Sunday, 19 February 2012

Game Sixty: Devils v Habs

Happy Sunday! It's Hockey Day in America (whatever that means - I guess it means just having a bunch of games south of the border, and NBC showing a couple of them ... otherwise, did anyone notice?).

So last night!! Caps lose! (again). Leafs lose! (again, again). I watched the Canucks/Leafs tilt. Not sure if Vancouver was that good, but yikes, does Toronto look bad. I mean, really bad. I cannot fathom how a team playing that poorly will maintain a tenuous grip on a playoff spot.

And the Caps? The Hockey News pre-season pick as Cup champions? Offense is just ... gone. Ovi continues to be a shell of his former self. I just don't see how they'll also stay above the playoff bubble for much longer.

So the iron is hot for striking! As of this posting, the Habs could move to just 4 points of 8th place with a win over Brodeur and the Devils tonight. FOUR points, which is actually quite amazing when you consider that three weeks ago, this team stood 13 points back of 8th place (and just a single point away from being in 15th place).

Tonight, Price will start, Leblanc will sit (flu). Will Cunneyworth play the 7 defensemen routine (which means Campoli would start ... ugh). And Brodeur ... will this be his last ever visit to Montreal? And Martin, if you're reading this, can you cut us some slack tonight? I mean, nearly 20 straight years of owning us ... could you just give us this one? Please??

GOAL DIFFERENTIAL: This one is a tad perplexing. At the moment, the Habs goal differential is -2 ... which is certainly not great, but it's interestingly not as bad as teams that sit above them in the standings:

In the East, here are some notables that have (roughly) the same or worse differential (and their current standing in the Conference):

Habs -2 (13th)
Toronto -4 (8th)
Washington -4 (9th)
Florida -16 (3rd!?)
Winnipeg -21 (10th)
Islanders -29 (12th)
Tampa Bay -32 (11th)

Surely the Panthers are an anomaly - you can't have a differential that far under the line and be leading - but then again, Florida plays in easily the worst Division in the League, so that helps.

But the teams the Habs are competing against, the Jets, Islanders, Bolts, have a significantly worse differential, while the Leafs and Caps aren't any better.

The point being, with a little more than a quarter season left to go, differential becomes a far more conspicuous start for predicating success. By basic attrition, don't be surprised if in the next 2-3 weeks, the Conference will begin to separate a bit, and the clubs left seriously competing for that 7th-8th place spot are the Leafs, Caps and Habs.

And if you're going to bring remaining schedules into the equation, then matters shape up even brighter for the Canadiens, who have a much easier road to the finish than either Toronto or Washington.

First Period:

- Habs good early pressure generates a powerplay, which goes nowhere. Devils are too good at that stuff, the game will be won by whomever makes the fewer mistakes.

- Price good as lucky so far, aided by two posts. But still a tad shaky on a couple of close-in chances.

- Pacioretty with game face and skates on, really driving the net nicely.

- Ouch. Plekanec's shot right in Volchenko's face. Very slow to get off the ice.

- Habs might not register 5 shots in the period.

- Excellent hard-working shift by Gomez. The more he produces the greater our chances of getting a playoff spot.

- Winning faceoffs so important in defensive zone. Another first opposition goal scored from shot at line deflected in by Parise. Oh man, Parise. What a Habs-killer. How much would it take to sign this guy in July?

- Subban with a rocket (finally) from the line. Brodeur didn't stop it clean, but just enough.

- Habs with their hands full tonight. Devils really cover their zone efficiently, so goals will a premium. Just 4 shots in the period. That simply won't do it.

Second Period:

- Big first and second shift for Jersey. Habs reeling. Do the Canadiens understand the opportunity at hand?

- Totally lopsided action here. Canadiens in dump and retreat mode.

- Cunneyworth gave everyone the morning off, and he's being rewarded by an absolutely lackluster effort, especially by the forwards. Energy guys need to be given priority here to spark some kind of a fire under these sleepy butts.

- Nice shift by Gomez line. We have signs of life.

- Dammit Brodeur. Can't you have just ONE bad game in this city?

- Habs slowly inching back into this, momentum-wise. Need a goal soon, though.

- We're officially on pace for a 12 shot game. Habs going to PP. Hopefully we can reach the 5 mark this period.

- Terrible ice conditions weren't helping Habs on that man advantage. Surely in Montreal they have the capacity to get the ice right?

- Ugh. Every time I see Larry Robinson behind the Devils' bench, with all that knowledge and record of coaching success, I am reminded of what could have been.

- Cole getting shadowed pretty hard by Jersey, so he's attempting to contribute with a few good hits.

- Hate to second-guess the bench management, but what is Cunneyworth doing ending the period with Campoli on the ice? Clarkson tips home a point shot, largely because Campoli played him too soft in the crease. At some point you just have to shake your head.

The late goal, this with just 15 seconds left in the frame, are game killers. Down two entering the third against a team like Jersey, virtually no chance.

Third Period:

- White draws a penalty, Habs get their third PP. Can't fault the Canadiens discipline, so far no penalties.

- Pacioretty! His 25th off a mad scramble. Habs continue to demonstrate excellent puck movement with the man advantage. The longer they can keep their PP working, the better chance this team has of salvaging a playoff spot.

- Pacioretty has scored 14 goals since January 1st, which puts him in the top four in the League. Already established himself as a critical cog in this team's future.

- Habs have 17 minutes to even this up. If they can pull this game out of the fire I'll be pretty impressed.

- Gorges with a somewhat risky pinch to keep the puck in the Devils' zone. Habs play remains relatively aggressive.

- Forwards very tight in Brodeur's face. More, please.

- Desharnais. I've said it before, I'll more than likely say it again - shoot the puck. Right now the book is out on you. You always pass, and opposing defenders play retreat and check when you have possession.

- Cole is hurt. Gone to the room for medical attention. This is not good.

- Plekanec critical errors. Two chances to clear the zone go nowhere, and Weber makes the final mistake by screening Price from a point shot by Taormina.

- That shot apparently shattered the net camera. They're cleaning up the mess in front of the net.

- Pretty quiet in the rink. I think we're now in resigned to defeat mode.

- Cole out there right now. Playing hurt? We'll see if he does more shifts.

- Energy the team had starting the 3rd is largely gone now. Just too much to ask this team to beat Brodeur three times.

- Devils called a 30 second timeout. Actually got 2 minutes before the puck was dropped.

- Devils just blanketing the line. Can't get anything going. Why can't we do this? Why haven't we been doing this all those occasions when we held a third period lead (and blew it).

- Critical opportunity to get closer to a playoff birth was missed tonight. Habs simply didn't have their mojo. Even with the morning off they played tired. They looked tired. Friday's game against the Caps in Washington looms large.

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