Saturday, 25 February 2017

Game 62: Habs vs. Leafs


- WELL ... how about this? Habs defensive pairings for tonight's game:


Still would prefer Beaulieu on that 2nd line, and why isn't Pateryn starting? Oh well. Baby steps.

- So the Islanders, whom the Habs couldn't muster up a single goal against on Thursday night, are losing 6-0 tonight to Columbus. 

- Early penalty to Lehkonen, League's best powerplay goes to work. Did we mention how crucial it will be for the Habs to avoid the penalty box tonight?

- PK looks good ... really good. They're settling into the new formation which formerly used to be diamond positioned. Already we can seen how well that change has worked.

- Galchenyuk makes a poor blind pass entering the Leafs zone, resulting turnover Matthews takes a shot that deflects off Emelin and then Nesterov, past Price. A fluky fluke goal. When things go bad for a team, seems like everything goes right for the other guys.

- This hasn't been an overtly bad period for the Habs - quite the contrary, they've held a distinct edge in play containing the Leaf's more talented forwards. But it's the same story with regards to the offence - they might have the puck more, but struggle to get shots away from dangerous spots.

- Again, Habs are structurally poor with the puck - they pass for the sake of passing, but it's not towards the construction of a good scoring chance. Zone entries have not been good tonight, or for that matter, the past 4 months.

- Pacioretty tips the puck through Andersen's legs, the puck trickles through and hits the post. Puck luck just adding to the woes.

- Two Habs powerplays that period, both going nowhere. Just not enough players on the same page, again, zone entries are pretty bad. Habs weren't bad, per say, but not really overtly dangerous - in particular, the Plekanec line, which looked so good against the Rangers on Tuesday, and so awful against the Islanders on Thursday, again seems to be regressing. 


- Decent opening period for the Habs, with a ES Corsi over 65%. Under normal circumstances, that should translate into goals, but this is no normal Montreal Canadiens hockey team.

- Habs have 3 ... count 'em, 3 back in their own zone with the man advantage, Weber, Markov and Pacioretty. Neither can escape their own zone with 1, count 'em, 1 Leafs forward with shorthanded forecheck. Oy.

- Hoo boy. This really is bad:

- Habs out skating their opponent has resulted in more powerplay draws, they're about to try their 3rd man advantage. Not that it's going to lead to actual goals, mind you.

- Annnnnnnnd .... Pacioretty scores on the powerplay. This is as good a time as any to declare the Habs will never ever win the Stanley Cup this spring. 

- That Pacioretty goal came courtesy a sustained focus by the Leafs on the other winger, Radulov. That's why Pacioretty has thrived so much this season while playing next to Radulov - he draws so much attention by opponents that it frequently opens up the ice for Max.

- Marginal trip on Petry, Leafs number one powerplay back in action. Habs have actually played a disciplined game - good close checking, but nothing overtly over the line. 

- Nathan Beaulieu really shouldn't be utilized on the PK. He' more productive at even strength, and might actually be a solid asset on the powerplay. Short handed duties though, he often looks unsure and unsteady.

- Leafs all over the Habs on the powerplay, but Carey Price does his Carey Price thing - sure looks like he's in a zone. Has been really, since Julien started.

- Funny how just after your goaltender stones the other guys, the offence responds, and hello, it's Alex Galchenyuk, with a back monkey killin' snapper courtesy a ridiculous pass from Nesterov, that beats Anderson over the glove to give the Habs a 2-1 lead.


- Leafs come out strong, Habs come out flat, and guess who are the culprits - well, culprit in this case, it being Alexei Emelin, who can't find his way back to his bench, gets stuck on a long shift, and lets Matthews get inside in front of Price to easily tip home a pass to tie the game. 

- Here's something go mull - Weber already looks much better with Markov on his side, and you all know why - he doesn't have to deal with covering up Emelin's mistakes. Guess who's struggling tonight? Why, it's Jeff Petry, who's been assigned the unenviable responsibility of being Emelin's partner tonight. At some point you have to listen to the message that's being screamed at you. Get Alexei Emelin out of the picture.

- Andrew Shaw might have faked out a high stick, sending Matthews to the penalty box for 2 minutes. So at the very least Shaw is on the right side of the penalty equation. 

- We gave Shaw plenty of grief in our preview, and I still think his acquisition was a bad move by Bergevin, but he's had a pretty good night - for that matter, a decent week. He's helped more than he's hurt, which for Shaw, is welcome relief.

- Habs have one powerplay goal tonight, but their zone entries are still pretty terrible. If you can't gain ice, it doesn't really matter what your powerplay setup is - you won't score.

- Matthews penalty expires, and then the Habs do a great job hemming the Leafs - Galchenyuk, Radulov and Shaw with some excellent work.

- Great work and smart play by Weber, sending Byron a nifty little shot pass that really should have been tipped home past Andersen. But Byron, being Bryon the past three months, can't finish the play.

- Habs have done an excellent job against the Matthews line - yes, he's scored both of the Leafs goals, but more often than not, the Canadiens have generated more scoring chances while Matthews has been on the ice. 

- Halfway through the 3rd, Habs have still only been nabbed for two penalties, which if they find a way of winning this game, will be a very significant factor.

- Shaw definitely a spark plug for the Canadiens tonight. Setting a very good example with his aggressive play.

- 3 minutes left, Habs should be inclined to just drain the clock and put at least one point in the bag, although this does not help them with the cause of creating some distance between themselves and the Leafs.

- Interesting indicator here - Emelin's minutes have been reduced in the 3rd, but more meaningful, the situations he's being deployed have been with limited responsibility. I'm confident Julien has fully realized what a liability his play has become, and deployments have been mainly to reduce the probability of negative consequences.

- Habs get the point, and again, head to OT. Another significant extra point on the line.


- Leafs are 1-7 this year in the shootout, so it's reasonable to assume they'll take a fairly aggressive approach to 3-on-3 play.

- Game saver by Price, stopping a Matthews breakaway after a bad turnover by Weber (who up until that giveaway had played a very solid game) in the Leafs zone. 

- How 'bout that? Just like in the 2nd period, Price makes the big save, and his offence responds - this time its Plekanec smartly feeding the puck off a rush in front of Andersen, and Andrew Shaw (yup!) breaks through to grab the puck and with a full head of steam, skates past a flailing Anderson poke check to tuck the puck home giving the Habs another huge extra time 2 points.

- A few things have become clear (or at least, more clear). 1. Not playing with Emelin on your side makes you a better player (Weber). Playing with Emelin on your side makes you a worse player (Petry). 2. Alex Galchenyuk with a nice rebound night, collecting two points, hopefully rejigging his season back in order. 3. Carey Price is most definitely back on his game, although one could reasonably argue it never really left him, he's just had to deal with more than 3 months of bad defence, and 4. the Habs speciality teams still dealing with mixed results. The PK has most definitely improved since Julien's return to the bench, but the powerplay, even though it scored once tonight, still falters badly, in particular in gaining the zone. That will somehow need to be put back into shape in short order, or future victories with just 20 games left on the regular season schedule, will be difficult to come by.


1. Nobody wearing a CH sweater can score a goal. Did you know it's been half a year since Torrey Mitchell scored? Not that Mitchell was ever the key guy to helping propel the Habs to greater heights, but he's just one example of the horrid secondary scoring issue the Habs are faced with. Artturi Lehkonen hasn't scored in 12 games. Tomas Plekanec in 13. I mean, just go down the list, and if you're name isn't Max Pacioretty, you're not helping.

2. The "defence' is a mess. How many more games will Claude Julien pairs the bumbling Alexei Emelin with Shea Weber. For most of the season, Weber has carried Emelin along, dealing with his bumbling zone exits, erratic passes to his forwards (read: dump outs along the boards), and generally terrible defence against speedy opposition wingers.

3. The Habs are trying to sail a totally different direction right as the season is winding down. For nearly five years this organization played some of the most insanely conservative hockey you could find this side of the Republican Party.  It took this organization and its general manager nearly five years to finally realize their system wasn't going to win them anything meaningful - if you consider scraping into the playoffs "meaningful". Now that new old blood of Claude Julien is in charge behind the bench, all those bad habits this team has picked up will need to be exorcized. This means no more puck dumps out of the zone, no more ping pong puck passing between the defence, it means an emphasis on meaningful puck possession, it means generating half-decent scoring chances from half-decent shooting spots, it means playing smart, not insanely stupid speciality team setups. We could go on and on about this, but the bottom line is this: Claude Julien might not have enough time left on this season's calendar to set his troops in order. The Habs ideally needed a coaching change last year in order to make the proper transition toward playing competent hockey. Now they're likely to miss the playoffs again. What can ya do?

4. The Habs are a collective mental case. That's what happens when a supposedly "good" team goes through a total meltdown like they did last season, when the Canadiens barely won a hockey game after the beginning of December. When the Habs started losing this season at (hey, now) the beginning of December, you could just see this hockey team slowly but surely devolve into a shivering shrivelling nervous breakdown, where little mistakes piled up like defeats. The Habs no longer play with strut or confidence or even purpose. They have, as Carey Price said last week, lost any semblance of an identity. The exist - seemingly just to offer wins to their opponents.

5. The big guy upstairs may have lost his ability to think. No, I'm not talking about God or Prophet Muhammad (praise be upon him) or Vishnu (what the hell, praise be upon him too). No, I'm talking about Marc Bergevin, who has managed to take a club featuring the best goaltender on the planet (yes, Carey Price), one of the NHL's top 5 scoring forwards the past 3 seasons (yes, Max Pacioretty), and traded off one of the NHL's best puck moving defensemen (yes, P.K. Subban) into a team that can't even muster enough wins to comfortable secure a playoff spot. And then there's the defence. Oh, the defence! Setting aside the infamous Subban/Weber deal, Bergevin has managed to disappear any semblance of a 3rd line defence. It started last year when he shipped Jarad Tinordi away for nothing (John Scott), and then this season, made another baffling decision to put the able Mark Barberio on waivers (something he could have easily avoided). And now, if reports this month are accurate, he's attempting to dump the only remaining "apt" 3rd pairing defender left in the organization, Greg Pateryn. Good lord.

6. The Leafs are no longer a terrible team. Funny things happen when you dump huge, chocking  contracts (David Clarkson 7 years, 36M) from your bottom line, while drafting wisely. You become, in relatively short order, a good hockey team. The Leafs, who tanked last season well enough to scoop up the Austin Mattehews, the second best forward of last summer's draft, have steadily improved as this season has progressed - so much so, they now find themselves just 4 points back of the reeling Habs for first place in the Atlantic Division. Now, why couldn't the Habs have taken the same page as the Leafs by getting rid of awful contracts like David Desharnais' (4 years, $14M), or Alexei Emelin (4 years, 16M), or Thoms Plekaenc (2 years, 12M)?? Who knows? Instead, Marc Bergevin took an opposing tact, hanging onto existing dead weight while added Andrew Shaw (6 freakin' years, 24M) and of course, Shea Weber, who'll be paid more than 7 million smacks a season until the year two zillion.

7. The Leafs have a prosperous future ahead backed by some pretty awesome young forwards. Mitch Marner. Austin Matthews. William Nylanders. All rookies. 142 points this season right there. Over on the Habs side, we have Artturi Lehkonen, Sven Andrighetto, Michael McCarron. 29 points this season right there. So you tell me, who's got a more dangerous lineup now, or in the future?

8. The Leafs haven't beaten the Habs in 13 straight games, a streak extending back to January of 2014. All good things must come to and end.

9. Andrew Shaw. "Trust me fans, you're going to love Andrew Shaw". That was said (I paraphrased) by Marc Bergevin last summer. Well, we've seen Andrew Shaw this season, and love isn't the first word that pops into my mind. And he's still got 5 years left on his contract, *after* this season. Instead of delivering "grit", Shaw has been more inclined to take stupid penalties at the worst possible times, making it more difficult for his shell-shocked teammates to go out an actually win hockey games.

10. Remember how 2016 sucked? And then 2017 came along as said "hey guys, you ain't seen nothing yet. Just you wait. We're going to have the Leafs winning their Division. Joke's on you!".

Puck drops tonight at 7:10 EST.

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