Monday, 9 January 2017

Game 41: Caps vs. Habs

Washington 4, Montreal 1:


- It's official, Byron back in, and Carr is out. Habs lineup will look at such:


- Not an enthralling start by the Habs first 5 minutes, Caps much faster and aggressive team - looks like the Canadiens might be a tad overmatched tonight.

- I'll be a broken record about this until the day I die, but Bobby Farnham is a massive waste of a lineup spot. Hudon, De La Rose, just about anything else, would be far preferable.

- Plenty of questions were raised about whether Nikita Scherbak was "ready" for NHL action - and while  these are very early days, I've seen nothing that justifies these uncertainties. He's fast, he plays smart, and as we've mentioned previously, he's excellent with the puck. 

- Habs "3rd" line (which really is barely an NHL 4th) of Mitchell/Flynn and Andrighetto getting their clocks cleaned so far this period. Looking pretty flat footed, and the Caps offence has taken advantage.

- And quite literally 5 seconds after that last comment is posted, the Caps Backstrom opens the scoring - guess who was on the ice for the Habs? 1-0 Washington.

- Is there a "top 6" forward in the NHL with a less dangerous shot than Plekanec? I'm pretty there there isn't.

- Habs pretty much totally overmatched in that 1st period. Sorry, Habs fans, there's little chance they'll be able to compete tonight, barring some lucky hockey bounces. 


- Shot attempts don't really reflect this one-sided play in that period, in particular how badly the Mitchell line performed against, well - everybody.

- Danault line's first shift of the period as much of a total disaster as possible without actually giving up a goal - Caps swarming the zone, Habs basically chasing pucks with total disorganization, Price forced to make two hard saves. Washington continues to dominate.

- Caps about twice as fast on the puck, Habs are just taking punches turtled in a corner. It's nearly getting ugly right now, Washington on the cusp here of adding to their lead.

- Even Therrien has noted the disparity, but in true Therrien style, he's sending out puzzling line combinations - the first being Flynn/Danault/Andrighetto. 

- Tomas Plekanec. Just nothing left. Shot, finish - it's just gone.

- Farnham chipping in counterproductively, as anticipated. Gets nailed for an avoidable interference penalty. Caps to the powerplay.

- Habs first man advantage, whole lotta passin' going on, not a whole lotta shootin'. The Canadiens do realize they're facing the stingiest defence in the NHL, right? They know they can't take the liberty of looking for the perfect play, right?

- Habs forwards have done almost nothing to get in Holtby's face. I know this is part of the Gallagher effect, but could marginal guys like Farnham at least do something to mix it up, maybe get Holtby off his game - something? Anything??

- Maybe the Habs are hung over from their long road trip? This team looks not a whole lot more rested than they did the 3rd period on Saturday night. 

- Another pretty lopsided period in favour of the Caps, kind of amazing that the Habs are just a goal down, and could conceivably get a point or two tonight. Realistically however, Washington is owning this game - it seems but just a matter of time before they find some insurance goals in the 3rd  to wrap this night up.


- 2nd period was indeed, pretty ugly for the Habs, 5v5 CF just barely over 30%. Minor miracle the score is just 1-0.

- Scoring chances are interesting - Habs with some pretty choice chances right in the low slot, but Holtby has come up big:

- Habs 2nd powerplay, again looking too much for the perfect setup, lots of passing, no actual shots on Holtby. This is folly - the Canadiens are obviously letting Holtby into their collective heads.

- Lars Eller with a dumb penalty, which something Habs fans might remember him doing a lot of while in Montreal. Habs to their 3rd powerplay, will they actually get a shot on goal?

- Weber with a cannon drive so hard off the goalpost that the red light goes on. Tough luck for the Canadiens tonight.

- Plekanec scores (yes, that happened) on the powerplay, but Caps are challenging the goal, saying Byron bumped Holtby a moment before Plekanec put the puck in the net. Could be a close call.

- Challenge denied, and unbelievably, the Habs have tied the game.

- Not for long, as Jeff Petry makes a very bad play, getting snookered by some slick stick handling by Kuznetsov to make it 2-1. 

- Price misplays the puck (a rarity), Jeff Petry with a meek poke of the puck creates deep zone turnover, Connoly finishes the play at it's 3-1. So, after the Habs threw us all a little shade for a minute by tying the game, the Caps have (finally) established scoreboard dominance. As we figured they would.

- Ovechkin ties the Rocket with his 544th career goal on the powerplay, icing on the cake.

- Not the Habs worst loss of the season, but a little wake up call from reality that they're still a step away from being legitimate contenders. The Caps (yes, they are healthy) totally overmatched the short-handed Habs, who are doing themselves little favours by playing AHL-level fodder like Bobby Farnham, instead of younger, more capable hands. Habs head west to Winnipeg to play the Jets, hoping to have Andrei Markov back in the lineup, and hopefully sooner rather than later, the return of Alex Galchenyuk.


Wow, we've reached the halfway mark of the 2016-17 NHL regular schedule. What a season it's been for the Montreal Canadiens. Filled with ups and downs, but mostly ups, the Habs will be home for their 41st game tonight, as they take on the top-flight Washington Capitals.

The Caps, very much unlike the Habs, enter tonight's game riding the wave of a virtually injury-free season, while the Canadiens continue to deal with an onslaught of hurt bodies that has made putting together a full game lineup a slightly challenging task.

The Habs, who on Saturday were down 7 regular skaters, managed to string together a victory, albeit against a not-very-good opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens won't enjoy the luxury of inferiority tonight with the Caps, who sit, amazingly enough, in 4th place in the Metropolitan Division. If the playoffs were to start tonight, the Caps, with 55 points, just one fewer than the Habs, as the 7th seed in the 2017 playoffs (and would if the post season started today, face the Canadiens), testament to a playoff format the NHL might want to reconsider this summer.

The Caps key to success this year? Playing low event games. Through this weekend's games, the Caps have the League's lowest shot event total (comprised of shots for and against) at 42.2.  St. Louis ranks second at 42.1, while Pittsburgh, with their high-octane offence unsurprisingly rates the highest at 52.0, with Montreal not too far behind at 48.5.

Not that there's anything wrong with playing "boring" hockey - it's usually a pretty good formula for success, born out from the expertise of Caps head coach Barry Trotz, who's well established for developing teams that follow a fairly structured, if not rigid approach that's very emphatic on checking and being responsible in your own zone.

The key to beating the Caps? Open them up - find a way of making the game faster and freewheeling. The moment Washington stops playing their system, they become vulnerable.

Which means the return tonight of skilled and speedy Paul Byron, who'd missed the past couple of games from an undisclosed injury (likely concussion) all the more important for the Canadiens, who are hoping to extend their 3 game winning streak. With Byron returning, Daniel Carr will be a healthy scratch (which means, amazingly enough, Bobby Farnham will get another start - oh well).

Back to the Caps for a moment, here's their lineup for tonight



Braden Holtby

Speaking of Holtby, tonight's goaltending matchup should also be a dandy - featuring Carey Price, the 2015 Vezina Trophy winner, against Holtby, who is the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner.

Oh yes, one more thing - the Caps are hoping to extend their current winning streak - to six games.

Puck drops at 6:40, EST.

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