Friday, 18 October 2013

Game Eight: Predators vs. Habs

Happy Monday?

- Habs have announced that Brandon Prust is out for four weeks from an upper body injury, and that Daniel Briere is out indefinitely from concussion.  Mike Blunden and Patrick Holland have been called up to fill up the now very banged-up Canadiens roster.

More later today.

Mondays. Blah.


Final Score: Nashville 2, Montreal 1

Okay, let's break it down.

Corsi (all): Preds 57.3%, Habs 43.7
Galchenyuk: 75.8%
Gallagher: 75.7%
Eller: 71.4%
Gionta: 38.7%
Plekanec: 32.4%
White: 26.1%
Moen: 23.8%

Fenwick (all): Preds: 57.6%, Habs 42.4%
Eller: 71.4%
Gallagher: 68.0%
Galchenyuk: 67.0%

White: 27.8%
Plekanec: 25.0%
Moen: 18.8%

First, let's get this out of the way: The officiating was inexcusably poor. From Subban being called two minutes for "embezzlement", to the unpenalized head hit to Briere, to the ridiculously bald interference on Gionta, to the worst sin of them all - Chris Rooney signaling a score that he later admitted he never saw cross the goal line in the first place.

Believe it or not, I actually do minor league officiating, and within that system, they constantly remind those who are learning to officiate, never guess a call. Last night, after the reply was inconclusive, the officials gathered, discussed the play, and unilaterally waved the original call off. Which is to say, Rooney fessed up that he blew the call - he hadn't actually seen the puck cross the line. The control center in Toronto, I'm sure, told Rooney "sorry, replay shows nothing, you screwed it up, you sort it out." So, in accordance to the rule book, the officials made the right call.

But Rooney's original call was a cardinal sin. You might see that from someone just learning the ropes, but you should never see that from a guy who's been officiating the League for more than 10 years.

Anyways. The game. The advanced stats confirmed my maddening inclinations - the Eller line was having one heck of a game, the Plekanec line was a mess, and still ... and yet ... Therrien insisted on starting Plekanec on each and every Habs 3rd period powerplay. In other words, for reasons that are beyond me, Therrien doesn't seem inclined to access his best performing offensive units when their utility is required most.

One other thought. The Habs 4th line, Bournival (who played just fine) excluded, had probably their worst game of the season. Ryan White and Travis Moen were a positional mess last night, and while White was delivering some nice hits in the 3rd, Therrien deployed his weakest performing players of that evening out with less than 2 minutes on the clock: Moen (18.8%), Gionta (33.%) and for whatever reason, Desharnais (43.8%). Yeah, Seth Jones scored a pretty, pretty goal to win the game, but the replay shows that most of the guys wearing red and white were badly out of position, providing Jones an unmolested lane to gain a high percentage shooting position. Game. Over.

Critically, though, Therrien somehow wasn't recognizing that the EGG line was really rumbling out there, and even if he did spot the obvious, still didn't utilize them to their full potential in the 3rd.

That, folks, is how you arrive at a frustrating defeat.

Third Period:

- 2nd period stats, Preds 61.5% Corsi (combined), 67.8% Fenwick (combined). Those are pretty dismal numbers, if you're wearing a C and an H.

- Crazy. Just crazy. Lars Eller just doesn't stop. Gallchenyuk drives the net, and Eller shoves in the puck off his rebound.

- We think. They're looking to see if it crossed the line.

- Eller's reaction is telling that it crossed the line, but no replay seems to definitely show the puck crossed the line.

- Thing is, the original call by Rooney was a goal, so the reply must show clearly that the puck was kept out. I don't see that.

- Hmmm. The official ruling is that in the opinion of the four officials it didn't cross the line? Huh?? But why did the official call it a goal in the first place???

- Okay, still don't understand that call. It's been a rough night for Martell and Rooney.

- Bournivall continues to have solid shifts, continues to be mostly stapled to the Habs bench. What's a guy gotta do?

- Well at the very least, Habs have been the better team in this 3rd. Outshooting Preds by two at the halfway mark.

- Really solid shift by Ryan White, three solid hits alone. Habs hoping the Preds will wear down as 3rd progresses.

- Again, Therrien puts out PP first line Plekanec/Gionta, and again it goes nowhere.

- Nasty collision by Prust into the backboards. He looks he's favoring his leg. No dirty play there, he simply lost his balance going in too hard, too fast. Meanwhile behind the play, Gionta is hit nowhere close to the puck. Officials don't call it. Maddening.

- Therrien now sends out Deshairnas/Bourque and the powerplay really goes nowhere fast.

- I just don't quite understand the strategy here. It's not as though the Habs are up or down 3 goals, and the coach is experimenting with some line combos, looking to get his slumping players moving again. The game is tied late-ish into the 3rd - you have the man advantage, you don't mess around. You send out your tops guns. Ah, well.

- Okay. Another powerplay, very late in the 3rd. Therrien goes with Plekanec/Gionta/Bourque. I gives up. I GIVESSSZ UUUUP.

- Disastrous. That shift drew boos. Now finally EGG line comes out, but it's too late.

- Well, that was deserved. Subban and Georges get caught out of position, Ginota out of position, and the Preds' Jones makes a brilliant move and scores with 94 seconds left. Not a cool results for Habs, but a highlight-reel goal for Jones.

- Not one of Markov's best nights controlling the puck at the line.

- Habs had plenty of opportunities in the 3rd, but Therrien wouldn't put out his most dangerous players, in particular with specialty units. Just deserts - the Preds dominated the first 35 minutes but didn't have the lead. Their win tonight was fair and square. They were the better team.

- Frustrating loss. Post-game breakdown in a bit.


Second Period:

- After having an excellent outing Thursday night against Columbus, Michael Bournival got 90 seconds of icetime in the first. Can't explain the inexplicable.

- Preds 1st period team Fenwick was 86% Yup. Eighty. Six. Percent.

- Preds very nice puck movement on their man advantage tonight. You'd never know they came into the game with the 17th ranked powerplay.

- Briere's head targeted by Nystrom. Somehow either missed or not called by the officials.

- How'd that gaping net get missed? Nashville might look back at that play if the Habs are able to find something resembling a game.

-  And there you have it. Gallagher pushes one home off a loose puck. The game is tied. Preds are getting robbed here.

- Bourque gets nabbed again. This time for a trip. That's 6 powerplays for Nashville, and counting.

- Briere is gone for the night. League might review that head shot he took.

- ICYWW, tonight's referees are Rob Martell and Chris Rooney. 30 years of NHL officiating experienced combined. You might have thought otherwise watching tonight's contest.

- Not quite as lobsided as the first, but still not a very good period by the Habs. Too many penalties, too much soft play in their zone. On the upside, the Predators seem to be jinxed, outworking, out-hustling, out-passing, out-shooting and dominating possession. But they're not ahead on the scoreboard. They're a team simply not taking advantage of opportunities - not burying their opponents. If Habs somehow win this game, it'll be robbery.


First Period:

- Tinordi gets the call tonight, Beaulieu will sit. Actually, Beaulieu will be rejoining the Bulldogs. So, that's that.

- Eller line gets first shift, and it takes them less than 30 seconds to create a good scoring opportunity.

- Given how they're struggling so much for goal production, Preds' margin for error is pretty thin tonight.

- Clunky play by Diaz putting the puck over the glass, unforced error gives Nashville early man advantage. On the bight side, at least this means Diaz won't be on the PK. 

- Early on Price looks right in the zone. Two very tough saves off labeled wrist shots (and counting).

- Habs have early possession edge, but Predators have had better scoring chances.

- Sweet setup by Briere to Bourque. I think Briere could become a far more effective forward if he focuses more on the setup. He's still very able in that department.

- Josh Gorges banged up a bit on his first shift. Have only seen him for one complete shift since then.

- Therrien continues to insist on using Diaz on the PK. Still haven't figured that out yet.

- More unforced errors. Ryan White deposits the puck over the glass, and the Preds have 39 seconds of 5-on-3.

- Subban comes out, just as Weber deposits the puck off Gorges' leg behind Price, and into the open net. Bad luck for the Habs, Preds take early lead.

- Safe to say the first 15 minutes, the Habs are getting stomped, both ends of the ice. Habs defense far too passive, even with consideration to all the penalties taken so far.

- With Markov/Subban at the line, Therrien sends out Plekanec/Gionta/Bourque to start the man advantage. It largely goes nowhere. Then Bourque draws a hold. Next time let's start the EGG line, eh coach?

- Shots are 14-3 Nashville. A minor miracle the Canadiens are only down 1-0.

- I think the Habs have had only one "dangerous" shift so far, that was the first one of the game. Since then ... oy. It's not been pretty.

- Tinordi, who's not been nearly as rough and tumble as we saw last spring, jawing it up at the Preds' bench. He'll need to play with more of an edge if he hopes to solidify a starting position.

- Oy. He's calling that for diving, isn't he? Yup. Once again the refs are targeting Subban AGAIN. It was a clear-cut trip by Nystrom on Subban. Which means not only do the Habs not get the extra man advantage, they lose their biggest powerplay weapon.

- Ref announces call on Subban for "embezzlement." I'd say that's an accurate description of the call itself.

- Diaz is no P.K. Subban on the powerplay.

- Diaz gets the hook, Bouillon takes his spot.

- And Bouillon makes a terrible cross ice pass to a crease full of Preds, powerplay is snuffed.

- Ugly, ugly, ugly 20 minutes for the Canadiens. Outshot 14-6, possession was terrible, and if wasn't for Price, this game could easily be 3-0 Nashville.

Gameday Game Preview:

The Montreal Canadiens look to win their 5th game in a row as they host the Nashville Predators tonight at the Bell Centre. The Habs are coming off a hard-fought win off the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, a game where they surrendered a 3-0 2nd period lead, before Thomas Plekanec saved the day with a game winning goal with little more than a minute left in the 3rd period.

So those Nashville Predators. They were, not long ago, considered the team of the future. And why not? They had (have?) the best coach in the business in Barry Trotz, who's now entering his 15th year behind the Nashville bench. However, the economics of the game has hit the Predators hard, resulting in the team losing the irreplaceable Ryan Suter (who departed to Minnesota). The Preds simply couldn't compete with the Wild's $100m offer (little compensation that even with Suter, Minnesota still hasn't found its way out of the post-season wilderness, and they're off to a slow start this season).

Trotz is at the moment, the longest surviving coach in the League. That strand of that longevity, however, seems to becoming thinner as Nashville goes through another rebuilding process - there are rumors that Tortz may be on the chopping block if Nashville fails to live up to expectations.

Thing is, what are reasonable expectations? This is a club whose offense is in the midst of a full rebuild - and so far this year, their outputs are reflecting this painful process. With the 26th rated offense, Nashville is leaning on players like the struggling Matt Cullen to pick up some slack, for which there is plenty with Mike Fisher leading the team in scoring with just 5 points.

The Preds, not surprisingly, play a game with emphasis on possession, a reflection of Trotz philosophy. They had, by reasonable measure, a decent outing against the L.A. Kings in their last start Thursday night, out-possessing and out-chancing the Kings by a substantial margin, but nonetheless, still losing to L.A. in a shootout. Their offense simply hasn't been able to finish the play.

So tonight, the Preds take on the semi-hot Habs, with the Canadiens benefiting from stellar play by Carey Price, who's off to his best season start in years. Also (seemingly) warming up is Habs centre Thomas Plekanec, who scored two on Thursday night, and Brian Gionta, who got off to a terrible start his first 6 games, had his best game of the season against Columbus. Plekanec and Gionta's contributions were good timing for the Habs, as the team's number one line of Eller/Galchenyuk and Gallagher have cooled off of late. As long as the Habs have contributions coming from other lines when their top line doesn't produce, they should be okay.

Puck drops tonight at 7:15 EST.


Okay, now that we've reminded you that it's the end of the week, GOOD NEWS. Other than, of course, the Habs are on a four game winning streak. The MRI results are in, and Max Pacioretty has been diagnosed with a strained hamstring, which for you non-medical types out there means ... well ... here's Harvey Keitel to deliver you the prognosis:

Max is expected to return to action around mid-November.

More later.

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