Thursday, 29 December 2016

Game 36: Habs vs. Panthers

Montreal 3, Florida 2 (OT)


- Ryan Johnston, whom the Habs called up last night, will get his first start tonight. Zach Redmond is a healthy scratch. Johnston will pair up with Mark Barberio on the 3rd D line.

- Luongo late warmup scratch - Reimer will start in nets, which is probably a good thing for the Habs.

- Brendan Gallagher is beyond snakebit.

- Pretty stormin' start for the Habs tonight - maybe a little bit of venting in response to how passively they played the 2nd half of last night's game.

- Habs defence looks a little more active and organized early in the period - they were guilty of far too many unforced errors and poor D-zone coverage last night, basically rolling the red carpet out for Tampa's 3rd period comeback.

- Shea Weber story continues to build, but not in a good way. Skates in front of Montoya has Demeres releases an pretty easy wrister from 35 feet, a rebound going off Montoya, onto Weber, and into the net giving Florida a 1-0 lead. Weber didn't have a very good game last night, at least in his own zone. Yeah, he scored a powerplay goal, but that's just 1 in the past 15 games. If he's not contributing offensively, and hurting defensively, then we have a problem.

- Habs drubbing the Panthers in their zone, pelting Reimer with shot attempts from all directions, lots of rebounds, loose pucks, mad scrambles, but no goals. Something's gotta give, though.

- With exception to the lucky bounce that gave Florida the only goal in the period, that was a lopsided 20 minutes in favour of the Habs. Ryan Johnston had an excellent period in his debut, the defence in general looking sharper and more involved tonight. Canadiens had Florida on the ropes more than a couple of times - just couldn't quite finish. So far, so good.


- Habs 63.3% SA CF in that first period, Ryan Johnston at 90.0%, which shows just how good a period he had. 

- Here's an interesting (and telling) shot chart for Florida this season. They're above average with line and permitter shots, way below average in high percentage scoring zone. Relates well to our pregame analysis which illustrated the vast differences between their possession and goal production. Clearly their CF numbers have been padded this year.

- Habs with two powerplays to start the period, first was pretty meh. Habs manage to get a few pucks on Remier, but nothing especially challenging, Gaining the zone continues to be this unit's albatross. Second powerplay though, Pacioretty/Gallagher and Radulov swamp the Panthers with intense pressure, finally Pacioretty burying a shot to tie the game. Once zone control is gained, the Panthers don't seem to respond well, doing far too much chasing, not nearly enough checking.

- Even though this Habs team could use more depth up the middle, I still think that Jagr fellow would fit in pretty well on the wing.

- Montoya muffs a wrist shot by Trochek, 2-1 Panthers. Can't afford to give up goals like that.

- Pattern emerging here - Habs getting outskated as we hit the halfway mark of regulation, now taking available penalties, letting the Panthers take ownership of the game. We saw this before - 24 hours ago.

- Al Montoya kinda/sorta makes up for it with a crazy diving save to rob Ekblad and keep the Habs just one down on the board. Still, this Habs PK is pretty soft and disorganized, it's been woefully inconsistent this season, and has hurt the Canadiens badly this road trip. 

- Gallagher going to the net, doing everything he needs to do, just hasn't found the back of the net. Not sure how much longer this will continue.

- Therrien firing up the blender - Danault centering Pacioretty and Radulov now.

- Not a good 2nd period for the Habs, outskated, outworked, outshot, and once again as a result, getting nailed for too many penalties. Could be some tired legs out there, but it's not much of an excuse - the Christmas break should have been more than enough to get them through this Florida swing. The game isn't out of reach - Canadiens must be disciplined, avoid the penalty box, and focus on the basics - more emphasis on forechecking to help them gain more possession in the Panther's zone. Otherwise, Montreal might be looking at extending a genuine losing streak.


- Habs got thumped in that 2nd period, just over 30% CF at even strength. Lucky to be only 1 goal down, truth be told:

- That said, Habs have dominated scoring changes at even strength, 12-6. So go figure.

- Early penalty killed, Habs pushing the puck, but having trouble making clean entires into the Panthers' zone. Simply not enough speed is being generated through the neutral zone.

- Danault line doing a good job with forecheck, keeping puck and pressure in the Florida zone. Reimer faced to make a good save on Pacioretty. It won't be easy, but Habs must follow this strategy if they want to even the score.

- Daniel Carr has moved from the 4th line to join Plekaenc and Lehkonen. The rationale ... I have no idea.

- First half of the 3rd, Florida just one shot on Montoya. Panthers sitting on this slender lead a bit, Habs doing what they should - more forecheck, getting pucks on net, driving the net. If they sustain this, they should tie the game before time runs out.

- Six minutes left, almost zero flow to this game now, which is good for Florida, bad for the team trailing on the scoreboard.

- Bjugstad with a clear-cut delay of game as he pushes the net off with the Habs pushing the puck loose on a rebound. Somehow the refs miss the obvious. 

- Less than 5 minutes left, Habs have to open up, pinch, take chances. No other option.

- Gallagher. Finally. Feed from Danault who makes a brilliant pass, and the game is tied with just under 3 minutes left.
- Florida pushing back, don't blow it boys, you fought this hard to tie the game, at least claim a point.

- Habs pushed hard, and were finally rewarded late. Panthers were just to reliant sitting on that lead - were outshot and out-possessed soundly in the 3rd. Here's hoping Therrien figures out proper OT deployment, and who knows - the Habs might get out of here with a win.


- Therrien might want to use Gallagher an extra shift or two in this OT. Lightening in a bottle, and all that.

- Starts Danault/Pacioretty/Petry which is fine, Patches hits the post 6 seconds in. 

- Broken play, Pacioretty right on the tape to Danault to spring him on the break, beats Reimer blocker side, and the Habs get the 2 points. 


It's not been a great season for hockey fans in south Florida. Their resident team, the Florida Panthers, have seen their hopes for a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 5 years go down the drain. The Panthers have endured injuries and internal strife, including the undignified firing of Gerry Gallant on November 28th, only months after Gallant was nominated for coach of the year in the NHL.

The Panthers have just 15 wins in 36 games, the Gallant dismissal a cautionary tale for any other teams tinkering with making a mid-season coaching switch. Since Gallant was literally dropped on a curb, Florida has mustered a 3-8-2 record, which roughly works out to a 56 point pace over an 82 game season. That's bad. Really bad.

Some have pointed fingers at injuries as being a culprit, and sure, the Panthers have endured their fair share, losing the likes of Reilly Smith, Alex Petrovic and Johathan Huberdeau, not to mention losing star forward Alex Barkov last night in a losing effort to the Leafs. But the Panthers haven't experienced an extraordinary number of injuries, as this chart from Man Games Lost illustrates:

While this chart was done a week before Christmas, it still underscores the point that performance has been the big culprit for Florida. This team has been terrible at finishing plays, none better illustrated than by this chart:

5v5 CF%    NHL Rank     GF60     NHL Rank     
52.4            6th              1.84       28th

That gives the Panthers a CF/GF ratio of 28.5, which is by far the worst in the NHL this season (L.A. is second worst with a 26.3 rating).  Actually, Florida's ability to finish plays is the worst recorded since the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils, who finished with a 29.2 ratio.

The source of these issues? It looks like shot selections. The Panthers own a shooting percentage just barely above 6%, 2nd worst in the NHL, which strongly suggests the team has been taking far too many low percentage shot attempts. An anemic powerplay, clocking in at just above 14%, hasn't helped much either.

For the Habs, the Panthers might be what's needed to help the team break back into the win bracket. Two tough losses last week to elite teams, and a loss last night to an inferior Lightening team after most of the Canadiens roster failed to show up for the 3rd period, and the Canadiens find themselves scrambling to keep their lofty position in the Eastern Conference.

Puck drops tonight at 7:40 EST.

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