Monday, 18 March 2013

Game Twenty-Nine: Sabres vs. Habs

First Period:

- Sabres are a turnover machine in their own zone. Being a goaltender in Buffalo must be a maddening experience.

- Ott can shoot the puck that hard? Desharnais coughs up the puck and Ott with a howitzer. Sloppy and careless puck handling by Habs in their zone - a page out of the Sabres book.

- Hmmm. Price looking a bit shaky. Habs continue to be very sloppy handling the puck. Sabres have also come to play.

- Clear interference on Pacioretty by Pomminville. Refs missed it.

- Gallagher = pluggy version of Saku Koivu? I see the resemblance more and more.

- Little pushback by Habs, here. Three great chances in 25 seconds. Gotta hit the net, though.

- At 6'6"', Tinordi second tallest Hab in team history (behind Hal Gill). He's intimidating to look at, never mind having someone that size coming towards you along the boards.

- Ut oh. Shot from the line redeflected by Myers. No chance for Price. Shocking 2-0 lead.

- Weird period. Sabres were the better team, but not by two goals. Habs looked sluggish, slightly disorganized in their zone. Canadiens have plenty of time, but the hill is a bit steep now. Buffalo's second period has been a disaster this season, so next 20 minutes will tell the tale.

Seond Period:

- Hard work by Gionta line generates first powerplay of the game.

- Keep feeding Subban at the line for the shot. No cannon though, they're looking for a redeflect.

- Really good powerplay for Habs. No goals but great passing and puck control. Let's see if that generates some momentum.

- Indeed it has, and Galchenyuk draws an interference. Habs back on the man advantage.

- Habs being a bit too target fixated. Get these shots on the net, guys.

- D-line shot accuracy on the powerplay definitely lacking. Markov the biggest culprit.

- Second been all Habs so far. Very strong forecheck generating lots of chances, no finish though.

- Vanek took a cannon point shot by Enroff off the leg in front of Price. Looks like he's in a lot of pain. Getting attention on the bench.

- Habs have 18 shot attempts this period. Hit the net 5 times. Second period dominance being frittered away by a chronic inability to hit the net.

- Vanek gone to the dressing room. Obviously a bit serious.

- Enroth makes desperation save on Ryder. It just isn't happening tonight, folks.

- Habs haven't had many shorthanded goals this season. Getting one now would be nice.

- Geez. How have the Habs not scored on Enroth yet? He looks crazy unstable out there.

- Habs dominated, but didn't score. Over thinking these opportunities, aiming too hard for the corners. Enroth looks entirely shaky, but the Canadiens are letting him off the hook. Guys, the formula is simple - shoot the pick ON THE NET, crash, get dirty, just push it in already.

Third Period:

- Apparently Vanek's injury is upper body? Odd since he was heavily favouring his right leg. Anyway, he's done for the night.

- Habs 38 shot attempts so far tonight, hitting the net 19 times. That won't cut it.

- Desharnais line has been a bit of a mess tonight. Collective -6, and unable to win many battles for the puck along the boards.

- Enroth with terrible puck control but still, can't find the back of the net.

- Enroth giving up huge rebounds, Habs forwards need to be crashing for those loose pucks.

- Finally. Lots of loose pucks and Gallagher with a feed to Pacioretty in the slot. It's 2-1.

- Sabres got their first good scoring chance since the first period. Right now in "hold-on-for-dear-life" mode.

- Desharnais having a brutal night picking up the loose puck, winning battles along the boards.

- Gallagher is a monster out there.

- Colby Armstrong scores late in the 3rd to tie the game?? I'm rubbing my eyes. Can't believe it. Also can't believe how ridiculously great Galchenyuk's pass to him was.

- Sabres defense literally being pushed over by Habs forwards.

- Yikes. Pacioretty needs to have better crease awareness. That might cost us this game. Sabres to the PP.

- Big time saves by Price on this PK. Big time.

- Oh my god. Enroth just robbed Gionta of the game winner.

- Furious period by Habs earns them at least one point. They've dominated totally since the start of the second period. Now to OT.

- Bah. Sabres score with two seconds left on the powerplay. Subban is mad at the officials for that call, but the point remains, he should never have gunned for that check in an overtime.


- Critical error by Subban. Tried for the big hit, and ends up in the box with a high stick. Therrien fuming, presumably at Subban.

- Tremendous PK so far by Habs.

- Bah. Sabres score with just two seconds left in the Subban penalty. Subban arguing with the officials that his stick made no contact, but the point still stands - he simply shouldn't have gone for the big hit. Not in overtime.

Gameday Game Preview

 Well, we've got two teams heading in entirely different directions, the Habs fighting hard for top spot in the Conference, and the Sabres fighting hard to figure out where it all went so badly wrong.

Both teams seems to have experienced pinnacle games, but have gone in contrary directions. On February 7, the Sabres came from a late three goal deficit to beat the Habs in OT, 6-5.  One might have expected the Sabres to ride the emotion of that victory towards reaching greater heights. Since then, however, the Sabres have gone 6-10-2, and now find themselves mired in 14th place in the East.

Meanwhile on February 9th, the Habs took a sound thumping at the hands of the Leafs, 6-0. You might have expected the Canadiens to respond with despair in reaction to such an humiliating loss. Since that defeat, Montreal has gone an astounding 13-1-3. Huh.

So tonight! The Sabres won't be starting Ryan Miller, but will go with the youngster Jhonas Enroth, who's had just two career starts against the Habs, BUT ... has won them both. So hey - why not?  Another part of the whole resting Miller thing might have something to do with the little spat he had with Patrick Kaleta - Miller taking great exception to the underachieving Kaleta's public complaints about not getting enough ice time. Anyway, Kaleta, who was a healthy scratch on Sunday's game against the Caps, where the Sabres took another thumping, will probably get a start tonight in Montreal.

In any case, you know things are not going well for a hockey team when the players are fighting with each other via the microphone.

As usual, the Sabres' most dangerous offensive weapon is Thomas Vanek. 13 goals and 31 points (good for 8th place overall in the League), the Sabres continue to be hampered by dreadful performances by their powerplay unit, just 11.5%, dead last in the League. Their PK hasn't been much better, 78% efficiency, only good for 25th overall. Let's face it - Buffalo's specialty teams suck.

Where else is Buffalo awful? Scoring first in a game. They've only won 50% of those games, 3rd worst in the League. When scored against, they're marginally better - 23rd overall, but still, not good.

Really, there's no reason why the Habs, at home where they've been so tough to beat this season, shouldn't roll all over Buffalo.

But you never know. Enroth in net - he could pull a few rabbits out of the hat.

But naw. Habs should take this, and thereby extended their winning streak to 6. That's HALF A DOZEN (thanks Wikipedia!).

Puck drops at 7:40 E >>> S >>> T. ENJOY THE GAME.

Are the Habs on the Cusp of a Correction?

Can we get a little statistical this morning? I've been looking at some numbers today, specifically League PDO combination and Fenwick rankings (PDO explination here, Fenwick explanation here), and there are some pretty heady indications that the Canadiens are playing just a bit more than a tad over their heads right now, which means only one thing - a correction is in order.

Now, this isn't *bad* news per say, but when you examine the club's PDO ration, which adds together even strength team save percentages and shot percentages. If your number is over 1.0, you're probably winning more than you should be. If your number is under 1.0, you probably aren't playing as well as you should be.

The Canadiens' PDO measurement is currently 1.027, which is tied for the 2nd highest in the League (with Chicago), only behind Anaheim who are wayyyyy out in front with a 1.047 total.  The good news for the Habs is their record after 29 games is so good, that they're a shoo-in for a playoff spot. But where they actually finish in the Conference standings is up for scrutiny.

Just to make things a bit easier, I've ranked playoff teams (those currently with comfortable playoff positions) currently overperforming from non-playoff (those fighting for a playoff spot) teams underpeforming, to give you an idea of how things might trend over the next few weeks towards the end of the schedule. I've also added the "very bad news" Playoff Wilderness ranking of teams that really have no business even thinking about making the post season:

Playoff Overperform:

1. Anaheim (1.047) - 46 points
2. Chicago (1.027) - 51 points
3. Montreal (1.027) - 42 points
5. Pittsburgh (1.020) - 44 points
9. Boston (1.009) - 41 points
11. Ottawa (1.003) - 36 points

Looking at the overperformers who are currently standing in a pretty comfortable place, the lower the PDO ranking, the better, because the closer you are to 1.0, the more likely that your season isn't an aberration. This is good news for Ottawa, and as much as I hate to say it, very good news for the Bruins. Their records, by PDO standards, are pretty close to where they should be. Conversely, the Ducks are playing wayyyy over their heads right now, and should soon, at least by statistical reasoning, be going into a slump (I think the Ducks are going to start their slide tomorrow night as they play Chicago).  Meanwhile, the Hawks, Habs and Pens are all basically around the same standard - the Hawks due for a correction, but still far ahead enough to reason that they'll finish at the top of their Conference, since Anaheim is their closest competitor.

So the skinny is this. By PDO numbers, you'd have to play your bet that the Bruins will eventually finish first in the Eastern Conference, which means the Habs can't finish any higher than 4th.

Playoff Underperform:

14. Minnesota (.997) - 34 points
15. Nashville (.996) - 28 points
16. Columbus (.996) - 28 points
18. Los Angeles (.996) - 34 points
19. NY Rangers (.995) - 30 points
20. Winnipeg (.995) - 32 points
21. Phoenix (.992) - 30 points
23. San Jose (.987) - 30 points
24. St. Louis (.987) - 34 points
25. Edmonton (.986) - 28 points
27. New Jersey (.979) - 32 points

Okay. Ton of stuff to sift through here - the Western Conference is a mess, because the standings are so close. So let's do the East first.

First, the Rangers, who nobody can figure out, look like they're about to go on a winning run - with their PDO below 1.0, the team is also posting a healthy Fenwick Close of more than 53%, which is 7th in the League. Second, the Devils are significantly below where they ought to be, a measly .979 PDO, and a 6th ranked Fenwick, they really ought to be giving the Pens a bit of a push for the Division. But 12 points back, at this point, it's unlikely.

The West? Where to start? Good news for Phoenix and San Jose who are battling hard for a top 8 finish, but really good news for Minnesota and especially St. Louis, whose upper ranking in the Conference should only improve as the season concludes. I'd definately place my bet on the Wild winning their Division over Vancouver, while St. Louis, who also have the 3rd best Fenwick in the League, should easily finish ahead of Detroit in their Division, and maybe, just possibly, might make things a little uncomfortable for the Hawks if Chicago, does, as we think they might, scale back a bit on their winning percentage.

Also, the Kings. Good PDO, and they have the number one ranked Fenwick percentage in the League. Even though 12 points down in the standings, they have, I believe, a very good shot at catching Anaheim for the Division.

Playoff Wilderness (very bad news):

4. Tampa Bay (1.024) - 27 points
6. Toronto (1.019) - 32 points
8. Detroit (1.010) - 32 points

Okay, Tampa Bay is having a pretty terrible season, just 13 wins and 11th in the Conference. Funny thing is, they should be even worse. Their PDO ranks up there with the Hawks, and their Fenwick is a 30th ranked 44%. This team ought be fighting the Panthers for 15th spot, and who knows, by season's end, they might be. Guy Boucher's days, I suspect, are numbered.

The Leafs? Oh, the Leafs. Their PDO isn't *awful*, but their sub 45% Fenwick is the 4th worst in the NHL, which means their current points standing is significantly far above where they ought to be, and unless something dramatic happens, Toronto should finish out of the playoffs.

I added Detroit if only because they're so borderline. The PDO hovering almost at 1.0, and a Fenwick just over 51%, they're in very tough for one of those hotly contested playoff spots. The PDO/Fenwick numbers suggest that they'll probably finish just out of 8th place, meaning for the first time in a couple of decades, the Wings wouldn't be in the post-season.

SOOOOO ... all that said, with consideration to PDO and Fenwick, here's my best guess as to how the Conference will pan out at season's end:

Eastern Conference:
1. Boston
2. Pittsburgh
3. Carolina
4. Montreal
5. New Jersey
6. NY Rangers
7. Ottawa
8. Winnipeg/NY Islanders (pick 'em).

Western Conference:
1. Chicago
2. Anaheim
3. Minnesota
4. Los Angeles
5. St. Louis
6. Phoenix
7. San Jose
8. Vancouver

Gameday Gamegoo:

- Nothing much to say yet. Nothing from coach Therrien, no team announcements, nada this morning. But we'll update this later.

About Last Night ...

Happy Monday! Yeah, it's Monday. We know the routine. Right now, two days before the supposed first day of spring, yours truly struggled to get his car started this morning out on the tundra of never-ending frigidity that is the western Canadian prairies. Global warming my ...

Anyway. More important matters at hand. Le bleu, blanc en rouge machine keeps mowin' right along, five wins in a row, and a reasonably favorable schedule on the horizon with two games coming up against the spiraling Sabres, and one against the Islanders. Oh yeah, that's right. We can't seem to handle the Islanders.

It's a pretty quiet day, news-wise in Habs land. Coach Therrien says Michael Ryder should be returning to the lineup tomorrow, but there's no change in the injury status for both Rene Bourque and Raphael Diaz, although the former continues to practice with the team. Brandon Prust did a skate this morning. I wouldn't be shocked if he was back in the lineup by this time next week.

Results Roundup:

- The Pens claimed top spot in the Eastern Conference with a hard fought 2-1 victory over the Bruins. We're happy with the result, since the Pens, now two points ahead, have played two more games, while the Bruins stay one point behind, and that three game in hand cushion has now dwindled to just one!

- What the heck? The Winnipeg Jets are in 3rd place in the East, although they lost to the Sens on Sunday 4-1.  How Ottawa manages to keep winning is nothing short of astounding. Still waiting for that shoe to drop.

- Caps beat the Sabres in the battle of two clubs going nowhere fast. I watched some of this game - what little I could tolerate, that is. Sabres' season is long done, and there's no way the Caps will battle back into the playoff picture. They're a cohesive mess on the ice.

- Edmonton continues to turn their once flagging season around, edging out the Preds who had a disastrous west coast trip, losing badly to the 'Nucks, Flames and the Oil. Last night's loss was highlighted by this gem of a play that not only cost Nashville the game, but might also bring back a few bad memories to many a Habs fan. Oh well, it's not our problem any more, right Barry Trotz?

That's all for now! Have a great Monday, and keep watching for Habs updates.

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