Monday, 29 February 2016

Game 63: Habs vs. Sharks


FIRST PERIOD:

- 17 years since the Habs last won in San Jose. Seventeen. Years. Odds of them breaking that woeful streak tonight? Not good.


- Peel and Luxmore are the officials tonight, two of the League's less compentent officials. So that could make the game interesting.

- Two shifts in quick succession for the Plekanec line - we could see extra extra duty for them tonight, especially if Pacioretty is now shooting a hot hand.

- Ick Ick Ick zone coverage - Bartley way out of position and Danault leaving Joe Thornton completely unmarked beside Condon, and it's 1-0 early.

- Martin Jones gifts the Habs one back, Gallagher from an impossible angle, Jones failing to cover the post. Tie game.

- Barberio/Bartley pairing really struggling so far, Sharks with firing line on Condon with both defenseman getting caught totally out of position around their net. That needs to be sorted out quickly or Therrien might need to shorten his bench.

- Bartley given a pretty terrible tripping penalty by Peel. The Habs are tonight's first victims of this dubious officiating duo. Poor officiating is especially impactful because of the Sharks' already very good powerplay.

- Habs zone exits have been pretty awful so far, it's leading to near zero offence, save the one semi-fluke goal. Also generating way too many turnovers deep, Condon forced to make some pretty good saves to keep the score even.

- McCarren doesn't hold anything back. He's 6'6" and he uses every inch of that frame. Really like what I've seen since his latest call-up.

- Therrien rewarding McCarren with shifts, unfortunately his linemates - Mitchell and especially Brown, are glaring defensive liabilities. Too much play in Habs zone when those three are on the ice.

- Thornton again, Habs again with some wretched zone coverage. So undisciplined, so lacking any structure or coherence. Montreal has little chance tonight if they're going to continue to be so disorganized. 2-1 Sharks.

- Torrey Mitchell is a train wreck tonight. His line is getting slaughtered.

- Pretty ugly period for the Habs - the combination of injuries and necessary player selloffs has made this roster pretty thin - especially on the 3rd and 4th lines, where Montreal is getting trounced. Could be a very, very long night ahead for the Canadiens.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Pacioretty is an excellent hockey player, but one time shots are not his thing. Odd the Habs powerplay seems to strategize towards setting him up for the cross ice pass and shot. But then there's a lot of things I don't understand about this team.

- Barberio can really drive that puck, if you allot him time and space. Could be a useful future asset to the powerplay, if he's able to stick with the team.

 - Burns with a wrister that Condon doesn't quite cover short side, and it's 3-1. Game headed towards ugliness, as Habs 3rd and 4th lines continue to be turned into mincemeat by this San Jose offence.

- Eller line easily Habs best tonight, which was to be expected. Sharks somewhat slower-than-average defense really struggling to contain that line's speed and skill.

- Therrien really giving 1st and 2nd lines a lot of time tonight, which I suppose is understandable given how poorly the 3rd and 4th lines have played, but is unsustainable over three periods.

- Andrei Markov, whom for two months looked and played rather dreadfully, has really returned to form the past couple of weeks, even thought Therrien continues to wildly overplay him every game.

- Sharks far too many times tonight, getting red carpet treatment carrying the zone. Habs defence doing its best, but forwards the culprit here - too many neutral zone giveaways, not enough hustle back. Habs luck they're not down 4 or 5-1 at this point.

- Oooh another gift goal off a broken play, Torrey Mitchell smacks home a lob shot by Byron that Jones completely muffs up, and the Habs, benefiting some iffy netminding and nifty puck luck, are only down 1. 

- Habs zone exits are just hopeless tonight - it's completely hampering their ability to generate any kind of favourable momentum

- Great awareness and pass by Gallagher right on the tape of Plekance all alone in front of Jones, who's forced to make a spectacular pad save to keep his team ahead.

- Chickens come home to roost against Habs in the second - you can only play an unstructured, ineffective game so long before it catches up, and that second period, the Sharks started pulling away. Habs likely to play their top two lines heavily in the third in a desperate attempt to get at least a point out of this evening, which means San Jose can expect to receive some pretty good looks at Condon in the final frame.

THIRD PERIOD:

- Bartley and Barberio both chase a puck along the boards, leaving Condon high,Mary and utterly exposed. Karlsson totally alone in front of the net to give the Sharks another two goal lead. That defensive pairing has been burned numerous times tonight, but with Petry and Gilbert out for the long term, and Tinordi given away to Arizona, Habs are stuck.

- Route is on, again defensive zone coverage is poor, again Habs get burned trying to chip the puck up along the boards instead of passing or carrying it out, again this team's utter lack of structure and competence will cost them another loss they could ill-afford. Again Habs won't win in San Jose. Maybe 18th time's a charm? Anyway, 5-2 the score, it's game, set and match. Road trips headsto Southern California, and looks to be shaping up to be a horrorshow.


DO THE HABS STILL HAVE A LINEUP TO PLAY TONIGHT??

The trade deadline!! It's come and gone! All the wheeling and dealing! Incredible!! Dizzying!!

So yeah. Nothing happened. Well, much anyway. Pretty like every other year in the past.

But ... but ... the Habs did make some moves. As in, getting rid of players, including Dale Weise, Thomas Fleischmann and today, it was Devante Smith-Pelly. In return, the Habs got some picks, a marginal winger in Stefan Matteau, and also earlier today, Mike Brown was claimed off ... wait. Who?? Mike Brown the do-nothing goon that's scored 4 goals the past 6 NHL seasons? YES BUT WAIT. He plays right wing!! Exactly the position the Habs had a huge void in! PROBLEM SOLVED.

So yeah. We got Mike Brown. Who'll play tonight, against his former team. So at least the pickup was convienient. Otherwise, um ... Marc Bergevin seems pretty content to just ride the rest of the season, sans a few unproductive regulars, and maybe look at trying to get this franchise back on track this summer.

Until then, there's hockey still to be played. And hey, believe it or not, the Habs still have very faint post-season aspirations, sitting 5 points back of the Pens for the 2nd wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Tonight, it's the Sharks from San Jose, whom themselves are looking to nail down a playoff spot. The Sharks, coming off a pretty miserable 2014-15, have had a nice little rebound season, making a coaching change during the summer (*cough, cough*), which has helped them to play a much more structured game than they had going under Todd McClellan.

How are the Sharks structurally better? Well, this year they have the 3rd rated powerplay, an improvement from last season. Their offence is 4th rated in the NHL, which is way better than 15th from last season. The only area where we've seen some regression is defensively, where San Jose has gone from 7th last year, to 17th this season. This is a team that likes to win via scoring, preferably via their specialty units. And given they're probably going to make the playoffs, who can argue with the overall result?

Meanwhile over in Habsland, in addition to Brown starting tonight (AWKWARD), Torrey Mitchell, who's been out for a bit from injury, is expected to return.

Puck drops tonight at 10:40 EST. I'm going to be in bed, so the blog won't exactly be live. But it will be posted. Eventually. Brew a pot of coffee, and enjoy!!



Saturday, 27 February 2016

Game 62: Leafs vs. Habs

FIRST PERIOD:

- Was wondering if Parenteau would make it all the way to the final lineup tonight, given how it's already been declared that he's to be traded.

- Danault right in the lineup tonight, so let's see how he plays. He's often criticized for his shot selection (often low percentage). Something to watch for.

- Kadri left totally unmarked in front of Condon, receives puck all alone because of sloppy Plekanec turnover, with Emelin off somewhere else. One play - indicative of how poorly this team plays with the puck in their zone.

- Uh, so the Habs getting steamrolled early by a team that would be tough to find wins against an AHL-level opponent, with Hunwick cashing in off a juicy Condon rebound, both Pateryn and Bartley with some poorly coordinated coverage. 1-0 Marlies-light!

- What a shot by Galchenyuk, a sniper writer that Bernier simply doesn't see. Bernier complaining that Eller bumped him, which is a whole lotta whining. Really think Leafs are wasting a challenge here.

- Terrible first 5 minutes for the Habs, but that awesome AG27 goal seems to have woken the team up.

- Seems like Parenteau has been traded? Pulled from the ice in the middle of the period. Here we thought only Pierre Gauthier did that kind of thing.

- I guess Parenteau is off for medical attention.

- Eller looking excellent, again. Can't fathom why Habs management seems so ... determined (?) .. to ship him out of town. More often than not, the line he's centred this season is the best of any given game. 

- Between 5 and 17 minute mark of the period, Leafs didn't muster a single shot attempt on Condon. It's a steep learning curve for a lineup mostly composed of works-in-progress.

- Habs continue to shoot themselves in their own foot by not being able to make even the simplest zone exit with the puck. More turnovers, mostly unforced, eventually resulting in Pacioretty getting nailed for a trip. Habs sloppiness with the puck in their own end really underscores how structurally dysfunctional this hockey club is. 

- Bookend period for the Leafs, they controlled the game first 5, and last 3 minutes. Otherwise, it was all Habs in the frame. Canadiens could probably get some cushion on the scoreboard if they were to be a little more intense with the forecheck, especially against such an inexperienced opponent. More pucks on Bernier, the better.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Leafs after 20 minutes, Canadiens with 61.4% CF (5v5). Eller line with 90+% CF (just to give you an idea of how much they dominated). 


- Leafs management/coaching will/should receive a lot of grief about this, but looks like Parenteau won't return tonight, which underscores the importance of why you NEVER play a guy you're trying to trade.  Now Toronto will be stuck with him, a no returns (probable 2nd round pick) coming back. 

- Official. Parenteau is gone for the night with UBI. And with him, any possible hopes for a trade. 

- Gallagher smacking a puck home with a high stick, so Habs denied a goal. Still, they have controlled much of the period, and the game in general. Leafs really, really soft slot protection in front of Bernier. 

- Habs push to the net and traffic in the slot pays off (finally), with McCarron generating a turnover using his body, a point shot from Emelin is neatly deflected by the big winger past Bernier, and probably would have gone in itself. Smith-Pelly, however, finishes the play. 2-1 Habs. The play that McCarron made to help give the Habs the lead is the kind of play that will help him to establish a more permanent spot with the big team.

- Kadri. Such a good forward, but dumb as a pile of rocks. The trade-off isn't good for any team that has him on their roster.

- Habs with an oddly experimental powerplay, which is fine if you have a comfortable lead in the game, not fine if you're holding a one goal lead. Byron/De La Rose/Danault line? Uh .. kay?

- Another poor Habs powerplay, puck being worked again way too much around the perimeter, which given how soft the slot is tonight, really makes no sense. Opportunities lost.

- Habs kids really strong tonight, Andrighetto with strong two-way game, McCarron making an impact ... something to be said about playing youth this time of year. Might even make this team better? 

- Pretty even period, possession-wise. Leafs no real sparkling scoring chances, save a Komarov breakaway off a terrible Galchenyuk pp turnover. We should be reminded that this Leafs lineup is totally depleted .. there should be no reason why they ought to be even whispering at a win, and yet, just one goal down through 40 minutes, their odds remain pretty good. Habs need to really push in the 3rd to gain some insurance.


THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Leafs through 40 minutes. Leafs find themselves down 2 forwards in the 3rd, with Parenteau and Froese now out for the night.


- McCarron with a very strong game, but has barely received 5 minutes of ice time so far. Part of the Canadiens' culture, alas.

- P.K. Subban assessed a penalty for speaking. I'd like to say that's a joke, but sadly, it's not.

- Can't imagine any other player in the NHL being given a T for simply speaking. The rule seems to be only applicable to Subban. Draw your own conclusions. 

- Wow. East, west, west, one timer, an incredible shot by Pacioretty top corner. So hard, so fast, nobody noticed. Not even the train whistle guy. Habs get insurance off a beauty goal. 

- Watching Galcheyuk tonight, he's essentially playing as a centre, which is fine because his (Eller's) line has been excellent tonight, but not fine because it's a dysfunctional setup. Still maddening how the braintrust refuses to put him at his natural position. Oh well.

- Pacioretty piles on with his 2nd, Bernier totally misplays a point shot off the backboards. Leafs coverage in front is atrocious. What can ya say? Leafs getting stomped now.

- Kind of odd how incredible a natural scorer Max Pacioretty is, and yet on breakaways, he's death.

- Habs with a pretty intense 3rd period, credit the youth. So many times this season we've seen the team do a collective 3rd period letdown, usually attempting to protect a slim lead. Tonight, different story. Habs come into the period with one goal lead, and play aggressively. Guess what? They score, easing their way towards a relatively straightforward victory. See? It's really not that hard.

- McCarron with garbage ice time, which is a shame. Feels like the Habs could have played their youth a bit more tonight. Therrien still playing it too safe.

- Pretty solid game for the Habs, McCarron especially so making a significant impact. Even Danault looked pretty decent in his debut. Habs now stand 5 points out of a wildcard spot - still far out of reach, but something ... even if the odds are slim, to still play for. 19 games left. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. 




HABS VS. THE LEAFS. WHEN YOU PLAY AGAINST A TEAM WITH NO ROSTER

Happy Saturday night game day! Been a long time since the Habs hosted a team on "Hockey Night", and this time, it's the Leafs! Schweeet.

At least, I think it's the Leafs? Does this team have any roster players left? Today Taronno shipped out James Reimer to the San Jose Sharks for essentially nothing in return. More space off the cap! Are the Leafs actually paying anybody to play for them anymore? Actually, technically, yes - Toronto still has a payroll - $38M to be precise. Which means the Leafs can now offer Steven Stamkos a six year, $360 million contract this summer. STEVEN. DUDE. TAKE THE MONEY. Thank me later, babe.

With all the wheeling and dealing Toronto's been doing the past few days, they now have 27 draft picks to use over the next three years, 17 of which will come in the first 3 rounds. Yeah. This could be a very, very good team. In about 2022.

But how 'bout them Leafs now? Uh. They're not good. Here are Toronto's lines tonight:

- Grabner/Kadri/Kamarov
- Greening/Holland/Winnik
- Leivo/Acrobello/Parenteau
- Leipsic/Froese/Boyes

Riely/Hunwick
Percy/Corrardo
Gardiner/Marincin

Bernier.

Okay then. How many of those names do you recognize? If your answer was anything over "6", then (like it or not) you're a Leafs fan.

Meanwhile over in Habsland, CHANGE! In case you've been sleeping in a lot, the Habs traded off Dale Weise and Thomas Fleischmann to the Hawks, in return for grinder (because we don't have enough of those, sigh) Phillip Danault (QUEBECOUS!!), and a 2018 2nd rounder. We here at Habs Game Blog more-or-less approve of the deal, because Weise serves no purpose in playing out the string, and Fleischmann, except for the first couple of months of the season, has largely been an ineffective 3rd line winger (and more often than not, a defensive liability). So Danault, who has a good work ethic reputation, is liked by his teammates, and of course, a draft pick, is something to work with.

So with players moving out, the Habs have a grand opportunity to give some of the futures a good look. 14 foot 6 inch Mike McCarron will get a start tonight, as will (probably) defenseman Morgan Ellis.

Key for the Habs tonight? PLAY THE KIDS. Also, there should be no excuse for a loss since this Leafs team would have a pretty tough time beating their affiliate, the Marlies. That's not a joke, by the way. Toronto's roster really is that thin.

Mike Condon will start in net tonight for the Habs. Puck drops at 7:15 EST.



Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Game 61: Habs vs. Caps

FIRST PERIOD:

- So what chances to the Habs have, realistically? Condon has the game of his life, Habs stay out of the penalty box, Caps can't stay out of the penalty box, Habs score on the powerplay. And one or two other miracles tossed in to help push them over the top.

- Caps, no surprise, more or less overwhelming Habs first three minutes, Justin Williams misses a wide open net off a juicy Condon rebound. This game might get ugly before it even really begins. 

- Hmm ... well, hmm. Habs seem to be hanging in so far. A stupid boarding penalty by the stupid Tom Wilson seems to have given Montreal a little momentum here.

- Well, well. Alex Galchenyuk drives the net and picks up a sweet rebound for an easy mark, 1-0 Habs. Caps look very much like a team that assumed tonight's game would be a gimme, maybe? Let's see how they respond.

- Eller/Galchenyuk line by far the best the Habs have put out this period, doing a particularly good job with the forecheck, zone play has been mainly in the Caps zone.

- One moment I think there's no way this Caps team won't be in the Stanley Cup Final, and then I see guys like Tom Wilson making stupid play after stupid play, and doubts emerge.

- Off a dumb Wilson penalty, Gallagher picks up a rebound off a Markov shot, and puts the Habs ahead 2-0. Caps, I'm assuming, are slightly stunned by what's transpired. 

- Huh. Go figure. One of the better periods of hockey played by this Habs team in three months. I'm sure Barry Trotz will read his troops the riot act during intermission, and expect the Caps to come out full guns blazing in the 2nd period. 


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Caps after 20 minutes. As you can see, Habs hung in there pretty good, putting out a 56.1% CF (5v5): 


- Um, okay. Another big rebound surrendered by Holtby, this time its Fleischmann who cashes in, and it's 3-0. Holtby yanked. Crowed stunned. I'm stunned. Hey, Victor Bartley with an assist! Nice!

- Chris Lee with a terrible interference call on Subban, probably because it's Subban. Draw your own conclusions. 

- Except for the first three minutes of this game, Caps lacking the kind of intensity we've seen from them all season. They've had trouble finishing plays (Justin Williams the culprit there), and don't seem to be taking advantage of Condon's weakness in handling the puck (surrendering rebounds, covering the puck). 

- Welp, there it is, point shot, relatively harmless, that Condon can't control, surrendering the puck at the side of his net, and Chimera easily tucks it home to make it 3-1. We've still got a lonnnng way to go.

- Gallagher isn't the guy you want to go to bat on a penalty shot, but you don't turn down the opportunity. Anyway, Brendan, stay in front of that net.

- Alex Galchenyuk, he can play hockey. So can Lars Eller who sets him up beautifully off a two-on-one. Habs lead by 3 again. The kids are putting on an outstanding demonstration of hockey tonight for the Canadiens.

- Condon with a ridiculous, if not incredibly lucky right toe save to keep the score 4-1. Seems like the bounces are all Habs tonight.

- Caps all over the Habs during a powerplay, Condon with some nice saves, a couple of the desperate variety, to save the bacon. Caps, however, seem to be feeling it here. Definite momentum swing in their favour. Clock can't tick down fast enough for the Habs.

- Here's that ridiculous save by Condon. I was wrong about it being his toe, it was his arm reaching back to save a goal. So awesome:


- Habs taking advantage of their opportunities tonight, their powerplay chipping in, Galchenyuk and Eller looking awesome, and the Caps, for the most part, doing a lot of puck chasing. Habs with a big lead with 20 minutes left in a game virtually nobody thought they had a hope in winning. Tonight's effort, helped greatly by a fine performance (so far) by Condon, has been a group one. Canadiens getting rewarded richly.


THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Caps through 40 minutes. Late push in the 2nd period helped to boost the Caps numbers a bit. 



- Habs playing very cautiously the first five minutes. Not exactly a sit-on-it approach, but very tight, especially in the neutral zone. Attempting to trap their way to victory, no doubt.

- We're not quite done here, as the Caps make it 4-2 off a shot that Condon plays far too deep in his crease (beating him over the shoulder, sharp angle). For the most part, the Habs have been doing a fine job protecting their zone, but not burying some pretty good odd-man break chances. That's the difference between a winner and a loser I suppose. Can this loser team hang on to a (now) two goal lead?

- Now Mitchell gets nailed for a pretty clumsy high stick. We sit, and grow restless. This game could unravel very quickly. 

- Habs survive the PK, but can't fight another iffy goal surrounded by Condon, through the legs off a Burakovsky wrister. Nearly three minutes left on the clock, and the lead is down to one. Hoo boy.

- Empty net, Caps calling time, still think the Habs are gonna find a way of blowing this.

- Still kind of pathetic that the Habs are having to cling to dear life to win this game. No way the Caps should even be whiffing at pulling this out.

- Habs win, barely. The plan for tank is pretty much toast now, but still, it's nice to beat the best team in hockey. Sooooooo ... I guess we'll take it. Sparkling night by Galchenyuk and Eller, Condon, save a couple of lapses, was excellent. And for once, the Habs 4th line looked pretty decent tonight. 



YOU MAY WANT TO AVERT YOUR EYES. HABS VS. CAPS PREVIEW


Hooboy. We saw this coming down the calander, and now the day has arrived. The Montreal Canadiens, the worst team in the NHL (by a large margin) since December 3, against the powerhouse Washington Capitals, who haven't lost two games in a row this season.

Still not frightened? The Caps own the League's best offence (3.29 GPG), 2nd best defence (2.28 GAPG), best powerplay (23.2% efficiency), 4th best PK. Alex Ovechkin with 39 goals. Evgeny Kuznetsov with 64 points. Braden Holtpy with 48 wins on the season and a .924 SV%. Oh gawd, oh gawd. It's going to be a massacre.

What are the Habs going to do? VICTOR BARTLEY TO THE RESCUE! Yeah, Bartley, who was recently acquired as part of the abysmal John Scott deal which cost the Habs Jarred Tinordi, will make his Habs debut tonight because ... why not? Well, mostly because the Habs are now missing three defencemen from injury - Nathan Beaulieu is day-to-day, Jeff Petry is gone for who knows how long, and Tom Gilbert is done for the whole damn year with a broken leg. Soooo ... enter Bartley.

Also, for reasons that I can't quite understand, the soon-to-be traded Dale Weise will be in the lineup at the expense of Lucas Lessio. Why the Habs are willing to even risk Weise's health over a meaningless game that the Habs stand almost no chance of winning is baffling, But there you go.

Anyway, puck drops tonight at 7:10 EST. Mike Condon will start for the Canadiens.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Game 60: Preds vs. Habs


FIRST PERIOD:

- Dale Weise yanked from the lineup last minute? Hmmmmmm....

- And we're off, Habs get scored on off a delayed penalty. Arvidsson. Condon having troubles handling the puck off a wrist shot along the boards, giving up a rebound which is easily put in. 1-0 early.

- Condon really having trouble with puck control, giving up the puck and providing the Preds with more scoring opportunities off rebounds.

- Habs on track to get two shots on goal this period. It would appear that only one team bothered showing up to the rink tonight.

- Pretty complacent period for the Habs, zone entires have been pretty atrocious for Montreal, when they aren't icing the puck, they're bringing it in offside. This looks like a team that hasn't practiced in a long time.

- Mike Condon really fighting the puck, not that it's going to make much of a difference, if this first period is all the Habs have to offer tonight (which is pretty close to nothing).

- Gallagher off a rebound after the Preds get all messed up with coverage in their own zone. The awful Peter Laviolette doesn't think the goal is legit, for some silly reason. Who knows? Tie game.

- Pekka Rinne ain't exactly enthralling me with style points, lots of flopping in his crease late in this period. Seems to panic whenever pressure is applied.

- Habs rebounded a bit late in the period to salvage matters a bit, Nashville with some pretty sloppy zone play to help the Habs out. Anyway, a pretty terrible period of hockey played by both sides, hopefully we don't have to endure two more periods of this awfulness.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Preds in that first listless period of hockey. Montreal rebounding well, as noted, as the period drew to a close. Still don't like the way Rinne looked under pressure - perhaps this will inspire the Habs to be a little more aggressive in getting pucks to the Preds' net?



- Brendan Gallagher blanketing Rinne. Why must he be the only one doing the hard, messy work?

- Rinne gets a little bit lucky, chasing Pacioretty way out of his crease, leaving the cage wide open. Certainly not looking tonight like the Vezina finalist he was last season.

- On the other end, Condon continues to fight the puck, not doing a very good job with rebound control, as per the first period.

- Preds zone coverage isn't very good. Under pressure, lots of forwards doing puck chasing, structure really breaks down. Methinks this team has a coaching issue.

- Pretty goo first half of the 2nd period for the Habs, lion's share of shot attempts, had Rinne on the ropes a couple of times, Canadiens also doing a decent job hustling back to cover their zone off the Preds transition. Montreal seem to be finding their legs as this game progresses.

- Plekanec with a scoring chance, no shot. Most exciting play of the past 15 minutes.

- My apologies for complaining about how boring Friday's game against the Flyers was. Apparently we hadn't nearly reached rock bottom. Tonight might be that night.

- Therrien with the blender out again, Galchenyuk moved away from Plekanec, now with ... De La Rose? Okay, then.

- Not sure if my mind can withstand one more period of hockey like this. Another listless, boring 20 minutes, both teams uninspired performances, not exactly tight checking, just mostly incompetent hockey. No flow, poor passing, meek shot attempts, altogether it's hockey at its worst. Habs at least have 20 minutes to extend their home winning streak, Preds, who aren't out of the playoff race quiet yet in the West, have something to compete for in the final frame.


THIRD PERIOD:

- After 40 minutes of relentlessly bad hockey:


- So who cares to explain that Fleischmann has 3 more minutes of ice time than does Pacioretty? Only reasonable explanation is showcasing.

- Therrien BETTER be showcasing Fleischmann tonight, because his CF currently stands at a pretty poor 40.0% for the game.

- Eeek. Beaulieu goes in hard to a goalpost driving the Preds net, appears to have injured his leg.

- Beaulieu is back, and is getting a lot of ice time tonight, much like Fleischmann. I hope this doesn't indicate what I think it might indicate.

- Habs really not much of a threat this period because they're not playing their best players. This appears to be a big showcasing night, so guys like Max Pacioretty are pretty much witnesses from the bench.

- Any hopes this period would be better than the previous two have gone by the board. Habs offence is simply awful right now, I don't think they've strung together two consecutive passes this frame.

- Eller/Galchenyuk/Andrighetto. Pretty good line. Problem is, two of those are playing the wrong position.

- Whelp, another nothing period, but Nashville headed to overtime for the 12th time this season, and remember, they've only won once.

OVERTIME:

- So, um ... will Therrien actually play guys who can actually score in OT? STAY TUNED.

- Therrien sends out Markov. His recall apparently isn't very strong.

- Max Pacioretty with a 2:20 shift. And counting. Yeah. You're not supposed to be out there that long.

- Craig Smith with a setup that a blind man could shoot in. But somehow, he missed. So this is why the Preds are 1-10 in OT this year.

- Therrien doesn't go with Galchenyuk to start the SO. Andrighetto with a poor attempt.

- Man, Preds cursed?

- Pacioretty for the win??? Puck rolls off his stick after he had Rinne beat. Ugh.

- Ah, Smith redeems himself. Habs only get a point. Le sigh.


 
























HARD TO BELIEVE! THE PREDS ARE ALMOST AS BAD AS THE HABS

Hey, the Habs get to play another not-very-good team tonight! Schweeet. This time, it's the Nashville Predators, who, just a couple of years ago, seemed to be aligning themselves as a legit Stanley Cup competitor. I mean, look at last year! 47 win, 100+ point season, with an excellent defence featuring Norris trophy candidate Shae Weber and Seth Jones, decent forwards featuring Filip Forsberg and James Neal, and outstanding goaltending from Pekka Rinne, who finished with 41 wins, a sparkling .923 SV%, and a Vezina trophy nomination.

Jeez, that Nashville teams sounds an awful lot like some other team. Hrmmm. Just ... can't put my finger on who. Hmmm....

Oh well, the Habs take on the Preds tonight at the Bell Centre, with Nashville looking to extend their game points streak to six games, which is kind of impressive when you consider they've only won two of the past five. Nashville has not, let us say, been enjoying the new 3-on-3 overtime format this season. When I say "not enjoy", I mean they've lost 10 out of the 11 they've played. Ouch.

Still, the Preds still seem to think themselves buyers as the trade deadline approaches. There's even been speculation that they're a suiter for the services of Dale Weise. We'll see if anything comes of that.

In the meantime, here are the Preds lines for tonight:

Jarnkrok/Johansen/Neal
Forsberg/Ribeiro/Smith
Wilson/Fisher/Arvidsson
Salomaki/Gaustad/Watson

Josi/Weber
Ellis/Ekholm
Granberg/Bitetto

Rinne

So apart from being terrible in OT, what else should you know about Nashville? Well, their specialty units aren't very good, both their powerplay and penalty kill are in the League's bottom-third. They're a pretty good puck-possession team, with the 4th rated CF%. Their puck luck hasn't been strong, with a PDO rated 24th overall. Are you getting the sense this team bears an uncanny resemblance to another, yet?

Over in Habsland, Tom Gilbert will not play today, he's out day-to-day with a foot injury, clearing the way for Mark Barberio, who really ought to be playing every night regardless of Gilbert's health. Thomas Fleischmann, who's been a healthy scratch of late (and another possible piece of trade fodder) will draw in, Lucas Lessio will sit in the press box.

Mike Condon will start between the pipes for the Canadiens.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Game 59: Flyers vs Habs

FIRST PERIOD:

- We're a little late to the action because NHL Game Center wouldn't load up for yours truly. So let's catch up:

- Dale Weise, aka trade fodder, opens the scoring courtesy a lucky bounce off a pass from behind the net. Within 10 seconds, the Flyers tie the game courtesy some pretty awful goaltending by Mike Condon. So puck luck giveth, poor performances taketh away.

- Fans chant when P.K. carries the puck up ice on a rush. At the very least, those not named Rejean Tremblay.

- I suppose we can only hope that the fans can influence matters by voting with their butts - as in, not filling the Bell Centre. That, however, is not the case tonight. Pretty much sold out arena.

- Condon making saves, although his body language looks pretty down-in-the-dumps. Yes, he's not been playing well lately, but even he must realize that the backup job in Montreal is totally up for grabs right now.

- Jacob De La Rose, who had a miserable first half to the AHL season in St. John's, has looked pretty impressive since his recent call-up. Not necessarily sealing the case to stat with the team, but certainly planting the seed for earning a more permanent job next season. Assuming, of course, he's not part of any near-term trade package.

- This might be the most boring period of Habs hockey I've seen this season. Not a lot of flow either direction so far the first 15 minutes.

- Habs first powerplay, I have no idea what the heck they were trying. Carrying to the Flyers line, then dropping the puck backwards to the red line, then dropping the puck backwards to their own zone. Never seen that before in hockey. Worked brilliantly, of course. Habs didn't register a shot on goal.

- Except for the fluky Weise goal, Habs offence rolling snake eyes this period. Very little semblance of tempo or organization in the period.

- Flyers first powerplay pretty dreadful mess. Fits nicely with how this period was played in general.

- That. Was. Bad. Hockey. Flyers seemed to hold more of the tempo, but didn't really generate much of any scoring threats against Condon, save their one goal which had no business going in the net. If there's any upside to that first period, it's that we didn't pay to watch it live.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Flyers after one period. Habs got schooled by a pretty bad Flyers team.


- Habs offence, the few times it's been able to get anything remotely organized as far as an attack is concerned, very passive creating traffic in the Flyers crease. Neuvirth yet to really be tested as we approach the halfway point of regulation.

- We hate to be quick to judge, but the Eller/Pacioretty pairing ain't workin'. Certainly not tonight. Both seem to really struggling to find each other on the ice, lots of unforced errors being made by each.

- So little to say about this game, because there's so little happening in the game. Might be the worst played hockey game I've seen this year, and I've seen some stinkers.

- Hard to believe the Flyers have the 17th overall rated powerplay. Looks like it should rated about 148th.

- Well, Galchenyuk's come to play tonight. Not sure how many of his teammates have joined him.

- Tom Gilbert has come to play tonight. So ... let's see .. Galchenyuk, Subban, Gilbert ... Gallagher .. 4 out of 20. 

- By his, or for that matter, any standards, Max Pacioretty is having a pretty forgettable game tonight. Zero chemistry with Eller and Andrighetto. 

- I think it's now safe to say this is the worst game of the season, as far as entertainment value is concerned. Two bad teams playing bad hockey. A formula for sleep. I'm not sure I'll make it through one more period of this. Anyway, Habs, even against the dreadfully playing Flyers, still got manhandled in the period. I'd say it's amazing they're tied on the scoreboard, except for the fact that the Flyers really haven't generated scoring chances on Condon.


THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Flyers in the 2nd period. Again mostly dominated by the Flyers. 



- Not that the Habs need more bad news, but Tom Gilbert is out for the night with a lower body injury, we assume sustained in the 2nd after blocking a hard slap shot. Gilbert, one would have figured, was a prime candidate for trading with the deadline approaching. That option might have just gone out the window.

- Well, there it is.  Gostisbehere puts the Flyers ahead 2-1, as Plekanec totally leaves his mark unchecked.

- Ah, Max Pacioretty. Welcome back to the scoresheet. Off a powerplay, no less. A snap shot that probably should have been stopped, but we'll take it. Habs undeservedly in a tie game.

- Damn that Subban. Such a selfish player. Total individualist. Two assists tonight. The gall. Won't someone get this guy under control?

- Habs seemingly finding a gear here that hasn't been there all night. Play has definitely tilted towards the Flyers end of the ice. Might the Habs actually pull this one out?

- Eller and Pacioretty seem to be finally clicking. It was a rough first 40 minutes tonight, but they're definitely finding each other in the 3rd.


Hope you're cool with that, Ron Fornier.





Thursday, 18 February 2016

Game 59: Gone Beyond the Point of No Return

La Presse.

GONE BEYOND THE POINT OF NO RETURN

The problems now facing the Montreal Canadiens in a season that's gone horribly, horribly wrong, has gone from the routine to the profound.  This is no longer a team like any other about to miss the playoffs. This is a team that's coming apart at the seams, with its General Manager standing firmly behind a dysfunctionally bad coaching staff, and the head coach willing to publically humiliate and scorn the club's franchise player.

In other words, the Canadiens are no longer playing in a losing environment, but a poisonous one. The possible consequences to this franchise, both short and long term, are dangerous and dire.

It all could have been avoided a month ago. Coming off a New Year's Day trouncing of the Boston Bruins, the Habs seemed to have regained form that had been missing from their game throughout the month of December. There was reason to believe that the swoon was an aberration. But as January progressed, the team went into another losing spiral, culminating in a bad loss 4-1 loss to the same Bruins team, the Canadiens' 5th straight defeat.

Bergevin, perhaps sensing that the vultures were circling, was faced with a stark choice. Either to stand behind or dismiss his beleaguered coach.

The choice, in retrospect, was relatively easy for Bergevin. Even though Therrien had been his hand-picked choice to manage the players less than 3 years previously, and even though he had only a few months earlier extended Therrien's contract through 2018, the public mood had turned sour. For three seasons, the Habs thrived, although many suspected in was in spite of Therrien, and mainly because of all-world performances by Carey Price. With Price gone for most of this season due to a knee injury, the facade vanished. The Canadiens, it turns out, were never a good team after all.

The anxst about Therrien didn't start or end with Price. For weeks leading up to that fateful January 21st day, observers of the team began to question Therrien's game tactics, specifically the manner in how he was allocating ice times for his players. Chronic underperformers like David Desharnais and Dale Weise were regularly getting the lion's share of playing time, while consistent producers, most glaringly Alex Galchenyuk, were often struggling to get top-6 minutes, and on some nights, even top-9 minutes.

So even with the contract extension, Bergevin could have dismissed Therrien, and would have almost certainly retained public support, save for the very small minority of fans that steadfastly believe that coaching has very little to do with the Canadiens' on-ice problems.

However, on that fateful day of January 21st, 2016, instead of taking the easy if not obvious path, Bergevin stood in front of an anxious scrum of media, and gave his coach an unabashed vote of confidence.



Even more fatefully, Bergevin doubled down on his decision to maintain course, full engines ahead, by saying that "regardless of what happens, it's on me."

It was a curious thing to say, even in passing, because not only did Bergevin relieve Michel Therrien of consequences from losing, but made the issue of change revolve around the General Manager's position. Marc Bergevin not only painted himself into a corner, he'd selected the house, the living room and pantone paint colour.

Predictably, save for a brief mini winning streak, the Habs have continued to lose since Bergevin's scrum. The team itself continues to play a dysfunctional game, indicative of bottom-dwellers, the Habs play not to win, but not to lose. The effect has been predictable. Loss piled on top of loss because of silly easily avoidable mistakes by the players. The rot of defeat has infected everyone.

Through it all, Michel Therrien does nothing, or at least, gives off the appearance of someone resigned to defeat. Tired forward lines comprised of players that can't score with each other are tried again and again. Defenders, deathly afraid of getting caught, push pucks, more often than not in futility, up the boards to no one in particular. The goaltenders, fringe NHL backup material at best, repeatedly give up goals that no bonafied NHL netmidner would surrender. The powerplay, now demonstrating nearly two straight full seasons of utter futility, continues to flounder near the bottom of the League.

Through it all, Marc Bergevin stands aside, unwilling to make the ultimate decision to relieve his coach. He's double-downed on his double down. The lines are drawn. There are no consequences for management. Bad decisions on and off the ice, go by the way without repercussion.

Which leads us to last night's debacle in Denver, when P.K. Subban, who by far has been the Canadiens best player this season, who's been on the ice for more than 43% of all Habs goals this season, and on a team that on most nights struggles to score a paltry two goals, sits 4th overall in the NHL in assists. These are outstanding numbers produced by a stellar hockey player. But it doesn't matter. Subban is publically tossed under the bus by his own coach for the crime of trying to win a game for his hockey team.

For Subban, the consequences are dire. Fingers are pointed at him, and he can do nothing, and say nothing in his own defence. Meanwhile, heads around the League turn to Montreal. What the heck is going on over there?

For Michel Therrien? It's just another day at the office. It's nice to have a job where no matter how poorly you perform, no matter what you say, or who you say it to, there are no consequences.

It's been a season of horror for the Montreal Canadiens, unless of course, you're Michel Therrien. If you're him, you're livin' the dream.





Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Game 58: Habs vs. Avs

NEXT A.M. update: So, I took the evening off in order to celebrate the birthday of my S.O., and came back to witness ... "the goal" off Subban's missing an edge in the closing minutes. More importantly, I also witnessed Michel Therrien's response to a honest mistake by his franchise player, and ... well ... I think we have officially entered total disaster territory.

FIRST PERIOD:

- Not even gonna give a word of comment about the idiotic calls for Subban being traded by the madness that is Montreal sport radio. Hey, Chris Lee tonight! Hoo boy.

- Pacioretty with Eller (and Andrighetto). Good. Galchenyuk ... still on the wing. Bad. Therrien won't budge.

- Holy moly, Habs flying out of the gate, with turbo jet engine thrusters.

- Lessio. He ...is ... ridiculously fast. Wow.

- Markov with a 45 footer off a 3-on-2 break, and Habs actually score off the early pounce. Avs defence extremely slow covering the rush so far. 1-0.

- Avs defence roll out the red carpet for Beaulieu as he carries the puck directly to the Colorado net. They ... uh .... need to fix that, and quick.

- Is Scrivens drunk? He's all over the place, mainly while laying on his back. This does not look good.



WOAH, PAT. CALM DOWN. LIFE IS GOOD. REMEMBER, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN COACHING IN MONTREAL


Another day, another dollar, another dream of change in Habsland that never seems to become reality. The Montreal Canadiens, riding the start of yet another losing streak, are in Denver tonight to take on the seemingly always red-faced Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche.

The Habs, coming off quite possibly their worst and most humiliating defeat in years Monday night in Phoenix, will be making lineup changes tonight. In are Devante Smith-Pelly and the recently acquired Lucas Lessio, out are Thomas Fleischmann and Mark Barberio. Which means we get yet another game of Alexei Emelin, whose performance on Monday was about three feet short of a war crime.

Meanwhile, David Desharnais won't be playing tonight. He was spotted yesterday with his foot in a boot after taking a slap shot Monday night, courtesy teammate Tom Gilbert. With Desharnais out, Lars Eller will get the opportunity of getting top-6 time. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on Max Pacioretty, whose offensive production has gone south since coach Therrien sacked him next to the incapable Desharnais a month ago. With a new centre by his side, don't be shocked if Max produces some points tonight.

It's been quite the season in Denver. After getting off to a pretty terrible start to the season, so poor that there was speculation Roy's neck was about to be placed on the block, the Avs have turned things around nicely, and currently hold down a playoff spot in the West. Not too shabby for a team that, at least on paper, didn't look particularly competitive.

Still, the Avs are an enigma. They hold the worst Corsi percentage in the League, barely 43%, aided by the 4th biggest PDO, a shade under 101. In other words, Colorado has arguably enjoyed the most luck this season among all teams - possession (worst) and shots (ranked 26th). The Avs are unquestionably strongest defensively, surrendering just 26.1 shots per game, which is the fewest on average allowed by any team in the NHL.

Will Colorado's good fortunes hang on long enough to claim a post-season berth? Will the Habs bad fortunes and wretched management be awful enough to claim a top-ranked draft pick this summer?

Are we even going to bother watching?

Semyon Varlamov will start in goal tonight for the Avs, while Ben Scrivens gets the nod for the Canadiens.

Puck drops at 8:10 EST. Because it's my SO's birthday today, live blogging will be delayed a few hours.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Game 57: Habs vs. Coyotes

THIRD PERIOD:

- With this game over, for what it's worth, here's the line after two periods:


- 6-2. Yeah. We're stepping out now. Except that this kind of loss would almost certainly result in coach firings on a normal hockey team. But this is no normal hockey team. This is the Montreal Dysfunctional Canadiens.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Coyotes after 20 minutes, Canadiens CF (5v5) is 52.7%. Not really reflective of what we saw on-ice.


- Habs first powerplay, Desharnais sent out the first unit. It goes nowhere, of course. That's 35 straight games and counting, DD hasn't scored a point on the man advantage. First unit or otherwise.

- Alexei Emelin is a tire fire tonight, and yes, all tire fires out there are fully entitled to be insulted by that. Positioning in his own zone, he's all over the place. It's as though he's learning how to play hockey.

- Pateryn is tossed from the game for a cross-check. Hoo boy. Now the Habs down to four defensman, one of them being Emelin. We're hooped.

- 4 on 4, more soft and confused Habs defence, Richardson completely alone in front of Condon, who belly flops and gives Richardson an easy tuck-in. 3-1 Arizona.

- Coyotes donate a goal back, courtesy Dominuge off a weak Gallagher shot that goes right between his legs. Habs undeservedly down just one goal.

- Yeah. Coyotes with two quick goals, Edman-Larsson with a simple wrister that Condon completely whiffs on. Habs defence react accordingly, by simply giving up. Gonnauton makes it 5-2. Canadiens have simply given up. Usually when that happens, the coach is first to go. But with this team ...

- What to say? The team has given up. Playing out  the string. Getting spanked by the 56 point Coyotes tonight. Across the board failure - mainly defence and goaltending. Same was it was against the Sabres. Onward and downward.


FIRST PERIOD:

- If there is vengeful justice in this world, Tinordi tonight with 2 goals and 2 assists. Hockey gods, are ye listening?

- Anders Lindback, who's the backup for Domingue, was hurt before the warmup. Meaning, the 'Yotes are now forced to suit up the guy who back ups the guy who back ups the guy who normally back ups Arizona's starting netminder. Got it?

- Oh yeah. It's Nathan Schoenfeld who's been called in at the last minute.

- Yay. Another wonderful start. Lost faceoff deep in the zone (Mitchell), shot is tipped in by Hanzal off a 60 footer. Habs 4th line not very well structured (running around), Habs do a poor job clearing the crease (Emelin, to be specific, of course). 1-0 Arizona.

- Let's give credit where credit is due. De La Rose got the call, and he delivers, with beautiful puck control and an outstanding pass to Weise in front of the net, for a tap-in goal. Game tied.

- Alexei Emelin, who for some mysterious reason is out on the PK unit, in la-la land off a point shot that's juggled by Condon, Duclair eventually burying a rebound shot and it's 2-1. Scratching Barberio. Great call, coach.

- The vastly overplayed and almost certainly exhausted Andrei Markov gets caught out of position, and Subban is forced to take a penalty to save a goal.

- Arizona lays an egg with their powerplay, whether that will generate some positive momentum for this Habs team in the 2nd period, who knows? Anyway, this 56 point Arizona team pretty much two steps ahead of their opponent tonight, the Habs with some exceptionally shoddy defence, mostly it being in the form of Alexei Emelin. Two more period to suffer through.



HEY WE GET TO PLAY THIS GUY TONIGHT! OH RIGHT. WE GAVE AWAY A GOOD YOUNG DEFENSEMAN TO GET HIM

Hey Jarrad Tinordi! Remember him? Remember how he couldn't get his healthy body into the Habs lineup this season, save for 3 lousy starts? Hey, guess what? He's fitting in well with his new team in Arizona, which is pretty much wonderful news for a good guy like Tinordi, good news for the upstart Coyotes, and yet another piece of lousy news for the team that essentially just gave him away.

Sadly, the player who the Habs traded for, John Scott, won't be in the lineup tonight. He's camped out in boonies of Newfoundland, likely for the rest of his professional career.

So Scott won't play tonight. Who else isn't playing? Well, Devante Smith-Pelly isn't playing, which has gone over the edge of a Newfoundland rigger like a five tonne cod. It's a real shame that Devante is upset about this. I hope it doesn't affect his play next year in St. John's, or somewhere in Russia, or maybe even the Kazakhstan Hockey League.

With Smith-Pelly out, Jacob De La Rose gets a start tonight. So I guess that's something.

Over on defence, Michael Therrien appears set on shaking up the blue line, which means of course, healthy scratches that don't include Alexei Emelin, but instead, will be Mark Barberio, who's been one of the Habs better defenders the past month. Oh well. On the upside, Nathan Beaulieu will get a start tonight, because he's apparently now sitting 7th on the totem pole.

Is there anything else noteworthy relating to the Canadiens? Other than they're 9 points out a playoff spot, and will probably need to win least 17 of their remaining 26 games, which is a near impossibility? Nope. Same old lineup, same old combinations (apart from the scratches).

What's up with the Coyotes? They're having a fine season, given that most assumed they'd finish near or at the very bottom of the Western Conference this season. Dave Tippett, who is arguably the most underrated coach in the League, has found various ways to help his team maximize their potential, even with a somewhat limited roster. Arizona will be playing their 3rd game in 4 nights tonight, which means the Habs might have the advantage of rested legs.

Or maybe not? Veteran winger Shane Doan has been on a tear of late, with 2 goals and 8 points in his past 5 games. In addition to Doan, Arizona has been aided by a pretty decent powerplay, rated in the League's 10 ten. Weak spot? Their penalty kill. Almost ranked near the bottom of the League in efficiency. Which on any given night, would be bad. But tonight, they're taking on the Habs, so their short-handed unit probably shouldn't have much difficulty taking care of David Desharnais fruitlessly doing nothing with the puck.

In nets - it'll be Mike Condon for the Habs (his name was drawn from a hat yesterday, I'm guessing), against Anders Lindback Louis Domingue.

Puck drops at 9:10 EST.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Game 56: Habs vs. Sabres

FIRST PERIOD:

- Remember all those times this season Sven Andrighetto was a heathy scratch to make way for the corpses of Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise? Yeah. That happened. A lot. Hopefully those days will never happen again, as Andrighetto takes a nice cross-ice pass from Pacioretty and picks the top of the net right under the crossbar. 1-0 Habs early.

- Subban with a hold that sends Patrick Kane bassackwards onto the ice. Yes, a hold, but plenty of embellishment as well. Now Buffalo gets that powerplay, which I said the Habs needed to avoid to improve their chances tonight.

- Legwand scores off a break, Dale Weise, Thomas Fleischmann and Alexei Emelin getting caught up ice badly. Big-time defensive breakdown there pretty much all-around.

- Desharnais, who was 0 powerplay points over the past 33, still remains on the first unit. Also, Tom Gilbert is out there. Deployment issues ... well ... we've talked about it many times before.

- Kane. Another Habs defensive breakdown in their own zone, Markov with soft pass up the boards generates turnover. Sabres are getting badly outplayed offensively, but Habs are making horrible mistakes. 2-1 Sabres.

- Well, what to say? Habs possession was 70+% in that period, the Sabres generating just two measly scoring chances, but Buffalo scored on both. Sabres have no business holding the lead except for the fact the Habs continue to play very sloppy, undisciplined hockey, especially in their own zone, and insist on first trying to bank the puck up the boards to clear the zone, instead of looking to make a fast breakout. It's been burning the team all season long, and it's burning them tonight. Same old story.

SECOND PERIOD:

Habs and Sabres after that period, you can see the separation. Also of note, the "managed" minutes of Markov - he played 8:24 in the period, more than any other on the ice. Sigh.


- Wow. Scrivens. Gorges, yes, Josh Gorges, scores after Scrivens started flopping all over the ice, eventually leaving Gorges a wide open net. Scrivens gets the yank, Condon in.

- LOLz. First chance on Condon goes in. Habs net minding falling apart. Puck misplayed by Condon for about the 8th million time this season, and Habs defensive pair Emelin/Pateryn do poor job covering the slot, and it's 4-1 Buffalo.

- Habs this period look like Habs we've come to know and love the past three months. Utterly incompetent in their own zone. 

- While Desharnais whiffs, Galchenyuk blasts a one-timer past Johnson. Habs now down 4-2. Montreal's powerplay seems to be more willing to do cross ice passing closer to the circle, instead of relying on one-timers only from the line. They seem much more dangerous. 

- Even with the horrendous defensive play, pucks are starting to go in for the Habs, Andrighetto with his 2nd, on a shot that Johnson totally misplayed. Sabres net minding also a huge ? mark tonight. We could have a 6-5, or 7-6 final when all is said and done.

- Fantastic shift by Gallagher halfway through the period, Habs continue to press and dominate offensively, Sabres only ahead because they've literally scored four goals in five scoring chances.

- Sabres defence is pretty soft in their own zone, Habs continue to pour high % scoring attempts on Johnson. Buffalo can't continue this way and hope to hold on to the scoreboard lead.

- Yet another horrible misplay via unforced error, this time it's Galchenyuk with the mistake, and he draws a penalty shot for Foligno, who converts. Habs net minders seem incapable of making many though saves tonight, not to blame them for an otherwise very poor and sloppy performance by most everyone wearing a CH. 5-3.

- Good lord. Galcheyuk. Redemption. A perfect cross ice pass off the powerplay, an almost exact replica from his first goal of the night, and it's 5-4. 

- Wild clash tonight between two teams playing some pretty horrible hockey. Who'll be bad enough to not lose tonight? Stay tuned.


THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Sabres through 40 minutes, 2nd period not quite so one-sided, but still Sabres hold scoreboard lead. 


- Habs have had a couple of scoring chances, but still not sensing any urgency from this team. This is a game they simply cannot afford to lose, but they're still going though something resembling motions at the moment. 

- Habs hitting posts, pucks loose in the crease off rebounds, Johnson by skill and equal parts luck, keeping the Sabres ahead, only barely.

- Habs totally swarming the Sabres zone and goal, and somehow the puck stays out, while Sabres defence, completely spent, holds on to every red shirt in sight, and don't get penalized.

- Therrien, believe it or not, appears to be shortening the bench with 8 minutes left. No more ice time for the 4th line, some players will be double shifted, I'd reckon Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. 

- It's all Habs right now, time is drawing short, and desperation increasing. Sabres are basically in a mad scramble to keep the puck out. Not sure if they can keep this up for much longer, but against the luck-tough Canadiens, anything is possible.

- Less than 2 minutes left, Condon out. It's now or never.

- And to end the night in the most Habs way possible, puck cleared out to centre is stopped by a linesman not paying attention, turning the puck over to Buffalo, who put it into the open net. Subban furious, is tossed from the game. Habs lose a heartbreaker. Again.



OH, BUFFALO. WHAT WENT WRONG?

Can I admit an error in judgment? Yeah, I know - it isn't much of a stretch to think that I've been wrong over hockey analysis, but boy, did I ever get it wrong when I picked the Sabres as the surprise sneak-in team for the playoffs this year.

Excuse me for explaining, but where did this Sabres team have to anywhere but up? Last season they finished with just 54 points, and were first in line for the top draft pick in the 2015 draft, which they lost, as we all know, the Edmonton McDavid's. Poor Buffalo. Still, they didn't come away with zipp - they did draft the wonderfully talented Jack Eichel, and via trades, brought it big names including Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, bolstered by excellent youth such as Tyler Ennis - this Buffalo team was hardly void of capable NHL players.

Unfortunately, the Sabres season hasn't really panned out the way they hoped it would, perhaps more surprisingly, it's been their offence that's been more to blame. Generating a dismal, 2.27 GPG average, made even worse if you factor in that Buffalo's numbers have been helped by a relatively decent powerplay (ranked 8th overall), and you can see this team can't score at even strength to save a season.

So Buffalo, in the midst of a 4-game losing streak in which they've been outscored 17-8, look towards another high draft pick in 2016, one assuming to select somebody who has the ability to put pucks in the net, while the poor fans south of Niagara Falls suffer though another dismal season.

Not to say it's all cinnamon hearts and roses in Habs land, although the Canadiens are seeking to extend their winning streak to 4 games, an inch even closer to the possibility of getting themselves back into playoff contention. The Habs streak has been sparked by excellent play from Tomas Plekanec and Ben Scrivens, which has helped Montreal overcome the continuing lack of contribution from the team's so-called "2nd line" of David Desharnais, (Sven Andrighetto) Dale Weise and Thomas Fleischmann.

As per usual, the Habs lines tonight are all wrong. But here they are:

Galchenyuk/Plekanec/Gallagher
Pacioretty/Desharnais/Andrighetto
Fleischmann/Eller/Smith-Pelly
Byron/Mitchell/Weise

With Beaulieu apparently (?) injured, Greg Pateryn will draw in, so the Habs D will look like this:

Markov/Subban
Barberio/Gilbert
Emelin/Pateryn

Key for winning tonight for the Habs is pretty simple - don't let Buffalo, who really struggle to score goals, score goals. That means, stay out of the penalty box.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Game 55: Lightening vs. Habs

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs and Lightening after 2nd period: Trouble for Habs is their declining CF (just over 42% in the period), and zone starts have been pretty horrible as a whole. Habs will need to gain more neutral and offensive zone faceoffs in this 3rd period if they hope to hang on to this lead.


- Ugh. Flynn and more critical, Beaulieu will not return tonight because of injury. I'm not 100% on this, but I believe they were injured off the same shot by Stamkos.

- Plekanec. Somebody get out an extinguisher, because this man is on fire. Made Bishop look bad luring him way out of the net. Habs take a momentous 4-1 lead.

- Habs more or less all over Tampa in their zone. Not sure if the Lightening have thrown in the towel, but if they don't get their act in gear quickly, they might as well.

- Not sure what Scrivens was doing, but he wanders way out of his net off a rebound, leaving his cage completely wide open. Hedman with a goal as pretty much as easy as they'll come, and it's 4-2.

- Uh-oh. Tampa finding some mo' here. Habs on their heels in their zone, being very sloppy with the puck, and containing rebounds.

- 7 minutes left, fantastic shift by the Eller line, Habs coming very close to regaining their 3 goal lead. Habs must continue to play aggressively if they want to close this game out.

- Signing off at this point as a work meeting beckons me, but if the Habs do hold on, Montreal is taking bigger steps towards getting themselves back into playoff consideration. A lot can happen in a week, but then again, who saw coming Plekanec catching fire and Scrivens playing outstanding net minding?


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs and Lightening after one period. Habs CF (5v5) was a not-very-good 45.9%.



- Of note in that first period, Eller CF (5v5) was 100.%, but he had the least amount of ice time among forwards, while Flynn at 6:01, had the second most. Don't ask me for answers, I have none.

- Great start. Another blind attempt to clear the zone by shooting the pucks up the boards results in (predictably) another turnover, and a soft little wrist shot by Filppula somehow finds the back of the net. Game tied.

- Not sure what's going on. Habs line combinations are scattered all over the place. Andrighetto with Pacioretty, Smith-Pelly with Eller. Impossible to keep track.

- The suddenly red-hot Tomas Plekanec strikes again, picking up the rebound off a point shot and beating Bishop with a backhander. Bishop has long been inclined to give up juicy rebounds - tonight appears to be little different. 2-1 Habs.

- Bishop is big, but he's hurting himself by not being able to contain the puck. Habs getting some great close in looks off bouncing pucks around the Tampa net tonight.

- HABS GET A POWERPLAY. That actually just happened.

- HABS POWERPLAY IN COMPLETE DISARRAY. But you knew that would happen.

- Beaulieu sacrificing his body, and quite possibly an entire leg, to block a Stamkos bullet. Credit to the kid after getting screwed over by his coach this weekend, he's demonstrated some fortitude tonight.

- Habs not doing a particularly good job breaking from their zone, pucks from the defense have been widely off the mark, although Habs forwards haven't really been doing a very good job finding open spaces up ice. The line blender might have something to do with that, as forwards try to figure out their new line mates. Deployment issues, folks.

- Andrighetto given lots of powerplay time, and suddenly, the Habs look great with the man advantage. Bishop giving up tons of rebounds, but his big body manages to keep the puck out. Still, Habs powerplay looking 5 times better the second time around, Andrighetto definitely a big part of that.

- Huge. Huge. Subban with some incredible work carrying the puck, then feeding to the front of the net, the puck hitting Smith-Pelly's skate and into the net. Good goal, and Habs take a 3-1 lead into the break.

- Habs were inconsistent in the period, but seemed to get things in order late in the period, first a very good late powerplay, and then continuing pressure giving Habs a two goal lead. This team seems to be finding some of its mojo again. Hard to pinpoint where or who it's coming from, but it seems to be coming.



FIRST PERIOD:

- Woah, Beaulieu, taking it out on Paquette with the fists.

- Desharnais with an absolutely horrendous puck giveaway right in front of Scrivens. It's a good thing he's more defensively responsible than Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller.

- Pleakanec generates a turnover in his own zone, and feed Gallagher who takes it one end to the other and beats Bishop with a beauty of a snap shot. Habs take early 1-0 lead.

- Bizarre turn of events. Plekanec with a snap shot that beats Bishop, and as far as we can tell, entered the goal since the official pointed to indicate a goal was scored, but play continues for another 4 minutes before ending with a penalty on the Habs. But did Plekanec score??

- Plekanec's shot hit one post, crossed to the other side, and hit the other. That pretty much sums up Montreal's puck luck since early December. Meanwhile, the defensively responsible Emelin gets nabbed for a clunky hook. Defensively irresponsible Lars Eller might see some ice time on the PK.

- Habs actually generating some decent breakouts from their own zone tonight. But that Tampa defense, with Garrison's absence, not quite as nimble.

- Another bad penalty, this time by Smith-Pelly. More useless and hurtful ice time for the Habs almost completely useless 4th line.

- Habs enjoy again a first period lead, although they need to be more disciplined from taking stupid penalties. But that's a deployment issue - with Therrien insisting night after night putting out guys like Emelin and Smith-Pelly (while there are far better options at hand). Anyway, Scrivens looks good again tonight, lending even more suspicion that he might actually be in a groove.


GAME NOTES:

- So Jeff Petry is out tonight with an unspecified lower body injury. In his place, as absurd as it seems, will be Nathan Beaulieu, whom, for whatever dizzying reason possible, has fallen out of the Habs top six defensive starters.

- Ben Scrivens is in net, which should surprise absolutely nobody given how well he played over the weekend. Ben Bishop, Tampa's number one starter, will be backstopping the Lightening.

- Tampa has enjoyed much success of late in the Bell Centre. They're 5-0 over the past 5 on Montreal's turf.

- Lots of buzz surrounding the Lightening today, specifically soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos, in light of the trade earlier today between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, in which the Leafs managed to unload Dion Phaneuf's contract on Ottawa, thereby clearing all the decks for Toronto to make an aggressive bid for Stamkos' services this summer.

- And speaking of Ottawa, the Lightening were more or less manhandled by the Senators last night 5-1, which may be good news for the Habs if Tampa is entering a slump, or bad news for the Habs if Tampa wishes to take out their frustrations from losing against a pretty bad hockey team.

- Normally we'd speculation about Habs strategy before the game, but with things going as they have been the past three months, we're no longer sure the Canadiens really have much of anything resembling a strategy on any given night. Regardless, the Habs would be wise, with the luxury of last change, to send out their most capable players to shadow 2nd line right winger Nikita Kucherov and, of course, 1st line Stamkos. That means, no Desharnais line, no 4th line time against either player, if it can be avoided.

- Injuries, well ... except for the Petry LBI, Tampa will be without the services of Jason Garrison, which hurts them a bit. The Lightening's defence won't be quite as agile around their net tonight as per usual, so a little window of opportunity at hand for the Habs.

- The Bolts lines tonight? They are:

- Palat/Namestnikov/Stamkos
- Kilorn/Johnson/Kucherov
- Brown/Filppula/Callahan
- Paquette/Boyel/Marchessault

- Puck drops at 7:40 EST.