Thursday, 30 March 2017

Game 77: Panthers vs. Habs

Montreal 6, Florida 2:


- Tim Raines comes out to drop the puck, and gets a thunderous applause. Great moment. Can't hardly wait for the day the Expos return to Montreal.

- Kind of a big game tonight for Reto Berra, who's trying to prove himself as a capable NHL goaltender. Guys who are playing for their careers can sometimes be especially difficult to beat.

- Berra looks pretty nervous, sure sign of that in a goaltender is how frequently he flops on his belly to make a save. Berra just got away with one with the Shaw line swarming the cage. 

- Emelin (stop the presses!!!) makes a very nice behind the back pass to help set up a nice play eventually ending with an uncovered Paul Byron, who fires an easy one past Berra for his 21st of the season. 1-0 Habs.

- Panthers look like a pretty unenergized bunch. Sometimes you'll see these eliminated teams play a loose and relaxed game, or by contrast, a demoralized game. Florida looking very much more the later than the former, so far.

- You know it's bad when Thomas Plekanec scores on you - Gallagher picks up his second assist. His play continues to advance nicely since his return from that hand injury.

- I think it's fair to say the Plekanec line is on fire. Byron with his 2nd tonight, Gallagher picks up yet another assist. Berra really hung out to dry - feel badly for him.

- Panthers defence is playing some pretty inexcusable hockey. So many missed checks, indifferent positioning, virtually zero physicality. I'd be very irked coaching behind their bench.

- 2-0 through 20 minutes. Incredible period for the Plekanec line, Emelin and Beaulieu were also especially good. Panthers throwing in the towel, which is a shame. Makes for a pretty uninteresting game. 


- Lopsided 1st period, Habs SA CF (5v5): 64.4%. 

- Heat map is even worse. Poor Reto Berra. He never stood a chance:

- Plekaenc line at it again, they draw Habs first powerplay. Hard to figure out where this is all coming from. The line has been playing well the past little while, but not nearly at the level we're seeing tonight.

- One thing is clear, if you're going to dive, don't do it in front of, or around, Max Pacioretty.

- Another dubious penalty on Weber for a slash. Sure looks like the Panthers are trying to work their way into this one via dramatics. Refs are biting.

- Habs, perhaps with small measure of justice on their side, kill of an extended Panthers 2 man advantage. Carey Price looks as good as ever with his lateral movement, and that Habs PK also unrecognizable in comparison to it's play pre-Claude Julien.

- Whoops, Smith with a shot along the ice that may have got Price off guard. His reaction (Price's) appears like "damn, missed it." 3-1 with 9 minutes left in the period.

- Habs winning a lot in March in spite of having a pretty awful 4th line (self-inflicted via some poor acquisitions). That line not any better tonight, Martinsen and King are in way, way over their NHL heads. No way either of these two should be in any post-season lineup.

- Officiating chaos right now. Brad Watson up to his usual self.

- So Thornton, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, skates over and hammers Emelin in the face, and Emelin is charged with an extra penalty. 

- Ott given 10 minute misconduct for mouthing off to the refs. So that's an addition via subtraction.

- Panthers powerplay is tres terrible!  Even with the gift-wrapped calls, they're still going though the motions.

- Emelin got an extra 2 minutes for this. He may (or may not) have made contact with MacKenzie's face with his elbow. If so, then yeah, there's your extra 2.

- With Ott out and sitting in the dressing room, Julien rotating in an extra body into that 4th line. Plekanec just did a shift with King and Martinsen. But really, it's all just clock killing hockey. Julien really needs to settle on what he's going to do, specifically, who he'll scratch come playoff time. Really find it hard to believe that either Ott, King or Martinsen are capable of playing without hurting their team.

- Lehkonen looks great. Gallagher looks even better. This is good news. Galchenyuk, however, still not meshing well with Andrew Shaw. I'm sure Julien is wary of moving Danault away from Pacioretty and Radulov, but as the Habs lineup currently stands, Galchenyuk is more or less a lost asset. 

- Chippy 2nd period, Panthers doing a good job trolling the Habs into retaliation stuff, which gave Florida a ton of man advantage time. Still, this game isn't nearly in threat for the Canadiens, who merely need to play one more smart period of hockey, and then they can book their playoff tickets.


- Florida got a mess of powerplay time in that 2nd period, helping them to narrow shot totals, but at even strength, period was a wash, which is exactly what Montreal was wanting. 

- Pacioetty hits the 35 goal mark for the 4th time in his excellent career. Sweet perfect pass by Radulov (is he turning things around from a recent slump?) to make that goal possible. Panthers are cooked, even though they continue to embellish and whine for more powerplay time.

- Matheson makes it a 2 goal game, after Emelin makes a poor puck play from his own corner, attempting to clear the zone by playing the puck the opposite side. Puck kept in at the line, and 5 seconds later, it's 4-2. It's the little plays/errors that kill you - and Emelin is a specialist.

- Habs really slowing the pace down, no real interest in regaining that 3 goal margin. Bella still doing belly flops, you'd figure there's at least one more goal to be had. 7 minutes left.

- Gallagher, and there's that one more goal. Beautiful deflection off a Davidson shot, four point night for Brendan, a career high for a single game. 

- Danault, 6-2. But that goal was all Radulov stealing the puck and feeding another perfect pass in front. Florida's defence a war crime tonight.

- Game wasn't really in doubt from start to finish. The Habs official punch their ticket to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Hey, just 6 games left in the regular schedule. Just two weeks before more than 1/2 of the NHL closes up shop for the summer, which just so happens to include the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers, for a fleeting moment, had aspirations of making the playoffs after having a decent run through the months of January and February. By the beginning of March, Florida were at 68 points, were just one point back of the Leafs for the 2nd wildcard spot.

Since then? Not good. The Panthers have won only 4 games in March, and have fallen 9 points behind the Bruins for that last wildcard spot, with only a half-dozen games left to play.

So while Florida confines themselves to booking golf vacations this spring, the Habs by contrast, are on the cusp of mathematically clinching a playoff spot tonight. A win, either regulation or OT, will ensure the Canadiens a date for extra hockey beginning either April 12th or 13th.

So here are some pregame notes, in neat point form:

- Florida's lineup tonight:



- Despite Florida's season going into the toilet this month, it hasn't stopped center Alexsander Barkov from producing. Barkov has 6 points over his last 5 games. At least somebody still cares.

- Panthers are riding a 2 game losing streak, both losses coming to the hands of the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. Previous to that, the Panthers decimated the first place Chicago Black Hawks 7-0. Hockey is funny that way.

- Habs have some lineup adjustments, mainly because of minor injuries.



- Jordie Benn won't play tonight because of a day-to-day injury (undisclosed, of course). Ergo the Davidson start.

- Habs 4th line tonight will be as awful as awful gets. Amazing this team still wins with essentially only 9 qualified NHL forwards in their lineup.

- Al (Tony) Montoya is still unable to play because of an LBI. Habs recalled Charlie Lindgren as backup. Carey Price wasn't slotted to play tonight, but will because of the Montoya injury. It's likely that Lindgren will get a start in Florida this weekend if Montoya isn't able to return.

- Starting netminders are Reto Berra for Florida (2.22/.907) against Price (2.23/.924).

- Last time for the people of Montreal to see Jaromir Jagr in action? Tonight might be that night.

- Puck drops at 7:40, EST.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Game 76: Stars vs. Habs

Montreal 4, Dallas 1:


- McKenzie picks up a the rebound off his own shot off the backboards, and slips the puck past a somewhat slow-moving Price to give the Habs the early lead. Goal originated from a broken play, with Beaulieu making a poor outlet pass from his zone. 

- Habs utterly chaotic to start this game, the Stars with plenty of zip and flow you sometimes see from teams that have nothing to lose. 

- Jamie Benn appears to be the early centre of attention, insofar as Habs checking and hitting is concerned.

- Rough 1st half, much better 2nd, the Habs finding their forecheck footing, giving Dallas headaches escaping their zone. Good shifts by the Shaw and Danault lines.

- Arttrui Lehkonen, as per usual, sneaky good so far in this 1st period. Seems to always be at least 1/2 step ahead of the play. One of the most hockey-smart guys to suit up in a Habs uniform in a long time.

- Habs swarming the Stars net, big rebounds being surrendered, Dallas incredibly fortunate to still be leading this game. 

- First 5 minutes were awful, next 5 minutes were "okay", last 10 minutes were total domination by the Habs over the Stars. So, more of that next 40 minutes or so, and the Canadiens should eventually overtake Dallas on the scoresheet.


- Kari Lehtonen earning his pay check tonight, in particular from the 10-minute mark forward. Habs SA CF (5v5): 53.7%. But in the last half, it was 88.4%. Wowzers.

- Shot heat map right now heavily in favour of one team - that's trailing on the scoreboard.

- Hab might be pelting Lehtonen with the puck, but they haven't done a good job at making shot attempts while creating traffic, the strategy so far has been mainly looking for rebound attempts. That's not working, Lehtonen is easily handling everything he sees.

- Stars are rag dolling this period, just waiting in the high weeds for a Habs defensive mistake (there have been a couple of biggies this period, but Price has shut the door). Got the feeling this might be one of those nights - outplay the opponent in every way possible except on the scoresheet.

- Just not enough traffic bothering Lehtonen. Habs are aggressively pursuing the puck around the crease, but most NHL goaltenders are going to make primary and secondary saves if they have clear sight of the puck.

- Finally, it's Pacioretty with a backhander after Radulov makes a nice zone entry that handcuffs Lehtonen to get the totally-dominating Habs on the scoreboard.

- Carey Price doing his Carey Price thing - making saves on shots that are usually goals surrendered by mere mortals. Having Price on your side is a competitive edge that's impossible to calculate.

- Anther outstanding period for the Habs, picking up where they left off from the 1st period, Lehtonen the difference maker tonight. Habs bolstered by strong performance by their 1st line, which hasn't had much of an impact the past two weeks, and yet another excellent effort by Artturi Lehkonen, who's been all around Lehtonen most of the evening, but has (just barely) been foiled from hitting the scoresheet. One more period like that, and the Canadiens ought come away with a victory. 


- Habs SA CF (5v5) in that 2nd period was 72.0%, which is not sustainable (or even advisable) if you're the Dallas Stars. Kari Lehtonen has been giving up plenty of rebounds, but has managed to find a way of keeping his team in this hockey game.

- Check out the shot heat map through 2 periods. It's a bit extreme, but it underscores one area of improvement under Claude Julien that doesn't get nearly enough attention - the Habs have vastly improved in making shots from high percentage scoring areas. Under Therrien, on most nights, the Habs were badly outplayed in this area. Now the reverse is true.

- Habs start the 3rd period much like they started the 1st - running amuck in their own zone. Canadiens very fortunate not to be down again on the board, with Andrew Shaw lending a goaltending hand to keep the puck out of the net.

- Well, these aren't the Dallas Stars we've come to know - at least tonight. Big push out of the gate this period, Habs reeling in their own zone.

- Woah, what a shot by Brendan Gallagher, under the bar from a seemingly impossible angle along the boards, Lehtonen might have done better, but still, what a play - what a shot. 2-1 Habs.

- It's been an up and down night for Lehtonen, but he's still making difficult saves to (only barely) keep his club in the game. Lehtonen again buzzing the Stars zone, and the Danault line easily having its best game in nearly a month.

- Plekanec gets caught, forced to take a hold. Stars get first powerrplay of the game, 10 minutes into the 3rd.

- Price holding the fort this period. Not bad for a guy who woke up this morning thinking about how he was going to pass the time sitting on the Habs bench.

- Stars make a bad pass up the middle, picked off by Markov, who passes to Lehkonen whose knuckler fools Lehtonen to make it 3-1 Canadiens. Lehkonen has been working his butt off all night long, and richly deserves a goal.

- Andrei Markov, future Hockey Hall of Famer, gets standing ovation from the crowd. 2nd all-time in points among Habs defensemen. An incredible career.

- Stars know they're stuffed. Nobody is beating Carey Price 3 times tonight. Just going though routines now as we kill the clock to end the night.

- Stars throw in the town, Alex Radulov says thanks I'll score too. 4-1. In addition to Markov's watershed night, and Lehkonen's excellent performance, Radulov's goal finishes a very successful evening for the Danault line. If they're scoring again, watch out.

- Habs mop up in a game that really wasn't much of a contest, with the Habs mostly dominating this game from half way through the 1st period forward. Canadiens had a few shaky moments in their zone, but Carey Price made the necessary saves at the necessary times to allow his team to eventually overtake the Stars on the backstretch, and eventually pull away. With the Sens losing in a shootout tonight, the Canadiens increase their lead to 4 points, which means assuming At Montoya is healthy again, he'll start Thursday against the Panthers (who had a tough loss in Toronto tonight). That aside, the Canadiens surely will be happy with their top point producers scoring again - you get the feeling that Claude Julien's work on ridding his team from 4 years of bad habits leaned during the Therrien years are starting to pay off. The next week should give us a good idea whether or not this team has finally righted their offence in the right direction.



Magnificent. Those golden locks nearly reach his clavicle. Neatly trimmed and rounded, soft yet intimidating. We are in awe.


Uhm, WHAT in the hell is that? It looks like something you might grow coming off a weekend bender in Vegas. One of the shameful, pathetic growths we've seen in a long time. Sorry Dallas, we got the best Benn you had to offer. We can't hardly wait to see Jordie bury his burly bush in Lord Stanley's mug this coming June.

Anyway, before any marches on St. Catherine's, we've got a game to play tonight, so here are the necessary notes:

- Dallas is playing out the string of what has been a very disappointing season. The Big D were reckoned to be a competitive force in the Central Division this year. Instead, they're hoping to get a decent pick in the upcoming entry draft. Not helping their cause of late has been two wins over the Devils and Sharks.

- Habs hoping to do the Stars a favour tonight by handing them a loss, while maintaining their 1st place edge in the Atlantic Division. While tonight's game marks the end of a 5 game home stand for the Canadiens, the remainder of their schedule is still favourable - Montreal will not face another playoff team this year until, well, the playoffs.

- News out of practice this morning, Al (Tony) Montoya went down with a lower body injury during skating warmups (huh??), so the Habs have made an emergency call up with Zach Fucale (remember him??) to back up Carey Price tonight.

- Habs lineup tonight:



Carey Price

- Stars lineup tonight:



Kari Lehtonen

- Yeah, it's pretty cheeseball, but we'll leave you with this:

- Puck drops tonight at 7:40 EST.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Game 75: Sens vs. Habs


- Overall, game is still being donated by the Sens, but the bleeding was somewhat reduced in that second period. Still, SA CF at even strength just 32% over 40 minutes for the Habs.

- Injuries have no doubt affected the Sens blue line tonight, and at some point, they're going to need to pinch harder, which could spring a few more breaks for the Habs tonight. They've already enjoyed ones from acioretty, Byron and Gallagher, largely because the Sens defence hasn't been terribly aware (also, the Sens blue line doesn't have a lot of speed, except for Karlsson).

- 13 minutes left, fine shift by Galchenyuk generates nice momentum for the Habs. They need all they can get, given how the Sens have owned this period since the puck drop.

- Erik Karlsson embellishes a high stick, McCarron sent to the box for nothing. Them's the breaks.

- Habs PK has been a difference maker tonight - for the most part, they've contained the Sens big guns, leaving the Sens little option than point shots looking for rebounds, most of which have been cleared away from danger. 

- Artturi Lehkonen remeinds me of Gallagher, the effort and determination is very similar, and he brings playmaking and hockey smarts to the table as an added bonus. If he continues to evolve and improve, he'll be a very important part of the Habs top-6 future.

- Here's a gif that nicely illustrates my previous point:

- Wind seems to have gone out of the Sens sails - with around 8 minutes left in the 3rd. Still 4 minutes left on the board, but this doesn't look like a team that feels like it's still got a shot at coming back. Could be a case of the "Carey Price effect". 

- 3 minutes left. Sens left with little choice but a full court press.

- Whimper of a finish for Ottawa, 3rd period was pretty even, which Sens couldn't afford. They needed to dominate the period, and it just wasn't there. Once again, the Habs control their own 1st place destiny, the schedule still favours them from here until the end of the schedule. 


- Holy moly, we knew it wasn't good, but we had no idea it was quite this ugly. Habs SA CF at even strength that first period, 26%. Mitchell, King, Galchenyuk, Lehkonen and McCarron all at 0.0%. 

- Tom Pyatt had 3 high percentage scoring chances in that 1st period. He's a guy who's managed to free himself up.

- Hockey is strange, but letdowns are killers. Sense too loosey-goosey in their zone, allowing Markov to march in for a blast that Anderson can't pick up. Habs dominated tonight in every significant category except the one that matters most. 2-0 Canadiens.

- Beaulieu makes a very nice bodycheck on Wingles, and the 2 seconds later, boards him. A really foolish play by Beaulieu that gives Sens the window of opportunity they were hoping for.

- Bryon draws a holding penalty, because nobody can catch Paul Byron. Habs powerplay, which was pretty damn awful the past month, defiantly shifting philosophical approach, relying on shots from the line to generate offence.

- And just as we post that last comment, Markov scores to make it 3-0. Erik Karlsson, who's had a night to forget, with a perfect, and I'm assuming, unintentional feed to Andrei to set up the powerplay goal.

- Definite issues between Karlsson and Fredrik Claesson tonight - we pointed this out as possible issue in our pregame, but even still might have underestimated their frequent miscommunications. Keep in mind, Karlsson had Marc Methot as his defensive partner for most of this season until Methot's brutal injury Thursday night.

- Hoffman makes a nice little move at the line and then a perfect backhand slider right in Pageau's wheelhouse to get Ottawa on the board. 

- Is Artturi Lehkonen the Habs best passer? He's made some incredible plays tonight, including one just now to Beaulieu to spring him all alone on Anderson. 

- Habs late powerplay, will they keep feeding the point looking for more goals?

- Defiantly a better period for the Habs. Not as good as the Sens were in the first, but still good enough to pad their lead, leaning on a the man advantage and a superb performance by Andrei Markov. 


- Martinsen out, King in. Lines are officially the same for the Habs tonight.

- Early indications the Habs want to play a more physical game, 4th line, the "big" line, getting an extra shift early.

- Julien make little line adjustments here, Lehkonen now with Shaw and Galchenyuk. 

- Shaw made a nice little pass to Galchenyuk to help the Habs scoring the opening game Thursday night. Since then, be dammed if I can see any good examples of why these two should be kept on the same line.

- Radulov looking much like his former Radulov self tonight. Driving the play, churning his legs, and vernally being a pest against opposing defensemen. Draws Karlsson into a holding penalty.

- Weber with a blast on the powerplay with a shot at 101.6 mph, that almost literally goes through Craig Anderson. Habs take a 1-0 lead.

- Sens doing much better forechecking job, it's helped them tilt the ice discernibly towards the Habs end, the only saving grace has been the Canadiens' ability to block shots and tie up bodies with loose pucks around Price. Still, this has been an impressive effort so far by the Sens.

- If you're going to argue Steve Ott is a better option than Mike McCarron, I'm just going to walk away from your mouth.

- That was defiantly a Sens first period, sorry Habs fans. Occasional good shift by the Danault line, Plekanec line mostly devoted to shadowing the Turris line, with mixed results. No way the Habs can maintain this game flow if they hope to end the night with 2 points. 


What a difference a week makes. Just under 6 days ago, the Habs were basking in the wwaaass warmth of a weekend sweep of the Ottawa Senators, giving the Habs a nice little 1st place cushion in the Atlantic Division.

And then the Habs went and dropped two eggs (on home ice!) to the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, two non-playoff teams. The Canadiens' offence, for lack of a better description, is back to its struggling, meandering ways again - the only difference this time is the Habs scoring is not being carried by Alex Galchenyuk, Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty (as it was most of the month of February), but everyone except Galchenyuk, Radulov and Pacioretty. Hockey is maddening sometimes.

Making life just a little more difficult this weekend for the Canadiens is the return of Mark Stone to the Sens lineup. Stone, who's be recovering from an lower body injury the past month, has been a key cog in the Senators' unexpected competition for top spot in their Division this season. Indeed, as Habs fans might have noticed last weekend, Ottawa wasn't much competition. Tonight, that's likely to not be the case.

With Stone playing, the Sens don't have to scratch any healthy bodies because winger Viktor Stalberg won't play tonight due to an UBI.  Ergo, Ottawa's lineup will likely be this tonight:



Note the insertion of Fredrik Claesson next to Erik Karlsson. This is, of course, because of the gruesome injury sustained by Marc Methot, who had his (don't worry we're not linking it) finger unceremoniously chopped off by Sidney Crosby this week (no suspension, it's a hockey play!). Needless to say, Methot won't be playing hockey anytime in the near future.

Which is to say if there is a defined Ottawa weakness, it's that blue line. Claesson is an okay NHL defenseman, but it's highly questionable he's top pairing material.

Over on the Habs side, no significant changes to the lineup tonight, meaning Alex Galchenyuk will again play on 3rd line wing, while the Canadiens will hope to see something other than a dreadful performance by Phillip Danault and the rest of the Habs "number 1" line. This also means that Alexei Emelin will get another start, which means someone else more capable will be sitting out tonight.

It's Carey Price vs. Craig Anderson. Puck drops at 7:10, EST.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Game 74: 'Canes vs. Habs

Carolina 4, Montreal 1:


- I happened to see the 'Canes have a pretty good PK this year, 3rd best kill percentage in the League. That's likely because Carolina has for the most part, stayed out of the box this season. Just 311 shorthanded minutes, just a shade under 5 per 60 minutes.

- Quite the start for Galchenyuk. Two brilliant scoring chances early (and still counting). Seems rather determined to make a statement tonight.

- A lot of "controversy" yesterday over Galchenyuk's switch to the wing, but it's hard to argue with the results, as Shaw feeds AK27 who roofs it past Ward. 1-0 Habs. Galchenyuk skating like a man possessed.

- Still not a fan of the 4th line, but anything is better without Ott and King in the lineup.

- Jordie Benn, sneaky physical because he hits smart, following through on his checks only if they don't compromise his defensive responsibilities. Which someone else on the Habs blue line tonight could follow this example.

- And of course, Emelin makes a bad "physical" play, losing his stick, and taclking anybody with a white shirt in front of Price, and easy interference call for the refs. Sigh.

- And of course, the 'Canes convert on the powerplay, because of this stupid penalty by you-know-who:

- Yes, it's been a good period for the Shaw line, but it's just one period. The fundamental premise that the Habs could have a ghost of a chance in the playoffs with Danault and Plekanec as the 1-2 centres is absurd.


- Good outing for Davidson so far tonight, certainly above Emelin's replacement level.

- Brendan Gallagher has been rounding into the form we've come to expect the past 6 weeks, and while Tuesday was a bit of a regression, he's been crashing the 'Canes net hard tonight. Others on the Habs might care to follow this example, because other than Gallagher, Cam Ward has had a pretty easy night.

- At some point, Julien is going to have to settle on this 4th line, because the current merry-go-round can't continue. Martinsen has played well tonight, certainly much better than anything we saw from either King or Ott, both of whom have played so poorly as to be placeholders. Moving forward, it's hard to see how the Habs could do much better than Martinsen/McCarron and Mitchell on that line. Something's got to solidify before the start of the playoffs.

- If you blinked you have might have missed the Danault line tonight. This is the newly reformed line, of course, with Galchenyuk bumped down to play on the wing.

- Given the merger shot attempts by the Habs so far tonight, and I'm just puttin' this out there, Julien might want to try Galchenyuk between Radulov and Pacioretty again?

- After more or less skating in a daze for the first 12 minutes of this period, Habs have gradually overtaken this game. Key has been zone entries - Habs seem to have finally discovered the 'Canes don'e like to stack their blue line.

- Byron drives Ward and nearly scores. The 'Canes defence isn't fleet afoot - they can be beaten if there's enough speed generated through the neutral zone. The open ice is there. Opportunities are there.

- Ouch. Elemlin can't handle a loose puck during a broken 'Canes zone entry, but fear not, he still finds a way of setting Carolina up nice, in this case it's Stempniak, who beats Price blocker side with a backhander, and all that momentum is for naught, 'Canes take a late 2-1 lead.

- Same old, same old. Margins for error are thin in the NHL, meaning if you have somebody consistently making bad plays, you're going to get burned, and your chances of winning are going to be significantly impaired. Once again it's Emelin who makes the bad play, once again costing his team a goal, once again putting the opponents ahead on the scoreboard, once again calling into question Julien's insistence that he be played, once again making Habs fans around the world slightly more insane with frustration.


- Habs had the pedal to the metal last half of that 2nd period, but Emelin's flub made their work all moot:

- Right on pattern with their usual pattern of behaviour, 'Canes have stayed out of the box tonight. They might not have a deep lineup, but they're disciplined.

- Stempniak strikes again, as the Habs Danault line, which has not played well tonight, are far too passive letting Carolina gain the zone, while Davidson takes a bad fall helping the 'Canes to get some insurance.

- Danault line has shown some sparks of interest tonight, but for the most part, they've been a write-off. Habs will need to start taking chances if they hope to salvage an otherwise utterly forgettable night.

- Derek Ryan has had quite a night for Carolina at both ends of the ice. Biggest contribution has been shot blocking, and generally screwing up the Habs attempts to set up scoring opportunities.

- If Danault hasn't been doing Pacioretty and Radulov any favours tonight, then it must also be noted that Tomas Plekanec hasn't been helping either Lehkonen or Gallagher either.

- Wowzers, Habs get a powerplay. A must convert, I'd reckon.

- Julien has Shaw up the middle first unit powerplay, which is a mysterious decision. However, Gallagher gets some powerplay time, something we haven't seen in awhile. Anyway, same old - Habs can't gain the zone cleanly, come away with nothing.

- Habs have one powerplay goal in March. You may not have noticed since for the most part, it's been a good month in the win column, but that man advantage unit is a mess.

- Not enough traffic in front of Cam Ward tonight. Too many clean looks at almost all of Montreal's shots tonight.

- This game should serve, at the very least, severe notice that there's no way this hockey team can reasonably compete with Tomas Plekanec as a top-6 centre.

- Well, credit the 'Canes who played a very good road game tonight for grinding out the win - a reminder that this is a pretty good non-playoff team which hasn't lost in regulation in nearly 3 weeks. All-around disappointing effort by the Habs - the Danault line was largely invisible, Tomas Plekanec's contribution was close to nil, nullifying strong individuals efforts by Gallagher and Lehkonen, while Emelin played his usual negative role, taking a dumb penalty that led to Carolina's first goal on the powerplay, then fumbling the puck which laid out the red carpet for the game winner. A write-off night is a shame given the Canadiens had the opportunity of padding their lead in the Division. Now the gate is ajar for the Sens to get back into the race.


The Habs can take another big step towards clinching the Atlantic Division tonight as they host the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre. To celebrate that I'm too busy to find a goofball picture to head my mediocre postings, I'm going to just point form a game preview.

- Habs lineup switcherros: Here's who's in tonight: McCarron, Martinsen, Davidson. Here's who's out tonight: Beaulieu, Ott, King.

- "Oh, God. Not again?", is what your response might be to sitting Beaulieu while playing Emelin in light of last week's debacle versus the Black Hawks. Coach Claude Julien sez simmer down, guys:
- So what's happening with Alex Galchenyuk? Yesterday being an off day, and being an off day in Montreal, the fans get bored and for funz make a whole lotta something outta nothing - in this case, the announcement by Julien that Galchenyuk would be moved to the wing. Yes, Galchenyuk had a pretty rotten game against the Wings on Tuesday night, and yes, he's been held pointless his last three starts. But in the previous 12 games (marking the start of the Julien tenure) Galchenyuk racked up an impressive 11 points. Which is to say, his production levels, save the past week, have been well above average.

- So what's happening with Carey Price? After being rested Tuesday night, Price skipped practice yesterday to deal with what Julien called a "very minor" injury. Today, Price was announced as tonight's starting goaltender.

- Habs starting lineup:



- Now, Carolina. The 'Canes have been on a nice little streak of late - they're undefeated in regulation the past 8 games, which has helped vault them up towards a weaker 1st round draft pick. The 'Canes, who haven't won in Montreal in 5 years.

- Hot 'Canes hands are Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, while Paul Bryon and Artturi Lehkonen, while not necessarily racking up big point totals of late, represent the Canadiens' best playing forwards at the moment.

- Carolina's lineup tonight? Something like this:

Aho/Lindholm/di Giuseppe


- Starting goaltenders, the aforementioned Price (2.26/.923) vs. Cam Ward (2.72/.904).

- Non-game-related note: Habs announced Paul Byron as the team's candidate for this year's Bill Masterton trophy. Considering that Byron, who scored his 20th goal of of this season this past weekend, was essentially NHL jetsam just over a year ago, it's a pretty good nomination.

- Puck drops tonight at 7:40, EST.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Game 73: Wings vs. Habs

Detroit 2, Montreal 1 (OT):


- Beaulieu nailed right off the bat for an interference penalty that might have gone either way. Abdelkader scores on the infusing powerplay to give Detroit the early lead. Not sure what Julien thinks of Beaulieu's play, but reply shows he was finishing his check. I'm inclined to think the coach will let that one slide.

- So when is the Habs top line going to start producing? Habs can't keep leaning on secondary scoring support indefinitely.

- Danault line looks good yet again tonight - they're got a very persistent and aggressive forecheck going, which is something I've seen absent the Galchenyuk line the past little while. Spark of intensity might be one significant reason why that top line has struggled to score lately.

- Habs powerplay tinkering - Pacioretty put at the point. Puck possession was good, zone maintenance was good, but no shots registered. That might be the end of that little experiment.

- It hasn't been anything close to the nightmare of the Hawks game last week, but it hasn't been a stellar period either for Emelin. Wings aren't a particularly fast team, but Emelin again appears to be struggling adjusting to Detroit's zone entries.

- Meek period for the Habs, especially around Jimmy Howard. Need more bodies crashing that crease area.

- Kinda mysterious how the Habs find ways of being outplayed by non-playoff teams. Not sure if it's anything to do with the lineup looking at the standings, assuming in advance that the game doesn't require full effort. That's essentially what was missing from the Habs in that 1st period - the concerted effort required to win a game in the NHL.


- You'd be forgiven if your eyes glazed over during that first period. Possession was an even split, which means, given the opponent, the Habs were outplayed:

- Habs are buzzing, certainly more than compared to the 1st period, but the Wings are doing a good job protecting the crease/slot area. Canadiens might need to grease one out to get on the scoreboard.

- Flow is certainly a lot more wide open this period, which is something that would generally favour the the Habs.

- Emelin covers up from a Jeff Petry puck handling error. That's all nice, but it underscores the general lack of chemistry and communication between these two since Julien adjusted his defence, moving Markov next to Weber. I think Emelin would be a better pairing with Jordie Benn, and Beaulieu with Petry, but what do I know?

- I know, it was a longshot, but kinda hoped Ott would have a little "oomph" to his game against his former teammates tonight. But then again, it's Steve Ott. Best to keep expectations at around -40.

- Habs with a stormin' powerplay, Howard catching some puck luck, and Lehkonen playing like a monster this period. Pacioretty at the point looking better that attempt. Starting to think this team has a bad case of snakebite against the Wings.

- Just can't seem to find chemistry. Julien mixing the lines up a little to end the period, but I'm not sure that's the issue. Passing is there, but there simply isn't very much traffic in front of Howard, who, for the most part, has seen pretty much every shot directed towards him.

- Habs were the better team in that second period, pushing the envelope to try and get on the scoreboard, but as we mentioned in the previous point, Habs have not done a very good job pushing the Wings net tonight, which has made puck stopping much easier for Howard.


- This is a more meaningful illustration of the Habs issue tonight - they might have more shot attempts, but not many in close. Look at all those point attempts. No wonder Jimmy Howard has a shutout going:

- After demonstrating marked signs that he'd finally got his season moving, it's been a mostly down night for Gallagher - 46% CF and a CF Rel of nearly -13 through 40 minutes.

- Habs are playing patient, much like they did earlier season game they had against Detroit, of which they eventually lost 1-0. In that game, the Habs didn't seriously ramp up their game until there was 2 minutes left in the clock. If you learn from your history, then you'd expect the Habs to start taking some chances much sooner in the 3rd.

- Habs haven't shown much, but now they draw an interference. Canadiens came awfully close to scoring their previous man advantage. This would be a good time to finish their attempt.

- Puck hopping and bouncing on the ice, Beaulieu's stick shatters as he attempts to finish the setup with Jimmy Howard's own stick laying in the corner. One of those nights where seems like nothing is going to go right - and for the Habs offence, that's exactly what's happened.

- Habs are definitely not waiting until the last 2 minutes to make their push. With 9 minutes left in the 3rd, it's been the kitchen sink in the Wings zone. Just can't quite seem to finish plays, the ice conditions look poor - puck bouncing a lot on the ice.

- Rough night for the Plekanec line - most of the play has tilted towards the Habs zone while he, Gallagher and Bryon have been on. Offensive chances have been few and far between.

- Lehkonen ties the game with 2 minutes left, given way too much space entering the Wings zone, he fires a wrister that has Howard looking skyward.  Ironic the way that goal was surrendered given how well the Wings have played defensively in their zone tonight.

- Alexei Emelin with all day and all night to set up the play from behind his net, ices the puck with 2- seconds left. WHY?!

- Critical game tying goal by Lehkonen, given that the Sens have already beaten the Bruins tonight. Canadiens doing a nice job pushing in that 3rd period for the tying goal, especially from the 10 minute mark forward.


- Shot attempt chart shows the Habs indeed were pushing hard at about the 10 minute mark of that 3rd period:

- Montoya clearly interfered by Mike Green, thrashed into the back of his net, all in front of the referee who lets the play, unbelievably, continue without a whistle. The abysmal lack of goaltending protection in this League continues.

- This OT period is the Al Montoya period. His defenders doing him no favours, that's for sure.

- Hometown boy Anthony Mantha with as pretty a goal as you'll see, making Galchenyuk, who's had a bad night in general, look like a beer leaguer with one move, and Shea Weber his next victim with a slick shot that beats Montoya top corner, and the Habs (actually) lose a game in OT. Montoya deserved a better fate, although the Habs played a pretty disorganized OT period, and roundly deserved the loss of an extra point.


It's kinda crazy, isn't it? The Detroit Red Wings, for the first time in 27 years, will not be partaking in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The remarkable string of success comes from Detroit implementing (and sticking to) the development of a perpetually competitive hockey team by focusing resources on developing players internally through wise drafting and quality scouting (especially in Europe and in particular, eastern bloc nations including Russia).

Over the past few years as other teams finally caught on to the Wings formula for success, Detroit has found maintaining their competitive edge to be increasingly difficult, especially in the salary cap era. Before the cap, the Wings had the luxury of locking up their assets for an indefinite period of time. In today's era, the Wings couldn't dream of maintaining a lineup with the likes of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Kris Draper, Nicklas Lindstrom, Vladimir Konstantinov, Chris Osgood, etc., etc. (those players were all on the 1997 Wings roster).

So with the official passing of the Red Wings era, Detroit is finishing up their season, coincidently as Joe Lewis, the arena that hosted all of those great Wings teams, will be shuttering their doors for good.

So the Wings, playing the string, will face former teammate Steve Ott and the Habs tonight at the Bell Centre. The Wings, coming off a loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night, are currently sitting with the 5th worst record in the NHL, which reckons to land them a half-decent pick in this summer's entry draft.

Here's the Detroit projected lineup tonight:



The Habs, meanwhile, are still enjoying the buzz of a weekend sweep of the Ottawa Senators, which has given Montreal a 4 point lead for 1st place in the Atlantic Division. Paul Bryon, who got his 20th (and if not for a silly offside challenge his 21st) goal of the season will lead the Canadiens offence in the 2nd game of a 5-game home stand. Meanwhile, Carey Price, who's been stellar since Claude Julien took over head coaching duties last month, gets a well-earned night off. Al (Tony) Montoya (2.71/.910) will start for the Canadiens, while Jimmy Howard (1.97/.933) gets the nod for Detroit.

Here's the Habs lineup tonight:



Puck drops tonight at 7:40, EST.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Game 72: Sens vs. Habs

Montreal 4, Ottawa 1:


- So what about Emelin? You'd have to figure that if he has one more badly played hockey game, he's finished - at least for the rest of the regular season. I'm pretty sure Emelin knows this as well. So expect him to play cautiously tonight, not taking stupid chances, not wandering away from his side of the ice. An entirely forgettable game (which might be good enough to earn him more starts). If he figures he has to take chances, watch out. It could get ugly.

- Craig Anderson, who looked a little iffy last night, rough start tonight, surrendering a big juicy rebound off a relatively harmless shot, and Tomas Plekanec scores a goal for the first time in 329 years, 1-0 early.

- Flat-footed Sens get nailed for a hook, Habs powerplay again struggles to figure out the whole zone entry thing, but still, Montreal utterly dominating Ottawa first 4 minutes.

- Pyatt ties the game off a fluke, his shot hitting Benn's stick, the puck going overtop Price. One-in-a-thousand play. Maybe one-in-ten-thousand.

- More poor officiating, Benn sent to the box for simply protecting his goaltender. Sens have been crashing Price tonight with no consequence. Refs can't have it both ways.

- The is not a penalty, especially if the officials aren't willing to send any messages that crashing the goaltenders is a no-no:

- Jordie Benn, the best player picked up by any team at the trade deadline, scores on a play that calls into severe question Anderson's aptitude tonight. 2-1 Habs.


- Habs with slight shot attempt edge in the 1st period, Emelin didn't have great numbers in that period, but no glaring errors (played most of it safe).

- Plekanec/Byon/Gallagher line had a very strong first period (Plekanec scoring the game's first goal). Sens line matching seems to be more focused on containing the Galchenyuyk and Danault lines - which has opened the door for Habs 3rd unit.

- Habs powerplay unit really only has one big functional problem, but it's a biggie. It can't seem to muster a clean zone entry.

- Sens hemm the Habs into the zone early with Emelin on the ice. First significant indication of trouble-a-brewin' with #74.

- Habs slightly more physical this period, more focused on finishing checks, perhaps an attempt to slow down and tire out their opponent. You can go down that road, but your scoring chances are going to be significantly reduced.

- Habs have dominated from the 15:00-10:00 minute marks of this period - stacking their blue line to break up any semblance of a Sens attack, and doing a good job keeping the puck in the Ottawa zone (although not exactly generating a ton of good scoring chances).

- Emelin with almost 5 more minutes of ice time than Beaulieu, which is worrying. Still half a game yet to play.

- As far as playmaking is concerned, this has not been a stellar night for Radulov.

- Price, who's had a quiet second period, had to wake up for a moment to make a stellar split pad save off Turris. Big game goaltending - Price continues to deliver.

- This reconstructed Habs 4th line is just abysmal. I'm seeing almost nothing from Mitchell and King tonight (as usual). McCarron modestly better, but he's not getting much support from his linemates. Marc Bergevin's trade deadline deals, at least to bolster that 4th line, have actually made his team weaker.


- We noted during the 2nd that the Habs had taken control around the 5 minute mark. Well, that maintained through much of the period. Ottawa had one good scoring chance. That was about it.

- Byron with a weaksauce goal, his 20th of the season, off wing 5-hole through Anderson, who I continue to maintain hasn't had a good weekend. He insisted yesterday that he was 100% recovered from injury. Not so sure he wasn't fibbing.

- Still befuddling that the Flames saw fit to just have Byron walk away. Even when he first arrived in Montreal we wondered "why?". With his 20th goal of the season, that question has changed into a thank you. Thank you Calgary. Thank you.

- Habs getting lots of "secondary" scoring support the past week - which happens to coincide with the top line going into a steep funk. Timing is everything, I suppose, but if the Galchenyuk line was even producing expected offence, Montreal's games this week would likely all be easy wins.

- I'm already envisioning the post-game mortems: "EMELIN IS GOOD AGAIN".  No mind-bogglingly stupid mistakes is likely the only bar he needs to clear, these days. Still, bad or "good", it doesn't change the bigger picture since the arrival of both Benn and Davidson - this Montreal defence is better with him out of the lineup.

- Because the officiating tonight has been so inconsistent, we have our first (inevitable) fight - Kelly squares off against Mitchell, and Mitchell gets the stuffing knocked out of him.

- 8 minutes left in the period, Habs are definitely set to sit-on-it mode. Eight minutes is a lot of time with just a 2 goal lead.

- Big part of that first line funk? Alex Radulov's struggles. Can't pass the puck tonight to save his life.

- Beaulieu finally nets the Habs a powerplay goal. Icing on the cake.

- What a nightmare night for Craig Anderson. Byron scores six seconds after Beaulieu, 5-1.

- So stupid is this offside review, goal is called back. Sorry Paul, the NHL can't get their act in gear. It's still 4-1.

- Habs sweep the weekend series in convincing fashion. Emelin wasn't terrible, Byron continues to light the red lamp, Carey Price continues to make the big saves, and the Senators aren't nearly the same team without Mark Stone in the lineup. With a 4 point cushion for first place, at 90 points, the Canadiens have likely mathematically secured a playoff spot, which is always a big relief. Tuesday night ought be easy pickings for Montreal, as they move closer to nailing down top spot in their Division.



- Ah, le sigh. Emelin will play tonight (Claude, you've been warned again), which means Brandon Davidson will sit. It's not all bad news, though. Steve Ott is a scratch tonight (thank heavens), making way for Mike McCarron.

- As we projected earlier, Carey Price will start again tonight (against Anderson). It's a good bet that At (Tony) Montoya will get the next start on Tuesday night.


Not a lot to report today, with the Habs savouring their shootout win over the Sens last night, helping the Canadiens to improve their lot for winning the Atlantic Division. Tonight Montreal can take another significant step towards clamping down first place if they can muster up another victory over Ottawa.

- Craig Anderson, whom I observed on more than a couple of occasions on twitter last night, did not look like his usual self, will start again tonight for Ottawa.

- The Habs haven't yet named their starter tonight, which makes me believe that it'll be Carey Price who'll get the nod. Instead, the Habs might be inclined to start backup Al (Tony) Montoya for Tuesday's game agains the Wings.

- Habs are expected to put out the same lineup tonight, including keeping Alexei Emelin safely secured from any on-ice destruction in the press box. Habs 4th line, still mysteriously comprised of Steve Ott, Torrey Mitchell and Dwight King, were frequently overwhelmed by the Sens last night, largely because Ottawa, with last change advantage, matched that line into a cumulative -28 SA. Ouch.

- Notorious Habs killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau was kept off the scoresheet last night, and had an otherwise uneventful game with exception to this breakaway which was brilliantly broken up by Jordie Benn:
- Puck drops tonight at 7:40 EST. We'll post updates during the day relating to the game (including the Habs starter).

Friday, 17 March 2017

Game 71: Habs vs. Sens

Montreal 4, Ottawa 3 (SO)


- So Anderson is a late day start, apparently indicating at the last minute that he felt game ready. We'll soon see if that was a wise decision.

- A brisk pace to start the game, which feels as close to a playoff game as we've had all season. Habs seem to be doing a slightly better job getting the puck into the Ottawa zone, but these are early times.

- Still early to draw conclusions, but Habs defence looks markedly improved tonight. Gosh. Wonder why that could be?

- Jordie Benn just made an excellent backcheck on (guess who?!) Pageau on a breakaway. From supposed #6 plug to arguably 2nd line defender. A tremendous pickup by Bergevin at the trade deadline.

- Anderson looks ... hmmm ... not quite right? Got totally faked out by the play behind his net, Bryon really should have scored bringing the puck in front, as Anderson was looking the other direction. 

- Tomas Plekanec still has the speed and ability to be an NHL forward, but that shot - it's pretty atrocious. The velocity is so low, it pretty much doesn't matter where he shoots the puck, it's going to be stopped by an NHL goaltender. Plekanec's short fallings are really going to hamstring this hockey team (he's owed $6 million next season) unless Marc Bergevin can find another team willing to take him off Montreal's hands.

- Habs the better team, as Pacioretty makes great passing play to spring Radulov all alone on Anderson. Radulov gets too cute, and Anderson makes a relatively easy save.

- Game had fast pace, Habs generating far more high percentage scoring opportunities in that first period, owning more puck possession, and doing a better overall job of setting the tempo. Canadiens also better on the forecheck, the Sens defence, in particular their third line pairing of Wideman and Borowiecki who frequently looked overmatched. Good first road period for Montreal.


- Habs soundly outplaying and out chancing the Sens in that 1st period. Just keep doing that, boys, and all should be fine. 5v5 CF: 57.8%

- Steve Ott a hot mess on the Sens early period powerplay, which begs the question, just what is Ott's purpose on this hockey team? Because I'll be dammed if I can see a net benefit.

- Habs aggressive push into the Sens zone finally pays off, as Danault makes a nice feed to Shaw who's left with a slam dunk shot to give the Habs a 1-0 lead. Key for the Canadiens to score first, since it rewards their dominative play in this game (so far).

- Horrible tripping call on Danault, made by an official who simply can't make that call. Not at the NHL level.

- Sens convert, of course. Mitchell and Plekanec kind of screw up the play by both chasing the puck just outside the blue line, which springs Brassard in unchecked. Tie game.

- Hoo boy, Price can't cover the puck by the post, and Dzingel jams it home. Sens get bottom line scoring support, something the Habs continue to lack.

- It's classic Plekanec. Habs enter Sens zone set up pretty well, four afoot against 3 Sens defenders. Plekanec takes the puck, and instead of dishing it somewhere for a shot attempt, he flips the puck into Anderson's glove for a whistle. We've seen that play dozens of times this season, it's infuriating, and it's why Tomas Plekanec needs to no longer be a member of the Montreal Canadiens after this season.

- Habs got that first goal, but they're still not doing a good job converting opportunities, still needing someone to breakout and take the game by the throat. Sens, meanwhile, even though outplayed, convert, their second goal probably one that shouldn't have gone in. It doesn't matter though, when the margins are thin, your wins and losses depend on players (or a single player) rising to the occasion, or your goaltending carrying the day. Habs didn't have in the 2nd period.


- Habs the better team after 40 minutes, which underlines our criticism this team continues to struggle finishing its opportunities. Sens have the lead because of the bad tripping call on Danault, and iffy second goal that Price probably should have kept out. 52.1% SA CF (5v5) through 2 periods:

- Habs powerplay really struggling - no speed being generated through centre, passing is off, plays are all broken. Almost zero threat to score at the moment. 

- After powerplay expires, Lehkonen and Shaw do a nice job keeping the puck in the Ottawa zone, Danault picking up a loose puck from a Lehkonen shot to tie the game. All very ironic, given how poorly played their man advantage was.

- Hey now, Gallagher with a spin around goal from a bad angle that Anderson simply can't let in, and in the matter of seconds, the Habs take the lead. Two factors at play - the Habs haven't relented pushing the play much like they did through the 1st period, and second, Anderson, as we noted earlier in the night, doesn't look 100%. Certainly not on that shot.

- Julien sends out Ott/4th line, and in an instant, the Sens swarm Montreal in their own zone. Claude, if you're listening, just stop doing that. Okay? 10 minutes left.

- Not a good night for the refs, Petry called for ... being a defensemen? Who knows. Gives Sens an unjust powerplay. Betcha they score.

- Habs playing too much like the old Habs, playing far too conservatively, chipping the puck instead of effectively moving the play forward. Lots of defensive zone face-offs, and the Sens finally capitalize, Karlsson with seeing-eye wrister that ties the game. Now the Habs have to shift into another mode if they want to escape with 2 points.

- Tremendous shift by the Danault line, Habs have all the momentum now, 2 minutes left.

- Overtime, disappointing conclusion. Turning point was the bogus hooking call on Petry, which while Ottawa didn't score on, gave them the needed momentum to find the tying goal. Officiating unacceptably poor tonight.


- Julien starts Plekanec, which is kind of baffling.

- Caution OT - both teams not wanting to make a mistake. 

- Pacioretty nailed for a hold, Habs being way too casual with the puck in OT, and it's likely to cost them the game because of it.

- So, hope for a shootout? That's all we've got.

- Senators with an abysmal 4-on-3 powerplay, very slow with the puck, the passing was slightly faster than a snail. Helps Habs to get to that shootout.

- Ryan hits the post, Julien sends out Byron. Hmmm ...

- Okay, no questions Claude. Byron converts for his hometown crowd.

- Price makes save on second attempt. 

- Radulov buries top corner, and Habs get the extra point. 


This is a pretty big deal, if you're an Ottawa Senators fan. We might win the Atlantic Division! First place!! A BANNER TO HANG!!!

Okay, Ottawa. I'm hoping your team actually does this, so come this October, in the months after your team is invariably eliminated from winning something that's meaningful, that you'll get to have your little banner raising ceremony, proclaiming your Atlantic Division supremacy. We'll let you have that. So ... GO SENS GO!

Of course, the Sens still have a little matter at hand towards claiming first place - and that's beating their highway 417 rivals from Montreal. Both the Sens and the Habs will play 3 times between tonight and next Sunday. Whomever gets the best of this regular season mini-set will likely get the hang that banner (except in Montreal, where the only space left in the rafters are for Stanley Cup banners. Feel our pain, Ottawa. Feel our pain).

The Sens, who once held 3 game in hand over the Habs, have seen that advantage dwindle to just 1 game, as a result of the most recent loss to the Chicago Black Hawks. 

Ottawa enters tonight's game with some key players who are out of the lineup due to injury - most notably Mark Stone, who suffered a leg injury March 9th in Arizona, and is out indefinitely. Also wounded are defenseman Mark Borowiecki and (number 1?) starter Craig Anderson, although both Borowiecki and Anderson are hopeful to return either tonight, or tomorrow night.

So here's the Sens lineup:



Two players to keep an eye out for - Jean-Gabriel Pageau (of course), who's been a Habs killer for most of his NHL career (in fact, there's no team in the League that Pageau's scored against more than the Montreal Canadiens). Also there's Alex Burrows, whom the Sens picked up from the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline. Since arriving in Ottawa, Burrows has racked up 4 goals and 2 assists, and while the Sens totally overpaid to land Burrows, the deal (so far) has worked out nicely for Ottawa.

Over on the Habs side, GUESS WHAT?!?! GUESS ... GO AHEAD. GUESS ... okay never mind, here you go:

Thank merciful Greek gods. With Emelin humanely sitting it out, the Habs defence ought look like this:


Ahhh ... that's much, much better. The Habs might even have a shot at winning tonight. 

Hey, it's Mike Condon in goal tonight for the Sens (2.49/.914) vs. Carey Price (2.41/.920). Something to keep in mind, Price hasn't been stellar against the Sens the past while (except playoff starts). Over the past 4 seasons, Carey has put up a sub .900 Sv% against Ottawa. Just something to keep in mind.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.


Hey, it's St. Patrick's Day. And it's a Friday. Ooomph. Potent combination. Deadly. Tonight unlike the rest of you alcoholic degenerates, I'll be referring a hockey game.

Speaking of hockey, hoo boy have we got a great weekend set with the Habbies taking on the Sens in a back-to-back clash that might well determine Divisional supremacy. I'm still pulling for Ottawa to win the Atlantic, so they can hang a banner up in their ugly arena. Even Senators fans need something to live for, guys.

So after the Alexei Emelin debacle Tuesday night, an event we wrote considerably about (with ample warnings to Claude Julien), what's the verdict for the defensive pairings for game 1 on Saturday night? The answer is ... if you can believe it ... unclear:
Heh. Hehe. Hah. Haha. Really, Claude? You need I shuld get U a map or sumptin? My goodness, if the Habs defensive pairings aren't relsembling something like the following Saturday, I'll be questioning your sanity:


Speaking of Beaulieu, he was asked this morning about how he felt about being scratched for Tuesday's game to make way for Emelin. What say you, Nathan?
Hmm, okay. A little cryptic there. But surely Nathan, you got something out of watching from the press box, right??
So hard to get a read on this guy. I think he wasn't happy? That's my best guess.

Erstwhile, Montreal being Montreal digging out of a snowstorm, there wasn't a lot to talk about on Thursday (so it seems), so a certain guy from a certain local english sports talk radio station said (to paraphrase) that on HIGH AUTHORITY he'd been informed that Alex Radulov was demanding nothing less than an 8 year contract extension (an incredibly insane demand) from Marc Bergevin. EIGHT YEARS OR I'M WALKING MARC.

Radulov wasn't around Thursday because he was (likely) spending most of his day sitting on a porcelain toilet dealing with the flu. When asked about the reports this morning, Radulov's response was more-or-less along the lines of ... WTF?!
Guys, guys, guys. Before you go running off with a "story" about some local hockey player making an outrageous contract demand, consider the source.

Oh, and we have practice lines!!!!


And we have powerplay practice lines!!!


Hrmmm. No Gallagher. Hrmmm.

One more piece of lineup news: Carey Price will start tonight. Usually the Habs trade off tenders in back-to-back games, but coach Julien did not rule out the possibility that Price might play both games this weekend.

More later.