Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Game 39: Habs vs. Panthers

THIRD PERIOD:- Habs and Panthers after 40 minutes. It's ugly out there. Really ugly.

- It must be noted that Galcheyuk, who's one of the very few Habs players with a positive corsi tonight, has gone from being at the top of player usage tonight, down towards the middle, while Desharnas and Weise, both of whom have zero corsi, are now near the top. If I'm a General Manager looking at just the raw, basic stats, the red flags aren't popping up - they're stabbing me in the eyes.

- Well, Paciroetty now with Andrighetto and Plekanec, which is something resembling progress.

- Galchenyuk with a tremendous play to hustle back to break up a sure-fire Panthers short-handed goal, to keep the score 2-1. Even Therrien can't miss that.

- Barkov makes it 3-1, with Eller and Galchenyuk missing their assignment (it was probably Galchenyuk's). Killer goal, with the Habs continuing to struggle scoring more than one goal a night.

- Well, another disappointing loss. Habs looked like a pretty disorganized bunch tonight, a particularly rough night for the Habs 4th line, Desharnais and Weise were a disaster, even the Plekanec line looked pretty shaky - especially defensively. Actually, the Habs defense as a whole looked pretty shabby - the Panthers had far too many third skaters waltzing in on Scrivens, who delivered an excellent performance. The Habs play, in general, looks far less organized than even during their big losing slide, which is awfully concerning. It's as though the players are starting to tune out, and are "doing their own thing". That's an important mark of a team whose coach is losing control of the dressing room. We'll see what happens New Year's Day, but if it's anything like what happened tonight, it could be another ugly game for the Habs.


- Habs and Panthers through 20 minutes. The chart looks bad, but a good chunk of it represents Gallant matching the Barkov line against the Desharnais line, which is getting crushed tonight.

- So yeah, as we said during the first period, Therrien is going to have to limit deployment of the Desharnais line, or the Panthers will continue to just steamroll pucks at Scrivens

- Barkov line eating Habs alive tonight. No way Jagr should be that free to waltz in on Scrivens 5v5, but the Habs 4th line wildly out of position, while Pateryn/Barberio got all crossed up retreating to their zone off the rush. 2-1 Florida.

- Half way through regulation, only three Habs players, Galchenyuk, Carr and Eller, have a positive corsi. That's .. uh .... pretty not good.

- Same story. Scrivens looks awesome, Bakrov line is steamrolling, and Jeff Petry flings yet another puck into the stands for a delay-of-game penalty.

- Habs 4th line has had a pretty brutal evening, getting caught up ice numerous times, giving the defence fits, and providing the Panthers with way too many glorious scoring chances.

- Eller with a strong game, moving his feet well, and draws a powerplay late in the 2nd.

- Speaking of the period, as we near the end of it, the Desharnais CF% is currently 0. Not sure whether to laugh or cry. I think laughter is apt.

- Carr rings one of the crossbar, so the PDO gods aren't done with this team yet. Andrei Markov looking totally spent on the powerplay, he really needs his time scaled back, or he might become totally useless by the end of the season. Anyway, another period where the Habs were totally outplayed, obviously the team having lots of issues dealing with back-to-back games - but even that considered, the score is just 2-1, which at the very least, gives the Habs a chance, however unlikely, of getting a point tonight.


- Scrivens with a couple of amazing/acrobatic saves early in the period. The trade already looks good.

- Excellent embellishment call on MacKenzie after Flynn makes a pretty obvious trip. Like to see these calls made more often.

- Habs on a back-to-back, and the first few minutes are a pretty keen illustration if tired legs are an issue. Panthers winning most foot races, while Habs defence looking a little overwhelmed as forwards struggle to contain Florida's zone attack. This could be a long night ahead for the Canadiens.

- Habs' bacon being saved by some pretty spectacular goaltending by Scrivens. Now the Habs have managed to gain a powerplay. Hopefully that calms the momentum needle that's wildly swung in the Panthers favor.

- Ooooh, Pacioretty is feeling it. You can see it now. Picks up the loose puck in the slot, with Desharnais and Carr doing a nice job creating traffic in front of Luongo, gives the Habs a 1-0 lead.

- Holy moly, Ben Scrivens is having himself quite the debut period. He's giving the Habs everything they haven't received the past month - some outstanding goaltending to keep the Canadiens in the hunt.

- Gallant, like Cooper did last night, with apt line matching against Therrien, who has always struggled with the concept of playing certain lines and players against others. Somebody needs to bring this to his attention, or Florida will (eventually) work their way back in front on the scoreboard.

- Barkov scores late on the powerplay, Markov doing a pretty poor job clearing traffic (Jagr) away from Scrivens who didn't see the shot. Game tied.

- MacKenize with an obvious hit to Subban's head with his elbow. An infuriated Subban drops the gloves (probably unwise). The hit will probably get a review by the League.

- The thing is, there's no way the original hit by MacKenzie should have gone without a penalty call. When Subban looked over to the referee and saw that nothing was being done, he took matters into his own hands. That play symbolizes everything that's gone wrong with NHL officiating - nobody seems willing to make tough calls. Officials are more interested in "managing" the game by making hooking, tripping and holding calls.

- Habs got outplayed pretty badly in the period, but made up for it via some pretty good goaltending by Scrivens. Panthers clearly with more energy tonight, it certainly helps them to be playing on two days rest. Still, this doesn't excuse the Habs for their lackluster play - their defence needs to do a better job reacting to the Panthers zone entries, and clearing traffic in and around Scrivens. Meanwhile behind the bench, Michel Therrien has to be much more hands-on adapting to the line matching being done by Gallant. This means limiting the amount of time being given to the defensively weak Desharnais line.


As the photo taken last night illustrates, Mike Condon raised his arms in celebration after Max Pacioretty scored the shootout winner in Tampa Bay, to give the Montreal Canadiens just their second win this month. It was a rare moment of happiness in what has been an otherwise dreadful and depressing four weeks of losing hockey.

Okay Mike, you can sit now. Enter ... Ben Scrivens! The Habs newest band aid asset will arrive on the scene as tonight's starter as the Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers in Sunrise. Scrivens was acquired on Monday from the Edmonton Oilers in return for the disgraced Zack Kassian.

It's not going to be an easy night for Scrivens because this year's Florida Panthers are not like the Florida Panthers we've come to know and enjoy playing against. The Panthers are riding a 6-game winning streak, their latest victim being the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night. Uh-oh.

Granted, the Panthers' current win streak has come against some pretty meager opponents, including the likes of the Panthers, 'Canes, Canucks and Devils. Still, Florida is a pretty good team this year featuring the wonderful and seemingly ageless Jaromir Jagr, who leads the team with 25 points, and Jonathan Huberdeau, who ... and this is true, was born THREE YEARS after Jagr started playing the NHL. Huberdeau has collected 23 points this season, 19 of them assists. Actually, if we're going to get all technical about Jagr's age, there are only 6 players in the Panthers entire organization that were born before he started playing in the NHL. SIX.

In any case, the Panthers are a nicely balanced hockey team - no big-time leading scorer, but a nice supporting crew - which means Florida, much like the Habs (are supposed to be played), come at you with 4 pretty decent lines.

This balanced attack is no accident - it fits very nicely with the philosophy of Don Gallant, who was an assistant coach with the Habs last year. Gallant has combined a youth-driven offence (Jagr aside), with a mainly veteran-driven defence to produce a pretty competitive team. The Panthers blue line, along with veteran netminder Roberto Luongo, have the League's third rated defence, and lead the NHL with the fewest goals allowed in the 1st period.

In summation, the Panthers are disciplined, well-coached organization. The Habs have their work cut out for them tonight.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST. Luongo vs. Scrivens.

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.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Game 37: Habs vs. Caps


- Habs and Caps through 40 minutes:

- Okay, I think a Bergevin intervention is needed. After 40 minutes, forward ice times are 1. Pacioretty, 2. Weise (really?), 3. Plekanec, 8. Galchenyuk, 12. Eller. Lars' CF%, by the way, is 81% so far tonight. Therrien has no idea what's happening. 

- More Therrien follies. Emelin still getting regular shifts, but instead of sending Tinordi out, he's double-shifting Subban to take Tinordi's place. 

- Chimera with the dagger, totally outracing ... guess who ... Alexei Emelin to the puck, and beating Condon high. We've been begging, pleading, screaming all night about how awful Emelin has been tonight, and yet, Therrien has been giving him regular shifts. Well now the Habs are probably toast for the sixth straight time.

- Well, same old story, another game, another loss. But unlike the other losses earlier in the month, the one tonight against the Caps, and others earlier in the week, are different. These losses the Habs have been the worse team, they're failing to produce any sustained offence because their line combinations make little sense. Their defence deployment has been awful, the use of Emelin tonight underscores that. And while their goaltending hasn't been very good, it had zero factor tonight. Condon played well, this game could easily have finished 5 or 6 to 1 for Washington.

This loss also feels different - as though we're on the cusp of a major shakeup. If that happens, or what it is if it happens, is yet to be seen. But it just feels like a shoe is about to drop, because we're now seriously approaching a point where the entire season may be lost. 


- Habs and Caps 5v5 through 20 minutes of play:

- News during the intermission that Brendan Gallagher is seeing a specialist this week for a possible green light to play as early as January 1st. 

- Hey, Galchenyuk isn't near the bottom for ice time - 5th most played Habs forward in the 1st period, believe it or not, more than Desharnais. 

- Mike Condon whiffs, it's 2-0. He simply can't miss those shots - not the way the Habs are playing right now. Another killer goal surrendered by Condon.

- Carr gets Habs on the board off a Markov shot rebound, because Carr and Galchenyuk are the only players apparently capable of scoring. 

- Desharnais is just a mess. He doesn't seem to have the slightest clue, perhaps shred of confidence, with the puck in the opposing zone. More inclined to give the puck away then to actually shoot or complete a meaningful pass to another teammate. 

- Alexei Emelin is a one-man defensive disaster tonight. Seems totally unable to track his assignments, is constantly either totally out of position, or scrambling to find position. How Therrien is giving him shifts, and benching Tinordi, is baffling.

- Speaking of disasters, Dale Weise. Constantly played on powerplay, producing nothing, and making horrible passes through the neutral zone generating Caps odd-man breaks, with Condon, full credit, making huge saves to keep his team in this game.

- Condon rising to the occasion, with Emelin being absolutely horrible again. Habs are getting destroyed at the moment, and while the score is 2-1, this game is dangerously close to going totally off the cliff for Montreal.

- I'm not sure if anyone is noticing this, but because Desharnais is so badly failing, his job of centre has largely been taken over by Pacioretty shift after shift. How the coach can't see or recognize this problem is very troubling.

- I think it's a more than reasonable bet that the Habs powerplay, by some time in February, will be near or at the bottom of the League. 

- Caps really flexing their muscle in the period, and while Condon gave up a soft 2nd goal, he more than made up for it the remainder of the period to keep his team, however barely, in this game. The Canadiens are a mess right now - Alexei Emelin is, as we noted in the first period, a one-man disaster, and yet, Therrien keeps giving him regular shifts. The decisions being made right now simply defy logic. The worst you play, the more you get played, while Tinordi struggles to get 6 minutes of ice time tonight, while Sven Andrigehetto watches from above. 


- Horrible giveaway by Plekanec with a pretty meek backhand pass behind his net is easily intercepted. Habs generally looking pretty nervous and rattled, lots of unforced errors being made, Caps with early chances.

- This does not look good. Habs are slow, disorganized, Caps are not. This is just not going to end well tonight. I foresee ... catastrophe. 

- Just ... abysmal. Alexei Emelin, who has no business being in a lineup when somebody like Greg Pateryn is sitting in a press box, coughs up the puck to Kuznetsov, and then fails to even bother covering him as he skates in front of Condon to redirect a high slot shot past Condon. Yup. This is looking really, really bad. 

- Okay, whose bright idea was it to fly the team out this afternoon from Montreal? 

- Soft interference call on Carr off a faceoff. NHL officiating is just a mess - too many referees are happy to call soft stuff like hooks and holds, but steadfastly refuse to crack down on nasty stuff that really slows the game down and creates injuries - stick infractions and nasty boarding checks. League officiating, in general, is a mess. 

- I guess the Galchenyuk line looks the best. I guess. It's hard to tell - the Habs in general look like a sluggish bunch - too much turkey perhaps. Or maybe it was the incredibly stupid decision to have a pointless morning skate and have the team take an afternoon flight. These plane rides, by the way, take much more out of you than any practice, as far as recovery is concerned. 

- Among the many interventions this team needs is to get Smith-Pelly off that 4th line, and out of the lineup. Since he was brought back, his contribution to that line (or any line) has been pretty much nil.

- Well, I guess the score isn't any worse than 1-0, which is a kind of victory. Still, Habs look listless, even somewhat disinterested. Moral looks terrible on the ice, body language on the bench not much better. This is a team slipping towards a full-fledged crisis of ineptitude. Unless something dramatic happens quickly, this spiral won't stop.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Was Santa good to you? He was? Great! He screwed me over again. I put out some old Crown Royal next to the cookies, and still, nothing. Damn you, fat man. Damn you.

Well at least we have hockey again, right?? December 25 seemed to drag on forever since the only thing on was the NBA, and that's terrible. BUT ... it's full engines go tonight as the NHL mercifully returns to action, with the Habs going to (gulp) Washington to take on the Caps.

Hey, are we gonna get a team that isn't hard to play against ever again? Man, the schedule has been brutal, almost as terrible as Michel Therrien's deployments AMIRIGHT?

Before Santa's night to screw me over, we bemoaned the coach's decision to yet again, scratch Sven Andrighetto leading up to the (loss) against the Minnesota Wild. So with the holiday break, we were hoping, I mean, really, really, really hoping that coach would finally see the light today and tonight. 

... and ... there you have it. Desharnais and Weise get top billing status, because their combines three points since the beginning of the month is the sure-fire solution to this team's abysmal offence.

Oh well. Bright news? Jeff Petry is back tonight - he'll play along side Andrei Markov on the 2nd line, with Jared Tinordi getting a start tonight along side Alexei Emelin. In case you missed the news, Tom Gilbert, who sustained a lower body injury in St. Paul's, won't be playing again for the remainder of this road trip - meaning he's out a minimum two weeks.

So ... what to hope for? Do we hope for this log jam of losing continues to build towards some kind of monumental bench shake up that might involve the dismissal of Therrien? It's tempting, considering how Therrien continues to make the same odd deployment decisions each and every game. Of course, don't hope what you wish for, because if the spiral genuinely goes out of control, then the Habs might find themselves scrambling just to qualify for the post-season. Failure to do so would be a monumental failure - one of the greatest in the 106 years of this team's history.

These are the Caps - the best offence in the Eastern Conference. The second best powerplay in the NHL. The best rated defence in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom. Evgeny Kuznetsov. That's just about 100 points right there. If there's any soft spot on this team, it's ... well .. uh ... I guess ... possession? They're 5v5 CF% is a shade under 50%, which is not the number you usually associate with a team that's so dominate in major statistical categories.

Thing is, as Habs fans should know well by now, it matters not how much you own the puck, if you can't bury it, nothing really matters. The Caps, by and large, are a good team at doing the later.

Mike Condon will start tonight, and he'll have to have one of his great lifetime performances if he and his team hopes to end the losing.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.


Probably not. But it sure feels like we're getting warmer.

Happy holidays.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Game 36: Habs vs. Wild


- Habs and Wild through 40 minutes. At what point is Therrien going to shelve the Pacioretty with Desharnais pairing? Because so far, it's not working. What is preventing him from putting Patches with Galchenyuk? It's so logical, so obvious, but it's not happening.

- One area Tinordi is a little rough at and should improve with more NHL experience is headmanning the puck. His passes have been a little rough tonight, which has hurt the Habs transition game.

- Killer. Eller with a bad turnover carrying the puck over the Wild blue line to Coile who beats a flatfooted Beaulieu, and then a shot that Condon should have and would have stopped if he didn't play his net so damn deep. Series of mistakes kill the Canadiens again. 

- Awful slash on Markov's hand carrying the puck out of his zone not called. Habs aren't getting anything tonight.

- That second goal is so dreadful, and it's just another exclamation mark on how the Habs have not had the privilege of their goaltenders making key saves this month. It seems just when the Canadiens are on the cusp, either Condon or Tokarski let something in that normally Carey Price would stop. There's no solution to this problem. The Habs are stuck with what they have until Price returns. He question is, will they win a game before that happens?

- Another loss, and while surely Michel Therrien's job is safe, at least at the moment, the pressure will almost certainly grow over the Holiday break, and mount with each and every loss that will happen as this string of defeats continues, unabated.


- Habs and Wild through 20 minutes:

- Habs swarm to start the period, with Pacioretty and Beaulieu generating two great scoring chances, and yet ... nothing going in. Kuemper with a couple of very nice saves.

- Bad bounce for the Habs (of course) springs Stoll in all alone, and Condon makes a terrible half-hearted poke check attempt, flopping on his belly. Somehow, Stoll is still unable to bury the puck. Whew.

- Carr continues to impress, he's doing all he can to try to break the logjam - denied a goal last night after appeal, he's another example why the future still is bright for this organization, even though this month has been pretty dark and depressing.

- Been mostly Habs controlled period, but not a lot of dangerous chances being generated. Canadiens need to get more bodies in the Wild's crease, need to follow Carr's example and drive the net. Not seeing a lot of that tonight.

- Habs first powerplay, played four forwards first minute of the advantage, which smites of some desperation.

- Predictably, the powerplay goes nowhere, because it's glaringly obvious that this team has done almost no 4-forward powerplay practice or drills. We're at the point that the coaching staff is just tossing players out there and telling them to make it up.

- Galchenyuk slowly sliding down the ice time standings. Somebody needs to do an intervention with this team.

- Same old through 40 minutes, although the Habs haven't vastly outplayed their opponent tonight. More or less a draw, but it could be better if somebody knew how to deploy the Canadiens' offensive assets with some measure of competence. Right now, deployments are a mess, with players who aren't doing their job continuously and mysteriously getting rewarded with regular shifts. This, more than anything, is driving me crazy during this losing streak.


- So, Tinordi gets the start tonight over Pateryn. He played a pretty good game last night, so that's halfway towards an ideal defence (Emelin being the 7th would be wonderful. We can dream, can't we?)

- Desharnais line gets to start, because you just know Therrien is rubbing it in our faces.

- Excellent first and second shift by Galchenyuk, and his line. The scratched record keeps repeating itself.

- Sustained pressure by the Desharnais line, can't bury a couple of good chances. We're off to the same start. Habs dominating early.

- Pretty tight checking game - Habs appear to be consciously reeling things back a little, don't seem nearly as aggressive and free-flowing tonight as they've been most of the season. Whether or not it's just this period, or the Canadiens have decided to take a different approach, we'll have to see.

- Habs are holding their own, Wild's shot attempts have been pretty much limited to the point and permitter. Condon getting lots of time and plenty of clear vision on the shots (so far).

- Oh god, Alexei Emelin. What a horrible, stupid pass in his own zone, blind, cross-ice, right in front of his net, generating a horrible turnover. Boom. 1-0 Wild. Alexei Emelin. Why he never sees a health scratch is beyond me.

- Gilbert hurt, in the locker room. Which means Emelin can't be benched. More importantly, why isn't Emelin ever scratched?

- If Gilbert is seriously hurt, then Subban will likely get double shifts, meaning look for him to have ice totals near 30 minutes tonight.

- Gilbert done for the night. Strap 'em up tight, P.K., you'll be working plenty tonight.

- Oh, god. Beaulieu with an own goal, because you never know when the bottom will be reached. They're taking a close look at this, and ... no goal. WOW WE CATCH A BREAK.

- So, will the Habs turn that "break" into some good fortune? Should be interesting. I don't think that it was actually a goal, but the Habs were extremely fortunate that the puck managed to just barely stay out. Regardless, an evenly played period, and except for the incredibly dumb play by Emelin, this game ought be scoreless. Nonetheless, we'll take the "good bounce".


Two down, six to go.

The Habs enter St. Paul tonight to take on yet another top-flight Western Division hockey team. The Canadiens are riding a 397 game losing streak, in which over that time, their offence has managed to score -28 goals, all of them coming from Lars Eller into his own net.

Well, maybe the situation isn't quite that bad, but it sure is starting to feel like it. The Habs continue to outplay their opponents, but aren't being rewarded with victories. Mainly due to an offence that's doing the "right things" systematically, but failing to convert any opportunities into actual goals. On the other end of the ice, the Canadiens have been further hampered by what could be charitably defined as inconsistent goaltending from their two AHL callups, Dustin Tokarski and Mike Condon.

What can you do? The Habs, during this latest losing streak which currently stands at 4 games, have a PDO of 85.8, which is pushing the boundaries of statistical improbability to its absolute limit. Which is to say, assuming the Habs continue to play the same style of hockey where they dominate puck possession and shot totals, they're going to have a goal explosion unlike any other witnessed in modern NHL history. Right?

Well. Maybe.

See, the problem here for the Habs isn't just that they're the recipients of some really rotten luck, but they're also the cause of some of their own miseries. As we've highlighted exhaustively for days, Michel Therrien is stubbornly deploying underachieving forwards, while stubbornly limiting the ice times for players that are actually producing actual offence. Last night, same story. Dale Weise and David Desnarnais, two woeful underproducers, if you exclude the first month of the season, get first line time. Alex Galchenyuk, who's out there scoring right in the middle of a team-wide slump, is given the 4th least amount of ice time.

The point here is, as long as Therrien fails to understand who to play, and how much to play them, there's little reason to believe the Habs will be escaping this astounding funk any time soon.

To that extent, the Habs seem to by choice, compound their problems. Sven Andrighetto, who was a tremendous spark plug in substitution for the injured Brendan Gallagher, has been a healthy scratch for most of this streak. Today the Habs announced that Mike McCarron was returning to St. John's, and would be replaced tonight by - you guessed it, the offensively underproductive Devante Smith-Pelly.

Do we see the pattern emerging here?

So, tonight, the Habs will try once again to solve their quandary. However, unless and until the team's decision makers start making decision that are beneficial to the well-being of this team, there should be little reason to expect anything other than the same result tonight.

Mike Condon is in the net for the Habs. Darcy Kuemper (Saskatoon born!), the Wild's backup, will start for Minnesota.

Our opponents are starting their 2nd stringers now? Has it come to that already?

Puck drops at 8:10, EST.


 - We have new bodies in the lineup! Michael McCarron was reassigned to St. John's today, which is fine. McCarron and his 15 foot 7 inch frame made a nice impression this week. With McCarron headed back to the rock ....

- Finally!!! After a week of pointlessly benching Sven Adrighetto, who's been a nice offensive bright spot for the Habs since his call up since the Gallagher injury, will return to the lineup tonight and ... will ... play .... sorry. What??

Oh. Well then. Never mind.

- As Aropon noted, Mike Condon will start, which at this point, is whatever. Might as welll draw goaltending names from a hat - neither Condon or Dustin Tokarski have appeared even remotely capable of delivering a game required to get the Habs back into the "w" column.

- Jeff Petry, who took that NON-CALLED hit to his face, which also led directly to Dallas scoring a game-killer goal, is out again.

- Alex Galchenyuk, it bears repeating - by far the best Habs forward on the ice last night, got the 4th least amount of ice time. Madness.

Game preview in a bit.


A little graph I cooked up this morning which gives you a snapshot of the League for the month of December, including games up to last night.

Guess which team really sticks out like a sore thumb?

Hockey and life really aren't much different from each other; nothing is fair.

More in a bit.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Game 35: Habs vs. Preds


- Habs and Preds through 40. I got nothing.

- Emelin, with a pretty awful holding penalty, because he doesn't bother moving his feet on a non-threatening Preds rush. Lots of NHL coaches would roundly bench any defensmen of Emelin's caliber for that kind of play. But you know Therrien won't.

- Lars Eller with an own goal. I mean - you couldn't dream this stuff up. Tokarski, who I guess was wandering a little too much, gets yanked. Slams his stick going down the tunnel. That's pretty much it for tonight.

- So Tokarski finishes the night sub .800 SV%. Habs are really in tough for their backups. For the first time, I'm willing to admit some reconsideration for this team to look at goaltending options.

- Habs just standing around their zone. Literally. Just standing around. 4-0.

- Carr scores ... I think.

- Good lord, Galchenyuk bumped Rinne, although Weber did trip him into the goal. Nonetheless, the Habs are denied a goal, because it's the Habs. You can't make this stuff up.

- Galchenyuk scores. Even though he is, yet again, one of the least used Habs forwards tonight.

- Dale Weise misses an open net. And ..... we've checked all the mandatory boxes. GOODNIGHT EVERYONE DRIVE HOME SAFELY.

- Gods aren't satisfied. Subban finally delivers a goal scoring shot, puck entering the net, zipping past Rinnie. Makes the score 4-2. Oh wait. Dale Weise gets in the way.

- Another night, another game outplaying their opponent, another night outshooting their opponent, another night out chancing their opponent, another night where the goaltenders can't deliver, and the forwards can't finish. Habs are spiralling into a total abyss of defeat, with no end in sight.


- Habs and Preds through 20 minutes. It is the same old exasperating story:

- A right spot, Jared Tinordi looked really solid - and was immediately rewarded by Therrien - he's amongst team leaders in ice time tonight.

- Habs powerplay, they go with just one defenseman, Subban. Desperate times. Especially putting Desharnais on the line.

- Predictably, the man advantage goes nowhere. Nearly surrenders a short handed goal because Desharnais should never, ever, ever, never be at the point.

- Problem for the Habs, even with all their possession advantages, and shot attempts, nothing really incredibly threatening has been generated against the Preds, save the 1st period shot by Desharnis that required a nifty save by Rinne. It's been a pretty routine game for him.

- Preds get a powerplay, and score. Because of course. Weber to Josi, who blasts a puck off the crossbar. Seems like if anyone wearing the CH, that puck stays out. But no .. nope ... it goes in. Habs giving Preds gunners at the line wayyyyy to much time and room to unload. That's why it's 2-0.

- Halfway through the game, Habs have a dozen scoring chances. No goals scored. Preds have generated 3 ... yes ... just 3 ... and have scored 2.

- Halfway though relegation, Habs have nearly 70% of the shooting attempts. Seventy. Per. Cent.

- We're done two periods. Just perplexed. Not a single Habs player with a negative Corsi. Not one. Habs with nearly five times as many scoring chances. Possession nearly 70%. I guess all of these advanced stats are totally meaningless unless and until somebody can put a puck into the opposing net. So far those who are expected and paid to deliver, Pacioretty, Eller, Galchenyuk, Plekanec, Subban, Markov, Fleischmann, Desharnais, are not delivering.


- Here we go. This might be an ugly game. Pekka Rinne is on pace to start 60+ games this season. Maybe he'll be tired for the Habs tonight??

- Therrien putting Pacioretty out with Desharnais, because the obsession with 51 never seems to end.

- Excellent shifts so far by Galchenyuk - he's doing all that you're supposed to do, strong forecheck, taking pucks away, and unlike 51, taking shots on goal.

- Stop me if you've heard this before the last three weeks, but Habs start the game strong, heavily outshooting and out-possessing their opponent. Oh yeah - and not actually scoring.

- Well, uh .. there we go. Weber with a bomb that Tokarski may or may not have seen, and yup - we're right back where we left off. Habs dominate, and trailing on the scoreboard. For what it's worth, Desharnais line was out, and doing a rather poor job in their zone. No way Weber should have had that much time, and open ice to blast the puck at 100 mph.

- Habs still working out there, Galchenyuk with another good shift. Plekanec setting Fleischmann up nicely, but he can't bury the puck. Rewards simply aren't coming. Feels like they'll never arrive.

- Subban is working his tail off out there. You want to talk about leadership, you looking first and last at the guys visibly elevating their effort when the times get tough. There are others out there who are visibly not. That's where many of the problems are originating from.

- Wow, Desharnais took a shot on goal, and Rinne had to make a nice glove save to boot. Because, of course, nothing will go in for Montreal.

- No words. Habs with more than 60% possession, outshooting and outworking their opponent, and losing the game. Galchenyuk looks great, Subban too ... Desharnais ... the usual. Just getting so tired of this - so I'll let the captain repeat his words from 48 hours ago.


Is it January yet? No?? Oh, god. Is the road trip from hell at least over with? There's 7 games remaining? Kill me.

I don't wanna say that Habs fans ought to start running naked through the streets in terror, but this team, which, if you can believe, got off to a 9-0 start, has won only 11 of the 25 games that followed that streak. In other words, if things continue to unravel at the current pace, the Canadiens can not only forget about finishing in 1st place, they might start to struggle just to make the post-season.

If that were to happen, the fellow pictured above would be out of a job. Guaranteed. The guy on the left. Yeah. That guy.

Actually, if there is any substance to the rumblings starting to build in Montreal, Michel Therrien's end might arrive even before the end of a season-turned-sour, because, in case you hadn't noticed, the Canadiens' offence is a disaster, and there doesn't appear to be any light of hope in sight.

That hope, of course, rests with the return of two incredibly key players, Carey Price, and Brendan Gallagher. Since Price's return to the injury list, the Habs' backups, Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski, have struggled to find any semblance of consistency - in particular Condon, who rocketed out of the season's gates, and looked like a 1st stringer until the end of November, when his wheels fell off. Since that time, Condon has posted a SV% nowhere near .900, which on most nights, especially behind a team that's struggling to score even two goals a night, means certain repeated defeats.

The blame can't all lay at Condon's feet, of course. He hasn't received any sort of meaningful offensive support, and the Habs defence, which looked so well-adjusted through the first two months of the season, has become increasingly sloppy in their own zone, resulting in far too many defensive and neutral zone turnovers, which has generated high quality odd many rushes for opposing teams. If you leave your goaltender consistently out to dry, you're going to give up a lot of goals, and lose - a lot.

Which brings us back to Therrien. While many have praised his approach this season, which has emphasized puck possession and less of a reliance on a dump-and-chase offence, his response to the team's current deep slide hasn't endeared him with much confidence amongst his detractors, this writer included. Instead of simply continuing to play his strong cards, Therrien's approach seems more inclined towards conquering the Habs' demons via division. To put it another way, Therrien's reaction has mostly been one of panic - he's pressing every available button, and in some instances, making new ones, in futile attempts to get his team back on the winning track.

All this has meant a lineup that is changing each game, and lines, both offensive and defensive, that are different - not only at the start of each game, but during each period. It is extremely difficult for any team to find any mode of positive consistency if players don't know from one period to the next, who they're playing with.

Therrien's approach to getting certain players out of funk has also raised questions about his decision-making. In particular, the manner in how he's handling two forwards whose production has all but completely dried up - David Desharnais and Dale Weise. Therrien's philosophy, as far as anyone can tell, appears to be one of playing those who aren't contributing, even more than usual. Desharnais is a perfect example - at the start of the year, he was receiving about 11 minutes of ice time per night. Since his production has gone south, Therrien has increased his ice time from one of modesty, to that of exuberance - Desharnais is now averaging over 17 minutes a night, on most occasions, he is the most played forward on this roster.

For someone who can't score a lick, and continues to refuse to shoot the puck even when he's in dangerous scoring zones, that Therrien keeps going back for more and more of Desharnais' futility is mystifying.

So tonight, the Habs will visit the Nashville Predators, another top-flight NHL team, in offensive and defensive disarray. Who'll play tonight for the Habs? Not sure. Who'll play on which line? Who knows? How long will those players stay with their mates? Good question. Because right now, coach Therrien is panicking - he's doing everything short of strapping on his own pair of skates, to get his team playing good hockey.

Meanwhile, the players sulk with frustration:

That, from your capitan, is never a good sign.

Puck drops tonight at 8:10 EST. There's never a dull moment in Habsland.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Game 34: Habs vs. Stars


- Habs and Stars through 20 minutes. The pattern holds. The Canadiens the better team, but keep rolling snake eyes.

- Benn, it's 2-0. Emelin loses puck battle, Condon playing way too deep in his net. Habs may never win a game again. It sure feels that way.

- Sharp, deflects one in, bounces are going against the Habs both directions. That, and turning the puck over at your blue line is probably a bad idea against a team with an offence like Dallas. 3-0.

- The Sharp deflection was pretty nifty, and perhaps impossible to stop, but Condon is playing his position very, very deep. That's a sign of a goaltender fighting confidence.

- Dallas doesn't seek perfection when it come to goal scoring. They put the puck on the net. The Habs don't seem to be able/capable/wanting to just fire the damn puck. Net result - lots of wide shots, posts and crossbars hit, and Dale Weise constantly missing wide open nets.

- Therrien running the line blender full tilt. Hard to keep up with all the combinations happening out there tonight. We apparently have a stable 4th line, and everyone else drawn from the coach's hat.

- McCarron is a boulder in front of the net. If only he could have some shots coming is way that he could screen.

- Carr tucks in a rebound, on ... get ready for this ... the powerplay. Habs ... wat .. scored? Yes, they actually did. 3-1. Now ... if only they could get some production out of the guys expected to score ... we might have something.

- Laughable holding call on Beaulieu. Phantom call. Threatens to undo all their momentum.

- Possible big break? Goal waived off, goaltending interference called on Demers.

- Forget about it. Benn mauls Petry along the boards in a play that was blatantly interference, Seguin snaps a shot over Condon, who again, is too deep in his net. 4-1. Montreal can't have anything nice.

- McCarron called for a rough merely for bumping into someone along the boards. Words escape me tonight. Officiating has been absolutely horrible.

- Dallas, too many on the ice, not called. I'm giving up on this game. Officiating has been a disgrace.


- Nice little acknowledge by Dallas for Dickie Moore.

- As we noted in the pregame preview, the Stars aren't invulnerable. Their defence isn't particularly  good with puck movement, in particular out of their own zone. A good strong forechecking game by the Habs could reap some benefits (i.e., actually scoring a goal).

- Emelin can't stand still like a pylon at his blue line with the Stars mounting a rush.

- And we're off. Spezza easily gains the zone off a rush, does a nice little shot fake, and makes Condon look ... well ... not good. 1-0 early.

- So now the Habs are chasing the lead early, which is just about the last place you want to be when you're offensive starved to death. It's too early to take big chances, but that might be what's required so that this team can at least remember what it's like to score a goal.

- Habs don't seem very perturbed from surrounding the early goal. Strategy appear the same - maintaining possession. Their forecheck so far, though, isn't nearly as strong as I think it ought to be.

- They acknowledge Dickie Moore in Dallas ... Texas. Nothing in Toronto tonight, because Toronto and their big-league organization is, and will always be, terrible.

- Strong shifts by the Eller line so far, Lars really skating well, and doing an excellent job getting the puck towards the net, which is the intended strategy with McCarron in the lineup.

- Past half way mark, same old story. Habs are doing the right things, but not putting pucks in the net. Also, part of the same old story, players who haven't been producing any raw offence are continuing to get lion's share of shifts.

- Habs powerplay. Eventually this unit will score. Before the end of time. Tonight? Well, let's see who Therrien puts out there.

- Therrien puts out McCarron out first unit, with Plekanec and Pacioretty. Galchenyuk not part of the primary unit. Okay, then.

- Habs 2nd powerplay, Therrien repairing Markov with Subbban, and Andrei rings a snap shot off the crossbar. Sweet jesus, they'll never score again.

- And Weise misses a wide, wide, wide open net. Because, Dale Weise.


We knew looking at the schedule, even way back before the season began, that December would be a challenging month for the Montreal Canadiens. Now nearly 3 weeks into the month, and those original concerns have borne out, with the Habs winners of just 1 game.

Believe it or not, that one win came during the easy part of the schedule. Now things get tough. Really tough. The Habs play in Dallas tonight, the League's best team - to kick off an 8-game road trip, which will take Montreal through some of the toughest arenas in hockey, with stops in Nashville, Minnesota, Washington and Tampa Bay.

In fact, the Canadiens won't even see home ice again until the 2nd week of next year.

The big problem for the Habs, in case you haven't been following the past while, has been their offence. It is, to put it generously, anemic. Realistically, it's a disaster. Montreal has scored a meager 15 goals over their past 9 games during their slide, which unsurprisingly, coincided with the loss of Brendan Gallagher.

Compounding the Habs goal-producing woes, has been the manner in how the Canadiens have attempted to get out of their offensive funk. Specifically, the manner in how Montreal has been deploying their forwards. For the most part, and for reasons that are only known to him, Michel Therrien has scaled back ice times of players who have been point producers, while increasing ice times for those whose outputs have been near zero.

Let's bring forth, Exhibit "A", and it's a doozy:

I've been on Therrien's case the past couple of games about deployments - in particular the amount of time he's been giving David Desharnais, whose production has fallen off the face of the planet since November, while scaling back time to forwards that are actually generating goals. Forwards like, say, Alex Galchenyuk.

Therrien's penchant for Desharnais is mystifying. Surely, even he must see the bottom line? Surely even he must understand that giving a forward who's not clocking in at even half a measly point a game, with top line times, is counter-productive for a goal-starved team?

The rationale? I've no idea. Perhaps Therrien believes that putting Desharnais out for more than 17 minutes a night will help him "play through" his funk, but after a while, you have to call a spade a spade, and cut your losses. By stubbornly giving Desharnais so much time, its causing profuse bleeding to the Habs offensive wounds.

Whether or not Therrien will finally understand the error of his deployments, and change course, bears to be seen. In the meantime, the Habs have called up another young body from Newfoundland, and it's none other than Mike McCarron, the once highly-touted winger who brings plenty of size to the rink. With McCarron about to play his first NHL game, the Habs lineup tonight will look like this:

1: Pacioretty/Plekanec/Galchenyuk
2: Fleischmann/Desharnais/Weise
3: Byron/Eller/McCarron
4: Carr/Mitchell/Flynn

So (thankfully) Byron is mercifully pulled off the Habs "top" line (although given how Therrien deploys, who's the number one line is always up for debate), with McCarron slotted next to Lars Eller.

At this point, anything is worth a shot - but only if those who aren't producing are allocated an appropriate number of shifts.

In any case, the Habs will have their hands full tonight in Dallas. The Stars are bolstered with the League's top-rated offence, 5th rated powerplay, and 7th rated possession. If there is a weak spot to be found in the Stars armor, it's their defence - rated a mediocre 14th in the League, and an weak-ish penalty kill, rated just 20th.

Oh yeah speaking of which - the Habs powerplay. It's currently on a 0-23 streak. If there's a good time for it to emerge from hibernation, tonight would be a good night.

One other possible bright spot. The Habs PDO in December is just 94. This means the Canadiens are, offensively speaking, overdue big-time.

Puck drops tonight at 7:10 EST.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Game 33: Kings vs. Habs


- Habs and Kings through 40 minutes:

- Markov's ice time tonight least amongst Habs defenders - so it's pretty clear they're attempting to scale back his time. Obviously wear and tear is taking an issue with his body.

- Crazy number of great scoring chances being generated by this team, but nobody seems to be able to bury it. It's pretty demoralizing.

- 40th shot registered. Still nothing on the board. Eventually you have to really start looking at who's taking the shots, and where they're coming from, because there clearly are Montreal players, mainly forwards, that are failing to deliver. 

- Lars Eller in a significant funk, it's showing with his body language and his decision making - doesn't seem to have very good game awareness tonight, and has made more than a few passes to nowhere. He's getting frustrated. A lot of Habs players are.

- During these offensive funks, which happen to all teams during the season, it's critical that you allocate ice times to lines that are performing well, and scale back those who aren't delivering. The Desharnais line should be scaled back to 4th line time status, until this log jam breaks. Leave it up to the players who are performing, to deliver.

- Habs swarm on the powerplay but again, have the wrong guys out there. Weise with an incredible chance off the rebound, which he can't bury, because it's Dale Weise. Deployment is mystifying.

- 45 shots, zero goal. And now the schedule gets *really* tough. We might not see another win this calendar year, if the Habs offence can't find a solution to this dire offensive problem.


- As we mentioned, we're a little late to this game, but I've been watching the game over a stream, and was, at least up until the past two minutes, very impressed with the Habs - in that they've done everything you're supposed to do against an opponent like the Kings - but the finish just hasn't been there. The Kopitar goal to make it 2-0 an example of a defensive breakdown, with Emelin losing track of the slot, and Kopitar sneaking in behind him.

- Habs with clear edge in shooting, shutting attempts, and high percentage scoring attempts, but are being undone by some fine netminding by Quick, and some just plain old bad luck. 

- Kings 3rd and 4th line isn't especially strong, unlike its Stanley Cup years - so it'll be crucial for them to start playing their most effective lines against them - in other words, Montreal is the home team, they need to start behaving more like one.

- Montreal outshooting L.A. by a margin of 2-to-1 through 2 periods, although the ratio isn't quite as strong fro shooting attempts. It seems to me the Habs are floundering offensively because, while they're playing a strong system, they're getting too many chances by guys who have difficulty scoring. While it's nice that the Habs roll 4 lines, there comes a time when you need to push the peddle to the floor a little harder - that means, more time for the Plekanec and Galchenyuk lines, less for the Desharnais and Mitchell lines. Whether coach Therrien will heed the obvious, is another question.


Now, it begins. For reals this time.

The Habs host the Kings of Los Angeles tonight to kick off, what will be by far, the most difficult part of their 2015-16 regular season schedule. Tonight's tilt will be final home game for the Canadiens until January 6th. That's three weeks from today.

In addition to facing L.A. tonight, the Habs will hit the road for an eight-game trip, where they'll have to face some of the tougher teams in the League, including Minnesota, Dallas, Nashville, Washington and Tampa Bay. The Habs don't get any sort of reprieve until they face the Florida Panthers at the end of the month, and the Philadelphia Flyers on January 5th. Hoo boy.

What I'm saying here is over the next 9-game span, don't expect the Habs to be raking in the victories. I'd be very pleasantly surprised if the Canadiens were able to post 3, maybe 4 wins until the first week of next month, which means this team is due for a massive tumble in the standings.

Do we have bright news? Well, it appears that coach Therrien stumbled upon an excellent defensive pairing Tuesday night, when he yanked a clearly struggling Andrei Markov off the top line, and replaced him with Nathan Beaulieu. Along with P.K. Subban, the pair looked pretty damn magical together - in particular their seemingly unstoppable knack for helping the Habs continuously gain the San Jose Sharks zone.

The new pairing also appeared to liberate Subban, who more often than any game I've seen him play in maybe three years, was carrying the puck from zone to zone, which helped create significant offensive pressure on the Habs opponents. Unfortunately, Habs forwards were shooting blanks for most of the night.

Gaining the zone will be critical against possession-mad teams like the L.A. Kings. They are the League's Corsi Supreme Leaders, clocking in at 57.2%. When the Kings set the tempo, they are awfully difficult to beat.

The Kings, believe it or not, are on a small slide - losing their past two games to significantly inferior opponents - the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres. In response to this, the Kings have made a couple of minor changes to their line combinations, tonight Milan Lucic, President of the Alexei Emelin fan club, will slot next to Anze Kopitar and Marin Gaborik, which means the Kings second line will be compoased of Jeff Carter centring Tyler Toffoli and Michael Mersch.

Over in Habsland, no changes of significance tonight, other than the Habs blue line combinations. That means Charles Hudon will be the heathy scratch.

Goaltenders? It's Jonathan Quick against Mike Condon.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST. We'll be missing the first period because of an unrelated time conflict, so live blogging in ernst will begin about halfway through the game.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Game 32: Sharks vs. Habs


- Habs and Sharks through 40 minutes.

- Andrei Markov with perhaps the roughest night amongst Habs defenders, one has to wonder if he's being asked to work more than his body is capable of handling, at this stage in his career.

- Habs powerplay now 0-20, again looking good with puck control and passing, but generating almost no shot attempts from the slot. Opposing PK's will give you all day to hold the puck if all you're willing to do shot from the line.

- Habs now riverboat gamblers - pushing defence in aggressively, pinching hard not only in the Sharks zone, but at centre ice. Condon will probably have to make a couple of odd-man rush saves, if the Habs don't score their second goal soon.

- Don't be shocked if Subban gets something close to 12 minutes in the 3rd period. Markov appears to be having his time shelved in the frame. Not even a minute played with clock nearing halfway mark.

- Well, Andrighetto is back with 27-81, which marks progress. A little too late for tonight's game, it would appear.

- 6 minutes left, Habs will need to go full gambling phasers on at this point. Time's-a-wasting'.

- Since getting paired with Beaulieu, Subban ha become a monster, carrying the puck zone to zone, which on a Michel Therrien team, is very unusual.

- Well, what can you do - Habs arguably the better team tonight, but the story is simple - Sharks took advantage of their chances, Habs didn't. On the bright side, Beaulieu/Subban looks like a pretty serious thing - they looked terrific together the final half of the game - so one wonders, will this become a more permanent fixture?


- Habs and Sharks through 20 minutes. What else can you do other than shrug?

- To be fair, the PDO gods do owe the Sharks a few, but this is getting a little silly. Pavelski tips a soft wrister past Tokarski barely 30 seconds into the period, and it's 2-0.

- Dale Weise, hands of Moen (a few hard-core fans might know what that means).

- I suspect we'll get some separation as the game progresses, but Habs are really rolling all four lines tonight, ice times are almost identical amongst the forwards as we hit the halfway mark.

- Ouch, Dustin Tokarski. Misplays the puck behind his goal, then turned into yesterday's gravy trying to cover up in his net, with Zubrus finishing the turnover off, and it's 3-0. Tokarski out, Condon in.

- Suffice to say, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov are not putting out stellar performances tonight. That Zubrus goal, both defenders were totally out of position, behind the Habs net. Sure, Tokarski had some blame, but he was left totally out to dry and all three San Jose goals.

- And Therrien has apparently separated those two aforementioned defensemen - Subban is with Beaulieu, Markov with Gilbert. Hmmm ...

- Well, hey now, it pays off? Subban with a nifty carry and shot/pass deflected in by Weise to put Habs on the board. We have life?

- Subban and Beaulieu look like they've been playing partners their entire lives. That combination really clicking so far.

- Habs switch up their defensive line combos, and suddenly come to life - nearly making the game 3-2 before the 2nd period buzzer. Sets up an interesting 3rd period in which Montreal, at the very least, has a half-decent shot an pulling a point out of the night.


- Keep an eye on Martin Jones. He's only had two games this month where his SV% was above .900. Its been very up and down for him the past while.

- Still can't figure out Therrien putting Andrighetto on the 4th line. He was doing some excellent work on the top line, giving opposing defences fits with his, and Paciorettys speed, coming at them from both directions.

- While the Sharks do have a decent possession game, they don't like carrying the zone. Very much a dump and chase offence, which (was) very much the Habs template from 2012-15.

- Habs powerplay continues to play dreadfully, and Therrien continues to use Desharnais and Weise as primary offence, which is just all kinds of bizarre. Desharnais can't/won't shoot, Weise can't finish. And Subban on the wrong wing continues to just go nowhere. Madness all over the place.

- Subban just doesn't seem the same - in particular his slap shot, which I'm positive, doesn't have anything close to the velocity it did last season. Not nearly as dangerous as he used to be - NHL netminders are turning him away easily. Ergo, just 1 goal so far this season.

- Watching the Sharks first 13 minutes, this team is struggling - mightily. Really don't like their dump and chase system, it significantly limits their ability to generate much, if any, decent scoring attempts. Habs are pretty much suffocating them so far, even though Montreal has stumbled to finish their scoring attempts.

- Still waiting for the Pacioretty goal explosion - he's due for a bundle. I think we're on the cusp of that happening.

- Barclay Goodrow, a nothing player, takes a run at Subban, hurting him. Officials don't call a board, but Torrey Mitchell, who is awesome, dishes out some fisticuff punishment. Referees really need to crack down on this dirty, dishonourable play.

- Subban with a bad pinch at the Sharks blue line, generating 2-on-1 break for Jan Jose, and Marleau slips the punk past Tokarski off a nice feed from Ward. Outshot so far by a ration of 5-to-1, San Jose maddeningly has the early lead.

- Watched the replay, Galchenyuk has to do a much, much better job getting back to cover Subban, who was simply making an aggressive play in a period that the Habs have owned.

- Eller really fighting the puck of late - he's struggling.

- Welp, what can you say? Habs shot attempts were 22-4, which .. yeah. What can you do? Just keep plugging away, keep playing the same way. No way Sharks should have the lead, but that's more indicative of the bounces of hockey, and the Habs inability to finish. Montreal's powerplay also becoming a pressing issue. Something needs to be done there, and quickly.


- It's hard to believe, but San Jose hasn't won in the month of December. Last win came November 28th against Calgary. In fact, the Sharks have only won twice since November 22nd, and the last time they won against an opponent with a .500 or better record was November 13th. OUCH.

- That San Jose has struggled so much lately is a bit of a puzzler, since the Sharks are the League's 3rd rated team for generating high percentage scoring opportunities (only Dallas and ... yes, Carolina are better). Their possession numbers are also very respectable - 53.7 score adjusted Fenwick.

- Interestingly, of the 14 wins by San Jose this season, 10 have come on the road. This team really is a puzzler.

- Torry Mitchell is back for the Habs! That certainly won't hurt the Habs, given how well he played before injury.

- Dustin Tokarski will get another start. He's played two very good games in a row. Third time's a charm?

- Puck drops at 7:40 EST.


News 'n' Notes for the game day, some important news, for once.

- Congrats to Carey Price, who was announced today as the 2015 receipient of the Lou Marsh Award, which goes to the best Canadian athlete. Apparently this year's award was a "tough choice", because of course, it's a real struggle giving this award to the guy who's currently the best hockey player on the planet, coming off one of the greatest seasons ever had by an NHL goaltender.

- Habs Zack Kassian was cleared by the NHL this morning to return to hockey, after successfully completing its substanec abuse program. The Habs immediately put Kassian on waivers. Assuming he clears, he might, just might, get a chance to actually play in a Habs uniform if, and only if, there's an instance where he's required (which would only be as an injury replacement).

- Hey, speaking of returning, Habs finally are getting some wounded bodies back - Torrey Mitchell, who's been excellent on the Habs 4th line up until his injury, will return to the lineup tonight. Charles Hudon will be a healthy scratch, to make way for Mitchell.

We'll post a game preview in a bit.