Thursday, 12 February 2015

Game Fifty-Four: Oilers vs. Habs


So we had a little Habs practice today. And this is what happened:

- Lars Eller got moved to the left wing.
- Jacob de la Rose got moved to centre.
- Dale Weise still plays on the first line.
- Jiri Sekac appears set to be a healthy scratch.

Is as though the coach is living in a totally different universe, watching a completely different game. I have no other explanation.

More later.


- Gotta favor the road team to collect the extra point, for a variety of reasons (Habs iffy goaltending, being roundly outplayed, etc.)

- Yup. Thar we go. Habs implode and get their just deserts. Is there some reason why neither Markov or Subban got a shift before the winner? Anyone?


- Yakupov gets nailed by Emelin, with knees hitting. Stays down on the ice for a couple of minutes. Hit appears to be legal. Oilers are seething, though.

- Pacioretty has flung plenty of rubber on Fasth tonight. Passing? He's been pretty terrible.

- Plekanec carelessly flings his stick at the puck, and hits faces. Big question. Will it be 2 or 4?

- Habs have controlled a good chunk of this period's tempo, but are still compelled to dump the punk in from long distance. It's basically surrendering all of the hard work happening in the neutral zone.

- Oilers totally dominating the Habs four on four, and then just one little mistake at the blue line springs Pacioretty free down the wing. Boom. 3-2. Heartbreak for Edmonton who really had the Habs on the ropes.

- Habs really giving up some sloppy breaks to the Oilers, Tokarski with two near miracle saves this period. Hendricks flubs a chance he totally should have concerted with Tokarski belly down in his crease.

- Eberle looked great in the 1st, has been pretty muted and contained since then. 

- Our nightly dose of Emelin stupid, this time he makes a ridiculous and sloopy pinch at the line, resulting in a two man break, Yakupov and Hamilton, the later hitting the post off a beautiful pass. Once again, this game should be tied.

- Five minutes left, and Habs are holding to a semi-miracle one goal lead. That's how poorly they've played, and that's how much the Oilers deserve a tying goal in the waining minutes.

- And here's their chance after Plekanec takes a very dumb penalty gloving the puck off a faceoff. Com'on guys, you can tie this.

- There we are. First Plekanec can't bury an empty net, then Tokarski can't cover a very open puck, then seconds later, Nugent-Hopkins buries a loose puck. So many things done wrong by the Habs, so many things done right by the Oilers, who indeed, get a well-earned point. Maybe more.


- P.K. doing what P.K. does so well, freewheeling and carrying the zone. A perfect cross ice pass for a Galchenyuk one timer that's totally unstoppable. Pure brilliance. Subban has really lately been playing like he was during his Norris Trophey season - that is, under his terms utilizing his style. 2-0.

- Dale Weise gets plenty of compliments for playing hard, but he's still soft along the boards. Case in point how easily he was bumped off the puck, and within seconds, the Oilers' Hendricks tips in a point shot. 2-1.

- Habs first powerplay doesn't generate any goals, but puck control was good, and more than one attempt was made to carry, instead of dumping the zone. All positive indicators.

- Since the eight minute mark of the period, the Oilers have dominated this game, and just now Nugent Hopkins has tied the game, mainly because Tokarski fails to cover the puck. Tie game.

- Oilers' control of the period couinsides with Habs going back to their bad old dump and chase ways. Shocking.

- Two Habs powerplays, more good puck movement, more shots generated, Fasth with a couple of nifty saves. Again, the man advantage looks functionally effective, it's simply a matter of beating the opposing netminder.

- Goos rebound period for the Oilers, who took control over possession and held on for a good period of time, generating two goals. Tokarski looking very much who he is - a backup goaltender. But before we all jump on his case for a possible loss, we should all recall that he's the second string. He's no where close to Price. Now, or forever. It's up to the Habs offense to win this.


- Sportsnet Edmonton crew, which is just his far away from being unlistenable, really pumping up how hot Eberle is, averaging a point per game over his past 7. I tell you, if that's all you've got, then you ain't got much.  

- Habs game plan seems pretty simplistic - take shots, mostly long range tries, on Fasth. I guess looking for rebounds?

- Man, four Oilers surround a loose puck in the crease, and get zero shots on goal. The Edmonton Oilers.

- Christian Thomas with a beauty snap shoulder over Fasth's right shoulder for his first career NHL goal. Habs are ridiculously blessed with young talent. 1-0.

- Not for lack of effort by Edmonton, but they're such a collection of young individuals. Generating solo scoring chances, but little coordination between teammates. Besides that, good period for the Habs, the 4th line, which has played so well for the past two weeks since Malhotra was yanked out, finally hit the scoresheet. Not for the first time, I'm very certain.


So, are we going to win one of these games we have no business losing? Is that going to happen this year?

It's a oddity. The Montreal Canadiens have strung together a downright mediocre record against the League's five worst teams this year, posting a cumulative 5-4-1 record. It's a stat pretty much identical to that against the top five other teams in the NHL, where the Habs have put together a 4-3 record.

So why the struggles? Well, beyond statistical anomalies, mitigating factors (road weariness), there are the intangibles that go with playing teams that really have very little to lose. So on any given night, you might find your hands full combating powerhouse teams from Buffalo, or Edmonton, Or Raleigh.

But that's a touchy-feel explanation. More likely a main reason why this Habs team struggles with lower tiered clubs might have more to do with who's playing in goal, than anything else. Of the 10 games the Habs have played this year against the teams currently ranked in the bottom 5 of the NHL, Carey Price started 4 of the games, winning two. Dustin Tokarski started 6, putting up a 3-2-1 record. Not great.

Tonight, the Habs will get one more shot at beating the Oilers this season, as they host Edmonton at the Bell Centre, with Tokarski in goal. The Oilers, who are in a fierce tanking battle with the Buffalo Sabres for the best shot at the first overall pick, are just four points ahead of Buffalo for last overall.

We all know the Edmonton story to death. So let's just look at how they're playing right now. In comparison to their dreadful play the first 3 and 1/2 months of the season, not too bad, actually. Recent wins over Washington and San Jose have helped "keep" them out of the League's absolute basement.

Even so, the odds aren't much in Edmonton's favor tonight. They're now having to deal with injuries to a couple of important forwards, namely Benoit Pouliot and more critically, Taylor Hall, who's on IR for the next 4-6 weeks. To match Tokarski, the Oilers will also be going with their backup tonight in Viktor Fasth (+3 GAA and sub .900 SV%). Yeah, there's really no way the Habs should be losing this game.

Over in Habsland, Michel Therrien appears to be going with the same lineup as Tuesday night's game against the Flyers, which includes the high-flying 4th line, which includes the ridiculously impressive Jacob de la Rose, which means that for yet another game, Manny Malhotra will be watching the game from the press box.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

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