Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Game 35: Habs vs. Bolts

Tampa Bay 4, Montreal 3 (OT)


- So Flippula is a healthy scratch for Tampa tonight, a result of him missing a team meeting. Tsk, tsk. 

- Bryon with an outstanding forecheck after dumping the puck in, combination of speed and tenacity pays off, as he feeds Radulov to give Habs 1-0 lead. Play started with Radulov making nice transition pass from his blue line on Bryon's tape. That's how you manufacture goals in the NHL.

- Bryon and Radulov definitely clicking tonight, Vasilevskiy looking uncertain at times with the puck. Early signs are not entirely positive for Tampa.

- Johnson evens the score, as Weber makes a poor play with the puck, turning it over at his line, two passes later, Johnson finishes the play. Weber's struggles aren't just with goal-scoring lately.
- And of course, as I tweet all about how terrible Weber has been of late, he scores on the powerplay. So there's that. Also, the Tampa penalty kill is pretty much a disaster this year - so the Habs might not been done scoring on the man advantage tonight.

- Should we also mention that Paul Byron has been a monster this period? We should probably mention that.

- 5 minutes left, Plekanec/Flynn/Lehkonen line with a nice shift - they've also played a strong 1st period warrant keeping an eye on rest of this game.

- That's a good period for the Habs, one little defensive mistake costing a goal, but except for that, Tampa's scoring chances basically contained to nil. Bryon, Radulov and Lehkonen looking good again for the Canadiens - Tampa's offence, most of the time, looks lost - certainly not very efficient in how they gain the Habs zone.


- Habs with a 52.2 SA CF (5v5) after 1 period. 

- This Carey Price guy is kinda hard to score on.
- Habs depth paying off dividends, not to mention getting them through this period of injury. It's Chris Terry finishing off a very smooth three way passing play, Carr and McCarron the setups. Tampa's defence has these occasional lapses in concentration that seem to be opening up some passing lanes. I know Tampa has injury troubles, but even that considered, this doesn't look like a team that's playing the fundamentals very well.

- Tampa's defence has gotten away with a bunch of plays that on most nights with most crews, would be called. It's keeping the Lightening in a game where for the most part, they're being outplayed.

- Gallagher, who's with Danault tonight, looks totally lost. It's kind of sad and very worrying to see how far he's regressed this season. Surely there's an unstated injury issue?

- That said, if it isn't working with Danault (it clearly isn't), why not give Gallagher some shifts with Plekanec and Lehkonen? Brian Flynn, who's only playing up the depth chart because of the injuries, has zero prospect for top 6 play (or for that matter, top 9), could be moved aside. 

- It's 3-1, but Habs defence hasn't been very tight around Price tonight - really playing low in front of him, lots of panic plays and scrambles for pucks, passing lanes have been pretty open too. 


- Habs receding a fair amount as the 2nd period progressed - their defensive play remains a concern - although Price looks very good tonight, Habs are just begging for trouble even with a 2 goal lead (but for how long?)

- Decent start to the period for the Habs, seem to be a little more aggressive with th forecheck, maybe hoping to stunt Tampa's ability to set up the play and carry speed into the Habs zone.

- Strong shifts by Gallagher and Pacioretty to start the period - Therrien recognizing their strong forecheck, giving them extra shifts.

- Shea Weber with a massive hit along the boards on Namestnikov, totally clean. Namestnikov slightly turning away from the play, his head down, never saw Weber coming. Devastating.

- Radulov with an error in judgement, a little too aggressive with his stick, nailed for an avoidable slash. Door opens up for Tampa here.

- Nathan Beaulieu with a strong PK shift, possibly saved a goal with a neat poke check in front of Price. Canadiens wise to return to some aggressive forecheck to regain some momentum. 

- Habs sloppy in their own zone again, and this time it costs them. Gallagher with a bad turnover along the boards, and Emelin does a weak job covering in front of price, Hedman tipping home a Kucherov shot, and it's 3-2.

- Shea Weber. More poor decision making. Tampa back to the powerplay with tons of momentum on its side. Not looking favourable for the Habs right now.

- Too many turkey dinners. Habs have lost their legs as this period winds down. Practically crawling in their zone.

- And there it is. Palat. Powerplay off Weber's dumb penalty. Game is tied.

- Game takes crazy turn, as Tampa gets nailed (rightly) for sneak change to set up a breakaway ... set play, but the officials were smart enough to spot it and call the Lightening for too many men. Habs powerplay mostly a mess, with Shea Weber somehow avoiding getting called for clear-cut trip in his own zone. Semi-disastrous period for the Habs, but then we mostly saw it coming because the Canadiens were playing so poorly in their zone 2nd half of the 2nd period, continuing into the 3rd. 


- Therrien starts Pacioretty/Byron/Weber. Two of those players has, for the most part, not played very well tonight.

- Radulov. Golden opportunity. Ideal shot. Passes to Pacioretty. No shot. Oy.

- And Johnson beats Price top corner. Game. Set. Match. We saw it coming, hoped it wouldn't come, it came and Montreal only gets a loser point. Frustrating.


Happy post-Christmas everyone!! Did you survive the weekend spent passively liking your relatives and faking grateful appreciation for the crappy useless junk you found under the dying spruce tree which you haven't watered in three week and is now a giant piece of kindling ready to create a blazing inferno of death in the middle your living room? NICE.

I've been spending the past few days stuffing my fat face and drinking my brother's 66 of scotch. Rolling out of a bed is now officially the hardest part of my day, usurping the process of looking myself in the mirror each morning and wondering where it all went so horribly wrong.

So ... I guess I'll still write about hockey. SIGHS. Tonight the Habs get back into action as they start their holiday week in sunny south Florida, where they'll take on the Tampa Bay Lightening.

So, Tampa. Where do we start? Disappointing? I supposed that's a good word to describe their 2016-17 season so far. The Lightening were reckoned to be an elite team in the Eastern Conference, but this season, they've strung together a downright mediocre 17 wins in 35 games, which, if the trend continues, likely won't be a good enough pace to qualify for the playoffs.

In fairness, Tampa has endured some pretty bad injuries to some very good players. First and foremost is Steven Stamkos, who's out until March with lateral meniscus tear. The Lightening haven't only lost their elite number 1 centre - they're also out Ben Bishop, who's gone for a month with a LBI, and then you toss in the names of other wounded skaters like Andrej Palat, Cedric Maquette, Ryan Callahan, each of whom are out of the lineup indefinitely, and it's been a rough year.

The loss of Stamkos, though, seems to have hit the Lightening particularly hard. Check out Tampa's stat line from last year to this year:

                      2015-16      NHL RANK      2016-17     NHL RANK
CF% (5v5)          52.5                6th                50.0               16th
GF60                 2.31                7th                2.22               12th

Interestingly, Tampa has maintained the line with shot production levels:

                        2015-16      NHL RANK      2016-17     NHL RANK
SF60                   29.3               14th                29.1              13th

So this year Tampa is still getting pucks on goal, but again, the lack of Stamkos weighs heavily, because, well, this:

That's Stamkos's career shooting percentages, which have consistently ranked in the League's top 10 among players with 60+ games/season, and among the top 5 among NHL centers.

In short, this Lightening team isn't nearly the same without him. Team shooting percentages are down, and with that, goals produced. You just can't replace elite.

The good news for Tampa is that Stamkos is due for return this season, although exactly when is unknown. If Tampa can scrape their way through the next three months and stay in the hunt for a playoff birth, his return might be all they need to get over the hump and into the post-season.

But until then, winning is going to be a tough battle.

Normally I'd say Tampa's task won't get much easier tonight as they take on the Habs, but as Canadiens' fans know (and can relate to), Montreal is dealing with their own stream of injuries, including the long-term loss of its number one centre, Alex Galchenyuk. Also on the not-playing list, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw, Andrei Markov, and Greg Pateryn. Still, the Habbies are coming off two impressive loses at the hands of the two very tough opponents, the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets, where the Canadiens, even with all their injuries, outplayed and outshot their opposition, but came up just short on the scoresheets.

So break's over!! It's time to get back to hockey that matters. Carey Price vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy. Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

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