Thursday, 28 March 2013

Game Thirty-Four: Rangers vs. Habs

First Period:

- Rick Nash gets his first start of the night. Just our luck. Anything to help the Rangers' ridiculously awful power play.

- Rangers were supposed to be where the Habs are now, so methinks Tortorella and company will be playing a little desperate tonight. Carey Price will start, hoping he'll get his game back on track after a tough 40 minutes in Boston.

- Full disclosure, I'm currently on a flight to Montreal so my blogging will probably cease somewhere in the second period.

- Michael Ryder continues his excellent play, Rangers get caught on a line change and 47 seconds in, Habs grab the lead. Terrible start for New York.

- 25 points for Subban now, and this for someone who missed three weeks of the season and had no training camp. That's why he's now a prominent Norris trophy candidate.

- For the most part Rangers have responded well to the Ryder goal, they're being very aggressive with the forecheck in Habs zone, doing their best to crash in front of Price.

- 8 shots for Rangers in 8 minutes. That's got to be concerning for the Canadiens.

- Plekanec line looks excellent early going. They've already scored one, fully expecting more.

- Price solid so far, his SP against the Rangers this season now over .980. Think he's got their number?

- Gorges and Emelin can't let Gabarik sneak behind them like that. Price bails then out, but he can't do it all night long.

- Rangers power play fails to produce again, but unlike previous games this season against the Habs, tonight it actually looks dangerous.

- And the Plekanec line does indeed strike again, this time it's Plekanec along the wing on a 2-on-1, and Biron ... ehhh ...

- Crazy as this sounds, Rangers were the better team in that period, generating numerous quality chances, but Price was excellent, and Habs offense meanwhile, capitalized. Tortorella must be awfully frustrated. It's just not the Rangers' year.

Second Period:

- Well, my flight is being called, so the end is near for updates. Just hoping Price continues his excellent play for 40 more minutes, and the Plekanec line keeps stormin' along. Still thing Rangers are more than in this game, they just need to bury their chances.

- Price continues to be solid, just made fine save on Richards off the break, but this game is starting to settle in a bit now.

- For so many times this year, it starts with a Subban rocket from the point, this time Desharnais and Gallagher swarming for the rebound, Gallagher cashing in. Rangers really in tough now down 3-0.

- Gallagher playing extra fearless tonight, driving Biron crazy when he's not also busy driving Rangers' defense crazy shot blocking.

- Solid 2nd period for Habs, they're simply too much for New York, whose offense looks cursed. They are a team missing fundamental chemistry. Goes to show you can throw big money at big names but if the bunch doesn't gel, wins come very hard.

Gameday Game Update:

- This just announced a few minutes ago, Habs have placed Thomas Kaberle on waivers, saving a mere $900,000K off this season's cap. Yeah, we knew he was untradable, but still, trying to figure this move out. Saves virtually nothing on the cap, we have two others injured, Weber and Diaz (the later might be season-ending), which leaves a significant burden on the two very young guys - Tinordi and Beaulieu.

Huh. There's gotta be something else about to happen.

Roster Moves

Interesting stuff this morning. First, the good news. Brandon Prust will be playing tomorrow night against the Rangers, meaning he'll play on the third line along side Eller and Galchenyuk. Colby Armstrong will be shifted down to the fourth line, which will greatly benefit Eller, who struggled to adapt to Armstong's general offensive incompetence. Not a slag on Colby, but his role has and always will be to bolster grinders.

Now the interesting moves. Jarred Tinordi has been sent back to Hamilton, which many assumed would mean either Yannick Weber or Tomas Kaberle would start Saturday night. However, late this morning Nathan Beaulieu was called up. What to make of that? With the Habs now entering an extended period of home dates, is Bergevin wanting to see if Beaulieu is NHL-capable? Or, is a trade being prepared that involves Weber? Or is Beaulieu, who is frequently mentioned as the "prospect candidate" involving a trade, being showcased?

More later.


Sheesh, Tuukka! Why so mad bro? OH RIGHT, THIS:

The Boston Bruins. LOL.

More later.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Game Thirty-Three: Habs vs. Bruins

First Period:

- Alright, Habs need to start producing now offensively. Leadership starts with Plekanec, so it needs to start with him.

- Plekanec great feed to Ryder after a Chara turnover. Rask with fine shoulder save,

- Brilliant puck control by Plekanec who finds Ryder totally free in the circle, and this time, he finally delivers. Habs 1-0.

- Habs totally dominating pace, Bruins losing patience and discipline. Now Canadiens to the powerplay.

- Don't wanna hex this, but Price is razor sharp tonight.

- Speaking of fine performances, Subban's been a rock so far, especially providing Price plenty of protection in the slot.

- Excellent period for the Habs, they commanded the tempo, were the more aggressive forechecking team, had more energy, even though they played just 24 hours earlier in Pittsburgh.

Second Period:

- Lots of talk tonight that Habs are aggressively pursuing Ryan Clowe, who would most certainly fill the void I wrote about last night. I just don't see Bergevin giving up what the Sharks are probably asking (1st + high prospect).

- Wow what a blast by Subban from the line. Rask screened, that shot was totally unstoppable. Habs 2-0.

- Hamilton quickly responds, crossbar hit, Bruins swarm, Habs defense and forwards in total meltdown mode. 2-1. Habs need to slow this thing down quickly.

- Price giving up juicy rebounds, fortunately well covered by his defense, but still, far too generous.

- This game now way too wide open. Just ice the puck. Slow this down NOW.

- Wow, what a rush by Subban, who's playing out of mind tonight. That had goal of the year potential if Rusk doesn't sprawl out the left pad.

- A tepid first period, very well played by the Canadiens, is now unravelling into a barn-burner. The pace certainly has gone into another gear.

- How was Marchand that wide open. Emelin and Markov off in lala land. Oy.

- If Tinordi feels the wrath for positional errors, Emelin justly should see more pine for the rest of the night.

- If Lucic doesn't look up a split second before the Subban express arrived, he'd probably still be on the ice.

- Marchand all alone AGAIN on a breakaway, but Price makes the kind of glove save you dream about. Only elite goaltenders need apply. That save was masterful.

- Eller gets called for the trip/hook on Thornton, my first reaction was to look for an embellishment call. Didn't happen. Should have happened.

- And Bergeron converts off a juicy rebound in front. Price had no idea where the puck was, and when he did, it was too late. Bruins simply too much to handle in the 2nd.

- Horton now. Emelin and Markov on the ice for three of Boston's goals tonight. That one was Andrei's fault. Game out of control now simply because the Habs couldn't or wouldn't slow the pace after the Bruins' first goal.

- Bruins totally dominated the 2nd. The tempo, which was in the Habs' grasp, was totally ripped away after Subban scored to give the Canadiens a 2 goal lead. Now they're down 2, and hopes are dim, very dim, for recovery, unless they can somehow reclaim the game on their terms. Awfully tough when your down this far with just 20 minutes left.

Third Period:

- Price pulled for Budaj, which is an interesting move. Lets hope it's not signifying an injury?

- Unbelievably, the Bruins get caught on a Habs change, creating a 2-on-1, Plekanec a sweet feed to Ryder, and it's a one goal game. Plekanec and Subban bringing their "A" effort tonight.

- Habs with terrific initiative this period, definitely have wrangled back some momentum, and it's generating powerplays. Here's hoping.

- Budaj has made two excellent saves to keep his team in the game. He might earn himself a start on Saturday night, if Price is feeling exhaustion.

- Segin. And again Emelin and Markov were on the ice. That's four tonight. Why Therrien didn't split them up earlier, I hope he's asked during the post-mortem presser, 'cause folks, this one is done.

- Hold that phone. Lucky bounce and Gallagher slips it past Rask. 5-4. Could they actually pull this one out of the fire?

- Shades of last game in Boston! Chara, for whatever reason, just had a meltdown and has been sent to the box. Habs now with huge powerplay opportunity.

- Of course the Bruins never embellish, right?

- Two minutes left. Do we have a hero?

- Wow. Delay of game. One last powerplay chance, with an empty net. 6-on-4. Hold on to your hats.


- They're saying the Markov shot went off Chara, but thought for sure Gallaher redeflected it in. No matter, an incredible, gutsy comeback.


- Incredible pace to this OT. Game of the year.

- Emelin. Tripping. Ugh.

- 80 seconds of agony. That's what's left to kill.

- Budaj, with the clock expiring. GREAT save. What an incredible game.


- This heavily favours the Bruins. Heavily.

- Deshairnas ... Is it? Controversy.

- No goal. Ugh.

- Budaj goes 3-for-3 and Eller for win.

- Nope. Extras now.

- Marchand no. Ryder now.

- Oh dear. Wasted opportunities.

- Budaj. Wow. Does he look great. One more chance to win.

- Plekanec, nope.

- ANOTHER chance.



Gameday Game Preview: 

Is it time to freak out yet? I really don't quite see the reason why we need to worry about OMG OMG FOUR GAMES JUST ONE WIN?!?! OMG OMG THE WORLD IS ENDING.  IGJSGO()$#UUH*#($&H iF)(&&H S%&#&H %##%Y#%H %&#%@& U*FWWG(%&#&# NFGISJVU)&!GUW\\ GLAARRAAAAAARPHHHHH GLUBBBBBBB.

But yeah, so we've kinda hit a little "dip" in the road, haven't we? Ugh, that loss last night to the Pens. It still burns. That's two straight losses where the Habs clearly outplayed their opponent, shots, fenwick, Corsi, but for the lack of offense, simply could not convert.

That is the problem right now. We aren't quite scoring. We're doing what you're supposed to do in order to generate offense, but it isn't happening. Stoned by Miller on Saturday, and stoned by ourselves and a couple of crossbars against the Penguins, they just aren't going in. Sometimes things seem to just go your way, sometimes, as in the entire 2011-12 season, things seem to never go your way.

But there are a few culprits worth examining. Shall we do a role call?

David Desharnais - 3 points last 10 games.
Brendan Gallagher - 2 points last 5 games.
Brain Gionta - 1 point last 5 games.
Lars Eller - 2 points last 8 games.
Alex Galchenyuk - 1 point last 5 games.

These are the players this team leans on heavily to produce since this team is based on shared production. No massive point producers, but no laggers either. So when we experience lag by three or four key forwards, winning suddenly becomes very difficult.

So tonight! Production please from the above mentioned. We need it. First place on the Division continues to be in play, and in case you hadn't noticed lately, the Bruins haven't been setting the world on fire. They've lost 3 of their past 5, basically surrendering the games in hand advantage they held over the Habs two weeks ago. So they're beatable.

The Bruins, as per usual, come at you from all directions with three very balanced lines, fronted by the Krejci and Bergeron lines. So while checking assignments become more challenging, the Habs have played an excellent possession game through this current "slump", resulting in losses even while they've dominated the shot clock.

Which just goes to show, you can hold the puck all night, but if you can't put it over the line, it don't mean nothin'.

Tuukka Rask will start for Boston. Carey Price for the Habs. Puck drops at precisely 7:40 EST. First place on the line.

MEANWHILE ... just to brigten your day a little, check out this wonderful clip from last night's intermission in Chicago. I'd pity you if you didn't. ENJOY TONIGHT'S GAME:

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.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Game Thirty-One: Sabres vs. Habs

Gameday Game Preview:

Ah, sweet weekend. Ye hath arrived. It's my last weekend chattering my teeth in western Canada before I begin my treck to Montreal, where I'll be live blogging the games from the best pubs the city has to offer. It's a hard job without pay, but somebody's gotta do it!

Another game, another win, another injury for the Habs. Ryan White is out day-to-day with a lower body injury, and Mike Blunden will get his chance to show his stuff tonight on the 4th line.

Here are the Habs lines, based on this morning's practice:

1st Line: Ryder - Plekanec - Gionta
2nd Line: Pacioretty - Desharnais - Gallagher
3rd Line: Galchenyuk - Eller - Armstrong
4th Line: Moen - Dumont - Blunden

Carey Price will start tonight, although with the two mammoth games coming up next week against the Pens and Bruins, tonight is as good a night as any to rest him against the struggling Sabres.

We'll have a bit more about those Sabres later today.

Player Movement Update:

Bourque Regression? Looks like a bit of bad news for Rene Bourque. After practicing with the team for much of the week, including non-contact play on Wednesday and Thusday, Bourque missed Friday and this morning's practice. Therrien said he knows nothing about Bourque's status, and there's been no team updates. Still, when you see a player regress during concussion recovery, it's never a good sign of things to come.

Habs Claim Halpern Here's a bit of a blast from the past, Canadiens claimed Jeff Halpern off waivers from the Rangers this morning, which either tells us that Petteri Nokelainen has regressed in his recovery, or Bergevin is cooking up a deal that would involve someone on the 4th line (White?).

Or maybe White's injury is far more serious than anyone is letting on? Anyway, the Halpern move is interesting.

More Updates:

Ryan Miller will start tonight, while Thomas Vanek, who took s wicked shot off his hip in his game against the Habs, will return tonight. Drew Stafford is a healthy scratch, Nathan Gerbe will take his spot.

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.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Game Twenty-Eight: Habs vs. Devils

First Period:

- Oh yes, Chris Lee will ref tonight's game. Oh, joy. First Habs game Lee's worked this season. I assume he's been saving up his usual menu of terrible calls for this game.

- Let's hope the last 57 minutes aren't as dreadful as the first 3 have been. Zzzzz ...

- Devils' offense so far really working hard to feed the point for long shots at Price, looking for redeflects and rebounds, I'd reckon.

- May fall asleep soon if something resembling exciting doesn't happen soon. Both team defenses are dominating so far.

- Thank goodness. Colby Armstrong finally gets his name on the goal scorers column. Habs score that critical first goal. Congrats to Colby. It's already a big night.

- Pretty goal actually by Armstrong. Great forecheck created a giveaway followed by a great wrister up under the bar. Hedberg didn't have much of a chance.

- Even though I think the Habs would have little difficulty, please, oh please, I hope these two teams don't meet in the post-season. I don't think I could handle two weeks of this.

- Hedberg dropped his stick and while trying to pick it up off the ice, Gorges took a shot from the point, the puck grazing the post. Devils very fortunate there.

- Habs strong in the circle so far, leading 14-7.

- 15-7 now. That observance underscoring the Devils' biggest roster weakness, a lack of depth at centre.

- Pacioretty looking dangerous tonight. Watch for that.

- Good puck movement by Habs on their first powerplay.

- PP doing its best to set Subban up for the cannon, but he's done a mini-wiff on his two tries.

- Good road period for the Habs, basically controlled much of the tempo, Devils with 7 shots on Price, none of them particularly dangerous.

Second Period:

- Chris Lee show begins, terrible call on White for holding the stick.

- It only figures that the Devils strike on the powerplay. Eller flagrantly tripped right in front of the official trying to shoot the puck out of Habs zone. No call made. Three seconds later, goal. Bad officiating more often than not has a direct impact on the final score.

- Just wow. With the puck at his feet, Moen called by Lee for smothering the puck. And on it goes.

- Subban out for every second of Habs 3rd powerplay.

- Plekanec furious, believe he was hit in the face by a high stick. If so, it was, of course, missed.

- Following that penalty, it now appears that White has more or less been relegated to bench duty.

- Good push-back period for New Jersey, the Habs once again have a 2nd period mini let-down. I'm at a loss to explain this phenomenon and why it's happen so frequently this season, but it's robbing the Habs of "cruise" games against clearly inferior opponents. Tonight is a classic example.

Third Period:

- Devils' Harrold, with visor, takes a puck off the nose courtesy a Markov shot deflected by Pacioretty. Ouch.

- Devils have picked up right where the 2nd period stopped, and that's bad news for the Habs.

- Got the feeling Price will have to deliver a few game savers before this one is done. He struggled with that his past half dozen starts.

- Yowza! Wretched clearance by Devils Zidlicky up the middle, Tinordi intercepts and wastes no time firing at Hedberg, Plekanec the deflection to give outplayed Habs 2-1 lead. Tinordi, who's been very solid tonight, might have just earned himself a few more starts.

- Feeding off that goal, Habs turning on the jets, Devils pinned in their zone.

- Therrien recognizing and rewarding. Tinordi now getting more shifts.

- Subban at 20 feet, 100 mph. Not sure if Hedberg is brave or insane for coming out hard to block that shot.

- Devils just don't have the horses on forward. How they're in 6th at this point is fascinating.

- Kinda hoping for one more. Just to make sure about this thing.

- Habs D holding steady here. Devils' chances have been mostly limited and contained.

- Icing waved off for some reason, Devils nearly score, Price with a nice save. 1:24 left. Critical faceoff here deep in Habs zone.

- Price with those big game saves the final minute. And so we return to normality.

- Excellent road win for the Habs, their 5th in a row, and they vault back into first in the East. Habs defense particularly good, providing Price with clear vision for most of the New Jersey attempts, making most of them harmless. Canadiens get two days of rest before facing cellar-dweller Sabres.

Pregame Preview

Oh dear, we're no longer in first.

The Habs aren't getting a whole lot of help in their attempts to create some distance in the race for first place. The Bruins won again today, 4-1 over the hapless Caps. The Sens won today, 4-3 in OT over the even more hapless Sabres. The Pens won today, their (gulp!) eight straight, 3-0 over the pathetically hapless Rangers. Remember how just about everyone had New York as their pre-season Stanley Cup winner? Pretty sure almost nobody who picked the Rangers then is still riding that train now.

Then again, who picked the Habs for first? Don't bother googling. Nobody did. Not even yours truly. We (well, mostly I) got burned big-time last year by thinking the Habs were going to be very competitive. Well that's all in the past. We live for the present, and right now, the only thing we have be concerned about is our playoff spot.

Oh yeah. And injuries.

We've got another one, sad to say. Mike Ryder is out tonight with a lower body injury. I guess that confirms speculation during the Sens game that something was wrong. Hopefully, he won't be out long, because for the most part, Ryder has been a terrific acquisition.

The usual injury suspects include Bourque (out who knows when), and Diaz. Bourque, in case you missed it, has been practicing with the team, but there's no timetable for return.

SO ... tonight! Habs are taking on the Devils, sans Martin Brodeur (whew), who's reportedly close to return from his back injury, but not close enough to start tonight. Johan Hedberg will probably get the start, although I wouldn't be shocked in the Devils go with their backup backup Jeff Frazee.

Habs are hot, hot, hot - not Pittsburgh hot mind you, but still, they're gunning for their 5th straight win. Devils, after their fast start to the season, have come back to the pack a bit, sitting 6th in the East with 32 points. That's not too shabby given the general consensuses among the experts was that the Devils would be sitting somewhere near the bottom, mainly because their offense was deemed far too thin to compete.

Some considerations. Habs powerplay is ranked 8th in the League with 9th ranked offense overall, Devils 19th on the man advantage, 14th ranked offense overall. Penalty kill is mediocre both sides, Montreal 17th, New Jersey 19th overall. One stat to keep an eye out for, first goal winning percentages. When Habs score first, their winning percentage is ranked 12th, while Jersey is ranked 6th. When opponent scores first, Habs winning percentage is ranked 4th (nice!), but Jersey is ranked wayyy down in 23rd place. So New Jersey does not play well when trailing. In other words, in case I haven't over explained this enough, the first goal between these two teams looks pretty important.

Carey Price will start for the Habs tonight. Of course.

Puck drops 7:10 EST. For FIRST PLACE AGAIN!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Game Twenty-Seven: Sens vs. Habs

Are we still in first? Holy moly, thank you Pittsburgh. We are! The Bruins somehow managed to cough up a late 3rd period two goal lead, falling to the Pens 3-2, and keeping Boston a point behind (Bruins still have two games in hand, details, details).

Tonight! The boys are home finally after concluding the roaring success that was their 5 game road trip, winning 8 out of 10 points. Their opponents tonight, the Senators of Ottawa, have managed to hobble along in the East, overwhelmed with critical injuries, but still able to win enough to keep them competitive for a playoff spot. Who knows how long that'll continue, or whether they'll stymie the Canadiens like they did two weeks ago, when 12 foot 4 inch Ben Bishop stood on his head and stopped 148 shots to steal a win in Montreal.

The obvious strategy would of course start Bishop again tonight, right? But nope, the Sens are going with backup backup Robin Lehner. I dunno. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but that call seems a bit too counterintuitive,

Carey Price will start for the Habs, as will Ryan White, while Brandon Prust spends the next week or so trying to shove his left shoulder back into its socket. Ouch.

Game time is 7:10 EST for some odd reason. I'll have limited first period postings, but I'll be joining up with the live blog full time probably early in the 2nd.

First Period

- Dumont with some nice work digging the puck up from behind the net and feeding Eller who does even better driving the net. Classic Therrien breed hockey, Habs grab the early lead.

- Sens doing a little line matching, sending out their scorers against the White line, pinning the Habs in their zone. Price holds the fort. Expect that 4th line to see very limited action tonight.

- Zibinejad a beauty feed received in the slot from Silfverberg, and the Sens tie it on the powerplay. What can ya do? Stay out of the box.

- Much like the rest of the team, the Habs PK, so solid last year while the team mired in last place, isn't nearly as effective this season, with the team settled in first. Go figure. Nonetheless, the PK must be an area of concern for Bergevin and Therrien.

- Evenly played period, Habs outshooting 17-13, but Sens were definitely the more physical team. One reckons it'll be, as usual between these two, a closely fought contest with a narrow final score.

Second Period

- Excellent interference call on Mark Stone for body checking Moen after the dump in. That's the kind of call, if consistently made, will make this League more exciting to watch.

- Sweet feed by Subban to Pacioretty who snaps it through Lehner's legs. That's 19 points for Subban in 21 games. Crazy good production.

- Class A save by Price, reaching back to cover and hold the loose puck. Markov gets penalized for protecting his goaltender.

- Gallagher has been given credit for the Habs second goal. Bit of a cheapie as it deflected off his stick but Patches shot was well on its way to going in.

- Ryder hurt? Haven't seen him anywhere near the bench.

- Subban is a machine. Now 7 goals 13 assists in 21 games. That's amazing production. 3-1 Habs.

- Price making big game saves tonight. He's right back in form.

- Ugh. Killer goal by Alfredsson with 1.5 seconds left. Should shut up about my "big save" comments. No way that goal should be let in.

- Habs basically in total control until Price gave up that goal. So instead of cruise mode, Habs will have to fight hard to close this out in the 3rd.

Third Period

- Oh Carey. I shall never sing your praises again. Weircoich with a snap shot through Price's legs. Two softies and poof, the game is officially no longer in control.

- Ryder back? Could use a powerplay goal from him here.

- Terrible decision by Emelin to break for the puck creates clear cut 2-on-1, but Price with an excellent pad save. Can't have that happen in a tie game, 3rd period.

- Habs are creating significant pressure in Sens zone and drawing powerplays left and right. Need to cash in here.

- Tremendous pressure by Habs on that PP. Sens just barely hung on. Subban's slapshot is terrifying.

- Eller can really put on a dazzling show some times. Habs would be nuts to dangle him as trade bait, as it was rumoured earlier this season.

- Oh man. What a backcheck by Eller who then feeds Galchenyuk and poings it off the post. Excellent game by Eller tonight.

- Point is a point, but that was a sure-fire "W" that slipped away. Habs with oodles of chances, 3 powerplays in the 3rd alone, but just couldn't find that winner. Overtime we go.


- Not Price's forte, these OTs. Here's hoping that changes.

- Oh man, PK, you gotta blast that in.

- Eller just not giving up tonight. Another tremendous backcheck and nearly wins the game with seconds left on the clock. He deserves at least a try in the shootout for all the hard work he's done tonight.

- Shootout. Galchenyuk. Wow. The usual.

- Nice blocker save by Price on Alfredsson.

- Silfverberg making Price look not so good. Price was way too deep in his net.


- Price closes the door. Two points salvaged. Eller and Subban toss up for player of the night. Both were fantastic.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Game Twenty-Six: Habs vs. Panthers

Third Period

- So I've just arrived for the third, and it doesn't look like I've missed much, with the Habs handily ahead 4-0. Great to see Budaj gunning for another shutout. Actually, when was the last time he surrendered a goal? It's been awhile.

- Reading over the gamesheet, wow what a shutdown game by the Habs defense. Just 12 shots surrendered so far? Very nice.

- What's this? Ryder with a goal finally? Assist to boot. He's really been an excellent acquisition, certainly has played very well this road trip, which looks to be a huge success for the Canadiens.

- Panthers offense looks, at least from what I've seen on the 3rd, pretty disorganized. Passing also looks sloppy. Thinking Budaj's had it pretty routine.

- Goodbye shutout, as Bouillon shoots a loose puck at his own net and past Budaj. Tough way to loose the goose egg.

- White line with a pesky shift. I wasn't too crazy about the White scratches, so if there's any upside to the Prust injury (and this is pretty much it) it's that White can count on anger 8-10 starts.

- Panthers making it interesting, Matthais with a wrister that handcuffed Budaj, making him look entirely like the second string goaltender that he is. 4-2.

- Goofy holding call on Versteeg there. Emelin lost his balance trying to rotate backwards to forward. Versteeg's hand had little to so with Emelin's tumble.

- I wonder if a "make up" call against the Habs is on the way?

- Doesn't matter. Subban with a blast, Ryder the redeflect for his 2nd of the game. 5-2.

- Easy win today, Habs sweep the season set in Florida. A very, very successful five game trip, 8 out of 10 points. The Habs closing in on the point where a playoff spot is safely assumed, if we haven't reached that milestone already. Beyond that, the Habs can start preparing themselves for the postseason, where Bergevin can look to fill some needs for the playoff run. The Habs are a contender, so they must prepare as one.

About last night ...

Excellent win last night by the Canadiens, there's really no other way to describe it. The 3rd period was pure mastery, with the offense shifting to a higher gear, while the team defense essentially gave Carey Price 20 minutes of doing nothing other than standing around.

A costly victory, though. By now you've probably heard about the nasty collision Brandon Prust took into the boards after an icing chase. Stupid icing - the League needs to make that an automatic call before somebody gets killed. No word yet about the extent of the injury, but be fully prepared for the Habs to say "upper body injury, out indefinitely". It looked bad.

Tonight the Habs complete their five game road trip in Miami Sunrise. A win tonight will give the team a season sweep in their Florida swings. It'll also give them 8 out of 10 points on the trip, which would be an unqualified success.

Expect the same lineup as what we saw in Tampa, although with Prust out, it'll likely mean that Ryan White will be reinserted, and I'm thinking maybe Peter Budaj will get the start, even though the Habs face a relatively light schedule ahead with only 2 games in 8 days.

Puckdrop is early! 6:10 EST, which for yours truly, runs smack into a scheduling conflict. So likely no first period blogging, I'm hoping to join the action sometime into the second.

Other Stuff From Last Night ...

- Nobody is doing the Habs favors, the Bruins just keep on winning, a shutout over the Flyers yesterday afternoon.

- Islanders continue to be sneaky good. Another win over the "who-knows-if-they-suck?" Washington Capitals. The Isles with that hummin' powerplay, are my pick for a surprise playoff berth.

- Pens kinda blew a big lead over the Leafs, but prevailed in a shootout, 5-4. So Habs just keeping pace with the Pens, and gain only 1 point on Toronto. Stupid extra point OT rule.

- Kings are rollin, rollin, rollin. A pretty easy win last night against the slowly extinguishing Flames. Man, is there gonna be a front office bloodbath in Calgary after this season is done.

- Former powerhouse Detroit continues to chart a course towards not making the playoffs since the first term of the Clinton Administration, losing yesterday to ... holy cow ... Columbus?

Game Twenty-Five: Habs vs. Bolts

No pregame preview tonight, just to mention Ryan White out, Dumont in, and Tampa starting a relative unknown with Cedrick Dejardins. Should be interesting.

First Period

- Figures that Ryder would hit a goal scoring drought the moment he's traded to us, but he's doing his level best out there, creating turnovers and two quality chances. Tampa sloppy in their own zone early.

- Ryder with fine puck control, taking shot, he's following the Pacioretty formula - just get something in, and the gates should open. Dejardins has been pretty steady so far.

- Tampa leads 6-5 shots first half of 1st, but Habs have defined edge in puck control.

- All Habs here, Ryder buzzing, great puck control, but no shots on Dejardins.

- Habs really controlled the flow, had most of the puck, a few solid chances, but nothing sparkling. Tampa outshooting 10-7, but Price was only really tested once.

Second Period

- Habs have been a most excellent first period team this season, the 2nd period not so much so.

- Tampa is terrible with puck control in their zone. Like playing with fire, disaster usually catches up with you. Habs need to capitalize quickly.

- Stamkos relatively quiet night - so far. But that's the way he likes it, he's so stealth and then suddenly he'll strike.

- Oh man, there we go. St. Louis feeding stealth Stamkos with a pretty pass to the slot and quick shot over Price's shoulder. Plekanec lost his check (Stamkos), everyone else nearly as flat-footed. 1-0 Tampa.

- Markov with beauty feed to unmarked Plekanec in the slot, quick release bests Dejardins. Ryder with the original turnover, Tampa's zone sloppiness catches up to them. Game tied.

- Well that didn't last long. Tampa wins draw deep, and fortuitous pass redeflect springs Salo with a free path to Price, hard shot nearly unstoppable. Tampa back in front.

- Ryder has been a monster tonight forechecking deep in the Bolts' zone, causing many defensive giveaways. If he can keep that going, I don't care how many goals he scores (or doesn't).

- Habs need to win more of these defensive zone faceoffs, and quickly. They're getting slaughtered in the circle.

- There we go. Ugh. Another faceoff loss, and shot from the line redeflected twice past Price. Unstoppable. Tampa taking control, 3-1.

- Eller doesn't know you can't pass the puck back with your glove on the faceoff? He's gotta know that. Dumb, dumb penalty.

- If Tampa scores on this man advantage, might as well say goodnight and go to bed.

- PK doing a great job on the PK. Problem is, it's our powerplay.

- Well that wasn't good. Another 2nd period mini-meltdown by the Habs. At a loss to explain these mid-game meltdowns. Tampa did a nice job on their PK nullifying Habs opportunities, and converted on their opportunities. Habs have been the better forechecking team, but it hasn't resulted in offense. Dejardins fairly solid. Frustrating to watch.

Third Period

- Jesus, Markov and Subban on the point. Back and forth, back and forth. Net result: nothing. Not even a shot. STOP IT NOW, or separate them entirely.

- Woah. How was that puck not covered and called? Off harmless shot and resulting scramble, Gionta puts it in, and Habs powerplay trim the lead to one. Bizarre goal.

- Watched the replay. That puck wasn't covered, Dejardins a significant goaltending error.

- This 3rd has been all Habs. They're going all out, Tampa no response.

- Lecavalier has been very nicely nullified for much of the game, which of course frightens me to death. He's overdue.

- Nice! Gionta with the forecheck, more sloppy Tampa puck control in their own zone, and Emelin with a not-so-hot slapper that beats Dejardins. That one certainly should have been stopped. Tie game!

- Tampa has zero going right now. They're being outskated all over the ice. Habs looking for the lead.

- Prust. Ouch. Went in awkwardly into the boards on an icing chase. Looks bad.

- Left shoulder clearly injured. I hope it's not a separation because then you're looking at 4-6 automatically. Prust simply isn't a guy who's replaceable.

- Oh wow. Gallagher. He simply willed that goal in through sheer determination. Fantastic. Just fantastic. They're reviewing this but I think it's good.

- Yup. It's good. Habs lead! Wowza.

- Tampa's offense has generated zero chances in the 3rd. Absolutely nothing. It's been totally dominated at both ends by the Canadiens. The Bolts just got run over by a monster truck.

- Habs defense nicely containing Tampa, preventing the Bolts from structuring a quality shot on Price. They still haven't generated a chance, with only 5 minutes left.

- Shots are 11-0 in the period. Ouch.

- Gallagher, he's money. Nothing stops this guy from anything. He just barrels through anything that stands in his way.

- Devastating loss for the Lightening. It's the kind of loss that spurns the scribes to question the authority, if not the job security of the coaching staff. Boucher might wants to look behind because the knives might be coming out soon.

- Guys, empty net. Hit it already.

- Astonishing. Tampa didn't get one single chance in the entire 3rd period. Not one. Habs win with a perfectly played final 20 minutes.

- Great feisty come from behind win for the Habs. The difference between this year's team and last year's team is ridiculous. Now the big question is, how hurt is Prust? Habs will almost definitely struggle to replace someone as irreplaceable as Prust. Hopefully we'll know more by tomorrow, hopefully it's not bad news.

Habs will go for the Florida season sweep tomorrow in Miami. This southern swing has been death for the Habs organization in recent years, but this year it's been a feast.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Game Twenty-Four: Habs vs. 'Canes

First Period:

- Habs early powerplay, looked reasonably efficient.

- Nice setup to Emelin, routine wrister and Peters gives up the big rebound, Gallagher slips it through. 1-0.

- Really? Absurd tripping call on Pacioretty off the faceoff. Unacceptable officiating.

- Shoddy zone coverage by Canes defense, Gorges sneaks in from nowhere and wide open, gives Habs quick 2-0 lead. Prust with the pass right on the tape.

- Canes look terrible their side of the ice. No organization, Habs aggressive forecheck giving Carolina more than it can handle.

- Price looking more like his Price self. So far.

- And a sparkling point blank glove save by Carey. Yup. He's on.

- Weber called for interference? Sheesh. Skinner turned into him WITH the puck and Weber with a perfectly good body. Canes overreacted and Staal cancels the original Weber penalty, which shouldn't have been called in the first place. It's gonna be one of those nights, officiating-wise.

Gameday Game Preview

Okay, let's get to the point(s) on this.

- Last time we played, we won 3-0. But it was Budaj in net.
- Last time we played, Carolina was riding a 3 game winning streak. Tonight they're riding a 4 game streak.
- Injuries. For Habs, usual suspects: Bourque, Diaz. For the Canes it's Ruttu, Pitkanen, Brent and Larose. Cam Ward, their number one guy, is probably done for the season.
- Top guns: Pacioretty for Habs leads with 20 points, Eric Staal, no surprise, is a League leader with 28 points. If he scores, as he's quite capable of doing, Carolina usually wins.
Keys: Aggressive Habs forecheck, the Canes like to control the puck. Get the puck away from them, you take away their major strategy, create frustration, make it difficult for them to score. Also, Tomas Plekanec will probably get the Staal checking assignment tonight, which means his focus is as much keeping Staal off the scoresheet then him actually creating offense (more so).
- Carey Price needs to start playing better. Not that he's been awful, but he hasn't been making the big saves lately. Tonight would be a good place for him to find his ground again.

This Just Breaking ...

- Weber in, Kaberle out.

- Price starting.

More Habs goo laters. We hope.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Game Twenty-Three: Habs vs. Islanders

First Period

- Plenty of pre-game fears that there would be a letdown after the big win in Boston, and so far Islanders are skating harder.

- Never mind. Ryder (wasn't he supposed to play the sniper role?) does all the hard work creating the turnover behind the Islanders' goal, feeding the puck to Plekanec for the early lead. Ryder continuing to pay dividends.

- Habs playing a much more cautious style in their own zone. They haven't forgotten how the Islanders utilized their speed advantage to win in their previous contest.

- Have to say, Kaberle continues to impress. He's been excellent positionally - it's almost as though he's been reborn as more of a defensive defenseman.

- Love those two second powerplays. Methinks there was a little embellishment. But who am I to judge, that's Claude Juliun's forte, right?

- Routine period, not especially memorable. Habs clearly the better team, but again, the same was said two weeks ago after they grabbed a 2-0 lead on the Islanders. Avoid the letdowns, and all ought to be fine.

Second Period

- Islanders with their first legit powerplay of the game. This was their key to victory last time. Habs simply had no PK response.

- And here we go. Again. And guess what? It's Moulson. Game tied.

- Islanders propelled by that goal. Price making couple of key saves.

- Habs pushback. Ryder nearly potting his first as a Hab (again).

- Gorges' play of late is a mystery. He's slow, and not blocking nearly the same amount of shots. Purely speculative whether he's playing through something, but something ain't right.

- Habs simply must strive to stay out of the box. So far, they aren't complying.

- Hoo boy. Eller goes for a trip, and Islanders two man advantage.

- And the burn is applied, as Prust loses his man, and Martin is left all alone in front of Price. 2-1.

- Did I mention enough times how important it is the Habs avoid taking penalties?

- Grabner left unchecked in front (Ryder's assignment) and its 3-1. Too many Habs forwards not covering their assignments. New York eating them alive.

- How many players have a harder shot than Subban? When he's close enough and has the full windup, stopping is impossible. 3-2.

- Habs one goal away from 20,000 all time for the franchise. Lots of motivation on that bench, I'd say. Who wouldn't want the bragging rights?

- Neilsen off the bar on the 2-on-1, Price did not look confident.

- Period was a mess for the Habs. Bad penalties, sloppy zone coverage, especially by Habs' forwards. But still, the deficit is only one. Not insurmountable by any stretch.

Third Period

- Gallagher soooo close to being the 20,000 man. Had Nabokov dead to rights, puck slipped off the blade of his stick.

- Newsy Lalonde #1. Larry Robinson #10,000. Brian Gionta #20,000. How's that for the trophy case?

- Anticipating Pacioretty to have his moment here. He's been buzzing in the 3rd.

- First poor rebound control, then a 60 footer by Martinek handcuffs Price. He's fighting the puck. Has been for a week. The Habs find themselves down once more.

- Habs more aggressive puck pursuit here, opening the game up. Just 7 minutes left.

- Shots 30-19 Habs. Not for taking penalties, sloppy letdowns, and not-quite stellar play by Price, Habs should certainly be leading this thing.

- Okay, this is interesting. Play stopped suddenly. Are they looking at a possible goal scored, but unnoticed?

- Nope. Habs called for too many men. Seems only fitting that such a sloppy mistake made late in the third.

- If the Islanders were to somehow qualify for the playoffs, their powerplay alone would make them a dangerous series opponent.

- Dagger applied. Habs simply too many basic errors in their zone tonight.

- Deserved loss tonight, points streak stopped at 11 games. This team has these mysterious letdowns against inferior opponents. This must be corrected ASAP.


Nothing to say much for now, except WATCH THIS AWESOME VIDEO. Yeah, it sums everything up nicely.

About Last Night ...

- Hawks win again, ho-hum. Their point streak now extended to a mind-boggling 28 straight regular season games. Actually, they should have lost yesterday if it wasn't for some clunky puck clearances by the Wings' defense, giving the Hawks all the powerplay time they needed to tie it late in the 3rd, and win in a shootout. Here's hoping these two meet again in springtime.

- Rangers ever-so-slowly seem to turning their sinking ship around, beating the Sabres in a shootout. The game marred by a pathetic check from behind on Brad Richards by Buffalo goon Patrick Kaleta, who'll probably serve 3 or 4 games for the offense. Ought to be more.

- Flames beat the Canucks. Is Vancouver an elite team? I thought they were. Maybe not? The Canucks are like west coast weather, wait 20 minutes, and they'll change. So maybe by this time next week, it'll be clear sailing?

- Sens seem to be taking that inevitable tumble downwards, losing to the Islanders. Sorry guys, you can't defy gravity forever.

- Oilers lose AGAIN. This time to the uninspiring Wild. The big problem for Edmonton? They can't score. Something's going to hit the fan if this team finishes out of the playoffs.

- Speaking of Edmonton, The Leafs traded goonhead Mike Brown to the Oilers just so they could get rid of Mike Brown, I guess.

- Injuries of a significant nature are starting to creep up. Jose Theodore's out for 6 weeks. Carolina just lost Cam Ward for 6-8, and they say they're gonna ride the rest of the season out using their 2nd string and a call-up.  Let's see if they stick with that strategy once they start plummeting down the standings ... oh nevermind, who are we kidding? They play in the Southeast, the NHL's most pathetic Division. They'll probably finish 3rd in the Conference with 38 points.


Oh yeah. Claude Julien? Shut up already.

I have a three word response to your nonsense: FIRST PLACE BABY. And if you want to talk about embellishment, you might want to explain that word to your own players:

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Game Twenty-Two: Habs vs. Bruins

First Period:

- Krejci line looks really dangerous first two shifts. They will likely be the Bruins doing much of tonight's point production.

- Budaj totally flailed on that Kelly snapshot off the bar. Did not look good.

- Make it two shots past Budaj but off the post. One of these times Peter won't be so lucky.

- Gallagher with the usual hard work around the net draws Habs first PP.

- And Plekanec cashes in off a pretty three way pass, the prettiest pass from Ryder. Yeah, that Plekanec. Read our pregame preview. When he scores, the Habs win.

- Well that didn't last long. White wins the draw cleanly, but Armstrong is simply outmuscled the puck. He'll ride pine if that continues.

- Wow, fast and furious here. Desharnais in front to Pacioretty, I think it was deflected in off Bruins defenseman, making it Desharnais' goal.

- They're giving it to Pacioretty, but I think that'll change.

- Habs 4th line in way over their heads. Therrien will have to severely limit their ice time, Bruins ferocious forecheck is eating Armstrong and Moen alive.

- I fail to see how that was a charge by Gallagher. Oh well.

- Habs have to be very pleased with that period. Outshot the Bruins 14-9, but more importantly, they did not look intimidated by an intimidating Bruins lineup. The Habs know they're a League elite, and they're playing like it. So far.

About Last Night ...

Well, that was fun, wasn't it? A barn burning showdown, last man standing, final goal wins. While it made for an entertaining 60+ minutes of pond hockey, the game was one of the few times where the Habs played themselves out of their element, discarding their transition game founded on defensive awareness and discipline, for an all-out offensive tit-for-tat melee, a game far more suited for Pittsburgh. So it wasn't entirely surprising that the Pens came out with the extra point.

Now what we've gotten that out of our system, the Habs are now hitting the road for a 5 game trip, tonight a huge test against the Division arch rivals in Boston.

Now, Carey Price didn't have a stellar night against the Pens - but he's our go-to guy, especially against the Conference elite, the Bruins included. However, Michel Therrien has decided to go with Peter Budaj tonight, a most interesting decision since Budaj's two career starts against Boston weren't exactly memorable.

But oh well. We'll cut the coach some slack since you can't argue with a first place record. It's after the Habs loose 7-0 that we'll tie 'em to the rails.

Habs will again be without the services of Rene Bourque and Rapheal Diaz, both out with concussions.

Bruins lines to watch for include the usual suspects, two exceptionally talented top lines comprised of David Krejci supported by Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton - that trio combining for 36 points this season, and the Bergeron/Marchand/Seguin 2nd line, which has scored 42 points so far. So as you can see, containing the Bruins isn't exactly easy. They come at you from all directions with a very well balanced roster.

Hot Habs start with Max Pacioretty, who's got 12 points the past 8 games, while Alexi Emelin, of all players, continues to impress offensively, 3 points his past two games, including 2 assists last night against the Pens. On the cold side, Tomas Plekanec is pointless in last 5, and has just 3 points his last 10 games. He'll need to pick it up starting tonight if the Habs want to give the Bruins a run for their money.

Tuukka Rask, the Bruins number one guy, starts tonight. See, that's what you do. You start your best guys against the best teams, right Therrien?

Oh well.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Game Twenty-One: Pens vs. Habs

First Period:

- Pens are so offensively deep, the only way the Habs can come away with a victory is by limiting mistakes to zero - which includes staying out of the penalty box. Otherwise we're toast,

- Nice physical start by Ryder, two solid hits so far.

- Pens Vokoun with the error on a soft shot by Kaberle, Prust buries the juicy rebound, and Habs score critical first goal.

- Eller makes a soft giveaway near the crease, Pens really should have tied it. Price seems to be struggling picking up the puck around the net,

- Refs are really letting a lot of easy calls slide so far. This game could turn ugly quickly.

- Habs playing determined two way game, even more so than usual. Pens buzzing around Price but no real stellar chances are being surrendered so far.

- Prust exceptional so far. Involved all over the ice.

- Therrien has to be very please with what he's seen so far. Habs skating very well, playing smart efficient hockey, giving Price clear views, and pushing back against the Pens' powerful forwards.

- Vokoun fighting the puck. Another routine shot results in a rebound. Fortunately for Vokoun, no Habs were around the crease.

- Plekanec the checking assignment on Crosby, lets his guard down for a split second, and is forced to hold him on a semi-break. No margin for error when Crosby is your assignment.

- Fluky bounce off Emelin's skate, Sutter ties the game. One of those goals. Can't do anything but reload.

- Subban needs to choose his shooting lanes a bit more wisely. When you shoot into a scrum of bodies, it isn't going through.

- Habs the edge in the period, a bit more uptempo, really should have the lead, but for that fluke Pens goal. So far, however, so good.

Second Period:

- Subban is doing nothing for this powerplay unit. Trying to force the puck in places it simply won't go.

- Price has been perfect tonight, really. Totally in his zone right now.

- Crosby line all over Habs right now. Scoring for this line seems inevitable.

- Pacioretty puts in the juicy rebound but that goal was all Gallagher. Assist to soft Pens defense. Habs regain the lead.

- Two teams with excellent transition games leads to these bursts of frantic end-to-end action. Fun to watch.

- And there it is. Crosby with magic puck control behind the net, beautiful feed to Kunitz for the game tying goal. Got a feeling that won't be the last tonight for that line.

- Ugh. Matt Cooke of all guys, with a screen shot. A bit fluky in how it eluded Price, and just like that, Pens take the lead.

- All eyes seem to be on Crosby, but it's Kunitz who's the real danger right now.

- I suppose Bergevin didn't sign Armstong for goal scoring ... but Oy ... you gotta cash these golden opportunities in.

- It's all come undone, as Cooke scores his second of the night. The Gorges/Bouillon duo a mini-disaster tonight.

- Bah. Pacioretty somehow didn't cash that into an open net. Credit to Vokoun for staying with it.

- Ryder great positioning, he's going to score eventually.

- Nice deflection by Gionta from point shot, Habs narrow the Pens lead to one. Canadiens powerplay looked quite dangerous most of the two minutes, maybe a corner has been turned for that unit.

- Holy. If that goal counts, that is unreal.

- It's gonna count. Wow. The, goal resulted from a faceoff deep in the Pens zone off a huge unforced error by Brooks Orpik who iced the puck even though he was under no pressure.

- Subban with an unbelievable and brilliant play to come in off the point to tie the game, Galchenyuk with a fast sweep and smart feed right to Subban for a bang-bang goal. The Pens totally dominated the period right up to the point they took a 4-2 lead. But then, incredibly, the Habs totally took control on a dime. Astonishing turn of events. The 3rd is gonna be a humdinger.

Third Period:

- Smokin' pace to start the 3rd. No surprise. Tonight's game was one of the toughest tickets for the entire season. Everyone being richly rewarded.

- Brilliant goal saving reaction by Markov. Price had no idea where that puck was.

- Can they play 4-on the rest of the night? Not sure if I could handle the pace.

- Habs the better team in this period, without question.

- And just like that, Desharnais off yet another Vokoun rebound, and Habs take the lead. Remarkable.

- Vokoun is a rebound machine tonight.

- Pace is still blistering. One of the most entertaining games I've seen in awhile. Easily the best this season.

- Eller line, Emelin all over the place. Crosby line strikes again, and guess who - it's Kunitz.

- Pens all over reeling Habs. Therrien would be served to call for time.

- Emelin now paired with Bouillon.

- Price shell shocked. It's Crosby off the bench. Saw that coming a mile away. Timeout wasn't taken. So ... there ya go.

- Oh wow. Seconds later, Gionta line slapper past a surprised Vokoun. It's a gift and the game tied at 6.

- This game is totally out of control. Goaltenders are shooting range targets.

- Defense has been tossed out the window by both sides. Right now it's just two teams flailing punches, last to score wins.

- Crazy pressure by Desharnais line with Markov and Subban at the line. Couldn't get a shot through on Vokoun. This game needs overtime. It's been too wild not to have some bonus play.

- Overtime it is. I greatly approve.


- Win or lose at the very least, Habs will extend their points streak to 11. That's pretty impressive.

- Oy. Gorges and Subban both break to the passer freeing up Sutter, who all alone beats Price, who hasn't had his best night, on the glove side. Heckuva game, though.

Pregame Preview:

Are we in first place, still? Man, the Bruins just won't lose. Another win today over the cratering Tampa Bay Lightening (is Guy Boucher next on the coaching chopping block?) 3-2, the Bolts blowing a 2-0 lead.

Oh well. Can't fret over stuff that you can't control. Tonight Le Boys have a bona fied challenge on their hands as they take on the Pens, who are going to make one visit to the Bell Centre this year - tonight. That's it.

Habs side - Rene Bourque is on the IR - that concussion looking more and more long term with every passing day. Not good.

Pens side - these guys score - a lot. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal ... etc., etc., Carey Price and the most excellent Habs defense will have their hands full. That defense will have to be extra excellent tonight.

Tomas Vokoun, yes, that Tomas Vokoun, will start for the Pens, probably because he's played the Habs at a ridiculous .925 SP over the years. So if it ain't broke, don't go with Marc Andre Fleury, right?

Puck drops 7:15 EST. ENJOY THE GAME.