Friday, 6 January 2017

Game 40: Habs vs. Leafs

Montreal 5, Toronto 3:


- Scherbak will wear #38. I've mentioned it a couple of times on my Twitter, but I've actually officiated Scherbak - a couple of years ago to be exact. He's a smaller player, about average speed, but very good hands and puck handling ability. 

- Well, that didn't take long - Leafs with soft coverage in front of Andersen allows Radulov to find Pacioretty in front for an easy shot, and it's 1-0 Habs before we even hit the one minute mark.

- More slow-footed Leafs defending, Lehkonen sweeps around his wing and beats Andersen under the arm off a deflection. 2-0 Habs before the 4 minute mark.

- Leafs look pretty sluggish - they did play last night, while the Habs have two days rest, although granted, nearly half their lineup tonight is comprised of guys who regularly play in Newfoundland.

- Radulov, at least early on, is playing with pants on fire. Leafs having trouble handling him. The guy's amazing.

- Plekanec with a pretty preventable and unnecessary penalty. It's been a pretty good season for many Habs players, especially those who have stepped up to help fill injury gaps. Plekanec, though, has been a different story. Possibly his worst season so far as a professional.

- Bozak converts, Habs penalty kill continues to be one of the weaker parts of their game. It's been an issue for this team since the start of the year, but for whatever reason, little or no improvements have been made. Fundamentally, Habs don't play very structured game while shorthanded. More reactionary to the play, which is bad if you're shorthanded.

- Just another thought about Plekanec, he's coming up on 1,000 games in the NHL, which is pretty astounding for someone in his mid-30s. He's played pretty much injury free his professional career, the fewest season games being 67 way back in 2006 (not counting the strike shortened season). That many games over a relatively short period of time take their toll - what we might be seeing is early onset of the inevitable decline. 

- Real, real soft hooking call on Radulov. I mean, if that's the standard for a hook, there'll be a penalty box parade tonight.

- Kardri, tie game. More PK woes for the Habs, and the officials can now take satisfaction they've done their bit to get the game even again.

- Scherbak. Right place, right time on the powerplay. How about that? 3-2 Habs.
- At some point a megaphone will need to blast into the ears of every Habs roster player, STAY OUT OF THE GODDAMN PENALTY BOX. This is killing the Habs from winning easy games easily. While the Radulov hook was soft, the Plekanec slash was totally avoidable. As long as this team fails to make any progress in how it kills penalties, they will continue to get burned. Anyway, penalties aside, pretty solid period for the Canadiens.


- Habs with 47% CF (SA 5v5) in that first period - the Leafs really feeding off the momentum generated from the Plekanec penalty (first Habs penalty of the game), and then another boost from the Radulov hook:

- Something to keep in mind from what we mentioned in the pregame piece - the Leafs are team that's thrived this year from jumping out on the scoreboard early - their best period this season has been the 1st, their worst the 3rd. They don't play well behind on the scoreboard.

- Radulov converts off an early powerplay, the Leafs also playing poorly shorthanded tonight, structure not there. So maybe a little solace for the Habs poor play shorthanded. Radulov, for what it's worth, continues to play like a man possessed.

- Don't want to raise alarm bells, but Price looked to be favouring his right leg covering the puck up off a scramble. Might have had his leg wacked by a Leafs stick seeking the puck. 

- Yeah. Not 100%, but pretty sure Price is taking it easy with that right leg. Again, he might have had a stick or something hit it earlier from a scramble, and it's no big deal. We'll find out soon enough.

- Matt Martin with a glaring interference on Petry, the refs let slide. Since they won't do their jobs (at least, consistently), the players take matters into their own hands. McCarron and Farnham drop their gloves, McCarron does fine, Farnham reminds us how pretty much useless he is, and that the only reason he's playing tonight is because the Habs have so many injuries.

- Shea Weber shoots hard, hits hard, but does not play smart. Habs are leading by two gaols, and yet Weber is pinching hard looking to pad his goal total, which just gave the Leafs a clear-cut 2-on-1 break. 

- Zach Hyman with clear run on Carey Price, barreling into him hard while cutting to the net - totally inexcusable. 

- Pretty bad powerplay from that Hyman hit on Price, Habs totally go goofy in their own zone, making a series of awful turnovers and sloppy plays, but Price, in combination with a Leafs offence that really hasn't been clicking very well this period, ensures the Habs maintain their 2 goal lead.

- Mitch Marner might be my least hated Leafs player. He's got so much natural talent, Toronto is really lucky to have him.

- Ice Caps get caught chasing in their own zone, and when you're playing against guys like Van Riemsdyk and Marner, you're looking for big trouble. 4-3.

- Marner, man - he's so good. I WANT HIM ON MY TEAM.

- Well, credit to the Ice Caps Habs for giving the Leafs all they can handle tonight - they're out there working hard and producing offence, but the lineup thinness is really hurting the Habs in their own zone - 3rd and 4th lines are getting outmatched pretty badly by this talented Leafs offence. Whether or not the Habs can hang on in the 3rd can be seen, but I wouldn't be overly surprised if the Leafs overtake the Canadiens down the stretch.


- Habs with a so-so 2nd period, their powerplay bailing them out a little, and they did, for the most part, play a smarter game in limiting Leafs powerplay opportunities. SA CF a tad under 50%, two-period total.

- Ready for more bad news? Lehtonen may be injured - wasn't seen for good chunk of the last half of the 2nd period. Haven't heard any word from the Habs as to what his status is.

- Tonight's game marks the 14th time the Leafs have entered the 3rd period trailing on the scoreboard. of the previous 13 games, Leafs have won twice. However, with the Habs this injury-riddled, anything is possible.

- Did I mention the Habs were smarter in the 2nd? Shea Weber got nailed for an extra two minutes attempting to punch Hyman's light's out at the end of the 2nd. So ... Leafs can even this up in a jiffy with a clean sheet of ice on a (brief) powerplay.

- Lehtonen on the ice early, so whatever issue he may have had in the 2nd has been sorted out.

- Scherbak works a little decoy, McCarron banks the puck off Andersen from behind the net to give the Habs some insurance. But it's still early. 

- That said, the Leafs have been a bad 3rd period team this year not because of goaltending. They need all the help then can get, Andersen muffing up won't help:

- Leafs are certainly trying, Price has had to make a couple of sparking saves this period - Habs playing a little bit loose in their zone, and a little tight in the neutral zone, so the Leafs are setting the tempo here. Maybe the Habs assume that Price will do the rest of the work? In any case, I wouldn't close the book on this game yet. Not by a long shot. 11 minutes left.

- Lehkonen got high sticked very badly right in front of the official, which somehow was either missed or simply let go. It hasn't been egregiously bad tonight, but the officiating has left a lot to be desires - missed calls, rather inconsistent. As a result, we've seen the players at times attempt to take matters into the own hands.

- Matthews, who's been more or less contained by the Habs tonight (good job there, guys) gets nailed for handling the puck off the draw. He didn't know you can't do that??

- Matthews had a decent scoring chance, but for the most part, the Habs have basically suffocated the Leafs last 10 minutes of the 3rd period. A real testament to some pretty impressively disciplined hockey.

- Carey Price in desperation mode is a sight to behold, if only because it happens so infrequently. Leafs pretty much out of time now, late powerplay, just 40 seconds left.

- Another bravado performance by this Habs team, so shorthanded, and yet, they find way s of winning, even if it's against not very good "good" teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs. And now, mercifully, they now get to play a hockey game at home.


Have you been watching the sports networks lately? Tuning into sports talk radio? Perusing the latest tweeting and twating? You might have seen, heard and read (repeatedly): THE LEAFS ARE A REALLY GOOD HOCKEY TEAM!!!

We beg to differ, of course - but hey, who are we to say in contrast to what's being cranked out by the media networks??
Hey, thanks for weighing in, Rogers! Gosh, the team you own and operating and make a kajillion dollars off of in ticket, media and merchandise sales are a good bet, huh?

Okay maybe we're being a little cynical. Let's consult an actual expert how how good this Leafs team really is:
Sorry. We got it wrong. The Leafs aren't good .... THE LEAFS ARE GREAT!! Thanks for weighing in Mr. James Mirtle, who recently started up a Toronto-sports-only publication called The Athletic. Actually, The Athletic is a pretty good publication - good core of journalists, well written, has a viable potential to set the standard as a profitable new media operation. But even The Athletic isn't immune to the tunnel vision that frequently affects the center of the universe: The instant a local sporting team wins a few games, the frenzy begins: The Toronto [franchise name] are great! Plan the parade!

So when the Leafs went on their recent little 5 game winning streak run, the chatter picked up in Canada's only city that matters: HEY, the Leafs are gonna do this! They're gonna make the playoffs! HEY ... they ... might be good ... no, wait. They might be GREAT. Is a championship coming out way in just a few weeks!?!!?!?!? 

Well ... sorry Toronto fans, but your hockey team isn't great, and they won't be winning a Stanley Cup this spring. They might not be even the bare minimum - a "good" hockey team.

First, the good things about this Leafs team. It's core of young players are good - actually, let's ramp that up a little - they're dazzling. The Leafs combined rookie scoring so far this season is through the damn roof. Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Conor Brown, Zach Hymen and Nakita Zaitsev have combined to score 141 points in half a regular season. That's crazy high offensive numbers from a set of players with minimal NHL experience.

The Leafs young high octane offence has moved them up to some pretty elite levels in comparison to the rest of the League. At 2.69 GF60, the Leafs have the 3rd rated NHL offence, bolstered by 4th rated SF60 (31.9), 3rd rated in shots attempt, and a half-decent powerplay (21.5%). This Leafs team plays fast, and they play exciting.

So while the Leafs crank out an impressive offence, there are other numbers that spell trouble. While Toronto is apt to pelt opposing goaltenders with plenty of shot attempts, the fundamental stats indicate this is a team with significant defensive issues. While the Leafs my have the 3rd most shot attempts in the NHL, their 5v5 CF% clocks in just under 50% (49.9), which is only good enough for 18th in the NHL. The number of shots the Leafs surrender averages out to 32 per 60, the 2nd highest in the League.

The net effect? Toronto gives up 2.56 GA60, the 3rd most in the NHL (only Philadelphia and the very lowly Colorado Avalanche are worse).

Even worse is the way the Leafs give up their shots and goals - as the game progresses, their defence worsens. Toronto has given up 42 3rd period goals this season (by contrast they've given up 29 1st period goals). When you play progressively worse in your own end, closing out victories over the length of a regular season becomes incredibly difficult. Toronto has been guilty of giving up significant 3rd period leads numerous times this season - there's little reason to believe that trend won't continue.

The bottom line? Even with very good goaltending by Frederik Andersen (2.61, .920), the current premise that the Leafs are "good bet" to make this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs is, at best, weak. You might be a fun team, with loads of young talent with the ability to score a lot of goals, but if you can't keep your own end in order, over the length of an 82 game schedule, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to win enough times to nab a playoff spot.

Tonight, the "good - no wait, GREAT" Leafs host the Habs at the ACC. For the Canadiens, tonight's game is the end point of an epic 7 game road trip that started a week before Christmas. The Habs, as followers are well aware, will be icing very thin lineup tonight with 7 (count 'em!) regulars unable to play because of injury - the latest additions to the wounded list being Brendan Gallagher (2 months) and Paul Byron (day-to-day).

The rash of injuries, however, has opened the door of opportunity for some of the Habs prospects. Nikita Scherbak will get his first NHL start tonight, playing on the Habs 4th line. Scherbak has had an excellent season with the St. John's Ice Caps, the Habs AHL affiliate, scoring 20 points (10 goals) in 27 games this season.

So it's the "GOOD NO WAIT GREAT" Leafs and Frederik Andersen, against Carey Price and the injury hobbled Habs.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.


Okay, we've got a lot of Habs-related news to pass your way today.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

Given where the shot was taken, who took the shot, and the blood that was oozing out from his hand, we kind of figured it would be a couple of months. The wording is "minimum" is unusual for a prognosis - usually a range of expected return is given, not the minimum return, which likely indicates the injury was very, very bad. So March at the earliest, but don't be surprised if Gallagher isn't back at least until the playoffs.

Okay. Other not-so-bad-news:

- Alex Galchenyuk and Andrei Markov participated in practice today, which puts the former way ahead of recuperation schedule. While today he (Galchenyuk) was officially ruled out of playing Saturday night, Michel Therrien was quoted as saying that both players are "they're close. They're really close" to retuning to the lineup. So, don't be surprised if we see both Galchenyuk and Markov playing next week, which will give this injury-embattled Habs lineup some respite:

- Can we toss in some bad news again? There's no status update about Paul Byron, who took a hard hit to the head in Dallas, which is usually a bad sign if concussion is involved. So don't expect him back any time soon - another very significant blow to the Habs offence.

- In response to the latest round of injuries, Habs brought up Sven Andrighetto, and Nikita Scherbak - the later of whom is confirmed to start tomorrow night in Toronto. It will be Sherbak's NHL debut. He's likely to be placed on the Habs 4th line, so don't expect to see too many shifts during his first game.

We'll update this page with anything important that comes our way.

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