Sunday, 27 December 2015

Game 38: Habs vs. Bolts


- Habs and Lightening through 60 minutes:

- Habs really struggling to gain puck possession, which is key to these 3 on 3 things.

- Brian Flynn? With a minute left? For real??

- Weise with a pretty damn good shift to end the OT, and off to the shootout we go, which does not favour Condon very well. Really struggles with seeks.

- Flynn in the shootout is just a bizarre choice, but he scores.

- HABS ... WIN. PACIORETTY.  I'm exhausted. Worn out. 2016 can't come fast enough.


- Habs and Lightening through 40 minutes:

- Alas, Galchenyuk falls from third spot for ice time, to seventh. Meanwhile, Desharnais is posting a 19% corsi tonight, and it just a few seconds away from a top 3 spot. Maddening because Cooper sees this, and exploits it, putting Stamkos out against defensively inept forwards like DD and Weise. This could be the Habs undoing this period.

- As expected, Cooper matching Stamkos against Desharnais, and as expected, Tampa generated good scoring opportunities. Whether the Habs can survive another 15 minutes of this, we'll have to see.

- Another matching shift, more scoring opportunities generated. Condon is going to need at least two or three big saves the remainder of this game, if the Habs hope to hold on.

- Cooper taking aim at matching against the DD and Habs 4th line, which not by coincidence, have the worst CF% for the Habs tonight (by far).

- Habs not entirely sitting on this one goal lead, but they're clearing the puck out of their zone as quickly as possible, be dammed whether the puck is actually fed to a forward.

- Condon slow moving one side of the net to the other, Garrison slips it past, and the game is tied. Habs couldn't hold on.

- And it all comes undone in a flash. Callahan. Funky bounce of the puck, Condon out of position. 3-2.

- Therrien with a completely pointless challenge, for goaltender interference, which clearly didn't happen.

- So of course, challenge is denied. Habs lose their timeout. What Therrien was thinking ... who knows?

- The reality is, the Habs have been, with spots of an offensive spark here an there, been outplayed since the 10 minute mark of the 1st period. So if they do lose (again), they'll have nobody but themselves to blame.

- Well, wow. Dale Weise had scored a goal some 30 seconds before a penalty was called. They had to go to Toronto to review it, and unbelievably, the game is tied. Never seen anything like that before.

- Crazy. And now Cooper is challenging that found goal, saying Bishop was bumped before Weise scored.

- And that's denied. Tampa loses their timeout, game is tied. What else is next?

- Tight games are invariably decided by timely offensive and apt goaltending, both factors of which have gone completely south for the Habs in December. So who do you like to win this?

- Also, not taking dumb penalties. Torrey Mitchell nailed for a hook. Tampa's terrible (?) powerplay goes to work for the win.

- Habs survice, after Tampa makes a comedy of errors with the man advantage, and now it's a sprint to the finish. Good end to end action here, can't see this game going all the way to a shootout.


- Habs and Lightening through 20 minutes:

- Dale Weise (le sigh) leading all Habs forwards with 6:21 of ice time. That's the sad old news. The good news? Alex Galchenyuk cracked the top three, with 5:45. Whether that holds over 60 minutes is another story.

- Given how their talent, Tampa's powerplay doesn't look very intimidating. It's been a real sore spot with this team all season, and if their first try was any illustration, I can see why.

- Habs have played a pretty agressive tight checking period so far. Really limiting Tampa's ability to generate much of a threatening rush.

- Sigh. T.J. Luxmore, who's not a very good referee, certainly not NHL-level official, with a very poor hooking call on Markov. Tampa strike on the powerplay, Kucherov taps the puck that Condon probably should have handled. Game tied.

- Yeah, Condon batted the puck into his own net. He's played well tonight, but you just can't have your goaltender letting those in on a team as fragile as the Habs are right now.

- 8 minutes into the 2nd period, Tampa are really taking over the game - Habs tenacious checking that started the period is all but gone, team seems deflated by that Lightening goal - as if the team is collectively uttering "oh no, not again".

- Condon getting pelted at the moment, although the shots are at least coming from longer distances. It's the scrambly stuff that's been Condon's undoing for much of the past 45 days or so.

- Alex Galchenyuk helps get his team off the hook, at least for now, with a nice effort dangling the puck to feed Markov, who returns the favour, and a one-timer beats Bishop. Credit to Carr for doing the hard work generating puck turnover behind the Lightning goal to start the goal event. Habs retake the lead, 2-1.

- Habs feeding off an obvious rush generated by that Galchenyuk goal, Tampa on their heels, pinned in their zone. Plekanec nearly makes in 3-1.

- Condon with a nice diving save on Namestnikov, mainly because Dale Weise plays a terrible two-way game, and doesn't hustle back after carelessly giving the puck up at centre ice.

- Condon fighting the puck, but making spectacular saves off rebounds. Bottom line, Habs still have the lead.

- Condon likes to belly flop, which is usually a goaltending no-no, but it's been working well so far in this period.

- Tampa still holding a defined edge in play, especially in that first period. Still, it's a relief to see the Habs not only have a lead at this point of a game, but production from the likes of Plekanec, and of course, Galchenyuk, who's been the Habs only sole-bright light this month. Can they hold on for an actual win tonight?


- Well, Emelin finally gets scratched, which is just fine. It still, however, doesn't not excuse or explain why Therrien kept giving him regular shifts while benching Tinordi Saturday, when it was very clear from the 1st period that Emelin was having a horrible night.

- Also on the deservedly scratched list, Devante Smith-Pelly, who's been a total zero since coming off the injury list. FINALLY, Sven Andrighetto.

- In case I hadn't made it clear before, the acquisition of Ben Scrivens is a relatively minor one, even though his salary is much higher than I would have liked. Surely, there are other options out there for an AHL, Sub-NHL backup netminder? The only thing that really concerns me is that Bergevin was motivated to make the trade because the injury to Carey Price is long-term, and the front office has determined that (probably) Dustin Tokarski can't play in the bigs any more.

- T.J. Luxmore, who is working this game, is one of my least-favortte officials. He calls a very inconsistent game, and often is suckered by flops and dives.

- Kilhorn, and here comes the Habs powerplay. Let's see who Therrien uses as first pp line ...

- ... Desharnais. Because .. of course.

- Actually, Desharnais was used at the point, which makes no sense to me whatsoever. Their shift goes nowhere, but Plekanec/Andrighetto looked pretty good moving the puck around the Bolts' zone.

- Cooper matching up the Stamkos line against the Flynn line. Why wouldn't he not?

- I'm sure Barberio couldn't believe he had all that open ice between him and Bishop. Overhanded the puck, didn't really get a shot on Bishop.

- Mike Condon is gonna get a shutout tonight, as long as the Habs are able to keep Tampa from registering a shot on goal, as they have through the first 8 minuets of this period.

- Halfway through the first, Habs dominating possession, but Tampa getting higher quality scoring opportunities ... Condon making a couple of nice saves. Really hope he has a good night in goal. He had a pretty good one against the Caps, all things considered.

- Barberio with a foolish blind pass from his corner up the middle, which is picked off, as they usually are. Nervous mistake I'm sure, but it's one that Therrien usually doesn't forgive easily.

- Nice physical play by Eller, giving Brown a good hard hit in front of his own bench. If Lars is having trouble putting pucks in net, he's at least got the frame to hit a few opposing bodies.

- Did Plekanec score? Was it even strength? Yes and yes. Going to the net for rebounds really does pay off. Pleck's first even-strength goal since (for real) October 17th. 1-0 Habs. What? Habs scored first? Bonus.

- This is one of the few times THIS MONTH where the Habs haven't been chasing a lead. I'm not sure how to react, or even how this team might react. But it must feel awfully nice.

- Don't like what I've seen from the Habs 4th line in this period, they're getting killed by Cooper's line matching, but that aside, can't argue with having an actual lead on the scoreboard. Habs did have a modest edge in play, with exception to the 2nd third of the period, in which Tampa outshot the Habs 7-1. Still, leading at any point in a game, early or late, can do wonders for team confidence.


In the midst of a road trip through hell, the Montreal Canadiens seek to avoid their 7th straight loss tonight as they visit Tampa Bay to take on the suddenly revived Lightening.

It has been, to put it mildly, a difficult month for the Habs. Difficult as in, quite possibly the worst December of hockey played by the franchise in its 106 year history. As one loss has piled on top of another, speculation has mounted about the future of the Canadiens' beleaguered head coach, Michel Therrien. That speculation appeared to reach a frenzied new height on the Twitterverse following the Canadiens' dismal 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.

That Therrien might be facing dismisses isn't unprecedented, at least for Michel Therrien. It was nearly 8 years ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins, who many had penned to be Stanley Cup favourites heading into the 2007-08 season, were struggling mightily to even qualify for a playoff spot. In early February, the Pens finally let relieved Therrien of command over the underachieving club. Four months later, the Penguins were hoisting their 3rd franchise Stanley Cup.

The parallels are eerily similar. While perhaps not outright favourites, the Habs were certainly in the conversation at the start of the year as Cup contenders. They definitely were mentioned along with one or two other teams, as the favourite to be the Eastern Conference representative in the championship final. However, since the Habs latest slide, just one lonely win this month, the team has gone from thinking about running away with the President's Trophy, to merely thinking about qualifying for a wild card birth.

With all-world goaltender Carey Price, one of the top three defensemen in the League in P.K. Subban, one of the top five forwards in the League in Max Pacioretty, and a huge supporting crew of excellent players including Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov, Alex Galchenyuk, Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu, just to mention a few, the Habs haven't seen this kind of team depth in perhaps 35 years.

So with the team now facing the possibility of not even being in the playoffs, one could understand why there's been so much speculation about Therrien's future, right?

While yours truly has been particularly critical of the coach and the seemingly endless wrongheaded decisions he makes, especially in the manner in how he deploys the numerous assets at hand, one must be realistic about the odds of Therrien being dismissed by General Manager Marc Bergevin.

The reality is, it's not going to happen. At least, it's not going to happen any time soon.

A sure indication that a coach is nearing the end of his rope are signals that the man he reports to is, or has lost confidence in his abilities to manage the bench. The events of today, specifically the acquisition of Ben Scrivens, send a pretty clear message that Bergevin hasn't lost confidence in Therrien.

How so? Well, in the midst of this losing streak, specifically in the lead-up to the holiday break, Therrien made what appeared to be an off-the-cuff remark, but was, in reality a very carefully spoken remark in a post-game scrum, in which he called out the team's goaltenders, Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski. It is unusual, some might say folly, for any coach during a losing streak, to single out players for not performing up to snuff, but there Therrien was, dragging a couple of bodies into the middle of the street for disposal under the team bus.

Bergevin's acquisition of Scrivens is as sure an indication that the General Manager still retains full and complete confidence in his coach. Scrivens, who makes a tremendous amount of money for a goaltender who recently has had trouble proving that he's AHL qualified goaltending material, was, nonetheless, sought and traded for. On paper, he makes little sense - his large salary, well over $2 million annually, will eat up a good chunk of what's remaining on the Habs cap, while bringing a sub .900 SV% record.

It's a trade that reeks somewhat of panic, but unquestionably underlines a clear indication that the coach has lost his confidence in both Condon and Tokarski, and with that off-the-cuff remark to the media, made a direct appeal to his boss to find somebody, anybody, who could stop a puck better than what the Habs have right now.

Bergevin could have easily dismissed Therrien's request, and the man himself. Instead, he heeded the words, and made the deal.

Michel Therrien isn't going anywhere. Marc Bergevin, for good or bad, has spoken today.

Habs will attempt to officially avoid one of their worst seasons in franchise history tonight in Tampa.

The puck drops at 7:40 EST.


If you woke up this morning to discover that Marc Bergevin traded for a very expensive netminder who's barely holding on to his job in the AHL, it's probably best you just go back to bed.


Note to the coach: You're not helping your team by stubbornly, if not obsessively, putting your best forward next to two of your worst.

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