Sunday, 28 April 2013

Game One: EC Quarterfinal: Sens vs. Habs

QFirst Period:

- Having serious crowd envy here, the atmosphere in that building is oozing through my TV screen.

- Both coaches start their grinding line - messages sent.

- If Deharnais produces, the odds of this Habs team winning the series escalate drastically.

- Anderson is inclined to surrender the rebounds. Habs crashing the net looking for the loose puck could be very productive.

- Heckova crash into the boards by the prone Bourque, who skated a million miles an hour after a loose puck.

- More Anderson rebounds. Creating goods scoring opportunities.

- Anderson flashing the glove, making the save looking more difficult than reality.

- First six minutes definite edge to Habs, dominating tempo and puck control.

- Prust gets called for a board - Habs PK gets its first test. Here is our first look to a key element to this series.

- Too many hard Sens point shots are getting through towards the goal on this PP. Bullets dodged, but that can't last forever.

- Carey Price is into it. Looks like he feels he's got something to prove.

- Sens definitely taking momentum since that man advantage. Price keeping them at bay.

- Desharnais and Bourque fighting the puck, Pacioretty doing his best to make up for their missteps. That line not clicking so far.

- Can't say Habs aren't doing what they can to help Price, shotblocks are 12-2 Habs so far.

- Karlsson, great rush and Turris with shot/pass back to Karlsson, redeflect through Price's legs. Fine goal, aided by sluggish hustle by Plekanec line to defend the zone.

- Pacioretty is flying - shot off the wing produces one of those Anderson rebounds, and Bourque again fighting the puck, misses the open net.

- Habs started strong in the first, Sens regained footing from a powerplay, and Karlsson makes his impact right away. The keys to winning the series for the Sens were very strong the opening 20 minutes - if this continues, it's bad news for the Habs.

Second Period:

- Chris Neil, meet P.K. Subban. Crowd is charged after that mammoth hit. So are the Habs.

- And Habs get their first powerplay. Another key to the series gets its first look.

- Faceoff tossings are getting ridiculous.

- No goals scored, but pretty good chances generated. Let's see if this generates the same momentum for the Habs in this period that it did for the Sens in the first.

- Linesman Derek Amell on a serious power trip in the faceoff circle. Habs centres mystified and obviously frustrated by the relentless tossings.

- So many Habs chances here, Anderson looks unbeatable. Oy.

- 13-3 SOG so far in the 2nd, but Anderson is being Anderson. Habs to the powerplay.

- Jesus. Craig Anderson.

- Sensational save by Anderson on Bourque. Bourque's stick blade and the puck have been enemies tonight. One of these times he's going to follow through and score. It's gotta happen.

- White to the box. Goodbye mo'?

- Prust with an amazing PK shift. Habs might come out of this with mo in tact.

- Bourque! Atta boy. He delivers, and Anderson is finally solved.

- Eller is out, oh my god. Blood is gushing.

- Stretcher out. Habs bench completely infuriated by that head shot. Crowd booing the reply of the Gryba hit, now silent as attention turns to Eller's condition.

- Budaj sparring with Sens bench. This game taking very ugly turn.

- Needless to say the loss of Eller over any extended period of time is a big blow to Habs playoff fortunes.

- Sweet, sweet pass Plekanec to Gallagher. Unstoppable. Habs PP continues.

- Guess which lineman blew that obvious delay of game play by the Sens? One guess.

- Huge 5-on-3 opportunity for Habs here. Decisive moment in this game.

- SOG in the 2nd were an incredible 27-7, 41-19 through 40 minutes. That the score is only 2-1 is a miracle. No way the Sens should even be in this game, but they very much are.

Third Period:

- History was made tonight. The 27 shots by Habs in the 2nd period is an NHL playoff record.

- Subban a shade under 21 minutes through first two period. Leads all skaters.

- Early report Eller with broken nose and concussion. In the hospital. Very bad news.

- More reports say Eller has lost some teeth.

- Silfverberg has mostly been contained tonight but for how long??

- Ugh. That long. Silfverberg shoots, Price whiffs. Game tied. That 5-on-3 looming large.

- Habs in disarray in their zone, too many turnovers by Habs Gorges/Diaz, and Alfredsson with a wicked point shot off the crossbar. Sens take the lead, Bell Centre goes very, very quiet.

- Four-on-four has opened this game up a bit, which is good for the Habs.

- Diaz, whose pass set up the devastating hit on Eller, has been tentative with puck control and forward passing all night. One of his worst games in a long time.

- Desharnais simply not big enough to maintain puck control in the battles along the board - it's resulting in turnovers and killing zone possession.

- Shot on Price big rebound is redeflected back and in. Sens lead by two.

- Tough break goal, but you just know there'll be plenty of loud voiced of discontent directed at Price if this ends in a loss.

- 50th shot on Anderson. And we're going to lose.

- 4th goal took all the wind out of the Habs' sails. They collectively know this one is done.

- Rough night reflection, Gorges and Diaz collective -5. Ouch.

- Lost count number of puck missteps made by Diaz at the line tonight. It's been way, way too many unforced errors.

- Habs can't knock themselves for the loss, 50+ shots on Anderson is about all you can ask. Habs had a great chance to create separation with the 5-on-3 but couldn't score, and the Sens escaped the second just a goal down. Same old formula that's helped them win this season. Anderson was spectacular, Price wasn't. That was the other huge factor.

On to game two, the pressure squarely on the Habs shoulders, and especially Carey Price, who's got to find a way of playing mistake-free for 40 minutes.

Pregame Pre-series Game Preview!!

Okay, so this is being posted wayyyyyyy too late. Your Habs Game writer has been struck down by Flu-zilla the past week, and today was the first day I was able to actually sit upright (and at that, in a slightly slumped-over position). HOWEVER, WE MUST FORGE ON, THE QUEST MUST CONTINUE.

Anyway, poor me. Saddled on the couch, with little choice but to be subjected to the inane coverage of Bob Cole and the entirely useless CBC. That a million of my taxpayer dollars are spent paying the salary of loudmouth troglodytes like Don Cherry is more than I can handle.

Okay, we're getting off topic. THE SERIES. Ottawa Senators and our beloved Montreal Canadiens, meeting for the first time ever (unless you want to be anal and count the epic 1908 showdown between the Montreal Wanderers and the Ottawa Victorias ... yeah, I didn't think so).

So far the "expert" analysis of this series is pretty split. Just about everyone thinks it'll be a long series, but the opinion is pretty evenly divided between who'll actually win the damn thing. I more or less happen to agree with the experts - this series will be evenly fought, but the ultimate outcome, I believe, will be decided by specialty unit success.

I've broken the preview down by analysing offense, defense and goaltending:


These teams have very differing offenses. The Habs rely mainly on speed and skill, their production is very evenly distributed amongst their top three lines. The Sens, by contrast, feature more of a bump-and-grind offense, not particularly productive, but one that seeks to wear the opposition down. The Sens play their games close in hopes of beating their tiring opposition in the 3rd period.

Goal scoring is not a strength for the Senators. Not nearly. Missing their top forward Jason Spezza for the season, the Sens averaged just 2.3 goals per game, 4th worst in the League. By contrast, the Habs, who feature three evenly productive scoring lines, scored 3.04 goals per game, 4th best in the League. So right off the top, we can see who's got a keen advantage in this department.

Drilling down a little, the Sens rank better 5-on-5, 15th overall, the Habs 6th. The Habs 53% fenwick is a bit better than the Sens' 52%.  Even the PDO numbers, which the Habs were ranking far too high earlier in the season, came back to earth to near 1.0 (1.006), while the Sens' PDO stat indicated their final finish in the Eastern Conference was reflective their position and shot quality (1.002).

So goal production, definite edge to the Habs, possession and shot qualities were roughly even. What about that powerplay? The Habs man advantage ranked a strong 20.7% during the season, which was good enough for the League 5th, although their powerplay visibly lagged the final three weeks of the season. The Sens trail far behind at 15.9% - their production was far more reliant on 5-on-5 play.

Keys to the series: The Habs likely win the series if their powerplay is productive, the Sens likely win the series if they can keep the Habs man advantage off the board, while potting a few on their powerplay against a mediocre Habs penalty killing unit.


Team defense is unquestionably the Senators' key strength heading into the series - surrendering a measly 2.08 goals per game, Ottawa was only just behind the Hawks' 2.02 GAA. The Habs, meanwhile, weren't awful defensively at 2.58 goals per game, but their overall ranking was mediocre - 14th overall.

The big news of course, is the miraculous return of Ottawa's star defenseman Erik Karlsson, whose season was seemingly lost just three months ago by an horrific tendon injury. I've seen Karlsson play since his return, and while he's expectedly not quite his former self, he's still very good, bolstering the Sens transition game, which struggled during Karlsson's absence. The rest of Ottawa's defense has a nice blend of vets and youngsters, ranging from stay at home specialists Matt Methot and Chris Philips, to rookie Jared Cowen, who's done a nice job eating up minutes.

The Habs, meanwhile, are still struggling to overcome the loss of the hard hitting Alexei Emelin, who up until his season-ending knee injury, was leading the League in hits. The most profound impact seems to be on the Habs penalty killing unit, which went into a tailspin almost the minute went down for the season. During the last week of the regular season, it appeared that coach Michel Therrien was making some decent progress in helping to stabilize that unit, but it's still not nearly as good as it needs to be to make this team truly dangerous in the post-season.

Keys to the series: The Habs are more likely to win if their penalty killing unit returns to form, the Sens are more likely to win if Karlsson has the excellent series most everyone is expecting.


This one is interesting. Here we have Carey Price, the star stud who many consider to be the best overall goaltender in hockey, and here we have Craig Anderson, who until his mid-season injury, was probably on the road to a 2013 Vezina trophy.  So you know both of these guys have the capability of knocking out the lights - the question is, who will? Or who won't?

Price, and many Habs fans can tell you, struggled the last quarter of the season, the low point being a dismal start against the Leafs when Price was beaten by three softies on four shots. However, since that time Price, while sometimes appearing shaky, has had progressively improved performances leading up to the end of the year. Without question, the team's fortunes rely heavily on Price's performance - if he's shaky, the Habs probably don't stand much of a chance.

Anderson, as we mentioned, had an outstanding start to the year before going down to a lengthy injury. Since his return, he's looked awfully strong, his save percentage very comparable to his pre-injury numbers. Anderson also has a decent playoff record, he was unquestionably the star for Ottawa in their series loss to the overmatched New York Rangers. If he can repeat that performance against the Canadiens, Ottawa will be tough to beat.

Keys to the series: If Price lives up to ability, the Habs are likely to win. If Anderson lives up to ability, the Sens have a greater chance of winning (note the difference).

Final Series Prediction:

I tweeted my series picks before the playoffs started, and I haven't changed my opinion. I think the Sens will win this series in 6 games because of the Habs struggles with their penalty kill, and because at the end of the day, I think Anderson will perform well enough to give his team the necessary edge to win close games. I'll be very shocked if most of the final results aren't one goal differences.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

So this humble little blog, for which I spend nothing on (except time), generates zero revenue (that's fine), and has virtually no promotion. Still, we set an all-time traffic record for the month of April with more than 7,000 visits. So thanks to all those stopping by. It's nice to know it's more than just Mom who's reading this. Unless that was you who visited 7,000 times, Mom. Because if it was, we gotta talk.

Anyway, point being, if there's a readership, I'll get plugging along with these game blogs. Hopefully there's more than 20 left to do before this year is done, eh?

Division Champions!

From very, very last place in the East, to first place in their own Division, in roughly a 13 month span. Congratulations to the boys for one of the most impressive turnaround seasons I've seen by this franchise (and I've seen quite a few).

So it's the Senators! And it's Thursday night for game one, which is excellent news for the Canadiens.

I'll be posting a preview shortly. In the meantime, let's all just savor finishing in first place. Feels great, don't it?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Game Forty-Eight: Habs vs. Leafs

First Period:

- Sit-ins sit-outs announced: OUT: Halpern, Weber, Armstrong, Dumont, Drewiske. IN: White, Moen, Prust, Tinordi.

- Looks like Therrien is still looking for that W, by keeping Markov and Prust in (and others). Oh well.

- Methinks Ryan White is playing for his career tonight, at least his career in Montreal.

- Good start for the Leafs even better response by the Habs. Looks like this could be a good one.

- Lupul doesn't like taking clean hits? Boo hoo.

- Habs PK continues to show improved signs of life, but it's still nowhere close to where it was, or where it needs to be for the playoffs.

- Habs have had decent puck control, but it took 11 minutes to register a shot. Both teams feeling each other out in the ring, exchanging jabs, but no real hard blows. Have the feeling that both are being cautious, trying to keep bumps and bruises to a minimum.

- Eller's decision-making not super sharp tonight, pass to your lead Lars, not trailer on a 3-on-1.

- Smaller sized Leafs winning more of the battles for the puck along the boards.

- Unlike Markov to lose his composure and get nailed for a retaliation. Leafs back to the powerplay, Habs playing with fire.

- There you go. Gorges a sloppy attempt to clear the zone, Leafs set, and Kessel fires home. Habs need to stop the stupid and stay out of the box.

- Don't know if Eller meant to do that, but a beauty touch deke beats Reimer off a sweet pass from Gallagher, all started by a turnover by Grabowski following a huge hit by Tinordi. So much great on that goal.

- If Jared Tinordi keeps those hits up, he'll never see Hamilton again. At least in a uniform.

- Pretty even period, liked the Habs puck control, resulting in higher quality chances. If Habs can stay out of the box and keep Kessel in check, I'd reckon their chances are pretty good.

- And that's 11 years and counting since Habs have won in Calgary. Habs dug their own hole way too deep, and 15 minutes of dominating hockey isn't going to cut it. Edmonton now, a tougher test than tonight's. These western swings are hockey hell.

Second Period:

- Habs 4th line very physical tonight, which is great to see. White has been very solid, the few shifts he's been given a chance.

- Still looking for signs of Ryder getting out of his productive funk. Still haven't seen anything - for awhile.

- This Lars Eller, he be on fire tonight - nice draw win, and Markov with a shot that somehow made its way through a tangle of arms and legs to give the Habs the lead. Leafs will need to clamp down on the Eller line or they'll strike again.

- Impressive PK for Habs. More signs the ship is righting itself.

- Habs with lots of mo, Gallagher does his usual freight train impersonation, and the Habs lead by two. Habs on verge of putting this game away. Lots of dominance here.

- Another excellent Habs PK. That's two in a row.

- The Eller line has shone tonight, but it's the White line that's done the hardest work. Therrien will be faced with a tough decision of whether to reinsert Halpren on Tuesday night. Hate to break up something that's working well.

- Bourque with a stupid, stupid slash, and the Leafs get another shot at getting back into this game.

- Not sure if its so much the Leafs powerplay dropping off the cliff, or Habs aggressive and positionally sound PK unit that's to explain this game. Probably a little of each.

- Totally dominative 2nd period for the Canadiens - impressive in just about every category, Leafs look listless and lost ... men vs. boys at this point.

- By my math, Habs can now only face two opponents - either winning the Division and facing the Sens, or finishing 4th and facing Toronto. Have to be honest - would much rather face the Leafs in the first rather than Anderson and Karlsson. So uhhhh ... go Bruins tomorrow night?!?

Third Period:

- Plekanec makes it 4-0, Reimer gets the hook. Since the 11 minute mark of the first period, Habs have outshot the Leafs 23-3.

- Budaj hasn't had much work tonight, but a few of his shots have been reasonably difficult saves. Solid start again for Peter.

- 3rd period was a cruise, this game was a cruise, and unless the Bruins win tomorrow night, the Habs will win the North East Division, a remarkable turnaround year for this organization. Habs end the year on a very high note, and now prepare to host the first round.

Gameday Goo:

Yay. We've reached the end, every game blogged and still in one slightly medicated piece!

I'll bet you Habs fans are wondering who is or isn't going to play in tonight's meaningless (or meaningful?) game against the Leafs. Well wonder no more! I've got the scoop:

Nobody knows until 7 pm eastern. Michel Therrien is all hush hush today.

Here's what we know. Budaj will start, and Tinordi. That's it.

Other reasonable bets for a start are Ryan White - who might get some timeust to fill Brandon Prust's role so he can get some well deserved rest and much needed healing time.

Frankly I'd love to see the following Habs get the night off in rank of necessity:

- Markov
- Prust
- Gorges
- Plekanec
- Gionta
- Price (confirmed)
- Pacioretty

Let some of the Bulldogs take the load for the night. First in the Division is nice, but a better rested roster for Tuesday night is much, much nicer.

More later.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Game Forty-Seven: Habs vs. Jets

First Period:

- A little switcheroo action after warmups, Halpern in, Dumont out.

- Diaz/Bouillon could be the cardiac arresting duo tonight.

- Ryder can score, right? It's been awhile.

- So hitting guys along the board who have the puck is now interference?

- Wow, Price has made four class-A stops so far, the Jets have engines firing full throttle out of the gate.

- Jets fans' attempts to boo Subban is disingenuously adorable.

- Price can't hold 'em off forever, Bouillon flops behind the net and coughs up the puck. Just awful. Weber must be looking on and thinking "why me?" Why him, indeed. 1-0.

- We've seen this pattern before. How soon before it's 2-0?

- Habs first powerplay, puck control and passing was pretty awful. Specialty units are in a total funk.

- 4th line doing their best to create Jets anxiety, Prust gets punished by the overeager officials.

- Jets started very strongly and eventually opened the scoring, but Habs looked reasonably good last half of the period, registering the bulk of scoring chances, limiting Winnipeg to just 4 shots. Call me cautiously optimistic, I guess?

Second Period:

- Okay, spidey senses are telling me big Habs period here. #regrettablepredictions

- The Desharnais line has got to produce eventually. It's just got to.

- Tinordi doing a nice job covering for Bouillon's poor judgement.

- Crowd is quiet, mainly because it's been a Habs-dominated period so far. Need to score though, before the momentum pendulum starts swinging away.

- Bourque gets the monkey off his back, as Habs have taken full control of this game. They must continue to keep pushing, the Jets have shown nothing as a response.

- Shots are 5-1 Habs, the play has been even more one-sided. Canadiens looking a lot like their former selves in this period.

- Oh my god. BAD turnover by Subban to Wheeler, and Price makes an incredible save on the breakaway. Might be his best of the year.

- Bad offside call prevents a good Jets scoring chance. Winnipeg start to gain some traction here.

- Plekanec with his own style of bad decision making, inexplicably dumps the puck in the Jets zone before the red line and generates an icing. Therrien forced to burn his time out.

- Ain't that the way? Jets win the faceoff, control the puck, Habs exhausted, Jets score. All on Plekanec, that one. Terrible unforced mental error costs his team big-time.

Third Period:

- Sometimes funny things happen when you shoot pucks on net - this time it's Gallagher with a 60 footer that completely handcuffs Pavelec, and ties the game. Habs need only to hold the score to claim home ice in the first round.

- Huge opportunity here for the Habs, two man advantage.

- Finally the snakebite of the snakebitten Desharnais finally scores, quite possibly the biggest goal of tHe Habs' year. Habs no longer thinking tie, a win is in sight.

- Now it's all breaking through now, Pacioretty the shot, Pavelec again is handcuffed, and Desharnais cashes it in. 4-2.

- Jets reeling, Habs pouring everything on now, Winnipeg looks dispirited, as realty now setting in that their season is about to end.

- Well, that's a relief. Habs looking like normal again, and have now earned the great luxury of resting everybody for Saturday's now meaningless game against the Leafs. All is calm in Habsland.

Gameday Game Preview:

UPDATE: Weber will sit for Tinordi.

Is this a big game? If you're the Winnipeg Jets, it's more or less the biggest game of the year, in light of the Jets' heartbreaking loss to the Capitals on Tuesday night, which allowed Washington to clinch the South-Least Division. With their final regular season game tonight against the Habs, the Jets are one point back of the New York Rangers, who still have two games remaining.

So you know ... you just know, in front of that rabid Winnipeg arena crowd, that the Jets are going to bring it tonight. While earning a playoff spot is unlikely, Winnipeg is at least facing the mightily struggling Montreal Canadiens, who've won but just one of their past six games, and are desperately trying to recapture their early-season glory, when it appeared they might be the odds-on favorite team to represent the Eastern Conference in this season's playoffs.

Well, those aspirations are pretty much gone now, but the Habs still have plenty to play for. While it's likely we'll finish 4th in the Conference, setting up a dream series against the Leafs, there's still an outside chance that Toronto might catch the Habs for 4th place, and gain home ice advantage. An extra playoff game in Toronto? Who'd want that??

So, tonight!! The Habs, in their latest attempt to rejig their failing defense, will dress and play Jared Tinoridi, who we hope will bolster some of the physicality that's been missing for the past couple of weeks, while taking some of the playing pressure off the shoulders of the vets, including Markov and Gorges. We still don't know at this moment who'll sit out, with Tinordi playing. Weber? Or maybe Therrien will really attempt to shake things up (and create some rest) by scratching Gorges or Markov. But it'll probably be Weber that sits.

In net tonight it'll be the battle of the two P's, Price vs. Pavelec, the former looking much more improved in his previous start against the Devils. Let's hope that improvement is on a bell curve, because for much of this month, the slope has been going downward on the y axis.

Puck drops at 8:10 EST.

Gameday Goo

- Moen out (healthy scratch), Dumont in. Halpren out (healthy scratch). Armstrong in. Price starting. A win clinches 4th place. Hell, even with all the sucktitude, we could still finish first in the Division. Or 5th.

- Watched Tampa/Leafs game last night. Yikes. Why can't THAT Toronto team show up when we play against them? But yeah, looking at the possible matchups, I think I'd like the Leafs for the first round. Or the Rangers.

More later.

Chalkboard Scratching Habs Stat-of-the-Day (Part Deux):

Pre Emelin injury, Habs penalty killing unit was running at 81.1% efficiency. 15th best.

Since Emelin injury ... hooo boy .... 69.2% efficiency. Just about worst in the League.

So what to do?

Apart from triple wrapping Alexei's leg using a tent pole for a splint and sending him back out there, there's nothing else we can do except to hide. Just hide. Come back in September.

Mind-Boggling Habs Horrorshow Stat-of-the-Day:

So last night, I observed out loud (well, actually wrote) during my live blog of the Jersey game that Andrei Markov was hurting this team more than it was helping. And now we have this: Of the even strength goals surrendered by the Habs this season, Markov was on the ice for 47% of them.

No, seriously. Forty - Seven - Per - Cent.

That's ... really ... really ... bad.


The Toronto Maple Leafs, Division winners?

Astoundingly, it's looking like that might happen.

More later, including the callup of Jared Tinordi, assuming I'm able to remove myself from the fetal position.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Game Forty-Six: Habs vs. Devils

First Period:

- Habs forwards getting red carpet access to Brudeur. Jersey dedenders have made a couple of nice desperation blocks.

- Habs and Price withstand first bought of Devis pressure. Canadiens' fourth line looking awfully disorganized and sluggish.

- I dunno what else to conclude, but Markov must be playing hurt. His speed is almost down to Hal Gill proportions.

- Marty Brodeur looking so far like he's gonna stick to the Habs yet one more time. Gah.

- Terrible interference call n Bourque, negligible contact on Brodeur outside the blue paint.

- And the Devils, of course, strike. Elias gets past the uber-slow Markov and poorly positioned Weber for a break. Great shot beats Price.

- Seriously, just keep Markov off the PK. It isn't doing him or the team any favours.

- After a decent start, Habs offence has now gone into hiding.

- Zubrus. Habs Gorges and Diaz, more or less standing around watching. Price out to dry. Horrorshow showing no signs of slowing down.

- Another night, another terrible first period. Why should Price even bother dressing? Nobody else seems to be showing up.

Second Period:

- What to say? Brutal interference call on Prust after he was clearly pushed into Bordeur, and Devils strike on the Habs now totally inept PK. Markov on the ice for that as well.

- Pacioretty, but it doesn't matter. This one is done. Devils will score more than 3 tonight.

- Habs are lambs out there. No physicality, no hitting, no fight. The team's collective mentality is totally dispirited.

- Deshairnas' utter lack of production lately has to be a significant long-term concern to the organization heading into the off-season. He got the contract extension and just fell off the Earth.

- Wow, Brodeur with once in a bloody blue moon bad puck turnover behind his net allows Galchenyuk to feed a wide open Eller, and the Habs suddenly find themselves back in the game. Huh, that.

- If the Habs pull this one out of the fire I'll be fit to be tied. They have 20 minutes to demonstrate some resilience, and secure hosting the first round of the playoffs.

Third Period:

- Prust, again goaltender interference. Insanity. Habs PK ... Oy ... Here we go.

- Devils take a silly holding stick penalty almost immediately into their PP. Whew.

- More Habs defensive breakdowns, more Markov slowness, Kovalchuck free pass to Price, Carey saves the day.

- Brodeur was DOWN. AND. OUT. Plekenec wide open net, stick lifted from behind last possible moment by Zajac. Plekanec looked up in shock. Never saw it coming.

- Listless five minutes by Habs, no real sense of urgency with now 9 minutes left on the clock.

- Not happening. Habs need to shift into another gear but it is not there. Less than 4 minutes left.

- Rene Bourque more than any other Hab, has been in 2012 form since his return.

- Nope. Close but not close enough. Another L, but it had zero to do with Price tonight. Habs just couldn't recover from the bad start, the offensive legs weren't there. Here's hoping we never see Brodeur again, 'cause I've had enough.

Pregame Game Preview:

What more is there to say, really? All the big news about tonight's game WE brought to you yesterday morning. That being Moen is out, Armstrong is in. Budaj is out, Price is in. Drewiske is out, Weber is (back) in. And Therrien is going with a whole new set of defensive combinations for tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils, the start of a three game road trip that will wrap up the Canadiens' 2013 regular season.

Yeah, we know the Habs wrapped up a playoff spot nearly two weeks ago in Buffalo, but the recent bought with SUCKING AT THIS GAME has brought the Canadiens crashing back to the planet's surface, and now, suddenly, the team finds itself feeling resigned not only to finishing 4th in the Conference, but perhaps finishing 5th behind the (ugh) Leafs IF this team doesn't get its act in gear. Like, RIGHT NOW.

Under normal circumstances, facing a team like the Devils, who've won only one of their past 12 games, might be viewed as a respite. But these are not normal circumstances. Not only are the Canadiens playing some pretty dreadful defensive hockey, but they're playing against a team whose starting goaltender has owned the Habs for the past ... oh ... 20 seasons or so. Hometown hero Martin Broduer, in what may very well be his final start against the Canadiens, will aim to complete his legacy of Habs owning ... ownership ... owninginess? ... whatever, one final time. Assuming this is his last season, of course.

So tonight. Price is back in, and I and just about every hockey reporter within 100 miles of the island of Montreal will be watching him verrrrrry closely. I for one didn't think his losing performance against the Caps was terrible - most of Washington's goals were either very tough, or impossible shots. The problem with the loss was the Canadiens defense continues to allow opposing forwards to shoot from high percentage areas on the ice, or, they're failing to clear traffic in front of their net, to allow Price at least a decent glimpse at shots coming from the point. Hopefully, just hopefully, with this new defensive set, we'll see improvements in both areas tonight.

Strap on the belt. Puck drops at 7:10 EST.


Tuesday Gameday Goo:

- As reported here yesterday (yay us!), Therrien officially confirms that Moen is a healthy scratch tonight, Colby Armstrong is in.

- Carey Price will start.

More later.

Monday News 'n' Notes:

Happy Monday! Did you know it was almost -20 this morning in the place that I live? Did you also know that I'm wanting to no longer now be in the place that I live? Sheezus.

- Morning practice this morning, Michel Therrien is (desperately?) trying to find some of his team's defensive mojo, and it looks like he's shaking up the parings. Practicing this morning were Markov/Webber, Subban/Bouillon, Gorges/Diaz.

Have no idea what the strategy is here. Putting the more experienced guys with the less experienced guys? Seems more a dilution approach, but whatever. Something's gotta change, something's gotta give.

- Travis Moen will be a healthy scratch tomorrow night, as Colby Armstrong is expected to return to the lineup. So that's that!

- Lots of speculation amongst the scribes that Therrien will go with Budaj against the Devils. No confirmation from the team yet.

More later.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Game Forty-Five: Caps vs. Habs

First Period:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Period:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Pacioretty has firmly returned to MIA status.

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

Third Period:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep it Classy Bruins, Keep it Classy

How long did the good feelings last? 48 hours?

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

Gameday Game Preview:

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

Yeah, strange days indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck drop is at 7:15 EST.

This is Why we Love Brandon Prust:

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

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

Friday Afternoon Kibbles and Bits:

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

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

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

More later.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Game Forty-Four: Bolts vs. Habs

First Period:

- His first shift, Desharnais has gone to the dressing room with an apparent injury. No idea what or how it happened.

- Now gonna hex this with praise, so I'll go the other direction. Early on, Price looks terrible.

- Again I don't want to hex anything but Habs are being far more consciences and alert in their own zone in comparison to the previous three games. Not perfect, but better.

- Two posts rung by the Bolts so far, the first unstoppable, the second stoppable. Bounces have been on Carey's side so far, but that won't last forever.

- And it's three, this time the crossbar. Price was way, way, way too deep in his crease. Previous history, he's had a habit of retreating back there when he's not confident. Tampa would be wise to just shoot every opportunity. Eventually they'll go in.

- First goal here will go a long way towards determining the winner. Both teams are struggling with egg-fragile psyches.

- Superb point blank save by Price on Panik, a few "Carey!" chants go up in the Bell. Stay positive, stay positive.

- That was pretty good, wasn't it? Relatively evenly played period, Tampa with the better quality scoring chances overall. Price was helped out by posts, but otherwise looked pretty solid. Habs defence, while still too slow and still mired by poor positional play, seems nonetheless to be heading in a better organized direction. No goals surrendered in 20 minutes is unquestionably mission accomplished in the arduous process of rebuilding a team whose collective confidence has been run over by a bus. The second period will really tell the tale.

Second Period:

- More wretched defence by Gorges, another superb save by Price on St Louis to bail his team. That's more good signs (not the Gorges part, of course - I've no idea why he's played so poorly the past two weeks).

- Tampa defence doing a pretty good impersonation of the Habs defence the past week, Galchenyuk continues his hot play, and Habs score the critical first goal.

- Four posts now. Price's bad luck karma being paid back in full plus one hundred.

- Why is Bishop never this good when he's not playing in Montreal? Oy.

- Habs offence suddenly firing to life, overwhelming Tampa defence. Gionta makes it 2-0, and the Habs, dare we say, looking more and more like the Habs of old, as in, two weeks ago.

- Habs really need to stay out of the box if they want to bring this one home. No good reason to be taking unnecessary or lazy penalties.

- Fans singing. That hasn't happened since the Bruins game 12 days ago.

- And the Bolts score on the powerplay. Having Bouillon and Drewiske back there was playing with fire, especially the former.

- Habs defence back to their bad old ways after that Tampa goal. Price holding firm but you can just feel this slipping away. Second is nearly over, thankfully.

- Apart from the bumbling around the final three minutes, very good period for the Habs, especially the later half when the offence found its footing and overwhelmed Bishop. Can't estimate how big a victory would be tonight towards installing a feeling of normality on this team. 20 minutes away, if the defence rebuckles itself.

Third Period:

- Under normal circumstances, Therrien might have sat Subban for a few shifts in response to his undisciplined penalty resulting in Tampa's goal. But these are not normal circumstances.

- If Habs defence really insists on being sloppy, can they do that when Stamkos is NOT on the ice, please?

- This game feels like so many countless games from last season. Habs holding third period lead but you're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

- Shoe drops. Where to start? Markov with the turnover, gets caught up ice, can't recover. Not helped by shoddy positional coverage by Bouillon, Bourque flailing away in the slot, Price left hung to dry. Game tied. How can you fix this kind of badness?

- Love the physicality Dumont has brought tonight, and it's producing quality scoring chances from him driving Bishop. Last one should have been buried by Plekanec, who's the latest among the badly snakebitten.

- Is it a bit too melodramatic to say that Andrei Markov is hurting this team more than he's helping? Because he is.

- If Habs lose this anyone who criticizes Price ought to have their head examined and IQ measured. He's been excellent.

- Phantom trip called on Gorges. Here we go.

- Habs PK has been beyond shaky. Closing eyes, can't bear to watch this.

- Survived. But still huge cloud of doom looms overhead. All the memories of last season, feels like the third shoe is about to fall.

- Tampa doing their best to give this to the Habs with all these terrible late 3rd period penalties, but Habs can't take advantage. 0-for-4 tonight.

- Markov with ANOTHER ill-advised pinch catches him up ice. Bolts nearly score shorthanded. Wow.

- Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Brian Gionta with what is probably the game winner. Weber with the huge assist. Genuinely good guys rewarded.

- Empty Tampa net, Mr. Snakebite Plekanec misses from three feet. If Tampa scores they'd better guard the Montreal bridge rails for jumpers.

- Breath. Breath it in. Victory. Enjoy that feeling. Let it linger. Carey Price was the difference tonight. Sense of normalcy returning, although that was as shaky and as sloppy a Habs victory as you'll ever see.

Game Preview

So here we are. Three straight losses, all of them of the "pretty bad" variety. The skies are bleak. There's little chance of redemption. There'll probably be no tomorrow. This is the end, my only friend. The end. The end.

Okay, now that we have that out of our system, a reality check. First, we're in the middle of a losing stream. It happens all the time - even to the best teams. Stuff happens. Bad goals bounce in. People have off nights, perhaps singularly, perhaps collectively as a team.

Last night the Habs had a horrible first period against the Pens, where they were out-worked, out-skated, out-checked, and ultimately, out-scored. Down 3-0 after 20 minutes, the game was essentially over. From that point forward, the Habs actually played a pretty competitive game, and setting aside some rather unnecessary penalties (mainly by Brendon Gallagher), the game ended on a relative high note. The Canadiens outscored the Pens 4-3 in the final 40 minutes - it's not a lot to be joyous about, but it's something.

In retrospect, starting Peter Budaj last night was a mistake. He didn't look particularly sharp in either the game against the Leafs or the Flyers, but Therrien, perhaps hoping that he could muster up a similar winning performance against Pittsburgh from earlier in the season, took a chance, and lost.

At this point, the Habs must go with Price from here until the end. He's the long-established number one goaltender in Montreal, this team will live or die by how well he does (or does not) perform.

Tonight, an opportunity to regain some momentum is at hand against the 13th place Tampa Bay Lightening, who are playing for next season. So yeah - there's always the prescient dangers involved in facing a "loose" team that's going nothing but pride to play for, but the Bolts are 13th for a reason - they're not a very good team.

Michael Ryder, thankfully, will start tonight, and Brandon Prust, thankfully, will get another night's rest - let's say it for the 24th time, the Habs simply must have Prust healthy for the playoffs.

Carey Price, also thankfully, will start.

Puck drops 7:40 EST.

Gameday Notes:

A few items to post before the preview.

- Nathan Beaulieu was reassigned to the Bulldogs this morning, meaning his NHL play for this year, including playoffs, is almost certainly done, unless the Habs run into significant injury trouble. Beaulieu demonstrated lots of potential, but at times seem overwhelmed by the speed of opposing forwards, and struggled to maintain proper position. He's got a future, but he's just not quite ready.

- Beaulieu's demotion probably means Yannick Weber will continue to earn starts, at least until Raphael Diaz is ready to return (whenever that happens). Weber, along with P.K. Subban, were the two lone bright spots amongst an otherwise dysfunctional and dispirited Habs defense.

- While the Habs did muster 4 goals against the Pens, it's clear that they miss the presence of Michael Ryder, who in addition to being a bonafide sniper, is also capable and willing to dish out of few hits. No word from the team about his status, but we're hoping he'll return tonight.

- Bolts announced that Ben Bishop will start tonight, which comes as no surprise. Bishop stoned and stole a game against the Habs earlier in the season.

Preview in a bit.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Game Forty-Three: Habs vs. Pens

First Period:

Pretty good start for Habs, aggressive into the Pens zone, getting quality shots on net. Fleury giving up a couple of nice rebounds.

- Cooke gets suckered by Plekanec, Habs to the powerplay.

- Wonderful puck control on the man advantage, cut short as Gallagher gets nabbed for an undisciplined high stick.

- Sutter with a softie over Budaj's glove. And here we go again ...

- Habs getting outworked, and high shot eludes Budaj, and it's 2-0.

- Third straight game with a goaltending switch? Could happen.

- For every battle won by the Habs for the loose puck, two are lost. It's a mismatch right now. Should and could be 3 or 4 nothing soon.

- Habs finally showing some life here led by the Plekanec line. But Fleury looks to be on his game tonight. Sigh.

- Gallagher sacrificed his foot to block a shot. Block was made, but at what price? He's gone straight to the room. Oy.

- Pens shooting high on Budaj. Can't blame them.

- Iginla uncovered on the powerplay. 3-0. Price to start the 2nd? Wouldn't be surprised.

Second Period:

- Merry go round is on. Price starts the second. Third straight game Habs starter is pulled. Franchise first? Betcha it is.

- Weber first line pairing with Subban on the powerplay. Is Therrien scaling back Markov's time?

- Habs defense is quite simply a disaster right now. There's nothing else that can be said. 4-0.

- Wheels have completely fallen off this team. They are simply unable to execute the most basic fundamentals, from defence out. As I said on Twitter before the game, if the Habs perform tonight the way they did against the Flyers, game could be 8-0 or 9-0. We're on the way.

- It's a team game, but since Emelin went down, this team has simply stopped hitting their opponent. They look and are playing frail.

- At this point, Price must view this game as an opportunity to regain some confidence. Salvage something from this disaster.

- There's a good step. Prust with a nice feed to the goal-staved Gionta to get Habs on the board. Baby steps, but team must fight through this infectious slump. Building blocks, make plays, score here and there, and play soundly in your own zone. Winning tonight might be out of the question, but there's opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

- Gallagher takes another poor penalty, and Pens quickly strike against a Habs PK that looks just horrible. Add it to the list of how things have gone so far south so quickly.

- Galchenyuk. Baby steps. Baby steps.

- How long will it take for the Pens to reestablish their 4 goal lead?

- Brenden Gallagher is out of control. Therrien has got to bench him for the night.

- I dunno. Was that a good period? Pens with powerplay goals, Habs did respond a little, but the defence is just awful. Gorges looks utterly lost out there, Markov looks exhausted, Weber is doing his best but his very limited playing time this season, you can only expect so much. Subban can't do it all himself. It's just a huge mess and there's no ready solution at hand. Somehow the Habs must dig deep and fight their way though this wretched fog of undisciplined, uninspired, unfocused play, or this once promising season will be lost.

Third Period:

- 4 minute PK actually looked competent. Well, that's a good sign, no?

- Dumont scores his very first NHL goal, and Habs are within 2?? It can't be.

- Habs should we jest, playing with a spark here. The Dumont goal has boosted ... Oh ... never mind. Murray a soft shot redeflects twice past Price. Nothing going right, nothing staying out for the Canadiens. Just wow.

- What can ya do? Pick up the pieces and take it out on the Tampa Bay Lightening.

Gameday Game Preview:

So here we are. The Habs are currently going through their first bought of adversity this season, and it really couldn't come at a much worse time. Well, I suppose in the middle of a playoff series would be terrible. Still, the Habs head into Pittsburgh tonight to take on the Eastern Conference leaders, hobbled by injuries to key defensemen, and poor play, in particular by the team's blue line.
After a terrible Saturday start and a shaky "rebound" game against the Flyers, Michel Therrien is going with Peter Budaj. The Habs second-stringer will have his work cut out for him, although this time around, he won't have to deal with the likes of Sidney Crosby, who's still on the mend from a broken jaw. Also ailing is James Neal who's still in the process of recovering from concussion. So the Pens will be sans two very dangerous forwards tonight - that's the good news.

The bad news is, of course, is not knowing what's going to happen with the Candadiens' defense which, since the season-ending injury to Alexei Emelin, is but a shell of its former self. In response to this, Therrien has put Yannick Weber into the lineup as the 7th defensemen, perhaps to take some of the pressure of the shoulders of the still learning Nathan Beaulieu.

Other lineup changes: After getting a night off, Brandon Prust will return to action, while Michael Ryder, who got a therapy day yesterday, is again struggling with an undefined upper body injury, and will sit tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who stoned the Habs in his last start, gets the obvious call tonight for the Pens.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Lineup Changes

Yannick Weber is going to get his chance tonight against the Pens. I suppose if you're going to throw the kid back into the pool, it might as well be the deep end.

Final lineups haven't been provided, but I'd reckon with White out, Therrien will be starting 7 defensemen tonight (the less likely alternative would be sitting the somewhat struggling Beaulieu).

Gameday preview shortly.

About Last Night

So can we panic now? Two thumpings on a magnificent scale in the span of 48 hours, and the City of Montreal is sent reeling into full-blown fear that the season which for so long held a promise of a possible championship, might be hurtling off a cliff towards a total bust.

I'm not sure where we can even start with how awful last night's game was, except to say this for certain - it was far worse than Saturday's loss to Toronto, where at least the loss was explained by poor netminding and lucky Toronto puck bounces.

But last night? Oy. For the first time in his career, Carey Price was pulled in the middle of a start for the second consecutive game. Fair enough - but Price's start wasn't nearly as shaky as Saturday, and the decision to remove him from the game was, I thought, Therrien getting one of his key players out of the firing line. It was a mercy decision, not a statement of dissatisfaction, at least about how Carey played.

The problem started and ended with the defense, which easily had its worst performance of the year. There's no doubt in my mind that this team is clearly the missing the presence of Alexei Emelin, whose physicality (once League hits leader) and positional awareness was a benefit that was overlooked and unappreciated. Emelin, we can now safely say, set a tone on the ice. Last night, the Habs could only muster a measly two hits through 40 minutes. That's horrible. After the game, Michel Therrien indicated that Emelin's absence has hit this team very hard. It's difficult to disagree with that assessment.

What to do? As I mentioned last night during the game, I think Therrien should go right back with Budaj to start tomorrow night against the Pens. It'll give Carey Price a little more time to clear his head, and to have him start on Thursday night against the woeful Lightening is as good an opportunity as ever to regain some badly needed confidence, with a victory, however it is against an inferior opponent. We thought it was the Flyers which would be the cure, but it'll have to be Tampa.

More later.

UPDATE: Just after my post-mortem was posted, Therrien announced that Budaj would be getting the start against the Pens. So, there you go.

RyanWhite's Last Moments as a Hab

He'll probably get five games for that, but it really doesn't matter, because White's days in Montreal are almost now certainly done.

Last night. Oh boy. Last night. More later about that.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Game Forty-Two: Flyers vs. Habs

First Period:

- Bounces don't seem to going Habs way lately, do they? Beaulieu with a rookie mistake facing his goaltender on the rebound, not sure if Simmonds was trying to bank the puck it, but whatever works, I guess. 1-0.

- All eyes on Price to see how he responds to that unfortunate early goal.

- Hoo boy. Price fighting the puck, and it's 2-0. Bell Centre crowd stunned.

- Price's SP over his last 9 shots is .410. Uhhh ... kay.

- White fighting for every start, and now he gets tossed for the game. Prospects of post-season play now rapidly diminishing to near zero.

- Some of the fickle faithless now ribbing Price for routine saves. Getting ugly.

- Price handling that puck as though it were a grenade. Very nervous times.

- Habs playing very tentatively, being overly defensive, I suspect in reaction to that soft 2nd Flyers go. Philadelphia controlling the pace and the puck here.

- Beaulieu with one of his less memorable periods. Therrien may give him the powerplay yank sooner than Diaz' return, whenever that happens.

- This period strongly resembling last week's Habs/Sabres game, the Canadiens tonight playing Buffalo's role.

- Gallagher doing with Gallagher does best, being an unbearable pest around the opposition's net, and drawing penalties by overreacting defenders. Habs back on the powerplay.

- Subban with more sloppy Habs play. Fighting the puck is infectious.

- Price, dare we say, is settling down a bit. But will it hold?

- Doctor's orders, Pacioretty scores (see my pregame preview) off a pretty intentional redirect from Plekanec. Habs back in it.

- Flyers losing it here, march to the box continues.

- Habs got it going late in the period with those powerplays, but the Flyers were still easily the dominate team. Habs fortunate to come away down by just a goal.

Second Period:

- Given how one-sided this game has been, seems preposterous that this game is tied, but Habs specialty units bailing them out.

- And Josh Gorges immediately gives it back. Habs' defence inexcusably sloppy with the puck tonight. 3-2 Flyers.

- Pacioretty with two points so far. Early to say the corner's been turned, but we're hopeful.

- Flyers determined to give the Habs hope tonight taking series of stupid penalties. Can Habs PP do it one more time?

- Beaulieu is killing this powerplay. Michel, this must end.

- Oh my. How'd Bourque manage to not score on that picture perfect setup? With a fickle stick that shatters on the follow through. Should be 3-3.

- Not a softy but not unstoppable. Hartnell puts the Flyers back up two, and the city of Montreal gears up for the goaltending crisis.

- Bryzgalov gives up a ridiculous rebound, Galchenyuk makes it a one goal game. Difficulties keeping pace here.

- We could be looking at one of those 6-7, 8-7 type final scores. Heck, we're nearly there already.

- Habs just totally abandoning their zone. It's 5-3. Timeout needed.

- This is almost certainly the worst collective performance by the Habs defence this season. Worse than the 6-0 Leafs drubbing.

- If the Habs do lose tonight, a lot of the simplistic vile will be targeted at Price, but the real villain tonight was the Habs defense. Inexcusably sloppy and undisciplined.

- Disastrous period for the Canadiens - possibly the worst of the whole year. Price ought to be fuming because his team totally abandoned him for the wolves.

Third Period:

- Although I'm sure it was a mercy move, Price has been pulled for the second straight game. Pretty sure that's never happened in his life.

- Gonna be LOTTA talk about who starts Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, but Therrien's gotta go with Budaj, who's won one there earlier this season. Have Price start on Thursday against Tampa.

- Who knew Emelin was such a key part of this team's success? I think we're getting an idea now, because this team hasn't been the same since.

- Don't let the 3rd period stats fool you that the Habs responded to the 3 goal deficit. Flyers have been coasting this one home.

- And they score. Guess what. More sloppy defence begot by lazy turnover. 7-3.

- And here we thought Sunday morning was intolerable. The media is going to have a field day over this crushing home loss to an Eastern Conference bottom feeder. The city is about to melt down, and we're still technically in first place.

But there are many ugly issues emerging. Goaltending is officially a concern. So too is the porous defence which was, to be honest, simply horrible tonight. Clearly, very clearly, this team is missing Emelin's physical presence, but there are, unfortunately, no short-term solutions that readily come to mind. This is the team we have, there's no where else to go.

Therrien's post-game comments should be very interesting and telling.

Today's Events:

I'm a marathon runner by hobby. So what's happened today is particularly awful on a personal level. The world is a messed-up place.

We'll still be posting live tonight, but yeah ... this sucks.

Gameday Game Preview:

Okay, I've had a day or two to mope around. But we're SO done with that now. On to bigger and better things. Like the Flyers. They are, as usual, bigger. But they aren't better. Not this year, that's for sure.

It's sad, but I just can't get that hate on for Philadelphia any more. They're just so pathetic. Near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Flyers have been plagued by inconsistent play much of this year, especially in their own zone. The defense; a mess - 25th rated in the League, a ranking almost unheard of from a team that's long prided itself for keeping its own house in order.

Goaltending, a position that has hobbled the organization for well over two decades, is in total shambles. It is all but certain now that the enigmatic Ilya Bryzgalov's contract will be bought out at the end of the season. With only the 2nd-string quality Steve Mason on the roster, few if any first-string summer free agent options to choose from, and relatively little coming down the prospect pipe, Philadelphia's goaltending problem could be even worse in the years ahead.

The Flyers' specialty units are actually pretty good this year - arguably the best overall in the League.  They have the 3rd rated powerplay and 6th rated penalty kill. It's beyond odd man scenarios that the abyss is encountered. Their 5-on-5 F/A ratio is a horrid .75, which puts Philly barely ahead of the god-awful Calgary Flames.

That alone is why I think the Habs should have a relatively straightforward time handling the Flyers tonight. The Canadiens enter the game with the 4th rated F/A ratio of 1.3, which is wayyyyy ahead of Philadelphia. The more the game is played 5-on-5, the greater the advantage for the Habs.

Of course, it won't be a cakewalk. Winning never is in today's NHL. It remains critical that the Habs continue to win, to secure a high playoff seeding, and to create that critical winning momentum entering the post-season. Conversely, the Canadiens must also be wary of protecting key elements of their team, which means either significantly reducing, or resting players who've struggled with injuries. Brandon Prust and Rene Bourque are the two obvious candidates for rest or reduced time, but then you have to also consider other critical players who've had touchy short-term injuries. Thomas Plekanec had that groin injury that kept him out of the lineup for a game - there's no point in taking any significant chance of having him reaggravate that ailment.

Other issues of concern: Max Pacioretty has had a feast but mostly famine season. Right now he's starved for goal production, just 3 goals in his past 19 games (yeah, that's bad). So now's the time for Max to start turning the ship towards a more productive direction - we need him scoring in the post-season, because without him, advancing beyond the first round will be particularly difficult.

Carey Price. Oh, Carey. What to say? He's played well this season, he's had a few starts where he's been the key difference between victory and defeat. But lately, he's struggled - not so much with mechanics, but with a tendency of giving up soft goals at inopportune times, which is a pretty strong indicator that he's struggling with confidence. That shaky confidence display was none more glaringly obvious than the first 10 minutes of Saturday's game, where beach ball sized pucks would have probably still found the back of the net.

Michel Therrien, I think very wisely, gave Price a vote of reassurance this weekend, and aptly, will be starting him tonight, looking for a rebound performance. Price has a pretty solid history of playing well after bombing a start, and given the relative weakness of the opponent tonight, a strong performance could go a long way towards building up Carey's confidence levels.

Puck drops 7:40 EST at the very friendly confines of Bell Centre. We'll be there with live blogging updates.

About Saturday Night

Shaddup. Go away. Leave me alone. I don't wanna talk about it.

God, I hate the Leafs.

Has the Sun risen yet?

More later. I guess. Blah.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Game Forty-One: Habs vs. Leafs

First Period:

- So Prust is shifted back to the first line, Bourque shifted to the 4th, which is a pretty strong indication that Therrien is wanting to set a physical tone.

- Leafs off to quick start on the powerplay, Gorges plays the puck instead of the body and gets burned. 1-0 Toranna.

- Leafs with lots of energy early, Habs will need to adjust their intensity level quickly, or it could be 2-0 soon.

- As the doctor ordered, Prust drops them with McLaren. Didn't think that one would ever end.

- Nice reply by Habs here, Plekanec line generating some energy, Eller line follows accordingly.

- Reimer has the tendency of giving up rebounds, so Habs are taking shots with every opportunity, looking for goals off those rebounds. Good strat.

- Carey Price is one shot away from getting yanked. That might have been his weakest of the year.

- Habs gunning Reimer's glove side, which is his strong side. Not there, guys.

- Price should get the yank now. Yup, he's gone. So too, I suspect, are those new pads he started wearing tonight.

- Drewiske responds with a soft wrister on Reimer's *blocker* side. One more, please. 3-1.

- Giving up juicy rebounds and now whiffing on a routine Markov point shot that clangs the post, Reimer is now looking suspect, at best.

- If you told me the Habs were outshooting the Leafs 13-4 but losing 3-1 I'd have called you crazy. But here we are.

- Wow. 13-5 shot total, score is 4-1. Leafs continue to deny gravity.

- Habs have played a very good period, arguably better than the Leafs, but the netminding is AWOL. Maddening, simply maddening.

- Some solace, Gallagher suckers Kadri into a stupid penalty.

- Gionta the wiffmaster so far tonight.

- Bizarreness abounds. Everything that could have gone right for the Leafs went right, just about everything that could have gone went wrong for the Habs in that period. That said, there's still loads of time left in this game, and I still think Reimer doesn't look his usual self. Be interesting to see how the Habs collectively respond to the deep hole that's been dug.

Second Period:

- It's been almost 23 years since anyone's scored 4 goals in 5 first period shots (Pens vs. Nords in October 1990). H/T TSN's Kevin Gibson.

- Speechless. First period Fenwick was +20 Habs, +6 Leafs. That period went beyond anomalies.

- Tremendous shift by the Eller line. Keep playing 'em, Michel.

- Budaj two tremendous saves, but Habs had exceptionally sloppy, Markov somewhere else getting caught twice on the same shift, the second time results in a Kessel goal. The drubbing is on.

- That said, Frankie Bouillon continues to be the weakest link on defence. -2 tonight and counting.

- Yeah I know the defence has to get involved, but 4-on-1 breaks? Good grief.

- Kinda need Subban to be on that powerplay, not getting suckered into undisciplined penalties. Oy.

- Gionta has fanned on four shots so far. Four. What is that about?

- Pacioretty slump continues, gripping stick too hard or something, missing too many can't-miss chances.

- Oh please don't tell me Prust has hurt his left arm again. This night has been awful enough already.

- Dunno what to say. File this game under M for "messed up". 20 minutes more to endure, and then it's home, sweet home.

Third Period:

- If Prust is done for the night, I'm already dreading tomorrow's injury report. I think I'll just stay in bed and hide under the covers instead.

- Prust is on the bench. What a relief. This game became a lot more watchable.

- Gionta's had a bad night, and now he slashes Kessel out of frustration.

- Game's a foregone conclusion but it would be nice to get this powerplay producing.

- Therrien no longer playing Markov/Subban PP combo, giving Beaulieu some icetime instead.

- Budaj gets my vote for Habs player still bothering to show up with the game long over award.

- Good news tonight is that the Bruins lost to the Canes (Boston - who can figure them out?). Of course this also means the Habs blew a great opportunity tonight cementing their grip on first place.

- Okay, best to just forget this game happened. Habs head home to play the Flyers, kicking off 4 games in 7 days, three of them at home. My bet is that Therrien goes right back to Price on Monday night, and I wouldn't be surprised if Price responds with a solid outing.

Gameday Game Preview

Writing these little updates is so much more enjoyable when you know your team is already headed to the post season.  Yeah, I know it's not like it's been 10 years (*cough* Leafs *cough*) since we've been in the playoffs, but there's something extra satisfying about the way this team qualified, especially coming off one of the most disastrous seasons in franchise history.

Speaking of disasters, the Toronto Maple Leafs. I kid! Actually, it's true. I kid. The Leafs are FINALLY going to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Yeah, it's actually been that long for the poor fans in southern Ontario. So let's take a moment of pity before we show these guys no mercy, amiright?

Why are the Leafs so much better? Well, for starters they hired a guy who knows how to coach. Then they implemented a new philosophy that was really not particularly complicated: take care of your own zone, and everything else will follow.
So where can we see the improvement in Toronto? By far the Leafs have improved with the penalty kill, which for so many years was ranked near or at the bottom of the League. This season? 3rd best. That's pretty impressive, turnaround-wise.

Other net benefits from the philosophical shift: The Leafs' GAA is ranked 18th. Last year it was 29th. Their goaltending, long maligned, has been pretty solid. So credit where credit is due, the Leafs' improvement from their zone outward has helped position them for a decent finish in the Eastern Conference.

That's the good news for the Leafs. Now for a little bad. They've been lucky.

Toronto's PDO is 1.30, which is 1st (or worst) in the NHL. Just to recap, if your PDO is 1.0, that usually means the points you've earned in the standings are reasonably reflective. Anything below 1.0 indicates underperformace, anything above 1.0 means you're overperforming.

What this means is the Leafs' have been getting an awful lot of favorable bounces - their shooting percentages have been defying gravity in combination with goaltending percentages that simply can't be sustained. In other words, their place in the standings isn't really where they ought to be, although it stands to reason with a sound defensive game, you can beat the curve for a period of time. But not forever. Whatever goes up has gotta come down. With a ridiculously low 46.7% fenwick, I'd make a very large wager that over an 82 game schedule, the Leafs would eventually fade out of the playoff picture.

From the Leafs' perspective, PDO and fenwick don't matter - they're in the playoffs, and that's all that matters. So tonight, the Leafs come in on a pretty good clip, winners of 5 of their past 7.  The Leafs have been led of late by excellent performances by Phil Kessel, who you might recall couldn't score a lick the first quarter of the season. Well no more - Kessel has been on a bit of a team lately, 6 points his last three games, four of them goals. Meanwhile, James Reimer, who'll start tonight, is slowly emerging as a qualified first stringer, which for many a Leafs fans will come as great relief to the chagrin of Canucks fans, who now appear firmly stuck with Roberto Luongo.

On the Habs' side, it's business as usual. After disappearing into an offensive abyss, Davie Desharnais played his best game in a long time against the Sabres on Thursday night, so keep an eye on him and his line for continued improvement. Suffice to say, the Habs need his production to be on target for the playoffs, Lars Eller and Thomas Plekanec can't carry all the weight.

Carey Price will start after an "okay" outing against the Flyers on Tuesday.

Puck drops at 7:20 EST.


That's about as close to tasting the post-season as Steve Ott's gonna get.

More later.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Game Forty: Habs vs. Sabres

First Period:

- Very agreeable to Therrien's decision in moving Ryder alongside Eller and Galchenyuk. Eller's been our best playing forward this month.

- Plekanec doesn't fool anyone, especially Miller. Bourque was ideally positioned to receive the pass on the 2-on-1 break.

- Quite a few Habs jerseys in the stands tonight in Buffalo. Scoring tickets costs about 1/4 the price for the Bell Centre.

- Excellent first save by Budaj on Myers. Beaulieu not in very good position during that Sabres rush.

- This Bourque/Plekanec thing might work after all. Pretty pass Bourque to Pleks, prettier dish Pleks to Gionta. 1-0. Sabres defense ... who knows?

- Habs have been trying to feed a winger from defense to high slot for the last couple of weeks, but it never works. The shooting lanes are nearly always jammed.

- Buffalo, for whatever reason, is one of the few places in the east where Subban isn't booed each time he touches the puck.

- Ryder shift pays off, nice blind feed to Galchenyuk, 2-0. Sabres defense once again MIA. This could get ugly.

- Habs are just on it with puck possession. Sabres are being made dizzy chasing the puck around their zone. Simply no contest right now.

- First period looked exactly like a bottom feeder team against a League-leading team. Habs merely need to play that period two more times and they can clinch their post-season spot.

- Ott plasters Gallagher, Habs had no enforcer on the ice to respond, so Bouillon drops his gloves - and unbelievably gets the takedown over Ott.

Second Period:

- Well that's nice. Bourque has been credited with Habs first goal, assists to Gionta and Plekanec.

- Sabres' defense is absolutely wretched. There is no other way of describing them. Gallagher all alone in front of Miller off a point shot rebound. The nearest defender was a good 20 feet away. Just awful.

- Sabres are waving the white flag for their season. Habs forwards going straight at Miller at will. This game could get embarrassing.

- Eller line again looks fine, but Desharnais/Pacioretty/Gallagher have arguably looked even better, which is a refreshing change for that struggling line.

- Therrien rewarding accordingly, Desharnais line rewarded with first shift on the powerplay.

- 8 minutes left, shots are 28-9. Yup, that's about right.

- Habs taking a page out of Washington's Tuesday night book, clogging up the shooting lanes. When something does get through, Budaj is there.

- Markov on the powerplay makes it four - zeerow.

- Make-up call on Prust. Sabres need something, anything here.

- Boos rain down, Sabres' behinds receiving a sound thrashing tonight. 32-11 shots total through 40 minutes. The play has been even more lopsided.

Third Period:

- As if they needed more of it, Habs' collective Corsi numbers are likely to be through the roof after this one is done.

- Flynn ruins Budaj's shutout bid, shorthanded no less. Markov making silly and unnecessary pinch and gets caught. Therrien won't like that play, especially by someone who ought know better. 4-1.

- So making slight contact with the goaltender outside the crease is also a penalty? Okay, then.

- Sabres doing a very good demonstration of what a 30th ranked powerplay looks like.

- Doesn't seem right for Subban to not be on the scoresheet. We can put that to bed now. 5-1. P.K. now leads the League defenseman scoring race by 5 points.

- The night gets even worse for the Sabres, as they're called for abuse of officials. Wow.

- Thanks to those fiercesome Islanders, Habs are back in first place. Helped by a pathetic performance by the Sabres, and the Habs, let's not forget, are a danged good hockey team that played a danged good game tonight. Possession differential was ridiculous, the final Corsi numbers should be as interesting as they will be lopsided.

Oh yeah. Let's not forget. The Habs have officially clinched a playoff spot. But that mission was long ago a foregone conclusion. The focus now is on preparing for, and winning a championship.

Gameday Game Preview of the Game Tonight Preview 

One more win. That's all that's required. Two lousy points and the Habs can put a little "x" beside their name where x marks the spot for "book a post-season ticket".

The only thing standing in the way of accomplishing what we all pretty much knew was going to happen three months ago are the Buffalo Sabres.

Now, these Sabres. They largely gutted their roster before the trade deadline for picks and prospects, even though they had faint hopes of qualifying for a playoff spot. With only a handful of games left, however, those hopes are pretty much gone, as Buffalo finds itself in 12th place, 8 points behind 8th with 8 games to go. You do the math.

So are the Sabres playing desperate? We've been here before, with games against so-called "desperate" teams, including the Jets and 'Canes from a couple of weeks ago, both contests relatively easily won by the Canadiens. Still, those games were won while we had a healthy defense. Today, not so much. Emelin is done until next season. Diaz is still out (for how long is still anyone's guess), and if Tuesday's game against Washington is any indication, the blue line isn't near as physical as it was once before, or needs to be.

The Sabres are a relatively healthy bunch, with just Alex Sulzer and Ville Leino out with injuries. After getting off to a torrid start, winger Thomas Vanek has more or less come crashing back to earth. Scoring 23 points in his first 10 games, Vanek has since tallied just 10 points in his last 20 starts.

Other odds and ends: The Sabres sub-12% powerplay makes them the worst in the have the League, Habs continue to motor along, 4th overall. Buffalo isn't a whole lot better on the PK - 26th overall, the Habs, after a sluggish start to their PK unit where they struggled to stay atop the bottom third, have improved a tad to 14th overall.

Sabres, in case you hadn't seen much of them during the year, have been chronically guilty of turning the puck over in their own zone, making them exceptionally vulnerable to the forecheck, of which has been one of the Habs' big strength this season. So on paper, this really shouldn't be much of a contest.

Ryan Miller will start tonight for Buffalo, and the freshly re-signed Peter Budaj will get the nod for the Habs.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Game Thirty-Nine: Caps vs. Habs

First Period:

- Lots of buzz in the Bell Centre tonight. This game has suddenly become one of the hottest tickets of the season.

- Bad news comes early. Chris Lee tonight. Sorry Habs fans.

- World class saves by Price out of the gate. Caps' offense looks really good.

- The Bouillon-Beaulieu combo is making me mighty nervous. Caps trying to get Ovechkin out there when they're on.

- Pretty sure the word "quit" is not part of Gallagher's vocabulary.

- First five minutes was all Caps. Since then it's been mostly Habs. Working the puck out of the D zone with relative ease.

- Caps seem to be taking the "E" word to heart tonight.

- Eller opens the scoring, Caps offense way too flippant and fancy on the rush, and took way too much time hustling back to cover their man. Eller was all alone.

- Ovechkin gets called for a slash as time expires.

- Price with one of his best periods of the season, Caps had many fine chances. Big picture though, Habs were miles ahead on the fundamentals, especially transitioning out of their zone. For the most part, Canadiens did a very good job containing #8, who appeared more interested in hovering around centre ice for a break pass. Ovie wanting it all himself, I guess.

Second Period:

- Excellent first powerplay, should generate some additional momentum.

- Once again the Eller line is setting the tone for the game. They're the 3rd line but they're playing like the 1st.

- Since Caps went up 9-0 in shot total to start the game, it's been 15-3 Habs.

- Was at Jets game when Bell Centre scoreboard was hit. Just happened again. I swear it's not me.

- Ovechkin. You just know Price wants that back. Simply whiffed on what looked like a harmless wrister.

- Caps with all the mo now. Habs not moving their feet in their zone.

- And there it is. 2-1. Game turned on its head just like that.

- Pushback by Habs here. Lots of buzz around Caps net.

- Credit where credit due, Neuvirth has been very solid.

- Odd duck period, Habs were arguably the better team except for 1:46 when the Caps potted two iffy goals off a mysteriously and suddenly shakey Carey Price. Now the Habs enter some pretty unfamiliar territory. Trailing on the scoreboard after 40 minutes.

Third Period:

- Habs have one hit tonight from their defense. One. In 40 minutes. Alexei Emelin, where are you?

- If nobody else will bother maybe Tinordi is due a chance. At the very least you know he's good for a bodycheck or four.

- While we're at it should also mention Habs defense guilty of lobbing far too many long passes that have no chance of being received, many resulting in turnovers and quality chances for the Caps.

- Caps forwards have been ALL over Subban tonight, barely giving him room to breath and absolutely no lanes to shoot. Kudos there.

- At least Price couldn't see that shot. Not much consolation. 3-1.

- Habs have got nothin going here. Absolutely nothin.

- Chris Lee will require his usual escort out of the building. Just brutal.

- Caps have had a stick or a leg in front of anything resembling a dangerous shot or pass this period. Frustrating.

- Eller! We might do this yet.

- Frantic finish. Not sure how that puck didn't go in, but it didn't.

Pregame Game Preview

Bonjour! It's yet another night of live blogging from the Bell Centre, the seats at centre ice (yay) and the opposition none other than the very hot Washington Capitals and the even hotter Alex Ovechkin. This one won't be easy.

Just how hot are both the Caps and their captain? Well, last time we faced Washington they were firmly in control over 15th and last place in the Eastern Conference. Mr. Ovechkin was getting plenty of criticism not only for his lack of offensive production, but his lacklustre on ice effort. Some were speculating that the Caps would be scraping their season and dangling out Ovechkin for picks and prospects.

Fast forward a few weeks and the Caps suddenly find themselves in 3rd place in the East, granted that being a benefit from playing in the terrible South East Division, where there's an outside possibility that this year's division winner might end up with fewer points than the Conferences' 9th place finisher.

Still, Ovie has been on fire - scoring 15 goals the past 11 games, for a grand total of 25 for the season, tying him for the League lead. That ain't bad, turnaround-wise.

So tonight, keep number 8 under wraps, and you've got a good shot at victory. The Habs will almost certainly look to their number one centre, Thomas Plekanec, do to most of the Ovie shadowing, although keep an eye on Rene Bourque, who's making his return tonight after many weeks missed from concussion. Bourque will play on the Habs 4th line, so don't be surprised to see Michel Therrien send Rene out for a few shifts to cover Ovechkin in order to free Plekanec up for some powerplay shifts.

By now you've heard about the season-ending injury to Alexei Emelin, which is a very significant blow to the Habs physicality on its blue line, PLUS it means the Habs will have to lean more heavily on Frankie Bouillon, who to be frank, has been terrible the past three weeks, and now finds himself slotted as the #4 defenseman in a League where he ought be no higher than #6. What can ya do??

Carey Price will start tonight, while Michal Neuvirth, who's been pretty iffy this season, gets the nod for the Caps.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Game Thirty-Eight: Bruins vs. Habs

First Period

- The atmosphere is a tad electric tonight. Go figure.

- Bouillon in a fight is never going to end up well.

- Habs out of the gate with a vengeance, transition out if their zone has been outstanding.

- Bruins by contrast, having difficulty adjusting to Habs forechecking, Prust generates the giveaway, and Galchenyuk tosses the loose puck in front off a leg and an early 1-0 lead. Excellent start.

- Bruins with pushback here. Habs quite physical along the boards.

- Eller and Galchenyuk on fire. Eller doesn't get half the recognition he deserves for his wonderful effort (especially the past two weeks).

- Emelin looking to make a huge hit runs into the brick wall that is Lucic. Appeared to go awkwardly into the boards. Doesn't look good for a return. That's very bad news.

- Lucic, I should add, did nothing wrong. He braced himself for the hit and sent Emelin flying.

- 5 minutes left in the first, shots are 9-2 Habs.

- As suspected the bad news confirmed, Emelin will not return tonight. Now we worry if he'll return anytime soon.

- Pretty much a perfect period for the Habs, the Eller line was excellent, the Bruins defense had trouble adjusting to the forecheck, transition from defense to offense was nearly perfect, and Price had very few, if any shots that were difficult. The question is, will the Habs have one of their second period sags tonight? Here' hoping not.

Second Period

- Ryder with an unbelievable tip off Subban's point shot. That's 32 points for Subban and counting. Crazy insane good.

- Emelin's injury means more icetime for Bouillon. That ain't good.

- Habs 2, Bruins lucky bounce 1.

- Gorges with goal save swipe on the loose puck, Price way out of position. Bullet dodged.

- Eller, who deserves a goal as much as anyone, positively robbed by Rask point blank.

- Bruins have dominated since the fluke goal. Eller line has been doing its best to regain some momentum, but they can't do it all themselves. Deshairnas line needs to show up at some point.

- Sag period for the Habs. That's the bad news. Good news is Habs still hold one goal lead heading into the third. They have surrendered very few times this season holding the lead in the final frame.

Third Period

- Hard to say if fatigue will play a deciding factor, but Gorges and Subban are going to both clock near 30 minutes of regular icetime tonight.

- Price with two tough saves, 25 footer off Chara, redirect off Campbell. Bruins getting way too many chances here, Habs playing far too defensive. Seems like only a matter of time before Boston scores, Canadiens need game changing play or shift to keep this under control.

- Of the 23 shots taken by the Bruins, 12 have come from a defenseman.

- Great shift by Eller line. Let's hope that generates some badly needed momentum.

- Ryan White, you'll not get a prettier setup. Gotta cash that in.

- Habs have to grind something out. Sitting on the lead never leads to anything good.

- Six and a half left. I can't see them holding on to this. Hoping I'm wrong.

- 242 seconds life. Habs are simply holding on at this point. When they aren't dumping they're icing. Oy.

- Refs put away their whistles until the 59 minute mark. Oy.

- The Bruins absolutely butchered that 6 on 4 powerplay. Habs get monumental victory.

Gameday Game Preview

I tried getting a ticket for tonight's game. Heaven knows I tried. Unfortunately I haven't a spare $300 to see the game from the 400 section. I certainly don't have $800 sitting around for a good seat. Ugh. The perils of seeing a first place team, I suppose.

Thomas Plekanec skated with the team this morning and is probable to start tonight. Thank goodness.

More later.

Gameday Lineups

1st: Lucic - Krejci - Horton;
2nd: Marchand - Seguin - Jagr;
3rd: Pandolfo- Peverley - Daugavins
4th: Paille - Campbell - Thornton

Chara - Hamilton;
Ference - Seidenberg;
Bartkowaki - Boychuk

Tuukaa Rask shall start.

- Uncertain because Pleks isn't yet 100% confirmed. If he doesn't start then expect pretty much the same lineup as the Jets' game.