Friday, 23 December 2016

Game 34: Habs vs. Blue Jackets

Columbus 2, Montreal 1:


- Good news, we're 3 minutes in and Columbus hasn't scored.

- Not to state the obvious, but staying out of the penalty box is pretty much imperative for the Habs tonight.

- I noted on twitter last night while watching the Jackets dismantle the Pens, how the Columbus defence plays such an active and aggressive role on their powerplay. It's a model that's been a huge part of not only their incredible powerplay success, but their winning record.

- Pacioretty hurt? That's a road the Habs can't afford to travel.

- Here's what happened to patches - awkward doesn't even begin to describe this. When legs fold and move in directions contrary to how they're designed, dreadful things happen.

- Good drive by the Habs draws a powerplay - which as we know, has been terrible the past month. That said, the Canadiens are doing a far better job tonight than that awful night, November 4.

- Pacioretty on the ice for more than a minute during the first powerplay, which as per usual, is mostly the Habs struggling to gain the zone. So many things wrong with this unit, another issue is the line doesn't do a very good job establishing themselves as an outlet to receive the puck when the forwards are feeling pressure down low. They don't move nearly enough, aren't finding open passingly lanes - eventually the forwards are worked off the puck, or their passes back to the line are being intercepted.

- Jackets first powerplay tidily killed by the Habs, which is very good news. You can see the Jackets strategy - active defence, frequently leaving only one at the line, real emphasis on cross-ice passing for one-timer shots. They're at 27% efficiency, which is crazy high. How can you argue?

- Good lord, Habs too many men. How stupid is that? Such a ridiculous and easily avoidable penalty.

- Jackets convert. Of course. This unit is a well-oiled machine, Habs basically overwhelmed because Columbus activates so much pressure from the point, and when they aren't pounding the puck in close from there, they're creating oodles of open ice to pass the puck.

- Up until the Habs took those dumb penalties, the period was actually going very well. The numbers suggest they played a very competitive period. The Jackets aren't a one tune success story, but that powerplay is an absolute killer. Once again, and with tremendous emphasis, the Habs must avoid the box like it represents the second coming of smallpox.


- Habs indeed had a pretty good period, if you take away those bad penalties. 63+ CF% at even strength. Gallagher and Byron with a pretty strong period - if they Habs do it the scoreboard, don't be surprised if they're part of it.

- Torrey Mitchell with a selfish play, Habs with a clean break, but Mitchell chooses to take a low percentage wrist shot close and at a poor angle, instead of passing in front to a wide open Gallagher who would have had a slam-dunk shot for a goal. 20 seconds later, Jackets score after Barberio loses his mark (and seemingly sense of direction) leaving Saad his choice of ice in front of Montoya. 2-0.

- Columbus' defence is certainly bandwagon - I'm surprised they aren't caught more often by their aggressive pinches and forechecks. A good speed game would solve the Blue Jacket puzzle, but the Habs don't seem capable of figuring it out.

- Still, this is a pretty good road game by Montreal - they certainly don't look intimidated by the trauma from being socked 10-0 nearly two months ago. They're outplaying the Jackets on Columbus' own surface. That's impressive.

- The score seems impossible, 2-0 ... but one gets the sense the Habs are still very much in the hunt. Again, if they can keep the Jackets at bay, stay out of the box, and ... oh for crying ... Pacioretty nailed for hooking ...

- That hook by Pacioretty was totally unnecessary - it wasn't preventing a scoring attempt, a shot attempt, hell, he did it while the Habs had possession. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

- Argh, Byron totally robbed by Bobrovsky. Byron doing everything right on a breakaway, perfect fake, but Bobrovsky managed to split the legs and get his toe on the puck. Woulda been a shorthanded goal to boot. So close.

- Habs are playing a good game tonight - they're doing the right things, out skating the Jackets, out possessing them, quality attempts on Bobrovsky. Columbus simply took advantage of their opportunities, Habs luck running dry. Still think this game is within reach, but it'll require the Canadiens getting some breaks their direction in the 3rd.


- Habs with a pretty good night, if they lose it won't be anything to be ashamed of. 63% CF (5v5) through 40 minutes, which against a team like Columbus, is decent:

- Therrien line juggling a bit - Gallagher now with Danault and Pacioretty.

- Habs took very late night charter to Ohio last night, landing at 2 a.m. It looks like that travel and early morning arrival having its effect now in the 3rd period - Habs appear to be running out of steam.

- Still, impressive effort. Habs are literally missing one-third of their regular lineup tonight because of injury and other circumstances, and yet they're competing.

- Great game and effort by Gallagher tonight, just not getting rewarded with points.

- Hold your cards, Habs catch that break we mentioned at the end of the second period, as Petry throws the puck towards Bobrovsky from an impossible angle, and suddenly it's 2-1.

- 10 minutes left, which is oodles of time. Habs need to stay with the plan - continue to play a good road game, get the puck on Bobrovsky. The hockey gods may have a say in this yet.

- Habs pushing, Jackets reeling here. Loads of pressure being applied in the Columbus zone since the Petry goal (and even leading up to it). Canadiens might pull this one out yet.

- Lots of surprise strong showings tonight - Barberio, Beaulieu and yes, Zach Redmond, along with Petry, really pitching in to help the Habs cause.

- 90 seconds left, Byron, Pacioretty, Gallagher and Radulov for all the chips.

- Totally outplayed 'em, came up short. No shame in the Habs loss tonight - being so many players short, and to be the better team against a club that's now won 12 straight, no shame.


How is John Robert Tortorella still a thing? How does this man, who carries a disposition of a grease smudge, still a head coach in the National Hockey League?

Well, I guess it's because he wins.

It's a shame, really. Tortorella, in all his ego, pomposity and beleaguered willingness to berate and insult anyone and everyone who shares a point of view which differs from his own, is a very well compensated individual because, for the most part, he knows how to win hockey games.

The record hasn't been spotless. Tortorella's season in Vancouver was as brief as it was disastrous - an experience that so badly blemished Tortorella's resume that it was thought he might never coach professional hockey again. It certainly seemed like he was destined the semi-obscurity that comes with being a 3rd rate analyst on television.

But then fate intervened and gave Tortorella another chance.

The Blue Jackets, in case you'd forgotten, were playing some pretty horrible hockey only a few months ago. Specifically, the month of October in their 2015-16 season, where the Jackets got off to an horrendous start, dropping their first 7 games, leading to the firing of then head coach Todd Richards. Matters didn't exactly turn around once Tortorella was put in charge, as the Jackets then proceeded to lose 5 of their following 9 games. At 4-12, they were a disaster, deeply mired in last place.

But then things started to even out. The Jackets actually started playing some quality hockey - and after that 4-12 start, Columbus finished the rest of the year with a respectable 30-18-8 record. Not good enough to make the playoffs, but a strong indication that the team likely would have finished much higher in the standings if it wasn't for their dreadful October.

Still, speculation headed into this season was that Tortorella was on the hot seat - that another poor start for Columbus would mean the Jackets would be doing another early season coaching replacement project. Even though it seems a distant memory, the Jackets did start poorly this season, dropping 4 of their first 6 games, including a 6-3 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Speculation that Tortorella was about get chopped intensified.

But then November started, and the Montreal Canadiens rolled into town. The Habs, who unlike the Jackets, had just played their best October in franchise history, putting up a 10-0-1 record, and had started the month with an easy 3-0 win over the Canucks.

It was, in totality, one of the worst regular season games in the 108 year history of the Montreal Canadiens. The Jackets, with a powerplay that seemed to score at will, pelted Al Montoya with dozens of shots, cruising to a 10-0 win. That night, everything changed for the Jackets. The score, so shockingly lopsided, got big attention. Hey - maybe Columbus is actually a pretty good team?

That game, and their record since, seems to point in that direction. The Jackets have been on a tear - 17-2-3 since that November 4th slaughter of the Canadiens. They now have the best winning record in the National Hockey League.

So credit where credit is due - even to a terrible person like John Robert Tortorella, who's helped his team find a niche - mainly their powerplay, as a means of dominating their opponent.

Tonight, the Habs are next in line, facing down a team that's won 11 straight - ready, willing and likely able to lay another licking.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

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