Saturday, 24 October 2015

Game Nine: Leafs vs. Habs


- Habs and Leafs through 40 minutes. Total domination - by the team losing by 3 goals.

- Heck of a start for the Habs in the period, underscoring another important discriminating factor why this year's team might be a lot different - 3rd period attitude has been much more aggressive, tonight being no different. If not for some puck un-luck, this game would/should be 6-2.

- Hold that thought - Rielly with a relatively harmless wrister that eats Price alive on the blocker. Leafs trail by only two - and Price not looking quite like his usual self. So ... there's hope in Toronto yet.

- Strange game, Habs outscoring Leafs 4-2 in a period that Toronto mostly owned. Habs have mostly owned this 3rd, and yet, the Leafs have narrowed the lead. Hockey.

- Habs now in icing mode. That's the bad Habs. Ut-oh.

- Man, Leafs are just having their way now, when the Habs aren't icing the puck, they're sitting back in their zone. Carey Price might have a very busy 10 minutes ahead.

- Sold out crowd getting restless, witnessing their team getting roundly out skated now. Leafs continue to buzz, full credit to them, they're not giving up. They can still pull this one out of the fire.

- Semin benching is official. DSP taking his spot on the 2nd line. Not a shocking turn of events.

- Well, it's nine. But that was easily the Habs least impressive win of the season, the Leafs, THE LEAFS, pretty much outplaying the Habs from start to finish, registering 50+ shots on Carey Price. I'm sure this game won't please Therrien, who has some issues to contend with, including general sloppiness in their own zone, soft defensive coverage around Price, and roundly getting their butts kicked at centre ice. Now the Habs take their show out west - how much longer this streak can continue remains in severe doubt if tonight's game is any indication.


- Habs and Leafs through 20 minutes:

- Pollock with a poor turnover in the O zone to Galchenyuk, who takes it end to end, Bernier gives up a juicy rebound and Eller an empty net. 2-0. This is probably one area that Babcock can't coach his team out of - sloppy giveaways, usually indicative of a team that lacks depth.

- Leafs respond quickly, with nice puck control and quick passing, JVR a redeflect off a point shot, and Komarov deposits the rebound. Still, this is how structure can assist a team lacking depth - taking what assets you have, and making the most out of them. Leafs most certainly not out of this game by any stretch of the imagination - they're playing well, especially in the Habs zone.

- Own goal against Toronto, Desharnais credit. But it illustrates one key area where the Habs have significantly improved - accurate, clean stretch passing, and controlled entires. Desharnais line has been especially good with entries, and they're producing 2nd line offence. 3-1 Montreal.

- Back come the Leafs - sustained pressure in the Habs zone, extended because of an awful, awful play by Semin who attempted to clear the zone by shooting it up the middle. Eventually JVR found the back of the net. If I'm Therrien, I sit Semin for a while after that horrible, sloppy mistake.

- Yeah, that's where my money is going for first Habs healthy scratch. Semin. There are lots of young guys who barely missed the cut who are just itching for their chances. Hudson, Thomas, just to name a couple.

- More than half way through regulation, Leafs are still the better team - better legs, taking shots at Price at every given opportunity, and doing a fine job pinning the Habs in their zone, indicative of good puck control. This game is up for grabs.

- Habs basically just hanging on right now - lots of loose puck panic around their goal, Leafs doing an excellent job forechecking, and out muscling Habs for the puck. And winning centre ice. Seems almost inevitable that they'll tie this game.

- Eller takes a bad penalty with a high stick behind the Leafs net. Habs getting schooled, and now they're being undisciplined.

- Leafs dominate, and Bernier lets them down. Off wing, shorthanded, Pacioretty beats him through the legs on a relatively harmless shot. Pacioretty's 7th of the season. Already.

- Leafs with two man advantage for nearly a minute. Back come the Leafs??

- This is probably the game - Leafs fumbling this opportunity, now 8 seconds left, and Babcock calls time. He knows what's on the line.

- Habs survive the penalties, even though they lost three consecutive deep zone faceoffs. Price, as usual, making the necessary saves.

- Leafs not getting rewarded this period - they've dominated both ends of the ice, except for one area, I suppose: Goaltending.

- Dion Phaneuf, can't handle a hit in the corner from Weise, and retaliates. Hurting his own team because he can't control his emotions. It's always been that way for Dion. Probably always will be.

- Guess what, Habs score. Subban point shot, deflected in by Gallagher. This is why Dion Phaneuf really should get a harder time in Toronto. Leaders aren't supposed to do stupid, stupid things like that. His retaliation has pretty much ended any hopes the Leafs had in getting back into this game, which they've pretty much controlled for most of the first 40 minutes. Toronto is playing a more structured game, but no coach can overcome stupid plays by its stupidest players.


- Habs rolling with the same lines, as we mentioned.

- Leafs lines tonight:


- Sometimes banking it up the boards works, Emelin's clearance gives Smith-Pelly a break, and wow, he's way faster this year than last. Bernier forced to make a very good save to keep the Habs off the scoreboard.

- Andrei Markov is playing on another level right now. In some kind of zen. Nearly sets up another scoring play with a slap pass to Mitchell for the redeflect. Bernier another good save.

- Emelin on the PK. Makes too many fundamental checking and clearance errors, and as I've said repeatedly, should only be out there as a last resort, instead of as a first.

- Galchenyuk hustles back hard to break up a Leafs 3-on-1. He's fitting in nicely at his natural position at centre, isn't he?

- Habs powerplay continues to show signs of being revitalized, working hard to cycle the puck for a point shot, preferably to Subban. Bernier looking awfully good so far.

- And there's that Subban shot, a howitzer that almost no goaltender could handle cleanly. A 25 footer coming at you 100 mph. Frightening. In any case, the Habs man advantage is doing less of the shoot and chase routine, and seems to be trying for more controlled entries. It's been paying off the past week.

- Surprisingly, that's just Subban's first of the year - although he's been responsible, directly or indirectly, for much of the Habs offence, including their now good-looking powerplay.

- Yeah, I'm convinced. This Leafs team looks wayyyyyy more organized than anything I saw from them last year. Passing is more accurate, and possession is far more structured. There is reason to be positive in Toronto.

- Leafs are thumping the Habs with possession - really nice fast transitions, Habs forwards not doing a very impressive job coming back to cover their zone, which is giving Toronto some pretty choice controlled entires, and hard short range shots on Price. Getting kind of ugly right now.

- Habs 4th line to the rescue (again), nice shift keeping the puck mostly in the Leafs zone, taking a little air out of the Leafs' current mo'.

- Leafs the better team, but the Habs have the lead. Must be awfully frustrating to play against the Canadiens, and that's not even factoring the frustration of knowing you're facing Carey Price. Anyway, Leafs were faster, better passing, had better control of the puck in the O zone, and the better scoring chances. Habs, IMO, lucky to be ahead on the scoreboard.


No way. No way. There's just no way the Habs can lose to night. They shouldn't lose tonight. THEY MUST NOT LOSE TONIGHT.

You can hear the voices already. The undefeated Habs, steamrolling over the compitition the first three weeks of the season, losing their very first game to the lowly, lowly Leafs.

We'd never hear the end of it. Never.

Thing is, this isn't a *really* bad Leafs team. At least, not quite as bad as we originally envisioned at the start of the season. Last year, the Leafs were the second worst possession team in the NHL at 44%. This year, under the helm of Mike Babcock, the Leafs are, lo and behold, currently a possession positive hockey team.

That's a huge leap forward, and a testimate to just how good Babcock's coaching skill are.

So tonight, the undefeated Habs will take on the one-win Leafs at the Bell Centre. The Leafs have one significant lineup change tonight - Peter Holland, Toronto's second line center, is a healthy scratch for Bryon Frese, who will be getting his first start of the season.

Over in Habs land, for the ninth consecutive game, the Canadiens have no lineup changes tonight. Who can argue?

Puck drops at 7:10 EST. Price vs. Bernier. Rob Ford is not expected to be in attenance.

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