Thursday, 22 December 2016

Game 33: Wild vs. Habs

Minnesota 4, Montreal 2:


- So Andrei Markov has been put on injury reserve. When it rains, it pours. That means Nathan Beaulieu will be promoted, while Joel Hanley has been brought in as an emergency replacement because Alexei Emelin is expecting the birth of his 3rd child tonight.

- So the defence will shape us as such:


That's a pretty thin blue line. Fully expect the Redmond/Hanley pairing to barely scratch 7 minutes of time tonight, while Weber will likely fetch close to 30.

- Habs doing a pretty decent job with their zone exits early in the game - it's unusual to see this from a team that's been so dismal with its transition over the years.

- Habs PK continuing to not look very good - getting outworked for the puck, and also playing the passing lanes far too loosely. Wild PP looks on tonight - so it's imperative the Habs avoid the penalty box from here on out.

- Hanley/Redmond had their first shift just past the 7 minute mark, and it didn't look good. Wild were all over Price, both defensemen struggling to organize themselves and find their marks. 

- Wild dominating first 8 minutes of the period, but a strong shift by the McCarron line has given the Habs a much-needed boost.

- Habs seem to finally be gaining some traction, making this game not quite so lopsided - McCarron second straight strong shift. The kids are doing all they can to chip in and help push the big team through significant injury issues.

- Barberio pressed into 2nd line defensive duties, also looks strong so far tonight. He's assigned duties mostly beyond his current capabilities, but so far, appears to be delivering.

- Not great, not awful period for the Habs. Wild had slight advantage with the play, a good start for them to earn them good scoring chances on Price, who had to be sharp to keep Minnesota off the board. Really strong period for the McCarron line - by far the Habs best forward unit. Should come as no surprise that Hanley/Redmond saw little ice time - just 3 shifts. Habs are leaning hard on their first two D lines to carry the day - which could have impacts as the game progresses.


- Habs with CF (5v5) at fairly even 48% in the period, but scoring chances were pretty lopsided, 7-2 high danger attempts by the Wild in that period, with Carey Price doing his bit to keep his team even on the scoreboard:

- Habs not heeding advice and take an early period penalty, but then Pacioretty with as sweet a snap shot as you'll see anywhere, top left corner, puts Habs up 1-0 shorthanded.

- Weber/Beaulieu being played too much, IMHO. Almost 14 minute for each just 25 minutes into this game, which projected out, will put both well over 30 minutes. Way too high. Zach Redmond, meanwhile, has played less than 3.

- Nobody handles the puck as good as Carey Price in the game of hockey, but even he makes mistakes from time to time - a turnover that gives Schroeder an unmolested writer shots that beats Price on the short side. Price reacted angrily for the goal, I suspect more for turning the puck over than for being beat off the post.

- Deven Dubnyk fighting the puck tonight - noticed he was giving up some significant rebounds off routine shots in the 1st period, does so again with Lehkonen picking up the puck off a Flynn shot to give the Habs the lead again. Lehkonen is going to be a star in this town one day, very soon.

- Spurgeon, 2-2. Passing lanes way too wide open right after the faceoff. Some very sloppy reaction and positioning leaving Wild forwards far too open. You should never have one-timers that clean three seconds after the puck is dropped.

- Another more-or-less even period of hockey, which likely falls within the Wild's gameplan. Canadiens had slightly more of an advantage in the 2nd than they did the 1st, outshooting the Wild, but most of the attempts came from longer distances, a decent enough strategy, since it appears that Dubnyk has been giving up more than his usual share of rebounds tonight. Makes for a compelling 3rd frame, Dubnyk and Price, with little margin for error.


- Two period totals, dominant period for the Habs, if attempts are an indicator. This time, however, I think it a little misleading - a good chunk of the Habs shot attempts came from long range. Numbers are padded.

- Habs with a pretty dreadful powerplay early in the period, unable to make a clean zone entry, eventually Barberio makes an ill-advised pinch which springs Eric Staal free down the wing, a snap shot short side that Price can't handle, Wild take the lead shorthanded.-

- Another powerplay, more struggles to enter the zone, and even when that's done, creativity lacks. Habs insist playing two high, whereas the League's most effective powerplay units today have four low, one at the line.

- Looks like *both* Weber and Beaulieu are going to come very close to hitting the 30 minute mark tonight. That's crazy deployment numbers. Both aren't going to have a full tank tomorrow night against the seemingly unbeatable Blue Jackets.

- Another bad stick penalty for Gallagher, he's fit to be tied not only for these clumsy errors, but for a season where little has gone his way. Slowly but surely fading down the pecking order of importance, as others have stepped forward to fill some voids. Such a disappointment.

- Dubnyk's given up a ton of rebounds and missed covering up loose pucks, and none of these unforced errors, except the Lehkonen goal, has burned him. He's been good to be lucky, lucky to be good.

- McCarron put on the ice with 80 seconds left, nice vote of confidence, I suppose.

- Habs give up the "softie" to start the period, can't find the back of the net over the remaining 18 minutes, and that's all she wrote. A disappointing loss considering the Habs did have puck dominance tonight, but the margins were thin, and Price giving up, by his standards, two soft goals, is all it takes. Powerplay struggles also playing a big role in Montreal's loss - we keep reading about the Habs going through drills at practice to improve this unit, but I don't see any results on the ice - certainly no change in how their approaches. The defeat is doubly-unfortunate because they now face the daunting task of taking on the Blue Jackets in Columbus tomorrow night, with the Jackets riding an 11 game winning streak. They're overdue for a loss, arrrumm ... right??


Hey, we've got ourselves a pretty decent matchup tonight, as the red-hot Minnesota Wild, winners of 8 straight, take on the suddenly-hey-we-might-actually-be-a-good-hockey-team-after-all Montreal Caandiens, at the Bell Centre.

The Wild are having an improbably good season so far, 19 wins in 31 games, good enough for 2nd place in the somewhat tough Central Division.

Minnesota's season this year is remarkably similar to the Habs 2014-15 season. They've managed to put together a top-notch winning record carried by some outstanding goaltending by the once washed-up Devan Dubnyk.

Habs fans might remember Dybnyk because, well, he was not-too-long-ago property of the Montreal Canadiens, where he actually played a handful of games for the Hamilton Bulldogs, a now-departed Habs AHL affiliate. After the Bulldogs season wrapped up, Dubnyk walked free from the Habs system and managed to sign a free agent contract with Arizona. After a decent year as backup with the Coyotes, a place the Dubnyk credited with saving his hockey career under the tutelage of former netminder Sean Burke, the 'Yotes shipped him of to Minnesota for a draft pick, and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Arizona might have been the saving point for what seemingly a dead career, Minnesota is where Dubnyk has thrived, last year picking up 27 wins in 39 starts, establishing himself as the Wild's number one goaltender, and picking up the Bill Masterson Trophy for his perseverance. This year, Dybnyk's numbers have been even better - 16 wins in 25 starts, and a 1.55 GAA, .948 SV%, tops in the NHL. Dare we say Dubnyk's trophy aspirations have been upgraded from a Masterson to a Vezina? They might.

To return to our previous point, the Wild's season is interestingly similar to the Habs' two years ago - a mediocre offence, good-defence (bolstered by netminding), and, by the way, sparkling goaltending. The most interesting similarities? Possession and puck luck. Let's compare:

                          GF60       GA60        SH%          CF (5v5)     SV%       PDO
MTL 2014-15       2.21         1.85         7.93           48.5%        .937       101.6
MIN 2016-17        2.46         1.61         8.6             48.2%        .947       103.3

There was a lot of criticism, rightful I might add, thrown at that 2014-15 Habs team for being overly dependant on goaltending, and did a lousy job owning the puck. But even that team, which was carried by a Vezina and Hart Trophy performance by Carey Price, didn't put up the kind of numbers the Wild are generating this season. The stats strongly indicate this Wild team will go only as far as Dubnyk can carry them - at the very least, at his astounding and likely unsustainable save percentages generated so far this season.

This is not to say the Wild aren't a good hockey team - they are. But they are overly dependant on Dubnyk, aren't very good with puck possession, and their shooting percentages also indicate they've enjoyed a little puck luck to bolster a so-so offence.

A correction towards the mean is likely in the cards for Minnesota, sooner or later. Dubnyk's numbers will come down to more sustainable levels, along with their shooting averages. Being out-chanced most nights will also catch up. The Habs, of course, would prefer these corrections to start tonight, but given their still problematic injury issues, they'll likely need to draw a page from Minnesota's book, and look to the guy between the pipes to carry them to victory.

Speaking of which, it's Carey Price against Devin Dubnyk tonight. If you're headed to the Bell Centre in hopes of seeing an active red light, tonight might not be your night.

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

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