Friday, 30 October 2015

Game Twelve: Habs vs. Flames


- Score adjusted possession through 40 minutes. Reminder - the Habs are getting trounced by a team that struggles to crack 40% on any given night:

- Looking forward to Therrien's post-game comments tonight if the Habs do go on to win this game. Will he tell the media that he was satisfied with what he saw? Because it's pretty plain as day that his team is playing pretty horrendous hockey.

- Wack of icings to start the 3rd period, which I guess is what sit-on-the-lead Habs are satisfied in doing.

- Lars Eller is finally given a shift, and upon stepping on the ice, gets caught for a slash. He won't be returning tonight, you get bet on that.

- Byron of all people, to Eller's rescue! Short handed goal gives Habs 5-2 lead. Lars owes Paul ... big time.

- Eller gets another shift! And the Habs keep the Flames pretty much continued in their zone for every second of it. GO LARS.

- Combination of bad puck luck and sloppy defence for the Flames, Dale Weise with his first career hat trick to give the Habs a 6-2 lead. Fleischmann with an unselfish feed to Weise for the goal.

- Habs score adjusted possession in the 3rd period has been through the roof. Slightly more than 80% with 8 minutes left. Goodness.

- The more Dale Weise scores, the worse matters become for the Habs. He's not a power forward, he's not a 20 goal scoring player. But he's going to get top tier ice time from Therrien because of this production. He's not that kind of player.

- Well, Habs at least get a win from the trip, but it was a pretty poorly played game - certainly not much better than last night's debacle against Edmonton, and in some ways, worse. The only saving grace for Montreal tonight was Joni Ortio, who had an abysmal night in goal, a save percentage just above .800. Habs now return home to face a much, much better Winnipeg Jets team. If tonight is what they'll throw at Winnipeg, the final scoreboard result won't be nearly as positive.


- Habs and Flames after 20 minutes. Montreal continues to struggle in outpossessing their opponent. Haven't done so in nearly two weeks:

- Hudler ties the game as a Pacioretty penalty expires, Habs PK unit not nearly tonight enough to cover the passing lanes. Oh well.

- Therrien puts Dale Weise out on first powerplay unit. That's insanity.

- Beaulieu gives the Habs the lead again on the powerplay (no, Weise was not on), with a hard slapper from the point. Seems to me the Habs should just put pucks at the net at every opportunity. Ortio isn't elite. He might not even be good.

- Flames tie, as Condon fails to cover up the puck fast enough, and Jooris swipes in the puck. Habs again, with soft defence around their net. This time Emelin is the culprit. What a shocker.

- And Weise scores again, and Ortio muffs another shot, and Therrien is now going to think Weise is elite, and Weise will get more top line playing time while guys like Eller rot on the bench. You can see it all coming a mile away.

- Eller has been benched. You may commence with shakes of the head.

- So with Eller now just a spectator, Flynn isn't being deployed very much, which means Galchenyuk, one of the Habs most important offensive weapons, isn't getting shifts. It's a crazy misuse of assets. If I were a player I'd be wondering what the hell my coach is thinking?

- Flames are simply handing this game to the Habs on a platter, as Smith-Pelly scores his first of the season off a terrible turnover behind Calgary's net. In addition to massively misplaying their lines, Habs are getting soundly outplayed all over the ice, and yet, somehow, lead by two.

- Dougie Hamilton has been pretty quiet, borderline invisible tonight. Not sure if the Flames envisioned this when they gave up some pretty big parts of their future to acquire him.

- Habs lead by two after two, mainly because Ortio hasn't been very good. He's certainly not been much better than the Habs collectively, and in the meantime, Therrien singles out Lars Eller for punishment, of all people. It's a silly thing of Therrien to do, it certainly underscores the belief that he doesn't know how to watch the game. In any case, if the Habs do win this, it won't be in large part because of what they did right, but a reflection of what Calgary did wrong.


- Sigh, Michel Therrien. And his lineups. Same as last night. Flynn 2nd line. What can ya do?

- Stumbling start for the Habs, Flames, who aren't exactly an offensive powerhouse, keeping Habs pinned early.

- Emelin was heaped praise (deservedly) for his strong play to start the season, but since the Leafs game, he's been slipping back to his sloppy ways. Positioning and judgement, mainly.

- Wow. Flames netminding. What to say? Dale Weise with a 50 foot slapper that may have been screened a little, but it's still a very stoppable shot. Ortio wiffs, and the Habs take a 1-0 lead.

- Mike Condon. Great positioning and great lateral movement robbing the Flames of two golden scoring chances. Still wonder how much of Condon's excellent play is a rub-off effect being a teammate of Carey Price.

- Habs are lucky the Flames are lousy converting their scoring chances. Otherwise this game could very likely have Calgary ahead on the scoreboard.

- Calgary's structure reminds me an awful lot of Montreal's last season (and this season, for all we know). Lots of chips, shooting pucks in from centre and chasing. Calgary also likes to block shots, a Habs speciality under Therrien. Big problem for Calgary is not only do they play like the Habs, but they don't nearly have the depth of talent. Formula for a losing season. We'll see.

- Evenly played first period, Habs continue to not play nearly as well as they did before the Leafs, their zone entries are very inconsistent, and perhaps more worrisome, they're playing very sloppy in their own zone, leaving far too many opposition forwards unmarked. Condon was excellent - one gets the feeling he'll need to be that way the entire night if the Habs hope to win at least one game on this trip.



Remember last season, when the Calgary Flames, to the surprise of just about everyone, put together a 45 win, 97 point season, and then beat the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, their first playoff advancement in 20 years? And then do you remember all the accolades that went to coach Bob Hartley, who won the Jack Adams award for NHL coach of the year?

Then do you remember how during this offseason, the Flames went out into the market to improve their defense, by landing Dougie Hamilton, a possibly-future Norris Trophey, in exchange for high level draft picks? A bold move! So bold that some experts picked the Flames to be a high finish in this season's standings. Could a parade on Red Mile be in the not-too-distant future?

While we're all in a relective mood, did you also happen to remember how the Flames finished 2014015 as the third worst possession team in the NHL? Whoops. Say what? Third worst? Naw. Really? Worse than ... Toronto? Yeah? For reals???!!

Indeed, the Calgary Flames of 2014-15, they of 45 wins and 97 points, were an analytical puzzle. They were winning consistently, even though the raw numbers from those wins weren't really adding up. A corsi percentage of 45.3%, which, indeed, was worst than the Toronto Maple Leafs, who - in the weaker Eastern Conference, finished with only 30 wins, and 29 fewer points in the standings.

So you can't really blame Calgary for standing essentially pat from last season to this. Indeed, you'd have to feel awfully optimistic about Calgary's chances this year, given they were able to obtain a stud like Hamilton.

Problem is, the Flames didn't really make any significant improvements or adjustments in how they approach playing hockey. They are today, as they were last year, a grinding team that prefers to chip instead of carrying the puck. The net affection through the first 10 games of the year? A 5v5 corsi percentage of just 39.2%, even more dreadful than last season's numbers. Add to Calgary's woes, a struggling powerplay, currently 23rd ranked, less than mediocre offensive tempo, registering an average of 28 shots per game (22nd overall), and most certainly huge challenges in goal, with Jonas Hiller, as their number one starter, registering a less than stellar .861 SP%

The net effect? Just 2 wins in their first 10 games, putting them just one point ahead of the lowly Anaheim Ducks for last place overall.

Maybe last year really was a facade. Maybe it was a season where everything went right for the Flames, instilling a belief that they were better than they actually were. If the first 10 games of this season is any evidence, Calgary might not be a playoff team. They might, in fact, be a terrible hockey team.

Tonight, the Flames might be getting a dose of relief, as they take on the suddenly hapless Habs, who somehow found a way of giving up a seemingly insurmountable lead last night against the young, talented, but raw Edmonton Oilers. The loss was so profoundly frustrating, that there's already griping amongst some of the faithful that Michel Therrien be shown the door for his inability to properly construct, and deploy, a lineup. And this for a 9-2 team!

Anyway, puck drops tonight at 9:10 EST. It's the Habs last chance to salvage some points out of this mini western road trip.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Game Eleven: Habs vs. Oilers


- Habs and Oilers through 40 minutes. That second period was just about as bad as you thought it might be for Montreal:

- Subban with a ridiculous stick scoop to keep the Oilers from narrowing the lead to one goal. That's how much the Habs are flirting with blowing this.

- Oilers matching McDavid line against the struggling Desharnais line. It's a good matchup, with Montreal's 3rd unit really sluggish to match Edmonton's speed.

- Here we go. Davidson a blast from the line on a four-on-four where a second earlier, there were four Habs in the corner puck chasing, and the lead is one. Good riddance for trying to sit on a lead for nearly 30 minutes. 

- Oilers pushing hard, mighty hard now, and Montreal is reeling, just barely hanging on in their own zone. Edmonton on the cusp of tying this game.

- Weise, puck on his stick, close to two seconds to shoot the puck into an empty net two feet away, somehow, someway, misses. Simply putting the puck in would probably had ended this game. But now ...

- And there is it. Pouilot. Another Habs offensive breakdown. Habs fully deserved blowing this lead. Didn't bother playing in the second, and basically handed everything to Edmonton in the 3rd. Collapse is nearly complete.

- Habs seem to be resigned to OT, which isn't much of an option, given that McDavid is playing out of his mind right now. Montreal will almost be certainly curb stomped 3-on-3.

- Collapse compete, Oilers shoot in, Desharnais is easily stripped of the puck, as though he wasn't even there, and one second later, the Oilers win the game. 

- Disgrace. Total disgrace. The Habs had a 3-0 lead, were skating circles around their opponent, and then took a collective vacation at the start of the 2nd period. Instead of continuing to be aggressive, they went into a total shell. And it cost them an easy win. Scratching Semin, putting Flynn on the 2nd line, looks like a catastrophic move, as Flynn gave the Habs close to nothing tonight. This is the kind of a loss that can send a team reeling for weeks. And given how this team was prepared, and how it held it huge lead, it'll be fully deserved. Awful, awful, awful game for the Habs.


- Habs and Oilers through 20 minutes:

- Remember how we mocked McDavid for that dive in the first? It really was that bad:

- I know Scrivens' career took a dive off the cliff, but Talbot doesn't look like much of a solution. 

- Habs increasingly passive as the period goes on, allowing Oilers free reign to carry the zone and take shots at Price. Three goals ain't insurmountable, guys. Punch your cards when the clock hits zero.

- Dale Weise playing the kind of game tonight that likely got Alexander Semin scratched earlier today. Fair is fair, right coach?

- Habs really going through the motions, on pace for two shots in the period. Pretty dismal effort by a team that's clearly trying to coast their way past an inferior opponent.

- Desharnais has been a possession dearth tonight - constantly getting pinned in their own zone. Brian Flynn next to Desharnais has lacked any form of cohesion. 

- Habs lone powerplay a hot mess, which isn't exactly surprising since this team has been so focused on slowing the game down to a crawl this period that passing accuracy has pretty much fallen into an abyss. 

- Referee TJ Luxmore, who's only called 30 NHL games, nails Fleischmann for high sticking, which never goes higher than his waist. Oilers convert on the man advantage to make it 3-1. Luxmore looking a bit over his head tonight.

- Well, Habs three goal lead is now two, and it could have been worse, given how much they sat on their lead in the period. Coach Therrien needs to remind his players that their formula for success this season has been to not sit on any kind of lead. They cannot afford to coast another 20 minutes against this Oilers team, which has the capacity of scoring goals in bunches. 


- So how long before Therrien gives up on playing Flynn on the 2nd line? How long afterward does Dale Weise take that spot? Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how that line produces. Fans might pine for Semin at the end of the night.

- Both teams sputtering badly out of the gate ... no rhythm at either end of the ice, scoring chances have been next to zero so far. This is the type of game you like to play if you're an overmatched visiting team. Thing is, it's the Oilers who are overmatched.

- Habs strike on the powerplay, doing a pretty impressive job passing in the Oilers zone, before Subban releases a point shot that's deflected in by Gallagher. Habs man advantage continuing to show improved confidence. Maybe this 18 month long powerplay nightmare is finally over. 

- Darnell Nurse looks like the real deal. The rest of the Oilers defence, though ... yikes.

- Connor McDavid does a grand belly flop looking for a cheap penalty. 

- Oilers sloppy defence strikes again, poor turnover at their line gifts the puck to Torrey Mitchell, who snaps the puck top corner. Mitchell continues his amazing season start. Whowouldathunkit?

- Wow. Edmonton's defence is just a mess, Markov a lovely pass to a WIDE open Galchenyuk, who has an easy tap in to give the Habs a 3-0 lead. Our pregame speculation about whether this Edmonton team has the defensive horses to get them to the playoffs? Not a chance.

- Brian Flynn looking mighty impressive on the PK. Really wish he'd get more time on that unit.

- Habs more or less taking Oilers to school in that period, with Montreal's forwards causing headaches and turnovers like crazy. Edmonton's defence is, to use a couple of words, pretty woeful. Their offence wasn't anything to write home about either, as the Oilers had difficulty setting up quality chances off the rush - which their scoring lives (or dies) on. Puck luck killed Montreal in Vancouver, tonight it hasn't been a factor, and it's been pretty lopsided.


Has the "City of Champions", and their beloved hockey team finally turned the corner? After 10 years in the NHL hinterlands, could these, the Oilers of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, finally ... FINALLY be icing a competitive team?

The answer, quite clearly is ... we're not sure!

Man, it's been a rough 10 years for this organization. Five bottom basement finishes in the standings, five first overall draft picks, 4 in the past 6 years, and still ... this team hasn't had much of a sniff at a playoff spot since they were (yes, it's true) in the Stanley Cup Final wayyyyyy back in 2006.

Ah, BUT THIS YEAR IT'S DIFFERENT cry out the Edmonton faithful. To a certain extent, they're right. This year's Oilers team is different - is unquestionably better.

Still, are they a playoff contender in 2016? Probably not. We think.

The Oilers big move during the summer was, of course, the drafting of Connor McDavid, who's, as you may have noticed, is off to a terribly good start in his rookie campaign. Five goals and assists in ten games, he's been playing so well that he's making his linemate, former number one overall draft pick, Nail Yakupov, look good. That alone is a pretty impressive achievement.

The story with Edmonton is the usual - an offence with awesome potential and a defence that ... well ... it's an ongoing project.

At the very least, unlike the years of doom and gloom under Kevin Lowe, Edmonton is actually paying attention to their blue line. Leading up to the trade deadline, the Oilers acquired Eric Gryba from the Senators (yes, he of the dirty head check to Lars Eller three years ago), and over the summer, signed Justin Schultz and Brandon Davidson to a (just) one year extensions, and picked up free agent Andrej Sekera and gave him a six year contract. Then there's prized defensive prospect Darnell Nurse, who scored his first NHL goal earlier this week.

So what's the effect. Well, the Oilers are no longer in last place, defensively, at least so far this season. Last year they were ranked 30th overall, this year, 23rd, in goal averages per game. In shots allowed per game, they've gone from 30th, to 22nd. Their penalty kill has also improved, now ranked a respectable 15th overall.

These are improved numbers, but they still aren't great numbers. The trend though, has been established, and it's mostly positive. If the Oilers don't make it to the post season this year, it's a pretty good bet they will in the very near future.

Meanwhile, over in Habsland ... the Canadiens are dealing with a one game losing streak, thanks to some bad bounces and generally sloppy defensive play in Vancouver Monday night. Tonight, the Habs will be making their first lineup adjustment of the season, with Alexander Semin (as predicted on this blog a couple days ago) getting a healthy scratch tonight, his spot on the 2nd line will be taken up by (drum roll please) ... Brian Flynn. WHAT? Yup. Brian Flynn. The Habs 4th line, which has been mostly awesome this season, is being taken apart by Michel Therrien - so hey ... don't look at me about this stuff, I'm just reporting.

Still, pound for pound, ounce for ounce, and on paper, the Oilers are heavily overmatched tonight. There is no *good* reason why the Habs shouldn't get back on the winning track tonight.

We're sure about that. Well, kinda sure. Actually, we have no idea!

Puck drops at 9:10 EST.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Game Ten: Habs vs. Canucks


- Habs and Canucks through 40 minutes. Habs more shots, attempts, possession, yadda yadda. Only the scoreboard counts:

- Habs unleash the hounds, come out of the gate at about 87 mph. Still can't generate good quality shots on Miller, though.

- Finally. Torrey Mitchell continues his remarkable start to the season, deflecting an Emelin shot from the line, and the Habs have life. They're pouring it on. Another quick one, and this game is ON.

- Semin doesn't hustle to the bench on a powerplay line change, and Habs get nailed for too many. That won't endear his chances staying in this lineup as the road trip continues.

- Canucks, of course, score on their powerplay. Off two crazy lucky bounces, of course. Habs streak ends at 9. There was no way this Habs team was going to overcome the bad breaks. So the defeat can be rationalized. 

- Yeek. Emelin recklessly pinches, then falls flat on his face, then on the breakout, puck is banked off Semin into the net. Another goal courtesy a silly bounce. Meh. Game is a total write-off.

- This game is LOLZ. Gotta take it with some humour. Just about everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. But nobody on the Habs got injured, except for maybe a little pride. Edmonton next, in what should be a very interesting game featuring a high octane offence against a somewhat disorganized Habs defence. I'd be inclined to play Price Thursday, and Condon Friday. We'll see what Therrien decides. NOW GO TO BED EVERYONE.


- Habs and Canucks through 20 minutes: 

- Well, decent enough first five minutes for the Habs, seemingly focused on just getting pucks on Miller. Canadiens seem to be doing a better job forcing turnovers, which will be key to any possible Montreal comeback.

- Not point producing, but Semin having a pretty decent outing tonight. One of the few Habs forwards doing a decent job covering both end zones.

- Habs pressing, but not generating Grade A scoring chances on Miller yet. Really starts (and ends) with their own zone, which has been mostly chaotic tonight, especially gaining the line with organized puck control.

- Pacioretty beats Miller through the arm with one of his awesome snap shots, puck dribbles behind Miller ... and wide. Just isn't happening tonight. 

- Beaulieu has struggled with the puck tonight, made a few careless passes in his zone, seems to be pressing a little too hard in the O zone. 

- As we go deeper into the game, Therrien would be wise to give extra shifts to his two best lines tonight - Plekanec and Galchenyuk. Desharnais line has been a mess, while the 4th line hasn't really created much momentum or energy. 

- Habs really needed a goal in the second, but couldn't quite find the back of the net. Even with zone coverage issues, and poor zone exits, the Habs have still been the better team tonight, but hockey is a game whose winners are frequently determined by good, or bad luck. Tonight, the Habs have had plenty of the later, far too much to overcome. Looking very unlikely the Canadiens can extend their streak to 10. 


- Curse of the old teammate strikes again - Prust with a relatively harmless snapshot that Price somehow misplays by waving out his glove, the puck dropping behind him, and tipped into the net by McCann. An auspicious start.

- Price misplays the puck. Check. Puck drops right behind him for easy tip-in goal. Check. Gallagher rings a slap shot off the post. Check. Yup. Feels like the puck luck Gods might be making a withdrawal from the overdue Habs account.

- Okay, stumble out of the gate because of Price's error, but since that goal, Habs have pretty much dominated. Miller saved by a post and a couple of bouncing pucks the Habs couldn't quite bury.

- Canadiens dominate, and Vancouver, courtesy a ridiculous bounce, take a 2-0 lead during a delayed penalty call. Puck luck all against the Habs, which during this incredibly streak, has much more often than not, been in their corner. Not tonight.

- Miller with a ridiculous save on Desharnais off a 2-0 break with Fleischmann. Ye Gods, that's enough already. 

- Very marginal interference call on Fleischmann, who was digging for the puck in the Canucks corner. Nothing going Habs way tonight.

- Prust to McCann. Again. It's 3-0. That goal wasn't luck, it was winning the faceoff deep, and Desharnais doing a poor job covering their assignments. Canadiens with a huge hole to climb out of, if they wan't to get to 10.

- Upside to this game, Habs will almost certainly not have the League's largest PDO at the end of the night.

- Habs forwards doing a very poor job coming back to, and covering their zone, also getting their clocks cleaned winning puck battles at centre ice. Price facing some howitzers from the slot, barely keeping his team in this game.

- First genuine disaster of a period for the Habs this season, they looked good out of the gate, Price let in a goal that shouldn't have been a goal, and the puck just seemed to keep bouncing Vancouver's way. This is not to take away from the Canucks - they were a superior team especially in the neutral zone, which helped them to generate turnovers leading to numerous scoring opportunities. Three goals is not an impossible lead to overcome, but it's awfully tough. 


Oh, Vancouver. Whatever would you do without Toronto? For years the fans of hockey have made countless jokes about the ineptitude of the Maple Leafs, now 48 years since their last championship. But ya know what, Vancouver? At least Toronto, in all of their futility, actually has won a championship. 15 of them, as a matter of fact.

You? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. in 45 years.

Oh sure, you've been to the big show. Three times, as a matter of fact. Once in 1981, when your club made an improbable, only to get steamrolled by the Islanders in four games. And then there was 1994, when you managed to heartbreak your followers by losing to the Rangers by one goal, in the 7th game.

And then, of course - 2011, where you choked the big one - up 3-2 to a reeling Boston Bruins team, you managed to lose the first chance of clinching in Boston, and then you got destroyed by the Bruins in game 7, right in your own rink. Your fans were not pleased. Many moaned. Many cried. Many rioted in the streets.

Now? You're still nothing. You're a team whose previous general manager somehow managed to find a way of converting two premier goaltenders, Roberto Luongo, and Cory Schiender, into career backup Jacob Markstrom (career .896 SP), Shawn Matthias (no longer playing for you), and Bo Horvat (okay, you at least got SOMETHING). Still, to take two Grade A- commodities and to convert them into so little ... well, it basically set the table for the Canucks' grand decline. Once a League leader, Vancouver's hopes are now pinned on making the post season. That's about it.

Woe, Vancouver. Tonight you have to take on the team that's off to the greatest season start in NHL - the Montreal Canadiens, who are setting new records with every recorded victory, now at 9 - the most of any team to win in regulation to start a campaign. You have to face the likes of Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, and Brendan Gallagher, whom, by the way, comprise 5 of the top 6 players in the NHL in +/-.  Oh, right. One other thing. Carey Freakin' Price, the best hockey player on the face of planet Earth.

Oh sure Canucks fans, you'll tell us YES BUT WE HAVE THE SEDIN'S!! Well, goodie good for you. Are you referring to the twin brothers of 35 years of age, both playing on your first line, both with a combined point total of 9, two less than Pacioretty? We're shaking in our boots. We're shaking.

You cannot hide. You must face us hockey's caged ring like the dogs you are. You must capitulate to the awesome offensive and defensive power that is the Montreal Canadiens. You will be thrashed. You will be humiliated. And, at the end of the night, you, like so many of your fans, will shead many tears.

Puck drops at 10:10 EST. You'll want to stay up for this one.

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.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Game Eight: Habs vs. Sabres


- Habs and Sabres through 40 minutes:

- Gallagher with his second of the game, all (and I mean ALL) alone beside Johnson, putting in a rebound top corner. Can't blame Johnson entirely, the Sabres PK positioning was woeful. Habs lead by 3.

- Have to say, I'm very disappointed by what I've seen from Buffalo's defence. I fully expected them to look much more mobile than what I've seen tonight. They certainly looked better Wednesday night against the Leafs, but maybe because it was the Leafs?

- Habs shooting percentage in the game at 25% (!!!), which is going to send their PDO through the roof by the time this one is done.

- Fleischmann with a nice backcheck to break up a Sabres odd man rush, but that aside, he's struggled with passing and positioning tonight. Easily his weakest game I've seen from him this season.

- Another fine shift for Desharnais line, pinning the Sabres in their zone for a minute. Buffalo look increasingly tired and deflated as the period progresses.

- Habs powerplay really working hard on setting up the point for shots. It might be a Buffalo-specific strategy, given that the Sabres defence has (and is) generally pretty soft around their goal.

- Habs basically passing at will in the Buffalo zone, Markov to Pacioretty for his 6th of the season. Tough night for Chad Johnson. 6-2 Montreal.

- Chad Johnson. Poor Chad Johnson. Markov from the point, possibly deflected in by Weise. Andrei with a monster 5 point night. As usual, total route benefited by wide open passing lanes.

- It hasn't been a perfect night, but tonight's final result is what you'd usually expect to see when a not-very-good team plays an elite team. Even with the Habs first period struggles, they ate a sloppy Sabres defense and suspect goaltending alive. The record is 8-0, and now Montreal faces the daunting task of making sure that their first loss of the season doesn't come at the hands of the Leafs. It had better not. We'll never hear the end of it.


- Habs and Sabres after 20 minutes:

- Yeek. Sabres defence very slow to move, as Gallagher cashes in his own rebound to make it 2-0. We keep reminding how the Sabres aren't nearly as bad as they used to be, but their backend will need to be far more anticipative of the play if they want to make substantial strides in the standings this year.

- Moulson gets the Sabres on the board. Sustained pressure in the Habs zone, and Eller plays his position way too high in the zone, leaving Moulson completely unchecked in front of Condon. 2-1.

- Sabres really feeding off that goal, continue to push the Habs. Montreal's 4th line gets on for a quick shift and does a nice job slowing the game down. Canadiens trying to regain the initiative here.

- Habs possession percentage halfway through regulation, 46%.

- O'Reilly evens the game on the powerplay (off a pretty iffy interference call on Fleischmann), off a one-two pass that really should have been stopped by Condon. Sabres giving the Habs fits tonight.

- Torrey Mitchell clearly has become one of the big surprises for the Habs in the early season, scoring off a deflection courtesy a Subban point shot. Habs have not been particularly strong winning deep zone face-offs his season, this goal underscoring how critical that can be. 3-2 Montreal.

- How 'bout that? Habs first powerplay, draw won cleanly back to Markov, who beats Johnson with a 50 footer. Winning deep zone face-offs ... very important. 4-2 Habs.

- Habs benefiting by taking advantage of opportunity - winning faceoffs deep in the Sabres zone led directly to two late period goals. Not by far Montreal's best start of the year, but enough against the overmatched Sabres. Third period should be interesting to witness whether the Habs will revert to their bad "sit on it" form, or try to replicate their brilliant victory over Detroit last week.


- Sabres first shot a good indication of what they're capable of - generating a centre ice turnover and coming in fast. Condon forced to make a pretty good arm save.

- Two very sloppy giveaways by the Habs early - one at centre, one in their own zone.

- Watched the Sabres game against the Leafs two nights ago - and while they're far from perfect, they play a much more structured defensive game than they did last year. Way, way more.

- Buffalo with legs so far in this game, Habs very tentative, making may passing errors. Not a good sign.

- Brian Flynn getting thumped again, and he's in the dressing room. Might be the Habs first sustained injury of the season.

- Desharnais line continues to play well, perhaps because the line does a far more effective job gaining the zone (by carrying the puck) than other lines.

- Habs PK looking good ... and for not the first time this season, actually were a bigger scoring threat than any given powerplay.

- Gallagher is put on in Flynn's spot.

- Man, when the Sabres transition, they do it very quickly. I'm mildly surprised they've only managed so far to score 11 goals in 6 games.

- After what can only be descried as a shaky start, Habs seeming to find their ground here as the period progresses.

- Pretty, pretty end-to-end passing goal, with Subban (!) returning a pass to Dale Weise off a 2-on-1, Johnson with little chance. Habs take 1-0 lead.

- Last minute flurry by the Sabres, Condon making some nice saves. Still, Habs made a very nice recovery, looking particularly good with zone entries, perhaps because the Sabres defence, a work in progress, is playing a little too passive. Condon looks solid, one wonders where he's been all these years looking so good right now.



Last year? Remember last year? The Buffalo Sabres, I'm pretty sure, would like to forget all about last year.

But let's remember last year. The Sabres finished dead last in the NHL standings. A measely 23 wins in 82 games. 161 goals scored (worst in the League), 274 goals against (2nd worst in the League). An absolutely grotesque 37.5% 5v5 possession average. By far the worst in the League (and quite possibly the worst in NHL history).

And to rub salt into the wounds, the last-ranked Sabres then lost the lottery draft, and with it, the rights to draft Connor McDavid.

How low can you go?

Well, I think it's safe to say the low point in Buffalo has been passed. During the summer the Sabres made a series of moves that's made an immediate effect for their competitive prospects this season. Things can change in a hurry!

First, licking their wounds from the draft lottery loss, the Sabres drafted Jack Eichel, which ain't too bad as far as a consolation prize is concerned. Eichel has scored 2 goals already in his first 6 games in the bigs, and shows all the promise of becoming a top-flight winger in the very near future.

But that's not all. Buffalo picked up disgruntled forward Evander Kane for relative peanuts, and then acquired centre Ryan O'Reilly and defensman Cody Franson. That's a considerable amount of talent added within a very short time span.

The effects, at least early into this season, appear to be very positive. Remember how the Sabres were bottom-of-the-barrel in those major statistical categories? Well, now Buffalo finds itself with a couple of wins (okay, not bad), 11 goals - which still has them near the bottom of the League, but not at the absolute bottom, and 15 goals against, which remarkably puts them into the top half of the League.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is possession. From the mid 30s last year, to the mid 40s so far this season. Again, when you consider how big the step was made by the Sabres in just a few months, these improvements are impressive.

That all said, the Sabres are still not a very good team - ranked against some of the League's better clubs, which includes the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo is considerably overmatched. Tonight should be no different, with the best team in the League coming into the First Niagara Centre, riding a 7-0 record to start the season.

If Buffalo's totals are impressive, the Habs numbers are ridiculous - perhaps most so defensively, where Montreal has only allowed 7 goals in 7 games. I don't care who you're playing, where you're playing, or even why you're playing. If you only allow one or less goal to your opponent, you're a pretty sure fire bet to win pretty much every game.

Of course, the Habs won't do that this season - eventually they will lose, and hey, it might even be tonight. The Sabres are a young and fast team, and can turn the puck on your very quickly, if you aren't on your game. The Candiens will be starting rookie Mike Condon tonight, and who knows - if the backup doesn't have a good night, then the Sabres might hand the Habs their first loss of the season.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Game Seven: Blues vs. Habs


- Through 40 minutes in Montreal:

- Five minutes through the 3rd, with exception to the 4h line, Habs have been sitting on the lead. That's a pretty risky strategy with so much time left on the clock with only a two goal lead. We'll see how this pans out, but I'm not feeling very assured at the moment.

Definite 2014-15 flashbacks going on here. Now icing the puck. And lead sitting. Just begging for trouble.

- Just waiting ... just waiting for the Blues first goal here. Even Price can only do so much while the rest of his team just dumps the puck away.

- Blues have 70% possession this period, with 10 minutes left. That how much the Canadiens are attempting to sit out the clock. Yikes.

- While the Habs sit, the Blues will feel increased pressure to pinch their defense, which will open up the neutral zone significantly for the Habs. 8 minutes left, we're nearing the time when St. Louis must take risks.

- Well, never mind that I guess. Great work by the Habs 4th line pays off on the scoresheet, with Subban the point shot, and Mitchell depositing the rebound. Blues defence simply sagged on that play - they look spent. Habs just opportunistic tonight. The bounces went their way, and they took full advantage.

- Well, even with the 3rd period sag, the bottom line is this team is 7-0. And Buffalo and Toronto next. So ... who knows how long this might last?


- Habs will have to do a far, far better job getting out of their zone from this point forward. Blue have been dominating centre ice since the first drop of the puck. Montreal forwards have been somewhat guilty of pushing up ice a little too aggressively when the defense has puck possession, making successful passes increasingly difficult. They'll need to hang back a bit tighter, in my opinion.

- Just about every Habs chip up the boards from their zone is being anticipated and brought right straight back by a Blues defender. Over three periods, this will kill the Habs.

- Carey Price robs Tarasenko, likely not for the last time tonight, after a sloppy centre ice turnover by the Habs. Blues looking even stronger this period.

- Well, that's just crazy. Habs with the usual shoot in which is bobbled by a miscommunication between the Blues defence and forwards. Semin gains control of the loose puck and wrists a 40 footer past Allen. Montreal getting the benefit of the bounces so far. 2-0.

- Habs offence suddenly comes to life, Desharnais with an outstanding shift after the Semin goal, nearly making it 3-0, if not for a couple of tough saves by Allen. Blues definitely reeling here.

- Looks like Therrien is settling on putting his 4th line against the Blues' 2nd (Backes), and Plekanec against Lehtara.

- Desharnais line with excellent shifts this period, keeping Blues pinned in their zone, and their defense scrambling. Chances being generated - basically doing everything you'd want for your 3rd line, and more.

- Very strange period for the Blues. They started the 2nd period with fire and fury, and looked close to having the Habs on the ropes. The Semin goal just seemed to completely deflate them. They'll need to work hard to get some momentum back.

- Habs penalty kill has been a game saver tonight. Blues haven't been able to muster up much of a scoring threat with the man advantage.

- Not sure if the Blues defense is slowing down as the game progresses, but Habs wingers and pinching defensemen are being granted unmolested puck control wide along the boards.

- Just speculating, but I think another factor with the Habs powerplay struggles has been a poor-ish faceoff percentage deep in the opposition zone. Wish I had numbers somewhere to verify (or disprove) that theory.

- Blues seemed to downshift after Semin goal, and just about fluking a bank shot off the divider past Price, maybe St. Louis is collectively coming to the realizing that tonight just won't be their night.


- Excellent first shift by the Desharnais line, Weise just about backhanding a shot past Allen from the slot.

- Habs doing early line matching, sending Plekanec line out to face the Blues' 4th line.

- Hitchcock does his own strategizing, putting Lehtara out against Petry/Emelin. Probably (rightly) thinks he's better to exploit that pairing than Gibert/Beaulieu. 

- Backes line by far the most dangerous so far for St. Louis.

- Sweet zone entry by the Blues, and a heck of a pad save by Price off Tarasenko. Beware the Tarasenko.

- Blues doing an excellent job clogging up the neutral zone, which has severely hampered the Habs' forward's to generate zone entry speed.

- Blues structured game starting to pay off here as we head into the 2nd half of the period. Generating increasingly more dangerous scoring chances on Price.

- Hockey is just so hard to quantify. Plekanec a wrist shot deftly deflected by Pacioretty and past Allen. Blues were pretty much totally dominating the past 7 minutes, and find themselves down 1-0.

- Well, take what you can get, I suppose. Blues really had a firm grip on this game from about the halfway mark to less than 2 minutes left in the period, and then the Habs (apparently it was Plekanec) get a sneaky goal. Still, the intangibles are heavily in favour of the Blues because they played such a structured period of hockey, which really hampered the Habs ability to sustain any kind of offensive pressure in the Blues zone. Habs should be happy they have the lead against a very good Blues team.


Happy post-election day! Okay, enough politics, we have matters to attend to that really matter. Namely, tonight's CLASH OF THE TITANS, featuring the St. Louis Blues, who are off to a rocking' 5-1 start to their season, and the NHL'S BEST TEAM, the Montreal Canadiens, who are undefeated, baby!

That the Blues are off to a great start isn't particularly a surprise. They've got an excellent roster that rolls four lines, featuring the (very) talented likes of Jaden Schwartz, Troy Brouwer, Alexander Steen, and the (very, very) talented Vladimir Tarasenko, who's off to a sizzling season start, with 9 points (5 goals) scored in the Blues' six games, which just so happens to be the most in the League, at the present.

Let's see that lineup tonight:

Line 1: Steen/Lehtera/Tarasenko
Line 2: Schwartz/Backes/Brouwer
Line 3: Jaskin/Gomez/Upshall
Line 4: Ott/Brodzik/Reaves

Okay, snickers aside with Gomez starting on the 3rd line, the Blues roll two scoring and two energy lines, making them a difficult team to defend. They also play a methodical game, working the puck out of their zone with great efficiency, which forces their opponent forwards to work both ends of the ice.

Fortunately for the Habs, it would appear that this season's team is taking a far more organized approach to the game - the dividends are self-apparent with the Canadiens off to their best start in 106 years. Montreal has rolled four lines with very even splits, highlighted by exceptional performances by the Habs 4th line of Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchel and Devante Smith-Pelly. The relentless forecheck that line has provided has given the rest of the lineup significant energy, which is a huge advantage if you have three lines that are capable of scoring.

Still, the Habs have their hands full tonight - maybe the first true test of whether this team is legitimately elite. I expect nothing less than the game to be tight checking, physical and low scoring.

Keys for the Habs? Well, if there's a weak spot for the Blues, it's their blue line, which is currently dealing with the loss of their young star defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk. which has forced St. Louis to move the relatively inexperienced Colton Parayko up next to Carl Gunnerson, who was Shattenkirk's partner. With the Canadiens possessing the luxury of the last change, Michel Therrien can mix and match his lines in an attempt to exploit the Shattenkirk absence.

Regardless, it'll be a fascinating game to watch. A true measure of just how good (or maybe great?) this Habs team is.

Carey Price will face Jake Allen.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Game Six: Wings vs. Habs


- Habs and Wings through 40 minutes:

- Habs 4th line really sets a nice example, Mitchell going to the net and redeflecting a point shot. Nearly made it 2-1. Other Habs line should follow this example.

- Semin is doing his centre, Galchenyuk, no favours. Passes when he should shoot, shoots when he should be passing.

- Emelin with a beaut of a hip check. That's the kind of play that's supposed to energize your bench.

- This would be a pretty nice time for the powerplay to connect ... seems like all Price needs is that one goal.

- BOOM. POWERPLAY. Guess what? Habs score because they don't fiddle around passing the puck. Petry gets the puck at the point, blasts it home. Habs take the lead.

- 12 minutes left. Over to you, Carey.

- Desharnais line continues to make the most buzz tonight, but can't quite seem to get its ducks in a row for getting shots on net.

- Habs, again unlike last year's team, continuing to be aggressive as the 3rd progresses, and it helps them to generate another powerplay opportunity.

- Definite trend set - the more the Habs pass on their powerplay, the less their chances seem to be in scoring.

- Semin is very Jekyll and Hyde - drives the net and nearly salts the game away. Then has a shift where he making stupefying passes to nobody in particular.

- Plecks, he the new $12 million man this week, puts the game away, after Gallagher does some tremendous work in creating a deep zone turnover. Habs are going to move to 6-0 on the season. Remarkable.

- Habs again with another well deserved victory, as the Wings just faded in the 3rd period and were outshot four-to-one (19-5!!!). The Canadiens are off to an incredible start this year, they indeed look like a different team this year, especially in the 3rd period where, unlike last year, they having been taking to their opponent. Fun days in Habsland.


- Possession stats through 20 minutes:

- Habs forcheck generates big turnover in the Wings zone, two back passes later, Habs spring loose sniper ... Alexei Emelin. Net result: no shots on goal.

- Speaking of the forecheck, really wish Habs first three lines were more or as aggressive as the Habs 4th line. Would really benefit a team that has long struggled to score.

- Wings a bit sloppy with the puck in their zone this period, so far they've come out unscathed on the scoreboard, but it's given the Habs additional momentum.

- Mhadzek with some sparking saves this period. Really keeping his team in it.

- Killer. Larkin with a soft backhand pass that's misplayed by Price, and gives the Wings a 1-0 lead. Price is human, after all.

- Habs continue to feed the line on their powerplay - it's up to their defense to get shots *on* net. So far this season, they've been pretty bad doing that.

- Gallagher going beyond the call trying to put the puck into the net. Just use your body as a missile on the opposing goaltender. A for effort, but no goal.

- I'm stunned. It's being ruled a goal. League says it entered legally before Gallagher hit the netminder. One of the most bizarre goals I've ever seen.

- As Gallager a goal as you'll ever see. Might be Karma going his direction, considering all the goals that have been waived off against his favour in the past.

- Gotta say Brad Richards has, for most of the game, been a pretty invisible entity. I guess his contract is at a reasonable level, but I don't see him adding much to either of Detroit's 1st or 3rd line.

- Fleischmann continue to demonstrate that he might be one of the great off season bargains. Beautiful work to set up Weise in the slot, nearly giving Habs the lead.

- Detroit with a pretty dangerous 2nd powerplay of the night, and it's one the Habs could learn from. Detroit doesn't mess around - they drive the puck to the net as quickly as possible, unlike the Habs who spend way too much time trying to set up the perfect scoring play. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter how pretty the goal is, as long as you score. Montreal just doesn't seem to understand or embrace that.

- Mitchell with a disappointing boarding penalty - disappointing in that in the 1st period he was the victim. He really ought to know better.

- Well, our prediction of 2nd period goal arrived, and while the Gallagher goal is controversial, it at least gives the Habs a well earned tie headed to the third. Like the first, Habs were the better team, more jump in their step, and a more effective forecheck. Detroit just seems to be slowly fading as the game progresses, which should be very favourable to the Habs in the final frame.


- Habs really have the table set for them tonight, facing a team that's playing back-to-back night. That's always a massive advantage, especially for rested teams playing at home.

- Anderson with another one of those incredibly dangerous checks from behind, this time on Mitchell. I reiterate my opinion that the League needs to take a harder line on these infractions. Automatic 5 minute majors.

- Habs o-fer-1 on the powerplay, but it looked much more competent than it did against the Rangers. Galchenyuk missing an open night.

- Fair to assume this powerplay is snakebit? Markov pinches and receives with a wide open net off a point shot rebound, putting the puck off the side of the post.

- Alex Galchenyuk tries to score for the powerplay unit single-handedly, and just about tucks the puck in after splitting the defense. Brilliant play by a brilliant skater who really should use his speed more than he usually does.

- Desharnais line does a much better job bringing the puck into the opposition zone - more inclined to carry in (when possible) rather than the chip and chase.

- Habs clearly with more legs tonight, the Wings, who got thumped last night by the 'Canes, looking very much like a team on less than 24 hours game rest.

- Semin needs to play a more creative game with the puck, or Therrien is going to run out of patience. He got benched for a short period of time in the 2nd period Thursday night, which seemed to spark him a little bit. Tonight, however, he seems to be back to his old ways of poor playmaking.

- Semin nice job going to the net, nearly deflecting an Eller point shot from the slot, past Peter Mrazek. That's what Semin needs to do more of, because that's what's expected of him.

- Poor decision by Markov, pinching recklessly, gives the Wings a 2-0 break. Carey Price with the usual bail-my-teammate-out save.

- Both goaltenders with solid period, Price with a sparking breakaway save, while Mrazek was the busier goaltender, making a few key saves off a pretty decent looking Habs powerplay. Habs with better speed in the period, resulting in a solid edge in possession. The 0-0 score will make the Wings happy, but big picture, Habs seem to have more in the tank. Second period should bring us some scoring.


Yeah, yeah. Pretty much everyone is picking the Wings to qualify for the playoffs this season. If they do so, it'll be for the 25th straight year.

Colour me, however, unconvinced. The Wings, perhaps to their benefit, let head coach Mike Babcock fly the coop for the centre of the universe, Detroit is going through a restructuring (but by no means, an rebuilding) phase.

The conventional wisdom is that the Wings are a "young" team. But guess what? At a 28.1 age average, Detroit has the second oldest roster in the NHL. That could be an important factor as the season drags on.

So Babcock out, and Jeff Blashill, long-time AHL coach, first time NHL coach, in. Also

Who's also in for the Wings? Former Caps defenseman Mike Green, who used to be a pretty dominant player at his position. Used to be, as in, 2009. Since then? Not so much.

Speaking of old bodies, the Wings also went out and signed veteran centre Brad Richards, who scored 28 goals in the season, which happened to be 2011. Since then? Well, at 35 years old, I'm not exactly sure what Detroit is hoping for, but anything beyond 15 goals for Richards this year will be a surprise.

So that's it. Detroit took an already aging roster, and made it older this summer. This means, youth core aside, the Wings really shouldn't be any other than what they were last year, except a bit slower, and in this writer's opinion, in tough to match their win total.

So tonight, the Wings will head into Montreal for the second in back-to-back games, to take on the undefeated Canadiens, whom are off to their best season start in franchize history.

In other words, there's no reason to believe that the Habs won't be setting another record mark tonight.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Game Five: Rangers vs. Habs


- Habs and Rangers through 40 minutes: 

- Price levels Kreider behind his net, how awesome is that?

- DSP, who's had a pretty strong game, is on the second line, at Semin's expense. That leash was pretty short.

- Gallagher, not for lack of effort, has had more than fair share of scoring chances is season - eventually they'll start going in.

- Wonderful work by Semin, now back on his line, feeding Desharnais who's robbed by Lindqvist. That's the kind of play the Habs need more of from Semin.

- Very slow and shaky shift by Habs 4th line, the Rangers quickly seizing on their shift by sending out their top line, and totally hemming Habs in their zone. Therrien must be cautious as we get to the later stages of the 3rd.

- I fear, with 5 minutes left, Habs will try to sit on this. Must maintain string forechecking mindset because the Rangers can score one in a hurry.

- Habs with good pressure, 4 minutes left. This is a more aggressive late lead team than I remember compared to last season.

- Habs by far the better team in the 3rd - game would easily be long over if not for Lundqvist's heroics.

- Habs justly rewarded. Weise with a weakish goal past Lundqvist, but his shot never happens if not for some outstanding work by Desharnais who out fights two Ranger defensemen for the puck to feed Weise. Desharnais demonstrating hockey excellence.

- Plekanec with the empty netter, and for the first time in their 106 year history, the Habs start the season 5-0. A well deserved victory. Montreal really dominated the Rangers from the start of the second period forward. Now the conversation begins - is this Habs team elite? They've got the record so far to prove it.


- First period chart, note how at about the 12 minute mark, the Rangers essentially took over the game. That's the trend the Habs need to worry about.

- Habs not coming out as aggressively as they need to be. Rangers are going to continue to dominate this game if Montreal doesn't step up.

- Habs powerplay zone entries are a tire fire tonight. Their zone exits too. Shield the eyes of your children. 

- Habs are only, and I repeat, ONLY generating shot attempts by carrying the zone. Can somebody behind the bench please notice this?

- Subban/Markov guilty of some pretty sloppy turnovers tonight. Fortunate that the Rangers haven't scored one or two off their giveaways.

- Habs gamble a little bit, Subban going in very deep to keep the puck in the Rangers zone, and Fleischmann cashes in off a point shot. Habs with an unexpected 1-0 lead.

- Lundqvist showboats with a glove save off Gallagher. Thing is, his team is still losing. 

- Beaulieu misses an empty net on the powerplay. Now wondering how much of this futility is snakebite. Any way, Habs defence certainly needs to be more engaged with the man advantage - Markov used to come up off the line all the time, he rarely does that any more.

- Habs have slowly but steadily improved their possession as the period has continued - mainly because they're winning puck battles at centre ice. 

- Markov showing his age a bit tonight, has struggled to adjust to the Rangers speed and forecheck.

- Emelin, who still really should never be on the PK, with a clunky chip of the puck over the glass, giving the Rangers a very long 5-on-3.

- Price doing a remarkable job killing off this 5-on-3, notwithstanding Kredier barreling into him in the crease. 

- Carey Price is a freak of nature. The saves he's made in the past two minutes have been ridiculous. Everyone on their feet in the Bell Centre.

- After a pretty ho-hum first 15 minutes, things got pretty interesting pretty fast. Habs with crucial two man kill thanks to Price's heroics, which might end up being the difference tonight. The Canadiens did a much better time with transitions in the 2nd period, which helped them even the possession scales a bit more towards the mean. Third period should be plenty of fun, Lundqvist vs. Price.


- So what's the "big thing" the Habs are promising for tonight's game?

- Players are just starting their warmups at the top of the hour, so fair to assume this game won't start until at least 7:30 local time - maybe even later.

- Guy Carbonneau, who I assume was the only one available to represent the last Habs captain, hands it off to Pacioretty. Now everyone is getting a chance to carry the torch. Hopefully this game starts by Friday afternoon.

- That's a dirty, dirty hit from behind on Pacioretty by McDonagh. This League really ought to look at implementing automatic 5 minute majors on those kind of hits.

- And the Habs powerplay off to a craptaculour start, completed by silly tripping penalty committed by Gallagher.

- Apparently, it was Dan Girardi who did the check from behind, not McDonagh. Brad Watson having trouble reading sweater names and numbers.

- Pretty tight first half to the period - both teams pushing forwards back quickly into their own zone during transitions. Lots of open ice in the neutral zone, but things get pretty busy.

- Pacioretty with partial break, got a backhander away on Lundqvist, but was clearly tripped.

- Awful, awful embellishment call on Emelin, who got hit in the mouth by Nash. Nullifies an aggressive roughing penalty on Nash.

- Let's see how the Habs can muff up a long 4-on-3 advantage. They'll find a way.

- Habs will need to adjust to playing against a team with a very good defense. They've been spoiled by their experiences in Boston and Pittsburgh, whose defenses were guilty of some pretty awful giveaways and zone transitions. Rangers' blue line is very disciplined. Will be a tough two points tonight.

- Rangers doing much better job with passing and puck control. Their possession numbers are pretty dominant this period.

- Man, Rangers east-west are just so fast, so clean. This will be a team to reckon with.

- Habs were reactive for most of the last half of the first period, Rangers really seemed to find their legs as the period progressed, and had the clear overall edge. Lundqvist with some tougher saves than Price, but from a big picture perspective, Habs will need to be far more aggressive with their forecheck in the 2nd period for a reasonable chance of victory.



Ah, home sweet home. Actually, do we even want to not stop playing on the road? Four-fer-four, including a couple of pretty impressive wins over the Sens and the Pens to end the season-opening road trip. Now, suddenly, the Habs find themselves owning the title for best start to the 2015-16 NHL season.

So tonight, the Habs take on the Rangers, whom we still haven't forgiven for targeting our franchise goaltender for the sake of eliminating the Habs from Stanley Cup contention two seasons ago. Nope. Never gonna forgive, never gonna forget.

The Rangers had an offsesaon that was not dissimular to the Habs. Like Montreal, New York was active in making moves necessary to keep their roster pretty much in tact.

The Blue Shirts, as good responsible teams must do, kept an eye on their cap, necessitating a few moves to keep their payroll under control. Carl Hagelin and backup netminder Cam Talbot were shipped out of town in return for a handful of draft picks,

The Rangers were pretty quiet on the free agent front. They signed forward Viktor Stalberg and ... well .. that's pretty much it.

The message sent from the Rangers' front office this summer was pretty clear - they still believe the roster they've assembled is a winner. Not unlike the same message the Habs front office sent - with the Canadiens adding Alexander Semin via free agency - their only "big" roster addition before the season started.

The teams are the same.  A year old, mind you, but fundamentally unchanged, and as hopeful as ever that this will be the year the Stanely Cup is finally raised in their cities.

Habs and Rangers lineups tonight are unchanged. Lundqvist vs. Price, to the shock of no one. Puck drop will be ... who knows?  Probably around 7:20, after all the pregame ceremonies are done.