Friday, 3 February 2017

Game 53: Caps vs. Habs

Washington 3, Montreal 2:


- Well, those lineup questions we asked have been answered, and while adjustments have been made (highlighted), it's not what we were speculating. Desharnais is a healthy scratch (!!), while 2nd and 3rd lines have been blendered up:

De La Rose/Mitchell/Flynn


- His point totals aren't very high, but Lars Eller is having one of his best seasons ever - he and his line have had excellent possession numbers - Lars has really established himself as one of the better two-way players in the NHL.

- Beagle top corner beats Price, and barely 3 minutes into the game, it's 1-0 Caps. Mitchell line just too soft in coming back to cover the zone, Beaulieu also not playing the slot nearly tight enough. This could be a long afternoon ahead.

- Caps are playing a rigorous trap right now, the Habs offence has been almost totally snuffed out. 

- But it's Radulov to the rescue with a Beagle-like snap shot of his own, beating Holtby blocker side to tie the game. Great work by Danault to work the puck to Radulov in the slot.

- Plekanec somehow misses a tap-in goal. That's the kind of play he was making while mired in a near half-season long slump. 

- Galchenyuk seems to be struggling, still not convinced he isn't deal with some issues related to that knee injury. His linemate, Artturi Lehkonen, however, has played a rambunctious period. 

- Caps stormed out of the gate, and looked intent on putting this game away early - and then the board behind Holtby broke, and it seemed like everything just ebbed away. So while the Caps were the discernibly better team in that first frame, it could have been a whole lot worse. Canadiens will be very happy to go to the 2nd tied up, especially against a team that so far this season, has dominated their opponent in the first period.


- Caps with a very good, not-quite-dominative first period, Habs really hurt by some struggling shifts by the Danault and Mitchell line. Plekanec and Galchenyuk lines were "okay", Lehkonen playing some hard, fast shifts. Meanwhile, the Eller line (Lars included) has been a Habs-killer today.

- Habs first powerplay comes up blank, with Bordeleau matching up Eller against Shaw (no contest) on the first wave. Canadiens still hurt by the ongoing issue of disorganized zone entires with the man advantage. It's difficult to generate offence if you can't set up.

- Galchenyuk line being taken to the shed defensively - they've been a two-way mess today. So it's little surprise that the Caps take the lead, with Burakovsky (that Eller line!) with a nice snapper that beats Price top corner. That goal doesn't happen if the Galchenyuk and his mates make a simple play gaining the Caps zone, and bother hustling back after coughing up the puck. They did neither. 

- Andrighetto does a nice little pirouette do fool the ref into giving Orpik a tripping penalty. I guess we'll take it.

- Another zippo powerplay, Galchenyuk made a brief appearance and looked ... not good. I just don't see how he's playing at 100%. He's almost certainly still hurt, which begs the question, why the hell is he even playing?

- Eller line is having a monster day - just dominating the Habs almost every shift they've had in this 2nd period,

- Okay, Caps *dominated* that 2nd period, if not for a couple of goalposts saving the day, the score could easily be 4-1 Washington. Canadiens really hurt by some very sub-standard performances, most glaringly Alex Galchenyuk, who almost appears to be hobbling around the ice. When he's barely skating, he's been making bad decisions with the puck. Just no idea what's happening there (well, pretty sure he's still playing with a not-healed knee injury, but I digress). Canadiens have no answer to the Caps top three lines, which beside their offensive abilities, have had little difficulty in snuffing out an semblance of a Montreal attack - bottling up the neutral zone, and forcing the Habs to make mostly fruitless puck dumps. Everything is pretty much set up for a very ugly 3rd period for the Canadiens.


- That 2nd period, woah ... so much ugly. The Eller line has been fantastic, the Caps defence across the board has been excellent, the Habs defence, also across the board, has been miserable. There's been some speculation the past couple of weeks about Marc Bergevin going "all in" for a Stanley Cup this spring, which if fine, Marc. Go for it. But if you want to win a championship, you'll have to find employment with another team, because as this game is illustrating, the Canadiens aren't even close to competing.

- Not sure why, but NHL refs don't like Alex Radulov. So many borderline (or just plain wrong) calls against him this season. Radulov goes to the box for a (very) borderline hook on Ovechkin behind the Caps net.

- Backstrom, 3-1. Habs PK again a weak link, just too much traffic is being allowed in front of Price. 

- Pacioretty via Radulov makes it 3-2. The Habs dare to dream of somehow making something out of this nothing game? Stay tuned.

- Alex Galchenyuk appears to have woken up in this 3rd period, thereby making the first 2 period all the more mystifying. Anyway, Habs been pushing pretty hard here past three minutes looking for the tying goal. 7 minutes left on the clock. We still have hope.

- Annnnnnnnnddddddd ... que Andrew Shaw ill-timed penalty. 

- Not a good day for the referees. Sure, call Shaw for that hold, but then you can't let the other team get away with pretty clear-cut holds and hooks and "let it go". You set a standard, you have to live by it.

- Price pulled, Habs swarm, Holtby holds. At least unlike the Flyers game, they're not going out with a whimper. 

- Two point blank shots with less than 5 seconds left for Shea Weber, and he fans on both. Caps hold on for the victory, deserved. But still, one gets the feeling that an opportunity missed for the Canadiens to pull a game out of the fire. Are you getting a sense that must-wins are now arriving for this team? I do. Tomorrow's game against the Oilers critical in helping this Habs team find the winning track, which somewhere along the line of getting healthy again, they've lost.


So how's everybody feeling after the debacle in Philadelphia Thursday night? Hey, it could be worse - you could be Andrew Shaw. Feel the shame, Shaw. FEEL IT.
Five more years. Five. More. Years. That's how long Shaw's contract extends. That's how long Shaw will be playing in Montreal, unless somehow, some way, another G.M. believes his team's fans "will love" having Andrew Shaw.

Anyway, enough about that. It's time to get serious - and hoo boy, what a weekend awaits for the less-than-stellar Habs, as per the now Super Bowl tradition, they host back-to-back afternoon games, starting Saturday with the League's best team, the Washington Capitals, and then Sunday, Connor McDavid and the actually-gonna-be-in-the-playoffs-this-year Edmonton Oilers.

The Caps have, on most nights, dismantled their opponents this season, the latest being the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. The Caps have only lost 3 times this calendar year - interestingly enough, to underwhelming opponents that included the soon to be Hartford Whalers 2.0, the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators (oh yeah, and a thumping from the Black Hawks). Anyway, there's hope for the Habs!!

Across the line, the Caps are putting up elite League numbers. 7th in possession (51.2%), 5th in offence (3.22 GF60), 1st in defence (2.09 GA60), 4th best shooting percentage, 2nd best save percentage, on and on it goes.

The only "weak-ish" spot are the Caps specialty units. Their powerplay, is currently ranked "only" 14th overall, and their PK, which is 5th best, has struggled of late, having surrendered 7 goals the past 10 days. Otherwise, you've got roster world beaters like Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller having another excellent (and as usual under-the-radar) season as the 3rd line center ... defending Vezina winner Braden Holtby putting up more trophy-worthy numbers, and going into Montreal, winner of 10 straight. Yi. Yi. Yi.

The Habs - what to say. They're almost totally healthy for the first time in almost 3 months, and then they go a drop a turd on Broad Street. Apart from Shaw doing his stupid thing, the Canadiens were held to a pathetic 16 shots, the low mark for the season, against a Flyers team that's on the playoff bubble.

Will adjustments be made? Will Alex Galchenyuk be put back on the top line between Max Pacioretty and Alex Radulov? Will Michel Therrien shift the defensive deck chairs, splitting apart the struggling duo of Shea Weber and Alexei Emelin? Will the penalty killing unit under the eye of J.J. Daigneault stop being terrible? Will the powerplay be not as terrible as it was Thursday night? Will Carey Price do all of the work again and carry his team almost single-handedly to victory?

Eh. Probably not. But watch, we will.

Price vs. Holtby. Puck drops at 1:10 EST.

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