Friday, 19 April 2013

Game Forty-Five: Caps vs. Habs

First Period:

- Took the Caps nearly 5 minutes to register their first shot. That's the good news. The bad news it was taken by Ovechkin, it was a softy, and it beat Price. Uh-oh.

- Um. Three shots. Two goals. The rink is stunned. I'm stunned. Price is completely stunned.

- The gods gave Price four goalposts on Thursday. It would appear they are collecting tonight.

- Prust has made at least two heroic blocks tonight. I cringe every time he throws his body in harm's way. Wish there was some way he could be shelved until the playoffs.

- Price making some very difficult saves here, keeping this game from getting way out of control. Hopefully he's settled down.

- Habs buzzing on the powerplay, Diaz off inside of the post. What a return that would have been.

- Caps got two softies to start the game, Habs responded well enough, but they're playing with very little spirit or inspiration. If this team insists on mailing it in until the playoffs start, then Therrien might as well start resting his key guys.

Second Period:

- Plekanec all alone with the puck almost never seems to end well.

- Bourqure, after scoring his first game upon his return, struggling to generate quality scoring chances.

- 3-0. Bouillon can't win battles for pucks along the boards to save his life. And we now officially return to crisis mode.

- Habs likely denied a goal by a bad offside call, there. It ain't gonna be our night.

- Chorus of boos growing louder in the Bell Centre. It represents the only crowd noise in the building.

- Route is on, as Caps score on the powerplay right off two posts including a crossbar. Bounces all one direction right now.

- Looking forward to Therrien's comments after this game as much as I am curious as to whether he's going to finally start scratching players from here on out to give them rest in preparation for the post-season. Too bad he didn't start doing that tonight.

- One of the loudest goalpost clangs I've heard all year. Everything totally not going Habs way tonight. What can ya do?

- Pacioretty has firmly returned to MIA status.

- What can you say. Bounces went Washington's way, nothing went the Habs way. But the Canadiens can't excuse this game away - they were uninspiring in the first, and dug their own hole towards another loss. Yeah, this team likes to proclaim "no excuses", but their play the past 8 days has been inexcusable. Tonight is no exception.

Third Period:

- By my count, Habs have hit three posts so far. One more and we're all square with the hockey gods.

- Therrien may have already begun the shut down process, Prust's ice time since the end of the first is just 4:23.

- Holtby has been excellent tonight, only compounding Habs' frustrations, which are now starting to boil over.

- Bouillon low man on the defensive icetime totem pole. Less than Weber at this point, which either indicates a lack of Therrien's confidence in Frankie, or increasing confidence in Weber. Or maybe both.

- Habs' PK might be their most glaring weakness right now, which says a lot about how bad it's become. 30 now for Ovie.

- One goal. I guess that means the final score won't be completely humiliating?

- Feel terribly for any Habs fan who paid to watch the game in person tonight. If there was ever a good time to demand a refund, this would be the game.

- Badly beaten tonight. No contest. I'd say this team might be wise to go back to the drawing board, but the season is too far gone. Pray for a miracle??

Keep it Classy Bruins, Keep it Classy

How long did the good feelings last? 48 hours?

Like any delinquent, the Bruins' organization is incapable of taking the high road. Jack Edwards is a joke.

Gameday Game Preview:

So here's the test. Three dreadful games in a row, including a drubbing at the hands of the Leafs (whose faithful are in semi-meltdown mode as they flirt with finding a way of missing the playoffs), and big-time also-rans the Flyers (who were beaten by the even worse New Jersey Devils two nights ago - who can figure out the NHL these days?).  Some footing regained by eeking out a one-goal win over true bottom feeders from Tampa on Thursday night, the Habs tonight square off against the Washington Capitals, whom after going on a dizzying winning streak, now find themselves in a dogfight for first place in the South-Least Division against the Winnipeg Jets.

Yeah, strange days indeed.

The Habs, whose defense, as we all know, has played atrociously since last Saturday, got a pieof good news yesterday when it was announced that long-injured Raphael Diaz would be returning to the lineup. Diaz' return is a significant step forward, but it is by no means a solution to the team's defensive troubles, many of which are currently insolvable.

To some it is mystifying how a team, which was cruising along so mightily, largely because it was playing such a sound defense game, could reverse direction so abruptly. I don't think it's much of a mystery at all - the essential reason why so many things have gone south is because this team's blue line is just plain exhausted.

Andrei Markov, who looked so great at the start of the year, can barely keep up with the play. He's got scars and (literally) bolts keeping his legs attached to his torso. So when he gets caught on a pinch, even just a little bit, he struggles to recover. He's been played too much. He's out of gas.

The same could perhaps also be said of Josh Gorges, whom I think has played some of his worst hockey as Canadien for the past two weeks, must either be exhausted, or playing through some sort of injury. There's no other explanation for his slow and soft play in the slot. He's also been struggling to move the puck out of the zone, usually indicative of a player who's guarding against hard physical contact along the boards.

This is why the season-ending injury to Alexei Emelin was so critical - in addition to his League-leading hits total, he was taking up much of the slack and workload to the benefit of the tiring legs of Markov and Gorges.

So now here's what's left: As matters stand right now, the rest of the blueline isn't geared for the minutes it's been provided. Guys like Francis Bouillon and Davis Drewiske, who are career 6th-D players, are being asked to play 4th-D minutes, meaning they're also taking roles in shorthanded situations, neither of which they're really capable of handling. That's why for good measure, the Habs PK, which started slowly, then stabilized the 2nd third of this season, has fallen off the cliff of late.

P.K. Subban, who I think is pretty close to clinching this year's Norris Trophy, is doing just fine. He's getting close to 30 minutes a night, which is an amount given his size, condition and age, he can easily handle. But he can't play every shift, he can't take the burden off the shoulders of the Markov's and the Gorges'. That was Emelin's role. And he's gone.

So while Diaz' return is very good news, he won't be played heavily tonight - probably somewhere around 12 minutes. That means once again, Therrien will have to lean heavily on Markov, Gorges, and Subban to pick up the slack, which only compounds the longer-term exhaustion problem, which looms large as we near the playoffs. Le sigh.

SO TONIGHT. The Caps, as mentioned, are fighting hard for their Division lead, which means fighting hard for a playoff spot. They are led by the still red-hot Alex Ovechkin, whose soft goal on Carey Price sparked a comeback victory by the Caps over the Habs the last time these two teams met on April 10th.

There was some speculation that Niklas Backstrum had suffered a serious injury Thursday night after taking a hard Mike Green shot in the arm. However there are reports today that the deep bruise he suffered isn't nearly as serious as first diagnosed, and that he'll likely play tonight.

The Habs? Well, they have Diaz back, but gaps sill remain. Prust remains frail. Michael Ryder's health has become a sudden ongoing question mark. Colby Armstrong is out indefinitely. Alexei Emelin -  let's not even think about that. Ryan White is done for three more games from his suspension (and might not ever return again).

Carey Price will get the start tonight, and the Habs are hoping he posts another solid start much like he did against the Lightening. With a tired defense in front of him, not to mention facing a team desperate for a win to maintain their narrow grip on a playoff spot, this won't be a game easily won.

Puck drop is at 7:15 EST.

This is Why we Love Brandon Prust:

Yeah we know - goonface Milan Lucic gets the best of this bout, but it doesn't matter. Brandon Prust is hockey gold, and the much deserved winner of this year's Jacques Beauchamp award, for the Habs' unsung hero of the year.

Except that we all like to sing about guys like Prust. One of the best free agent signings this team has done in a generation.

Friday Afternoon Kibbles and Bits:

- Raphael Diaz will be returning to the lineup tomorrow night against the Caps, per announcement earlier today by coach Therrien. Which means Weber will probably sit, which is a shame. There are other guys on the D-line more deserving a sit than Weber (as in, the rest of them).

- Bruuuuns and Pens game, for which many of us were salivating in anticipation for Friday night enjoyment, has been postponed until at least tomorrow afternoon, because the world is a messed up place.

- Most of the City of Montreal did a STFU over Carey Price today. Thank goodness.

More later.

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