Thursday, 5 November 2015

Game Fifteen: Islanders vs. Habs


- Habs and Islanders through 40 minutes. As you may note, Islanders dominated possession and shot attempts in that 2nd:

- Byron definitely not meshing with either Galchenyuk or Eller on that second line. And the merry-go-round of 4th liners continues.

- Brendan Gallagher is simply an outstanding forward in the attacking zone. I can think of few others, actually, I'm hard pressed to think of anyone else, who has the same level of physical presence and puck command. He's borderline elite.

- Huge break for the Habs as a puck played up the boards on what would have been an icing, hits the linesman and gives Fleischmann an odd man break with Desharnais. 2-1 Habs. A quintessential puck luck play in favour of the team that's arguably been outplayed so far.

- This is very much 2014-15 Habs type of game - so the next obvious question is, will they try to sit on a one goal lead with 13 minutes left?

- We have our answer, and it is no. A beautiful shift by the Plekanec line, and even more beautiful is the way they cycled the puck in the New York zone. Gallagher to Plekanec to Pacioretty to Gallagher for the tip in. A work of art. And a 3-1 lead.

- Condon has had more than a few strokes of luck this season, giving up rebounds from the point, and diving on his belly. Lots of missed opportunities by his opponent so far, but eventually, that luck is going to run out.

- Habs now trying to protect the lead by stacking their blue line - which is an okay strategy as long as you ensure your opponent can't gain the zone. If they do, you're in trouble. Islanders have done it a couple of times.

- Habs just chipping everything away in sight. Islanders are generating more and more chances, as Montreal is pretty much surrendering two-thirds of the ice. Four minutes remain.

- Apart from the sit-mode that the Habs are working on right now, Montreal much better with zone exits this period. It certainly helped them to sustain some pressure after taking a one goal lead.

- Plecks with the empty netter, a conservative victory tonight against a pretty fast and skilled Islanders team. Sometimes you don't aways have play better to win games. Habs simply took advantage of the chances that were provided (puck off the linesman), while the Islanders did not (Tavares missing the empty net). Good teams, really good teams, tend to do that a lot.


- Habs and Islanders after 20 minutes, Montreal with a distinct edge:

- Still not convinced Tavares isn't 100%, missing a wide open net during the Islanders first powerplay.

- Okposo opens the scoring off the rush with the powerplay running out, Subban/Markov a bit too passive retreating on the rush, and Condon is caught flat-footed. That's Condon's big weakness - there are periods where he's not moving his feet enough, making him particularly vulnerable on snap shots and breakaways.

- Powerplays, even if they don't score goals, can help produce lots of momentum, and get forwards moving their feet faster. The Islanders, since that man advantage, are distinctly quicker than the Habs right now.

- Almost halfway though the 2nd, it's been almost all New York this period. Shots, shot attempts, zone pressure. Habs are getting steamrolled.

- Fans definitely not getting their money's worth. Islanders have focused on carrying the zone, but haven't been able to string together those passes to finish scoring plays. Habs are looking like last year's team - lots of puck dumps, lots of chases. Very boring hockey.

- Most exciting part of the period comes with less than 10 seconds left. That pretty much sums it up.

- Islanders much better period - they're implementing a strategy that focuses on their speed advantages, Habs playing very much a road game at home tonight. Very close checking, very risk-adverse. Makes for a pretty ho-hum game, which is probably just fine from New York's perspective.


- Islanders seem more determined to hit bodies than to construct meaningful offensive rushes. At least so far. If this is the Islanders "formula" for winning, that is, hitting like it's 2006, then they're in for a shock come the playoffs.

- Pretty tight checking period - both teams doing a very good job forcing wingers wide on the rush. Shots are either being easily blocked, or easily saved.

- When the play isn't being forced to the permitter, it's being dumped in. Both teams doing a lot of that in this period, Habs especially so. Their strategy tonight looks to be very, very conservative.

- Islanders penalty kill is a clinic. Absolute perfection covering passing lanes in their zone.

- Amazing how many times Subban has hurt his own teammates with that cannon from the point. I know this is a terrible thing to write, but are they shots impossible to avoid from 40 feet? Smith-Pelly the latest victim.

- Smith-Pelly might be able to drive the net, might be able to draw penalties, but he has almost no ability to score actual goals. Therefore, he's no business playing on that 2nd line. Oh well.

- I give up arguing that Dale Weise should never be on the powerplay. He scores yet another one off a nifty deflection off a Petry point shot, Weise's 8th of the season. He's having a crazy incredible season so far.

- To put Weise into perspective, most reasonable estimates would have Weise top-end season goal production at 15. He's already more than halfway past that mark, 1/6th of the way through the season.

- Good period for the Habs, they played it very safe, but still had control of the tempo with the Islanders focusing more on hits. Net result, the Canadiens had most of the offensive zone play, leading eventually to the opening goal. So far, so good.


You know, I'm still bummed out about the whole Semin situation, so I'm going to keep this to a minimum, in point form.

- First big story - John Tavares, who was reportedly sick as bedridden dog over the weekend, will play tonight, although there's no indication he's at 100%.

- Habs will play the same lineup tonight, which means it's Smith-Pelly on the 2nd line.

- Here's some things to keep an eye out for as you watch the Islanders tonight: The Islanders' numbers into this season are slightly worse than last, possession-wise. But then again, they've been a little Jekyll and Hyde, winning and losing by larger than average margins.

- Islanders' special teams are ... kinda really pretty good so far. New York has the 3rd best powerplay in the League clocking in at 27.6%, while their penalty killing unit is top-rated, with a 90.9% success rate. In other words, the Habs would be wise to just keep this game 5v5 for as much as possible.

- New York's goaltending has also been solid, running under a split system. Thomas Greiss, who's the Islanders' 1b netminder, has posted a .924 SV%, while Jaro Halak, goaltender 1a, comes in with a .936 SV%. Halak will get the start tonight.

- Even though he's missed 3 games from illness, Tavares still leads New York with 11 points. Contain Tavares, and you contain the Islanders.

- Well writing that didn't work. I'm still bummed out about Semin. This team ... I tells ya ...


So this is how it ends? So abruptly? So rudely? So ingloriously and ignominiously?

Alexander Semin, if a report yesterday by a very, very old man are accurate, is done in Montreal.

And you know what? It's a shame. A total shame.

Semin's excommunication from the team seemed to start off innocently enough. Semin had a couple of "bad" games (at least by Therrien's standards), so he became a healthy scratch. Brian Flynn took his spot for a couple of games, a fruitless venture since Brian Flynn is, has, and will never be, a 2nd line winger.

Okay, back comes Semin ... oh wait ... nope. Now comes in Devante Smith-Pelly, who's had a few decent shifts besides Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller. That's including the times when, for whatever reason, Eller wasn't benched by Therrien for committing some kind of heinous hockey crime. We're still not sure what Lars did.

Thing is, we're still not entirely sure what Semin did so wrong. Yes, he wasn't scoring goals rapid fire when he suited up, but then again, he didn't need to. The Habs have been one of the top scoring teams in the League this season, to an extent that they've been winning even in spite of also having the greatest goaltender on the planet. The Canadiens have enough depth to overcome periods when a particular line isn't scoring many points.

Besides, when he did take his shifts, Semin, as well as his linemates, did well with puck possession. In 10 games, Semin's 5v5 close adjusted Fenwick was a very solid 56.6%. If Semin can be found at fault, it was for his luck, possessing a 98.6 PDO, on a team whose total average is frequently above 104. In other words, the points were eventually going to start arriving for Semin, given enough time.

However, 10 games are all he got. 107 meager minutes of ice time to prove his worth, which by the way, was and still is a bargain. $1 million for a guy that's a former 40-goal scorer. Of course, we never expected Semin to score that many this year, or for that matter 30 goals. Or possibly even 20.  At the end of the day, Semin was serving a purpose on the Habs second line - he was an asset to his linemates - his line was generating very good possession. Semin was doing what he hoped he would do.

Coach Therrien, however, saw it differently.

And now, with 4th liners trying to fill the 2nd line gap, the Habs are a slightly worse team because of Therrien's decision.

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