Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Game One: Habs vs. Leafs


- Habs possession through two periods sits at 47%, which given their recent history, is pretty much their "normal", until you conceder who they're playing against tonight.

- Galchenyuk line seems to be the only one on the Habs roster willing to carry the puck over the opposition line. They're also by far the line with the best possession.

- Leafs far better forecheck tonight, also doing far better job moving the puck out of their zone. Habs falling back to zone chips, and long-bomb passes which are generating plenty of lost pucks, and higher Leafs shot totals. This is a losing formula.

- Man, the chances blown by both Weise and Desharnais tonight shooting pucks into open nets - that's the game difference if the Habs do limp their way to a loss tonight.

- Habs are 8 minutes away from facing 3-on-3 action, which if the preseason is any indicator, would be a sure-bet defeat.

- Alex Galchenyuk with a first line centre shot off a Markov rebound, totally unstoppable. 2-1 Habs, who might - just might, eek out a win tonight.

- ACC pumps out "Don't Stop Believin'" with 7 minutes left, down just one goal. Then one whistle later, organist plays the song. For reals.

- Desharnais line, which has been the weakest unit for the Habs tonight, is getting more ice time than the Galchenyuk line. It's what they call the "Weise effect". Also, Therrien.

- These long bomb passes from the Habs defense are merely generating unforced icings, and highly disadvantageous deep zone starts. Once again, a losing formula.

- Carey Price, shutting the door and saving his team's bacon. At this point, I'm going to start checking my calendar just to make sure my current belief that it's October, 2015, isn't off by 12 months.

- Emelin has no, I repeat, no business being out on any PK. Yet, he's being greatly utilized for that speciality.  Crazy stuff.

- Tom Gilbert is definitely also a big liability - he's lost a step over the summer.

- Minute left to go, Habs holding on ... barely.

- Critical deep zone faceoff won by Flynn, and Subban with a superb feed up to Pacioretty for the empty netter. Habs escape with the win, led by Price and Pacioretty. It really is 2015 all over again.

- Colour me underwhelmed by this win - Habs the same old team utilizing the same old flawed system, which last year got them a high finish in the East, but a relatively quick exit in the post-season. Why expect anything else this year? Broken stays broken.


- JVR and Leafs power play with some puck luck, a harmless shot eludes Price to tie the game. It is, however, sad that this Leafs team is able to muster up a man advantage goal ahead of the Habs.

- If there's a pattern to be found so far, it's that on many shifts Petry is covering up for Emelin, while Beaulieu is covering up for Gilbert. Not exactly surprising.

- Habs totally getting outworked and out skated so far in the period. Pretty sad, indifferent display so far.

- Habs denied a second goal off incidental contact by Plekanec on Bernier. Players, especially experienced ones, need to learn to control their stick, especially around the opposing net minder.

- Leafs back on the power play after Eller takes a clumsy and unnecessary trip. Therrien sends Emelin out on the first PK unit, which is pretty much amazing.

- Emelin doing an impressive headless chicken impersonation on the PK. Please, get him off the ice. Please, for the love of everything good in the world, get him off.

- 2nd period shots halfway through the period, 11-2 Toronto. Disastrous Habs effort so far - this team looks terribly disorganized and reactive, especially in their own zone.

- Bernier, to his credit, has rebounded nicely after giving up a softy on his first shot. Habs missed their chance to go for the kill early, the Weise miss shortly after the Pacioretty goal might have been the turning point.

- Transition-wise, Habs line that's struggled the most to exit its own zone has been by far the Desharnais line. Fleischmann ain't exactly impressing tonight.

- Let's not get overly negative here, the Galchenyuk line has, for the most part, been very solid. They've had a strong forecheck, leading to pretty good puck possession. The problem for the Habs so far is, aside from that line, the effort has been pretty disorganized and weak, especially in this 2nd period.

- Pretty terri-bad period for the Habs, once again leaning on Price to keep them either ahead, or at least, not behind their opponent. Once again displaying passive puck possession, once again hampered by shoddy defensive play by Emelin and Gilbert, once again not generating very many dangerous shots from higher percentage shooting areas. It's as though this team looked at 2014-15, and concluded: "we played perfectly!! Let's just do that all over again!!".


- Leafs announcing their roster with some kind of fog gun blasting out. Lameless level cranked to 11.


- Yup, ACC just blasted out "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who during Leafs player introductions. Yup, I just laughed.

- Habs off to their usual passive game start forcing Price to make a very good pad save. When they said there were no changes to this Habs team, they weren't kidding.

- Max Pacioretty first shot of the year, first goal. Bernier totally muffed a relatively routine wrister. 1-0 Habs.

- Bernier gets a big cheer after scooping up a loose puck. Never change Toronto. Never change.

- Dalel Weise should have made it 2-0, but failed to tap in a perfect pass into a gaping Leafs net. Simply outmuscled by the defenseman. And so it goes ....

- Leo Komarov, a marginal player on a marginal team with a marginal roster, with a totally uncalled for and brutal blind check from behind on Subban, propelling him head first into the boards. Officials with the audacity of not giving Komarov the extra two as DSP comes to P.K.'s defense.

- Petry with more fine zone coverage making up for a terrible shift by his partner, Alexei Emelin.  I strongly believe he (or Beaulieu) should be Subban's defensive partner.

- I also strongly believe Emelin has no business even being in the lineup tonight. Either Tinordi or Pateryn would be ample replacements (improvements).

- 9 minutes into the first, Plekanec line with first competent Habs offensive shift of this game.

- Galchenyuk line with pretty good shift, aggressive forecheck creates puck turnovers and improved possession.

- Kadri with a brutal crosscheck to Emelin's face, and gets called for ... interference?

- Habs first power play of the season, lots of passing around the perimeter, generating minimal scoring chances. This is the same formula the Habs fruitlessly implemented last year, so clearly lessens in failure haven't been absorbed.

- Wow, Semin can dangle that puck like nobody's business. Impressed.

- It's like last season hasn't stopped. Emelin continuously making perplexing mistakes, rest of his line mates scramble to try and cover. Also, Pacioretty is wonderful.

- And the biggest ACC cheer of the night goes to ... the Toronto Blue Jays (some players are in attendance). It's gonna be that kind of year in Toronto.

- Well, an underwhelming period of hockey. Leafs outshooting the Habs, with Price making a couple of tough saves among the bunch. Habs, with much the same roster, played much the same as they did last year. Passive hockey, and a terrible power play. They should be crushing a terrible team like the Leafs, but ... Michel Therrien, eh?

Here be the lines. Habs first:

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



And the Leafs:

Line 1: JVR/Kadri/Boyes
Line 2: Matthias/Bozak/Lupul
Line 3: Winnik/Spaling/Parenteau
Line 4: Komarov/Holland/Arcobello




Hey you. Yeah you. The one of three people that actually reads this site. Ha. You thought I wouldn't come back, didn't you? SUCKER. I haven't been killed yet!! Certainly not like the Habs powerplay, AMIRIGHT?!?

Seriously, where did the summer go? This hockey season thing is just way too long. Four lousy month long break, and the whip is being cracked again. So this is what it feels like to be a public school teacher? HA.

What happened this summer? A LOT, and well, not a whole lot, to be quite honest. The free agent talent pool was ... shall we say ... lacking? Habs went out and acquired Alexander Semin, which given his potential production, age, and bargain basement salary, was actually a pretty decent move. They also shipped Brandon Prust, who, godbless'im, wasn't really providing this lineup with meaningful on-ice contributions (yeah, yeah his defenders talk about "leadership", but really, apart from mouthing off to the press about the other guy's coach, Prust never really lived up to long-term expectations). In return for Prust, Marc Bergevin acquired Zack Kassian, and ... well ... um, that didn't pan out exactly as the Habs were quite expecting, although in recent days, it's emerged that brass were fully aware of Kassian's substance abuse problems in the past. NO EXCUSE!

More or less, the Habs, Semin aside, made the decision to go full steam ahead in 2015-16 with pretty much the same roster as the previous season. Training camp and the pre season was, well, pretty underwhelming. None of club's prospects were able to crack the roster, including two notables, Christian Thomas and Charles Hudon, which, in the opinion of this writer, performed more than well enough to earn a spot on the club.

All of this, of course, begs some important questions. With the same roster, can the Habs hope to improve their oft' struggling offense, and with the same roster, can this team revitalize its oft' pathetic specialty units, specifically, its powerplay?

The answer to that, I'm afraid, is almost certainly not. Not without a stern change in its philosophical approach to how the game in played in the NHL. The Habs, in the mold of its esteemed GM and coach Therrien, has eveolved (or perhaps more accurately, devolved) into a classic grind hockey team, with an emphasis on exceptionally conservative zone play. This means a continuation of defensive zone chip outs by the blue line, the occasional low-percentage long-bomb pass from defense to forward, a passive neutral zone approach (i.e. the willingness to surrender the puck at center ice), dump-and-chase offense, and puck possession which, with exception, will be steadily under 50%.

Regular readers of the blog (yeah, all three of you) will know of how opposed I've been to this approach, especially in light of how the Habs' best players, both forward and defensive, don't excell under such a system. This is a team with the potential of being exceptionally difficult to beat, both regular season and playoffs, if they were willing to embrace and adapt to a more skilled approach to the game, with an emphasis on puck possession, clean and fast transitions, and a willingness to carry the zone, instead of dumping/surrendering the puck.

Alas, we're stuck with the crew that's in charge, and things won't change unless or until this team begins to underdeliver expectations.

That might happen soon. Perhaps even as early as this season.

You see, there is a double-edged sword to having the best hockey goaltender in the universe on your roster. The upside is that you've got an important, perhaps THE most important piece necessary to win a championship. The downside is, having someone as brilliant as Carey Price on your team tends to warp complexities, and mask problems. For at least years, certaily during the time under the tenure of Therrien, Price has pulled this Habs team through hellfire, bolstering, perhaps falsely, the club's winning percentage, simply because he's been so crazy good between the pipes, that it's allowed a merely average Habs team to put together above average regular seasons.

Eventually, Price is going to falter. He's incredible, but he's human. Heaven for fend if Price produces merely an average season, at least in comparison to other NHL goaltenders, because this Habs team will tumble way down the standings, maybe even out of a playoff spot. And if that happens, then the first person off the sacrificial plank will be Therrien.

Which, short and long term, might not be a bad thing for this club, whose championship window is now open, but won't be indefinate.

That all said, I don't think Price will deliver anything else other than what he's capable of, which means he'll have another very good year, and his team, as a result, should comfortably make it into the post season for the 4th straight season.

So with that said, here's my fearless preditions for the Eastern Conference, and just for the fun of it, Western Conference final standings for the 2015-16 season:

1. TBL
2. Wash
3. NYR
4. Pit
5. Mon
6. NYI
7. Ott
8. Buf (!)
9. Car
10. Det
11. Phi
12. Flo
13. Clb
14. N.J.
15. Bos
16. Tor

And in the west ...
1. Ana
2. Min
3. Nsh
4. StL
5. Dal
6. Cal
7. L.A.
8. Chi
9. SJ
10. Wpg
11. Edm
12. Van
13. Col
14. Arz

And ... my Stanley Cup predition? Tampa Bay over Minnesota. BOOK IT.More in a bit, including game lineups and ... live streaming!!