habs have played in a very long time, while still managing, somehow, to come out of it still even on the scoreboard.




NEWS ALERT: PHIL KESSEL IS STILL AWESOME

Yay. The Pens are in town. That means Phil Kessel! Hands of a master, body of a mushy hot dog. Phil represents the aspirations of every socially awkward, physically questionable hockey fan: HEY, if THAT guy can play hockey well heck, maybe I can too!

Sadly, it's not been a bed of roses season for Phil. Since arriving from Toronto, Kessel has bounced back and forth between the Pens first and second lines. For a good chunk of October and November, Kessel played along side Sidney Crosby, which not only resulted in the Pens sputtering out of the gate offensively, but inevitably cost Mike Johnston his job as head coach. Another Kessel coaching victim! The Habs REALLY needed this guy. Oh well.

Since then, Kessel has settled in nicely on the Pens second line next to Evgeni Malkin, while Crosby has readily started to change his season around. The Pens are now a better team than what they were to start the season, although their defence remains as immmobile as ever. Pittsburgh is facing an uphill battle to get a playoff spot this year, and even if they do manage to sneak in to the post-season, they'll be facing some big "?" marks surrounding how far they'll end up playing, given the poor shape of their blue line.

So tonight, the Pens, who can't afford to lose many more if they wan't to play in April, shall put forth the following lines:

1: Kunitz/Crosby/Perron
2: Hornqvist/Malkin/Kessel
3: Rust/Bonina/Kuhnhackl
4: Porter/Cullen/Fehr

Maata/Letang
Dumaulin/Lovejoy
Cole/Daley

Marc-Andre Fleury.

Over in Habsland, with Jeff Petry out for who-knows-how long, Greg Pateryn will get a start, and will play next to Nathan Beaulieu, behind the following forward lines:

1: Pacioretty/Plekanec/Gallagher
2: Andrighetto/Galchenyuk/Carr
3: Eller/Desharnais/Byron
4: Flynn/Mitchell/Smith-Pelly.

Mike Condon will start in net for the Habs.

Puck drops at 7:15 EST.





SO THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A HABS FAN

Okay, I've been away for LESS than 48 hours. Fourty-eight hours. What's GOIN OWAN?


Uh. So .. let's get this straight. Alexei Emelin, who would on a normal night would have a tough time cracking a lineup spot on a normal NHL team, was being played WITH A BROKEN FOOT over the perfectly healthy Greg Pateryn and Jared Tinordi?  Yeah. That one got me shaking my fist. Heaven help us. Anyway, what happened this morning? Let's see what the ol' Twittersphere is telling us.


Great. Our second best defenseman out. Well, at least that's not a Therrien-stupidity thing. Anything else?


LOL. Wait, Therrien is again sitting the guy who's the 5th leading goal scorer on an offensively-starved team? What other madness awaits us?


Byron with Desharnais?? Good. Lord. Well, at least practice is over. We can at least carry on with the rest of the day. Hold on. What's that, John Lu? You have one more thing to tell us?


Anyone got a gun I could borrow for 10 seconds?