Monday, 5 December 2016

Game 26: Habs vs. Blues


- Habs making a couple of gametime line adjustments, which look like this:


So Gallagher gets downshifted a line, languishing with Mitchell. Key tonight is likely Plekanec, and whether he can find another gear in a season that hasn't gone very well so far.

- Good first shift by Habs Danault line, while Torrey Mitchell looks pretty outmatched centring Shaw and Gallagher.

- Radulov making things happen again - looking more like a center than he is a winger. Maybe that's the approach he's taking - he might not be in the faceoff dot, but after the play starts, he's taking over his line.

- Montoya takes a hard hit to the head via a skate, and stays on his knees for a good two minutes. I'm not sure what the NHL's concussion protocol is, or its worth, but how Montoya isn't at least being checked is pretty awful:

- Jake Allen pulls an incredible boner, stopping a wrister and somehow then completely muffing puck control. Credit goes to Byron who crashed the loose puck, and the Habs take a gift 1-0 lead.

- Glass dividers are pretty insane in St. Louis - at least two crazy punk deflections each end of the ice, one nearly beat Montoya who'd left his net assuming the puck was headed behind.

- Speaking of Montoya, he appears to be on his game ... very solid first 15 minutes, giving up very few rebounds.

- Also a strong period for the Desharnais line - Radulov his dominate self, Desharnais mixing it up nicely, Pacioretty with a couple of decent/dangerous shot attempts.

- Alexei Emelin a monster PK shift, and for that matter, a very good first period. What is the world coming to?

- Very nice first period for the Habs, grabbing a lead, and holding their own against a pretty tough road opponent. Desharnais line looked legitimately effective, Habs defenders were collectively strong, the Blues really, beyond their powerplay times, didn't generate much pressure on Montoya. So far, so good.


- Habs strong 1st period underscored by possession, SA CF (5v5): 64.3%. Not too shabby.

- Can't say enough good things about Radulov. In addition to his frequently amazing playmaking abilities which has really driven the Habs offence this season, he's also outstanding on the backcheck, frequently hustling back to break up odd man rushes, or tying up opposing forwards in front of his net, preventing goals. One of the most impressive forwards I've seen in Montreal in years.

- Torrey Mitchell nailed for "holding the stick", even though the stick was hooked and twisted around his armpit. Blown call there.

- That Bergland high stick to Emelin's nose might not have been intentional, but it certainly was extremely reckless. Really ought to have been given 4 minutes instead of 2.

- Pacioretty and Radulov together ooze chemistry like crazy. I think we've found ourselves a potential potent offensive combination.

- Habs coming soooo so close, crossbar by Radulov, followed seconds later by a post by Weber. Habs are getting some pretty hard shots on Allen, lots of traffic in the Blues slot, and their passing/playmaking, even sans Galchenyuk, has been pretty impressive so far.

- Habs have not been very good this period with zone exits. Far too many possession losses via errant passes into the neutral zone. It's certainly stunted the Canadiens momentum as the period has progressed.

- An "okay" night for Barberio and Pateryn, I wonder if perhaps Redmond might get his first chance to start as early as Thursday night, or possibly this weekend. The only question is, who'd sit? I'm thinking it's likely Pateryn.

- Andrew Shaw is an excellent penalty killer. The problem is, it's his powerplay he's frequently killing.

- Habs 4th powerplay, they just barely miss scoring - lots of posts and just-abouts this game - at some point you need to start cashing these chances in, or the misses come back to haunt you later.

- Just as I make the previous comment, Byron with a sweet pass leading an odd man rush to Plekanec, who dodges a sweet backhander past Allen to give the Habs a 2-0 lead.

- Excellent road game for the Habs tonight, not always picture perfect, especially the transition game, but they've been dominant in the Blues zone, outworking St. Louis frequently when battling for the puck. Habs getting key scoring support from players who need to step up during Galchenyuk's extended absence, like Plekanec. So far the Blues haven't provided much consistent pressure on Montoya, which has really limited their scoring threat though 40 minutes.


- Habs get early period powerplay, Torrey Mitchell centring 2nd line man advantage, which is just plain silly. Powerplay has had its moments, but it's now 0-for-5. One wonders if their failure to score even just once with the man advantage might also come back to haunt the Habs.

- 7 minutes into the 3rd, Blues are visibly picking up their game, and generating far more shot attempts. Habs need to push back, here.

- Often that "push" comes from your 4th line. Well, the Habs Danault line didn't only fail to spark a push, they were guilty of some pretty shoddy zone coverage, allowing Stastny to fire a wrister past Montoya to get the Blues on the board. You could see that goal building, and now it's arrived.

- Habs absolutely breaking down like crazy in their own zone, St. Louis very nearly tying the game while Gallagher and Shaw were totally lost, losing their marks. Blues very suddenly have taken over this game. Can the Habs hold on?

- Poof goes the two goal lead. Montoya coughs up a big rebound off a Bouwmeester shot, Schwartz tips home the puck. Goal came as a result of the Habs failing to clear their zone because this team only specializes in chips and dumps. Pacioretty chip attempt intercepted easily at the line, the rest is history, much like the Canadiens scoreboard lead.

- Most definitely one of Tomas Plekanec's strongest games in ages - maybe this season. Very nearly gave Habs back the lead with 7 minutes left. That's the kind of push the Habs needed earlier in the period while they held a lead, but couldn't muster.

- Carr with a mostly invisible night in what's more and more becoming a very disappointing season. Just doesn't seem to have the same hockey IQ - used to have a good sense of the play, now struggles to even touch the puck.

- Pacioretty blocking a slapper from the point with his groin. That's most definitely taking one for the team.

- Slowly but surely, Lehkonen is improving. Struggled somewhat before getting injured, and when he did return from his 9 game absence, he again had issues with finding his place. Now most definitely improving his positional play, which is helping him to generate more scoring chances than he had earlier in the year.

- Game heads to OT, Habs will claim at least one point, which is a minor consolation considering a 3rd period 2 goal lead was surrendered. Canadiens offence not nearly as good as their opponent capitalizing on their opportunities, especially on the powerplay, where the Habs were 0-5.


- Habs start Plekanec, Byron and Weber. Fair enough, given how strong Pleks has played tonight.

- 2nd line, Petry, Pacioretty and Radulov. Nice. Third line, Markov, Gallagher and ... ugh ... Mitchell. No, no, no Michel. That's not how overtime works.

- Oh, gawd. Clear cut two-on-one break, Plekanec carrying the puck, Byron goes offside. What a silly mistake.

- Kind of a clunky overtime, both teams doing rather poorly passing the puck.

- Bah, Schwartz converts off a sweet pin-perfect pass from Steen, and guess who was on the ice for the Habs - Torrey Mitchell.

Oh well - Habs get 5 points out of 10 on the tough road trip, which avoids disaster, except for the part of Galchenyuk getting injured for who-knows-how-long. Actually, we're supposed to know by Wednesday the exact nature of his injury and a firm idea of just how many weeks (months?) he'll end up missing. Back home to face the Devils Thursday.


Injuries are a part of hockey, an unavoidable consequence of large-sized men running into each other at 25 miles per hours. Some injuries are minor, some are significant. Some teams go through entire season with barely a scratch, others can go months without numerous players on their injury reserves. Good luck, and bad. That's hockey.

For the most part this season, which is very nearly at the 1/3rd mark, the Montreal Canadiens have been relatively fortunate. They've lost games to important players Artturi Lehkonen, who missed 9 games from an upper body injury. They've been without Nathan Beaulieu for 5 games since he took a puck to the neck. But apart from that, most of the injuries have been contained to lesser parts like Brian Flynn, who missed 11 games, and Zach Redmond, who was out officially for 18 games, but is now sitting on the sideline waiting for his turn to play with the big club.

For greater perspective, I found this heat map that illustrates injuries League-wide this season from UK blogger LW3H (click here to see more of his charts). The Habs, as this chart illustrates, are near the bottom of the NHL in man-games lost through December 4:

The chart is pretty straightforward. Dark green squares indicate no man games lost for that game day, ranging all the way up to dark red, indicating you've got some big challenges. The Canadiens, the 4th least injured team this year, has been pretty much solid green from Game 1 forward.

Sunday afternoon, the Habs luck ran out when Alex Galchenyuk suffered an apparent knee injury resulting from a questionable blind hit by Anze Kopitar during the 2nd period of the Canadiens-Kings game. Galchenyuk hobbled into the dressing room with assistance, and was not seen again for the rest of the day.

The extent of Galchenyuk's injury is not yet known, or at least, hasn't been disclosed (and likely won't ever be, given the Habs tight-lipped policies). All we know at this point is that he's out of the lineup indefinitely, and timetables won't be known at least until after he sees a specialist, which is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) in Montreal. There has been speculation swirling about the kind of injury Galchenyuk suffered, initial reports on Twitter said that he had partial ACL tear, which would be bad news (usually a 3-4 month recovery time), which was then changed to a partial MCL tear, which has a far better prognosis - usually a recovery time ranging from 2-4 weeks.

So if Galchenyuk's injury is hypothetically less than a month, the Habs have a pretty manageable situation, where gaps can more-or-less be easily filled simply by moving some of the existing parts around. If Galchenyuk's injury is more serious, then the Habs have some major decisions to make. Do you forge ahead with your season sans your number 1 centre by making do with what you have, or do you seek to acquire an asset from somewhere else to fill the gap?

At this point in time, it makes little sense for the Canadiens to push panic buttons. Galchenyuk's injury status isn't fully known, and if Marc Bergevin were to start making calls to other organizations for a top-tier centre, he'd be bargaining from a tremendous position of weakness. Every other general manager in the NHL would demand sky-high returns to help the Habs fill a glaring hole in their lineup.

So what to do? Well, the Canadiens do have assets at hand that could fill some of the gap. The conventional fallback position, at least the most conservative one, would be to simply move 2nd and 3rd line centers Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais up a notch in the pecking order, and reassign Phillip Danault and Torrey Mitchell for the 3rd and 4th lines respectively.

Or, the Habs could get creative. They could move Alex Radulov, who's demonstrated some incredible puck handling and playmaking abilities this season, to the middle. The adjustment, given the talent we've seen from the Russian, ought not be onerous. With Radulov in the middle, it would then relieve the pressure from Plekanec and Desharnais, both of whom would are ill suited to top 6 assignments.

It seems to make sense, at least from a creative perspective, to give Radulov a shot. Which is another way of saying, there's little chance of it happening because coach Michel Therrien is well established as a creativity-hater. So, it goes without surprise when the Habs lines were leaked this morning that showed this:

I suppose none of that lineup is surprising, but it certainly is disappointing. David Desharnais is, by just about any standard, one of the least likely 1C forwards you'll find in the League. While DD has had significant playing time next to Max Pacioretty, he has zero minute experience playing with Alex Radulov.

So at this time, the Habs seem bent on taking a conservative approach to reconstructing their lineup - time will tell us in short order how well that goes. Looking at the production outputs by Plekanec and Desharnais this season, it is difficult to foresee positive results.

Which is to say, we might still see Radulov up the middle.

Habs look to finish their 5 game western road swing with on a positive note tonight in St. Louis. A victory for the Canadiens would give then 6/10 points on the swing, which, given that most of it was in California, would be a pretty good result.

Puck drops at 8:10 EST.

Monday, December 5th 


Well, that's a problem.

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