Saturday, 31 December 2016

Game 37: Habs vs. Pens

Pittsburgh 4, Montreal 3 (OT)


- That's an excellent first shift by the McCarron line, which did a find job Thursday night helping the Habs to grind out that OT win.

- That is as sweet a passing play goal as you'll see, Radulov finishing a four way play to give the Habs a 1-0 lead. Canadiens storming out of the game early in this game. 

- Habs violating pre-game key by taking an early penalty, although it's a pretty questionable trip by Petry on Crosby.

- Price with a pretty remarkable save on the PK - might be the save of the year.

- Well, it wasn't pretty, but Habs survive the penalty. Pens, though, seem to have locked into their groove after stumbling a bit out of the gate.

- Carey Price being put through a pretty stern test this period - Habs two penalties so far, it's unreasonable to expect the Habs to keep the Pens out of the gate at this rate.

- Pens really riding off the powerplay momentum, totally dominating play, badly hemming Canadiens in their own zone. Right now Habs are just holding on for dear life, leaning on Price to help them ride this out.

- Only one line dominating for the Habs - the McCarron line. Otherwise, it's been kind of a mess out there for the Canadiens this period. Pens simply owning Montreal, so this 1-0 lead is tenuous, at best.

- Canadiens need to start playing a road game here - slow things down, work whites, maybe even a few icings. Anything to stem the tide.

- Awfully dumb penalties by Danault for hooking - complete obvious and avoidable. Pens are going to capitalize on one of these - sooner or later.


- Hard to believe, Habs SA CF (5v5) was 50.0%. But then again, it's deceptive given that the Pens were on the powerplay for 6 of the 20 minutes. 

- Hornqvist ties the game with one of the easiest goals you'll ever get as a hockey player, Emelin off somewhere in a daze, leaving Weber and eventually Price out to dry.

- While we acknowledge yet another example of awful hockey by Alexei Emelin, let's look at the positive side - Mark Barberio has been lights out since his callup - probably the Habs second best defeseman after Petry.

- Kessel. McCarron caught a bit up ice after a Terry giveaway deep in the Pens zone, Johnston caught totally flat footed by Pens transition, rest is history. Pens overtaking the scoreboard was inevitable.

- Habs defence completely overmatched - Pens should pull away and be out of sight fairly soon - maybe even before this period is done.

- Danault/Pacioretty/Gallagher /Bryon line having a pretty awful night - totally getting outskated and out-checked - possession numbers are pretty bad.

- We knew the Pens had the League's best offence, but wow - when in gear, they're pretty much unstoppable. Not sure what the formula is to battle this kind of opponent - play an insanely close-checking game, slow the game to a crawl, I guess. Wide open, this team is unbeatable.

- Weber/Emelin have been pretty craptaculour tonight. Upon Markov's return, it might be time to look towards splitting that duo.

- Habs first powerplay, pretty awful. Beaulieu in particular looked lost.

-Torrey Mitchel is adding nothing to entering Pacioretty and Radulov. In fact, he's been suffocating both tonight.

- Petry point shot deflected by Bryon, and remarkably, the Habs are tied headed to the dressing room. Nonetheless, the Canadiens are getting badly out-chanced by Pittsburgh through 40 minutes - attempts might be relatively even, but the Pens shots are coming from some pretty high percentage shooting areas around Carey Price, who will have to play a remarkable 3rd period if the Canadiens are to somehow escape this arena with an actual point.


- Habs actually have CF edge (5v5) through 40 minutes (over 53%), but the Pens are dominating in scoring attempts - 16-10 for home plate attempts. That's why CF is throwing us a little shade tonight (hey, it happens) - the Pens are by far the better team:

- Gotta hand it to this Habs team, they're finding a way. Carr deflecting the puck off a post onto Fleury's skate blade and in - likely a goal that Fleury shouldn't have surrendered after he muffed up a Flynn wrist shot that deflected off the post. Somehow, the Habs have the lead, 3-2.

- Puck might not have gone off Carr - Flynn getting coal credit. Regardless, score still stands.

- Carey Price is having an understated statement game - no way his team has even a shot at winning if not for how he played shorthanded, and for that matter, after the Pens took a 2-1 lead.

- No question this 3rd period has been the Habs best tonight - they're competing - holding their own with the Pens, and in some instances, actually outskating them.

- Wow, Carey Price making a pretty bad puck handling mistake that generates plum turnover for the Pens, but Price makes the save to make up for the error. Incredibly rare event there.

- Bryon with some strong forechecking generating a turnover, and he gets nailed for an insane holding penalty. That's NHL officiating at its very worst.

- Calling on Carey Price to dig way deep for one more PK.

- Heartbreaking - Habs with a magnificent PK, but are undone by a fluky goal with seconds left, a point shot that bounces off Sheary and in. So ridiculously close to an incredible win. 


- Well, win or lose, this has been an impressive, gritty effort by this Habs team tonight. So very, very impressed.

- Terrible icing by Weber, passing it to Pacioretty who was in the Pens zone, heading to his bench. No idea what Weber was thinking, but it moves the face-off deep next to Price.

- Habs called for too many - how the hell is that even possible in overtime???

- Malkin. Impossible stop. Heartbreak complete. Still, incredible heart demonstrated by this Habs team tonight - nothing to be ashamed of


- A bunch of famous people died. Some of them too young. Some of them nice. Except for Antonin Scolia. We're fine with you being gone forever.

- Britain more or less by its own choosing, jumped off a cliff.

- Terrorists killed thousands of innocent people all around the world

- Winter didn't arrive in the north pole, meaning the world is likely close to self-combustion.

- Donald Trump, unbelievably, was kinda-sorta elected President by finishing in second place, which means besides terrorists and global warming and shark attacks, civilization will probably end within the next four years.

- P.K. Subbban was traded for another defensemen who'll be a roster and salary cap albatross in the next couple of years.

Yeah. 2016 was awful, awful, awful. And it ends tonight. GOOD RIDDANCE. Before that, however, the Habs will take on the defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh.

The Habs continue to play some pretty good hockey - arguably among the best in the League, even with a lineup riddled with key injuries. I guess some credit is begrudgingly due to Marc Bergevin for putting together a lineup that's been able to withstand the grind of an 82 game schedule.

Tonight's clash with the Pens marks game 4 of the Habs epic 7 game road trip - one where they've managed to keep their head above water. The Pens, however, aren't much relief - they're just 1 point out of first place in the crazy good Metropolitan Division, an astounding fact if you consider the team they trail, the Columbus Blue Jackets, are currently riding a 14 game wining streak.

What's so good with the Pens? Well, Sidney Crosby is having an MVP year. They have the best offence in the NHL - with a 2.8 GF60 average, bolstered by a top-5 powerplay. They've basically overpowered opponents this season, even with a mediocre defence, just 14th rated in the League, and less-than-stellar goaltending that we've all come to expect from Marc-Andre Fleury. With a .908 SV%, Fleury is rated 21st amongst starting net minders in the NHL.

So that's the key for the Habs tonight - keep out of the penalty box, and with some luck, convert on powerplay opportunities (the Pens sub 80% PK, for what it's worth, isn't very good either).

It's Carey Price vs. Fleury. Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

And then, a few hours later, 2016 will, mercifully, come to and end.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Game 32: Ducks vs. Habs

Montreal 5, Anaheim 1.


- Brendan Gallagher. THIS is gonna be his night. Book it.

- Cogliano's opener a pretty good demonstration how over time, taking more defensive zone starts adds up negatively. Habs have been above average this season, 10th most in the League. 1-0 Anaheim.

- Looks like Habs are the faster team, which shouldn't be a surprise since it's been 72 hours since their last game, and 24 for the Ducks. This differing factor tends to reap benefits as a game progresses.

- Following up on that last thought, Anaheim's strongest scoring period this season has been the 2nd, weakest the 3rd. Habs strongest the 3rd, weakest the 1st. 

- Brendan Gallagher centres first line powerplay. A first in his career.

- Meh. An okay first powerplay, Gallagher seemed to do alright. But still, that unit has no drive, very little creativity on its side. Looks more like a unit that hasn't been given full attention by the coaching staff.

- Carey Price is by far the best player the Habs have handling and forwarding the puck, which is as much praise on him as it is an indictment of how woeful the Canadiens' defence can be organizing the transition.

- Byron picks up his 11th off a big-time rebround surrendered by Bernier to tie the game He's small, he's fast, and he's making Calgary Flames management look like complete fools.


- Habs with a solid 1st period, SA CF just over 63%, which is kind of typical for any team coached by Carlyle, if you look at our pregame piece. Plekanec, Gallagher, Lehkonen, Byron and Pacioretty played particularly well in that period, Weber and Emelin were the Habs strongest D pairing:

- Icings-a-plenty this period, indicative of how both teams are poor at controlling the puck. Also makes for a very boring hockey game.

- Yeah, not much happening. Both teams struggling with their passing, Habs doing a better job setting up shop in the offensive zone, which is creating a rather lopsided game, possession-wise.

- Nick Ritche with a stupefying stupid penalty, suckered by Gallagher. Those are the kind of penalties that frequently result in a goal, but then against this Habs powerplay, likely not a big deal.

- Man advantage absolutely brutal right now, little organization, little coherence, they can't even properly gain the zone. Yeah, there have been key injuries of late, but com'on, Alex Galchenyuk wasn't representing an entire speciality unit. Something needs to be done here, and in a hurry.

- Lehkonen with brilliant playmaking to help set up Plekanec for a powerplay goal, Habs take the lead. Regardless, the man advantage has been miserable - sporadic conversions only create a mirage from reality. Fundamentally, a lot of this is Shea Weber. He hasn't been very good lately, in particular, "quarterbacking" the man advantage. 

- Bryon, Lehkonen and Plekanec with another strong period, another lacklustre frame for the Ducks, who are likely dealing with a combination of jet lag and playing the 2nd half of a back-to-back. Apart from the one shot that beat Price, Anaheim has constructed few, if any quality scoring chances at the Montreal net. Looks like the Ducks don't have the horses to compete tonight. 


- That second period was pretty ugly for the Ducks. Real, real ugly. SA CF (5v5) in that period alone the Ducks were 17.4%. That's pretty awful. No scoring chances either. Today is practically an off-day for Price:

- Ducks got a clean sheet and 2 minute powerplay, spent most of it trying to lay hits, instead of score goals. Anaheim getting their clock cleaned.

- Jeff Petry is the Habs' best overall defensman. Recognizes a dozing Bernier, and fires a 60 foot wrister past the Ducks netminder to make it 3-1.

- Part of what makes Petry so good is he plays such a smart game - he recognizes strengths and weaknesses of his opponent, and exploits it accordingly. The shot he took on Bernier was Petry recognizing the Ducks goaltender isn't very good, and has occasional lapses in concentration.

- Pacioretty uses Gallagher as a decoy, fires through Bernier's legs, powerplay goal, 4-1. Habs borderline destroying the Ducks tonight.

- Hard to believe this Anaheim team is in 2nd place in their Division. Yeah, I know they're playing back-to-backs, but wow ... they are just plain terrible. They look very much tonight like the dismal Leafs clubs Randy Carlyle coached a few years ago.

- Shot attempt ration is roughly 4-to-1 in favour of the Habs. They're holding the puck at will, the Ducks are merely observers tonight. 

- How is Ritchie an NHL player? How'd he even make the League? How'd he manage to keep a job? So many questions ...

- Chris Terry joins the party, wonderful to see the kids score. 5-1 icing on the cake.

- Total domination by the Habs tonight. Nearly 75% CF, and that was 5v5. Ducks were completely steamrolled every part of the ice, Carey Price had, quite literally, one difficult shot to handle, and that one went in. Injury riddled, Habs are doing a pretty damn good job of not only keeping their head above water, but are actually thriving. Impressive victory tonight.


The 1st place Habs (Atlantic Division) host the 2nd place Anaheim Ducks (Pacific Division) tonight at the Bell Centre. For the battered and bruised Canadiens, it marks another test for a team trying to keep its head above water, while missing some of its key players - Andrei Markov being the latest casualty after he picked up a lower body injury in the Habs win Saturday night against the Caps.

One bright note for the Habs - they get to take on the team overseen by the worst coach in professional hockey, Randy Robert Carlyle.

Man, how does Carlyle do it? How does this man, who 10 years ago lucked out by riding an overwhelming talented Anaheim team to a championship, the lone highlight in an otherwise dismal coaching career, continue to stay employed in the National Hockey League?

Sure, hockey at the NHL level is still very much an old-boys club, where old-style management tactics are viewed as assets. It's why guys like Michel Therrien, John Tortorella and Carlyle seem to always land on their feet no matter how badly they perform in their duties. Carlyle, though, is a particularly egregious example of a guy who is terrible at what he does, yet still manages to maintain gainful employment in his profession.

The pattern is so well established, as to be laughable. Let's crank up the way-back stats machine and look at Carlyle's greatest inability - to oversee a hockey team capable of possessing the puck. First stop, Randy's first tour of duty with Anaheim, of which he was eventually relieved from in 2012:

                             CF%     LEAGUE RANK
ANA   2009-10    50.9                 10th
ANA   2010-11    44.4                 30th
ANA   2011-12    48.5                 24th

By this time the Ducks front office had finally recognized they had a dud behind the bench, and mercifully let Carlyle go just 24 games into the 2001-12 season. After he was let go, the Ducks put up these numbers: 

                             CF%     LEAGUE RANK
ANA   2012-13    48.0                 22nd
ANA   2013-14    49.8                 19th
ANA   2014-15    51.0                 17th
ANA   2015-16    52.5                 5th

An undeniably steady improvement. Huh. 

Anyway, back to 2012. After Carlyle was dumped in California, the Toronto Maple Leafs, for reasons to this day we still can't understand, snapped him up. The Leafs had just fired Ron Wilson, another old-school guy who was having trouble figuring out the importance of possession. To Wilson's credit, his replacement wasn't better. To the stats machine!

                             CF%     LEAGUE RANK
TOR   2011-12    48.9                 17th

Not great, but not terrible. But then Carlyle really put his mark on his team:

                             CF%     LEAGUE RANK
TOR   2012-13    44.1                 30th
TOR   2013-14    42.3                 30th

And ... that was pretty much all the Leafs could take. 

Astonishingly Carlyle was given another coaching lifeline when he was rehired by the Ducks this past summer after Anaheim turfed Bruce Boudreau. Hey, how's Anaheim doing this year under Carlyle compared to last under Bourdreau? 

                             CF%     LEAGUE RANK
ANA   2015-16    52.5                 5th
ANA   2016-17    48.9                19th

Randy Carlyle, folks. I don't know how he does it, but there he is, in his 24th season of professional hockey coaching.

Puck drops tonight at 7:40, EST.


- It's official. Andrei Markov is out with a lower body injury. That's the bad news. The good news is the injury apparently isn't bad, and he's expected to play again this week, possibly as early as Thursday night.

- With Markov hurt and unable to play tonight, the Habs will be icing the following defensive pairings:


Full game preview in a bit.


A few notes, Habs-related, as we gear up to go duck huntin' tomorrow night:

- Andrei Markov? Yup. Add 'em to the injured list, along with Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw, Greg Pateryn, Sven Andrighetto (and who-knows-else, since apparently the captain played the month of November with a broken foot). Markov is listed as "day-to-day" with a lower body injury, and is questionable to start Tuesday night.

- Hey, hold the phone - Andrighetto played in practice this morning, so maybe take him off that list.

- Starting goaltenders have been announced, it'll be Carey Price (yup) against Johnathan Bernier, who kinda sucks playing against the Canadiens.

- Okay, now for some Ducks-related laffs:
Yup, Randy. It's a mystery why you got turfed out of Toronto. Leading scientists, even to this day, are baffled. Why was Randy fired??!? HE WAS SO GOOD!

That's all we got. It's been quiet today. Quiet is good.