Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Game 46: Pens vs. Habs

Pittsburgh 4, Montreal 1:


- Habs lineup pretty much the same as Monday, with Andrew Shaw on 3rd line next to Danault, Jacob De La Rose getting another start, and the Habs continuing with slightly modified defensive pairs that were switched in the middle of Monday's game, with Beaulieu on the 3rd line with Zach Redmond, and Mark Barberio promoted to the 2nd line to play with Jeff Petry.

- Remember, the Pens can be flustered, especially if things don't play into their style as the game progresses. If the Habs are able to keep the score low and even through the first 30 minutes of tonight's game, opportunities might begin to arise.

- Pretty aggressive forecheck by the Habs to start the game - pays off with some decent zone pressure, Murray makes a couple of tough saves and also gets a little puck luck to keep Montreal off the scoreboard.

- Jeff Petry not on the Habs bench, for reasons that I didn't see. Don't recall him being the victim of a particularly hard check, no hard shots blocked. Suffice to say, Habs simply cannot function properly defensively if he's not playing.

- Looks like Petry took a shot off the inside of his right foot, although the shot itself wasn't particularly hard. Nonetheless, he went to the room at the 6 minute mark, and hasn't come back yet.

- Petry back. Breath. Habs chances of victory tonight would be extremely limited at best if he's not playing.

- It's early days, very small sample size, but Beaulieu looks considerably more comfortable next to Redmond than he had with Petry in the weeks that's followed Markov's injury. Both Petry and Beaulieu are good/very good defensemen, but together, for whatever reason, they simply didn't compliment each other.

- I guess this is more-or-less how the Habs need to play - pretty tight checking period, Pens haven't really generated significant scoring chances. Still, it feels like they're waiting in the weeds, just patiently preparing to fire their volleys.

- Whelp, there it is. Ian Cole with the game's first goal, Beaulien and especially Redmond way too passive guarding the rush, basically allowing Cole to waltz in to take his shot.

- From Redmond to Emelin, Habs defense now back to being too casual, too sloppy - traits you can't afford to demonstrate against this Pens team.

- Habs best shift comes late in the period, and it's not much of a surprise that it's sparked by Andrighetto and Lehkonen.

- An "okay" period for the Habs, burned by letdowns by their defence, which has become more and more of an issue as the season has progressed. Pretty clear Zach Redmond isn't much a solution for that 6th slot, but what options do the Habs have as long as Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn are out of the lineup? Not much. Ergo, there might be mounting pressure as we get closer to the deadline for Marc Bergevin to find some help for the blue line - because with Markov's health a question, inconsistent play from Beaulieu, and the utter lack of dependable 3rd liners, he might have to make a deal.


- Even split, possession-wise, in that first period. 5v5 CF: 50.0%

- Hard luck Habs so far in this game, offence has come close, but Murray getting more puck luck to keep Montreal off the board.

- Fehr makes it 2-0. Not what the Habs needed. Now Montreal faced with a daunting choice - do they toss out the close checking approach, looking for a scoring breakthrough, or do they open it up and take the some ill-advised chances?

- Pacioretty taken off the Galchenyuk line to play next to Danault, which makes pretty much zero sense to me.

- Half way mark of the period, Galchenyuk with what could only be described as an horrific shift, most of which was in his own zone because he was barely skating around. Tired? Hurt? Who knows. But it was awful.

- Pens taking over this game, Habs are reeling, mostly in their own zone. I mentioned it was imperative the Canadiens find a way of hanging even on the scoreboard at this point, where this season, the Pens have taken over their games. Well, same thing is happening tonight, and the Habs are down 2. This does not look good.

- Swarmin', swarmin', swarmin'. Crosby on his game - the Pens are relentless right now. Habs doing a reasonable enough job basically holding on for dear life in their zone, doing what they can to prevent high danger shot attempts. But something's gotta and gonna give eventually.

- Habs are surrounding shot attempts, looking for perfect plays. Murray isn't elite, so their rationale for looking for that pass instead of taking their shots, mystifying.

- This team is in a definite funk - and it comes at a puzzling time - what with Galchenyuk and (sigh) Shaw returning - they seem as lost as ever. Just seems like this teams' mojo has been slowly disappearing since Gallagher broke his hand again.

- Ah, there's Jake Genteel - we featured him as part of our preview, and he does a nice job deflecting a Gaunce shot to make it 3-0. That's likely lights out.

- Andrighetto gets a greasy goal from a simple wraparound. Hey, how about that? Those count just the same as pretty ones. Learn your lessons, Habbies.

- Whelp, what can you say? Pens are a better team. They took it to the Habs this period, took advantage of some pretty soft coverage around the Montreal slot, and basically salted away a win. Yeah, more questions will be asked about Carey Price after this one is done, but the reality is, the Canadiens are not playing well in their own zone, and teams like Pittsburgh are, on most nights, going to eat them alive.


- Once again, attempts are pretty even, but that doesn't really express the lopsidedness of the game. Shot totals are doing that tonight, with Pittsburgh outshooting Habs 23-12 through 40 minutes. That is not good.

- Third period approach? Get the puck on Murray with every opportunity. No more fancy stuff. Pucks on net. If the Habs can't narrow the lead to 1 by the halfway mark, open the engines, and hope that Price can give you some big saves.

- Price looking a little shaky and uncertain to start the period. Just don't know what to think about Carey. One part of my mind thinks he's just having a stretch that all goaltenders go through, another part fears he's battling chronic pain from his knee injuries which have slowed him down.

- Uberweak interference call on Pacioretty sends the Pens on the powerplay looking to dagger this game out.

- Decent PK by the Habs, and Mitchell draws a powerplay by letting his face take a stick. So, a glimmer of hope here.

- Zippo powerplay, Therrien again putting out Andrew Shaw, who adds nothing, does nothing. It's absurd how he just does these things that don't work over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

- Absolutely forgettable, borderline terrible night for the Galchenyuk line. Another mystifying component of this team right now. They're simply not nearly as good, certainly not as energetic, since Galchenyuk's return.

- 9 minutes left, Habs with little choice but to start rolling the dice. Carey Price, get ready. Next few minutes could be busy.

- Pens are playing it cool, conservative. Habs have no response, no energy, no cohesion. Canadiens look lost, the Pens are more than happy to let them wander around while the clock drains down.

- Pens are checking the Habs ferociously, easily preventing even just the thought of a scoring chance. Legs are there for Pittsburgh, nothing there for the Habs.

- Petry with a bad giveaway stumbling behind his net, Maata with a relatively tame wrister that goes right between Price's legs, game, set, match.

- Yeah, more "WHAT IS HAPPENING TO CAREY PRICE!?!?" talk will be heard tonight and tomorrow and the day after that, but really, the Habs had zero chance tonight. No effort, little coordination, poor shot attempts, more sloppy play in their own zone - you're going to lose each and every game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion with what the Habs put out tonight. I'm not sure how many have taken notice, but the Canadiens are playing some bad hockey right now, which includes Carey Price, and more importantly, it also includes the guys in front of him.


The Habs are back in action tonight as they take on the most powerful offensive machine in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Bell Centre in Montreal.

The Pens are coming off a wild 8-7 OT win Monday night over the high-flying Washington Capitals, who had their 9-game winning streak broken by Pittsburgh.

The Pens like to score goals, and they do that frequently, mainly against teams with thin or inexperienced defensive lines. Pittsburgh boasts an impressive stat line, 7th in CF (51.6), 3rd in Fenwick 5v5 (52.8%), 2nd in GF60 (2.83), 1st in shots/game average (34.7), 9th in Sh% (8.19), 6th on OZFO% (33.7), 3rd best powerplay % (23.3), 1st in goals/game at even strength ... etc, etc., etc.

Oh, did we mention the best player in the world, Sid Crosby, is on his way to possibly a 60 goal season? Or Evgeni Malkin with another 40+ goal season? The Pens' first two lines in general are pretty terrifying:


That right there is 185 points. And we haven't even gotten to the third line, which features the awesome Phil Kessel playing next to Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino. Tack on another 80 points.

Anyway, back to the top lines - Jake Guentzel is an interesting piece - he's a top Pens prospect that's spent most of this season racking up huge point totals playing with the Scranton Penguins of the AHL. Basically, he's too good for that League, which prompted his call-up just before the Pens had their by-week. In the 5 NHL games Guentzel has played so far, he's scored 3 goals, which is pretty impressive.

Now, the Pens can score. That we've established. But what about the backend? Well ... that's where we find some vulnerabilities. After their bye-week break, the Pens lost 3 straight, surrendering 15 goals. If you factor in the 7 they gave up in their win over the Caps Monday night, that's 22 goals allowed in 4 games. But that's Pittsburgh - they like to play some pretty freewheeling, high-event hockey - they lead the League in shots taken, but they're also the 5th worst in shots allowed. It's made the season particularly busy for the Pens netminders, which has split time evenly between Marc-Andre Fleury (3.23 GAA, .904 Sv%) and "backup" Matt Murray (2.53 GAA, .916 Sv%).

How do you beat them? Simply by not playing their game. Which means low event, close-checking, run-'em-into-the-ice stifling defence with emphatic forechecking.

Which for the Habs, might be doable. They played a very tight game Monday afternoon in Detroit - probably too tight given that the Canadiens were so overtly focused on containing the Wings that they essentially forgot to apply much, if any pressure until the game's 57 minute mark.

There is an established pattern to beating the Pens this year. If you play them hard defensively for the entirety of the game, and they fail to produce goals by the 2nd period, they tend to get "anxious", and start making defensive mistakes.

Evidence? Well, the Pens have actually been pretty mediocre offensively the 1st period this season, scoring 34 goals with ranks them 17th in the League. Where the Pens thrive is in wearing their opponent down as the game progresses. They've scored 54 goals in the 2nd period (3rd best in the NHL), and 59 in the 3rd period (2nd best).

By contrast, the Pens have given up 42 1st period goals this season (3rd worst in the League), and 50 in the 2nd period (also 3rd worst). The 3rd period, however, the Pens have given up only 34 goals (5th best). Basically, by playing a fast, wide-open game, the Pens have put together a winning record by essentially shell shocking their opponent.

Keep this in mind as the game progresses - the key to defeating the Pens lays in how well you play them as the game progresses. If you're playing well defensively in the 2nd, and especially the 3rd periods, your chances of victory increase significantly.

Which also means a lot of pressure will be on the shoulders of Habs starter tonight Carey Price, who's struggled since the beginning of December, but has come off a tough loss in which he surrendered just one goal to Detroit.

Matt Murray will start in net for the Pens.

Puck drops at 7:40, EST.


Hey, Happy Wednesday. Things seems to be progressing with a couple of the wounded, Greg Pateryn and David Desharnais. Here's some video from this morning:
We'll have a preview in a little bit of tonight's Habs/Pens game.

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