Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Game Thirty-Two: Habs vs. Pens

First Period:

- Dumont doing his part to set a physical tone, drops gloves with Kennedy. Habs have got to do everything possible to slow the pace of this game as much as possible.

- Close in try for Deshairnas, Fleury struggles to find and cover the puck. Habs would be wise to rattle his cage whenever possible (without drawing interference, of course).

- Puck possession essentially equal so far, but Habs defending well in their zone. Pens limited to two shots first 11 minutes.

- Yeah, I think it's time to end the Eller/Armstrong combo. I don't see the compliment or gain.

- No score, but Habs have to be delighted with first 15 minutes. Pens still stuck on 2 shots.

- Deshairnas line with great shift, had almost 100% puck possession.

- Terrific period for the Habs, Pens just 5 shots, Price untested. Playing a very close checking, patient game, just about ideal not only for a road game, but a road game against a team riding a 12 game winning streak. Just 40 more minutes of the same, and the Canadiens might come away with a win.

Second Period:

- Terrific feed by Gallagher to Pacioretty on the 2-on-1, fine save by Fleury. Habs continue to play very patiently.

- Plekanec great puck control and nifty pass to Ryder, off the inside of the crossbar. Just barely. So close.

- Not going to say the Habs are dominating this, but they are miles ahead the better team so far. Lucky charms keeping the game scoreless. Still waiting for our first powerplay.

- And there it is, Ryder a trip in the offensive zone. Oy. Pens to the powerplay.

- Pens pretty much contained on that man advantage. Still so far, so good.

- Halpern has so far cleaned Crosby's clock in the faceoff circle. Batting 1.000.

- Fleury bringing his A game tonight. Figures.

- Just wow. Flagrant interference on Ryder trying to chase the puck into the Pens zone. Tackled directly in front of the official.

- Amazingly loud home crowd for a team that's had nothing tonight. 7 shots through 31 minutes.

- So unfair. One little mental mistake and the Pens make you pay. Habs with a poor change on transition, Tinordi caught out of position (rookie error) and Crosby along the wing with a perfect wrister under the bar. Habs hard work and discipline not realizing deserved dividends.

- Tinordi is getting eaten alive by the Pens top line. Therrien would be wise to pull him ASAP.

- Kennedy falling and hitting Fleury REALLY hard in the head. Fleury struggling to stand up.

- Disappointing period, not because the Habs played poorly, but because they've played so well. Almost perfectly, really. Just one little mistake, the Pens took advantage. It's a strange game, sometimes.

Third Period:

- Wow. Fleury out, Vokoun in. Habs must pepper him as much as possible. Could be huge break, given that Fleury was making stellar saves up till his injury.

- Habs looking for sure fire setup. I think that's a mistake. Just get the puck on Vokoun with every opportunity. He's cold. Something's gotta give.

- Gorges broke his stick on the PK, Price then screamed to his forwards to hand their stick to Gorges. Fortunately Halpern kept his, and cleared the zone. Bullet dodged.

- Halfway through the third, Habs have mustered only two shots on Vokoun. Ain't gonna cut it. Opportunity wasted.

- Since the Crosby goal Tinordi has seen two shifts. May not have another tonight.

- Pens forwards blocking every shot in sight. Vokoun can practically take a nap out there.

- Plekanec with golden interception right in front of Vokoun. Just golden. Snapped a shot right on Vokoun's crest. Vokoun had no chance of not stopping that.

- Price tremendous save on Cooke. Giving Habs a chance yet.

- Oh my. Habs with circus saves, this time Subban hustling back to check his man on a rebound with Price flat on his belly. Now tie this thing up, guys.

- Pens forwards now suffocating the neutral zone. No where to go.

- Oy. So close. Habs buzzing final seconds but couldn't find the back of net. One of those "what might have been?" losses. They played an ideal road game against the Pens. If but for that one mistake in the second period, we could be playing OT. The Habs demonstrated that they can compete with the best of them, but are just a shade short. With the trade deadline looming, it will be interesting to see if Bergevin makes any more moves to give his team that extra boost - with Bourque seemingly out long-term, he just might.

Gameday Game Preview:

So this is where the rubber meets the road. We've reached the 2/3rd mark of the 2013 NHL season, and tonight, the Habs will make a very definitive statement in their continued push for first place in the Eastern Conference.

But. It's gonna be tough. Like, really tough.

The Pens, in case you've been asleep for about a month, haven't lost. In a long time. Since February 28, to be precise. After losing 4-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes on that day, the Pens then traveled to Montreal, and on March 2nd, outgunned the Canadiens 7-6 on OT. They haven't looked back since.

Not satisfied with beating the living daylights out of everyone since, the Pens added two more players to their roster this week, acquiring Douglas Murray from the Sharks, and Brenden Morrow from the Stars, in return for a significant amount of futures (something the Pens are already well stocked with). The addition of Morrow and Murray struck me as a bit odd. I can rationale the acquisition of Murray, since the Pens defense is someone off and on, but Morrow strikes me as particularly puzzling - the Pens' offense is playing gangbusters, so it seems as though the trade is daring the Pens to break something that doesn't need fixing. We'll see how this pans out for them, but Pittsburgh did give up some pretty significant future in making that deal. I suppose Pittsburgh wants "character" for the playoffs, but goodness, don't they have enough already?

Man, when I look down the roster, I'm reminded how scary they are.  Sidney Crosby might be playing the best hockey of his life right now. And then you have Chris Kunitz who's been scoring like crazy. The Habs best forward will have to play their best game tonight, in particular Thomas Plekanec, who almost certainly will be assigned the unenviable task of shadowing Crosby for much of the night. Good luck Pleks.

Habs injury list remains a concern. Rene Bourque is still out, no ETA. Same for Raphael Diaz. And Brandon Prust. And Ryan White. These aren't game-breaking players, but collectively their absenses creates problems, perhaps most glaringly it significantly reduces the Habs physicality, which dependeded heavily on both Prust and White. That really is the big problem - the Habs have to play physically tonight to slow down the Pens offensive Juggernaut. The Canadiens simply can't play the same game as they did on March 2nd. They won't be able to compete.

Pittsburgh will send out Mark-Andre Fluery, Habs Carey Price. Fluery has been excellent of late, but as always, you are never quite sure which Fluery you'll get on any given night. The Habs are hoping they'll get the Mark-Andre-vs.-the-Flyers-Fluery version tonight. They're also hoping they won't get the Carey Price we saw on March 2nd.

It's gonna be fun to watch. Can the Habs stop the Pens express at 12 straight wins? A victory tonight would send a very loud and clear signal that this season, the Canadiens are a force to be reckoned with.

Puck drops 7:10 EST.

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