Monday, 9 January 2012

Game Forty-Two: Blues v. Habs

Yeah, I know. The game is tomorrow. But I thought that since we've arrived at the halfway mark that I'd take a look back on the whole game blog experience. I've found that doing a blog on a game-by-game basis draws some interesting parallels with training to run a marathon, of which I did last year (and successfully ran in December). It requires a certain level of dedication of focus - a willingness to post on days you'd much rather not bother, just like doing a training run.

Blogging also requires a certain amount of dexterous concentration. Because I post while the game is being played, I have to be cautions about nailing down the details of my observations (making sure I get the players right), and at the same time, typing and uploading meaningful observations (not easy) in a somewhat grammatically correct fashion while keeping an eye on the game (even more difficult). I'm getting a little better at this cognitive juggling act - I'm still pretty green, but I think I've made some pretty good strides in comparison to the earliest part of the season.

Like anyone, I have good nights and bad, good observations and some that were clearly out in left field. These wacky observations are occasionally offset by the occasional insight that in retrospect, were actually pretty insightful. A satisfactory intrinsic bonus, I suppose.

Another little perk that keeps me chugging along (I ain't doing this for money, you know) is a marked uptick in traffic. At the very beginning, I had ... well, let's be honest, nobody watching. But over time, I've seen a pretty decent increase of traffic to the page - from a slow trickle of interest to what is now a pretty good following, at least for a blog this new. It's now not unusual now to see over a 100 viewers to the blog (usually on game nights), which is pretty satisfying. At least somebody cares :)

So on I go. Don't know where this is going, don't know how long I'll keep it up, but so far, so good. I hope anyone dropping in finds the blog of value, thanks for coming in, and I hope you'll keep coming back in the future.

UPDATE: Cunneyworth has gifted the analysts by announcing Price as the starter tomorrow, thereby fulfilling the dream matchup versus Halak. Yay for that. Scott Gomez was doing line practice this morning, feeding the speculative best that his return is imminent. TSN is reporting that Cunneyworth told the assembled scrum that he wants Gomez to fulfill a top 6 spot, but that he won't get it unless/until he earns it (which seems unlikely - could Gomez really supplant one of Plekanec/Gionta/Cammalleri/Pactioretty/Cole/Desharnais?).

GAMEDAY UPDATE: Unconfirmed, Weber and perhaps more interestingly, Nokelainen are reportedly healthy scratches, leading one to believe that Scott Gomez will return to the lineup tonight.

LATER UPDATE: Still no confirmation about Gomez playing, but here's a few stats to mull over. Since making a coaching switch in November, the Blues have lost just 5 of their past 28 games in regulation, but of those 5, three were on the road (4-3-3 record). So St. Louis basically lives to play on its own turf. Jaro Halak, meanwhile, has only won one game on the road this season, which would normally make him an unlikely candidate to start tonight, but I guess Hitchcock is hoping that Halak will be motivated to stick his old club with a big L (sorry Jaro, even if you shut us out tonight, we still kept the right guy).

STILL LATER UPDATE: Apparently Gomez is a no-go for tonight, or for that matter, Thursday's game in Boston. Pacioretty, who missed practice yesterday because of the flu, is reportedly in tonight.

First Period:

- 2008 Halak picks up where he left off stoning Plekanec on a clear-cut breakaway.

- Blues forwards shadowing Eller very closely so far. I guess somebody was watching some video.

- Blues taking shots from the line and attempting to create traffic in front of Price. Which is usually the way you score on him. Blues have done their homework.

- Gionta with a terrible pass to Plekanec. Still some rust with the captain's play.

- Price with a few nice saves from a scramble. Got the feeling the goals might be few and far between tonight.

- St. Louis this year much more physical than I remember them in past years. They're certainly not afraid to throw the body around.

- Price outstanding save on D'Agostini following a very bad Habs defensive breakdown. He's "on" ... so far.

- Ack. These ex-Hab players are more hassle than they're worth. D'Agostini giving the defense fits.

- Blues forwards are fast - and they work hard. Habs defenders have to pick it up a bit more, certainly need to be more aggressive.

- Three minutes left, except for Plekanec's break, Habs really haven't generated a good opportunity to score on Halak.

- Through 20, Blues definitely the better team. Skating harder, hitting harder, and backchecking harder.

Second Period:

- Subban with a killer (clean) hit on Jackman, who got to his feet and took exception. But it was clean!

- Darche getting his stick up on Crombeen, who went down like he was shot. Stick contact looked relatively mild. Blues get their second PP.

- Eller with some determined forechecking draws Oshie into an interference penalty.

- Goaltending on both sides has been solid but the defense (on both sides) has been suffocatingly good. Will a goal even be scored tonight?

- With few exceptions, most of the play has been kept to the parameter. It's a chess game out there.

- There's the break. Kaberle caught way up ice, leaving Subban out to dry, and Arnott beats a sprawling Price. It takes only one undisciplined play to make the difference for a game to be lost. Now the Habs must solve Halak, but only when they solve this Blues defense.

- PP at least generating some scoring chances, but giving Halak clear view of every shot. He simply won't be beat that way.

- Subban is being outworked and outskated by Blues forwards. Can't afford to surrender pucks that ought never be lost.

- Turnovers are killers. This time it's Price with an unwise poke check that sends the puck straight into the slot, and Backes takes full advantage. Offensively challenged Habs are really deep in the hole now.

- Naw. Halak won't be beat tonight, unless the Habs get some crazy bounces in their favour.

- PP chance. Being one down heading into the 3rd is a world of difference being down two. Gotta take advantage here.

- If Kaberle can't make easy passes to open wingers leading a rush out of his zone on the PP, what use is he? He isn't here for his defensive abilities.

- Clunky passing and ineffective shots from the point is killing the powerplay. Team looks collectively incapable of mustering anything tonight.

- Boos from the Bell Centre paying customers. Habs failed to get on the scoresheet before 40 minutes, and now have little reasonable chance of getting back into this.

Third Period:

- First big step for scoring on Halak. Actually gets shots on net. Habs have been terribly inaccurate tonight. Two 20 foot slot shots during a Desharnais shift, both of them wide.

- How much different would this game be had Plekanec scored on his breakaway back in the first?

- Halak down and completely out, and Darche somehow can't flip it over the netminder for an easy goal. But that *is* Darche.

- Gionta has seemingly re-aggravated his injury. His disappointing and frustrating season may have taken an even worse turn.

- Cunneyworth jumbling the lines, trying to capture some lightening in a bottle. Something. Anything. It isn't happening.

- I don't know if this is an average night for St. Louis, but from what I've seen tonight, this Blues team is very impressive. They blanket their goal, and take advantage of their chances. Really, really disciplined (does a coaching change make *that* much of a difference?) In the East, they'd be Conference contenders, imho.

- Emelin with a pretty awful turnover, Stewart puts the nail in the coffin. That's what the very good teams do. They make you pay for your silly mistakes. It's an important characteristic missing from this years' Habs.

- Cammelleri the subject of quite a few boos. Interesting that he's being singled out - he's only one small part of a pretty sad effort.

- Scoresheet might not tell the tale, but it was no contest tonight. The Habs got owned and boned just about every aspect of the game. And now they have to go to Boston on Thursday. Habs fans might want to find the nearest bomb shelter and not come out 'till Friday.

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