Saturday, 1 April 2017

Game 78: Habs vs. Bolts

Montreal 2, Tampa Bay 1 (OT):


- Desperate Bolts team, you'd have to figure they'll come flying out of the gate. Habs will likely try to grind their way through this 1st period.

- Decent enough start for the Habs, Tampa with a surprising caution start, with Dwight King generating a turnover at the blue line to get a breakaway. King fails, as expected, but still, so far so good early for the Canadiens.

- 4th line has some mo' going early - Julien giving that line regular shifts. So it's now clear the gameplan is one emphasize physicality, likely under the assumption that Tamps would come out aggressively. That, however, still hasn't happened.

- Danault line continuing to look dangerous, Radulov who had a mini-slump through early March, seems to be skating faster (making me wonder if he's been dealing with an injury). 

- Galchenyuk struggling with the puck, specifically passing. Haven't seen very many signs of chemistry on that 3rd line, especially between himself and Andrew Shaw. 

- Did Beaulieu just dirty check (knee) Vermin? The Lightening bench certainly seems to think he did. 

- Both teams doing a good job defensively collapsing to protect the middle of the ice - not a lot of room for passing towards the front of the net. Scoring chances have been limited both ends this period.

- Habs will take that 1st period - physical, close checking, typical road game stuff. Especially against a team that's desperate for victory. Danault line looked good, breakouts had lots of speed, passing was sharp. Point and Palat look like the most dangerous forwards for the Lightening. Slight edge to Montreal for the period, seemed like they had more puck pressure. 


- You can see from the heat map how both teams were very intensely covering the slot area. Shots weren't particularly dangerous, slight edge to Tampa. But only just.

- Julien using Shaw 1st powerplay rotation. Hmmm...

- Galchenyuk/Gallagher/Lehkonen 2nd rotation looked good. Really, really good. Maybe Julien should think about trying these 3 out for some 5v5 shifts??

- Habs 4th line, which started out the 1st period looking half-decent, has devolved into a defensive mess. Dwight King to the box, a result of that unit being pinned in their own zone.

- A 4th line analogy. Habs can't reasonably expect to play very deep in the post-season with 3 decent lines, and 1 awful one. The playoffs are a marathon - if you're attempting to run a long distance race missing a limb, you're going to lose. 

- Not a great game up the middle for either side. Com'on Claude, lets get Galchenyuk off that wing. It ain't working. Try something else.

- Plekaenc line continues to pile up the good shifts, Gallagher is the spark plug, as per usual. That line might be the most likely to get the Habs on the scoreboard.

- Canadiens have dominated since the 10 minute mark of the period, and finally Danault breaks the ice pushing a loose puck behind Vasilevskiy. This is a really impressive Habs effort against a team that simply can't afford to lose. 

- Andrei Markov and, I assume, Jaromir Jagr are the only ones who know where the fountain of youth is. Good on both of them for keeping it under tabs. Another stellar evening for the Habs version of an ageless wonder.

- Habs powerpaly looks as organized tonight as I've seen them all season. Maybe it's their opponent, but Canadiens have made great strides gaining the zone.

- Carey Price makes the big saves when required. Above the big Sv% improvements since Julien arrived on scene, this is the area where's he really excelled and been a huge difference maker:

- Habs 4th line, again, overwhelmed, and again, take a powerplay because they can't handle the speed of an NHL game. Martinsen and King are ... awful.

- Habs barely survive the Tampa powerplay (because of that 4th line penalty). Still, that aside, Habs have exceeded my expectations tonight, with Gallagher, Markov, Pacioretty and Radulov with excellent efforts. Galchenyuk is working hard, but continues to be stifled by the lack of opportunity that comes with being relegated to the 3rd line. But still, aside from the black hole representing the 4th line, by quibbles are minor. An impressive effort through 40 minutes.


- Habs extending their good play through the 2nd period, SA CF at even strength through two periods just one 57%, which is really impressive on the road.

- Here you can see how the Habs were much better generating shots around Vasilevskiy in that 2nd period, likely because Tampa started to move away from their gameplan (keeping the slot guarded) as Price frustrated their scoring attempts:

- Beaulieu has been much more physical and assertive winning the puck in his zone the past couple of weeks. Not saying Julien's rotation strategy has anything to do with it, but at this point, it's hard to conceive of him being shuffled out anytime soon (just watch, he'll sit Monday night).

- Kucherov looking dangerous - he's come agonizingly close a couple of times tonight. A very good candidate to get Tampa on the board.

- Great rush by Galchenyuk, a sweet feed on Lehkonen's stick forcing Vasilevskiy to make his best save of the night. Rebound goes right to Shaw with a wide open net. He misses. Of course.

- Galchenyuk. Lehkonen. Gallagher. Com'on. Just give this a few tries. Com'on, Claude.

- Tampa hasn't had a very good night getting pucks on Price, the trouble mostly because of how they start from their own zone. Defence hasn't done a good job moving the puck forward, Habs forechecking success has really stifled Tampa's attack. 

- Shot blocking has also helped, Radulov hurt stopping the puck ... seemed to favour his arm/wrist area. On the bench getting looked at. Fingers crossed.

- Radulov to the dressing room. Apparently puck hit in in the ribs. There is no padding there. Hopefully just a bruise.

- Radulov is on the bench. Scratch that, he's on the damn ice for a shift. Whew.

- Ack, Hedman point shot, deflected in by Gourde to tie the game. Up to that point, Tampa didn't show any sign of threatening to tie this game - just one of those plays.

- Odd deployment choices, Tampa with mo' from that goal, and Julien sends out the dreaded 4th line, which only helps the Lightening to gain more ground. Price forced to make a couple of tough saves with the Canadiens again hemmed in their zone.

- Turning point looking like Andrew Shaw unable to bury the puck into the open net. 2-0 and Tampa might have packed it in. Now they're looking for the kill.

- 5 minutes left, good shift by the Danault line has calmed the storm a little. More or less a coin flip to decide the winner.

- Martinsen makes another contribution to the Habs 4th line blues, mini-slew on Vasilevskiy that sends him down, and takes a go-ahead goal by Petry off the board. Sigh.

- Kucherov is totally gonna win this game for Tampa. Book it.

- Well, Kucherov will have to end this in OT. I'm still sticking to my prediction.


- No more Martisen or King, okay Claude??

- Kucherov somehow misses a totally wide open net one end, just a tap-in play, and seconds later, Radulov, he with the ribs broken or not, ends the night in favour of the Habs. Devastating extra point loss for Tampa, but truth be told, the Canadiens were heads above the better team tonight, in large part because their big-named players came to the front, in part because it looks like Tampa simply doesn't have the horses left to compete. 


Can Habs fans relate? Last season, the Canadiens' season was ruined (as the powers that be insisted), when Carey Price went down to a season-ending knee injury in November. Before Price's injury, the Habs were riding high in the standings, and seemed a sure-fire bet to (at the very least) be an easy qualifier for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Habs fans know the story - the Canadiens didn't even come close.

This season, it was the Tampa Bay Lightening's turn to suffer the debilitating loss of an irreplaceable player, that being, of course Steven Stamkos. Tampa's star centre, the centrepiece to the franchise's competitive revival this decade. In retrospect, the coincidences are eerie: Like Price, Stamkos suffered a knee injury in November. That injury, which was later diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome (for the layman, it's a nasty muscle tear) has kept Stamkos out of the lineup the past 4-and-a-half-months.

One more incredible Price/Stamkos conscience? If Stamkos plays tomorrow night, it means he'll have missed 59 consecutive regular season games.

The number of consecutive regular season games Carey Price missed after he went down to injury in New York in November, 2015?


There had been speculation that past few days that Stamkos, who has been practicing with the team the past couple of weeks, could make his return tonight. However, the Bolts announced earlier today that he'd miss tonight's game, but may play tomorrow night against Dallas.

That return likely is too little, too late - at least as far as Tampa's hopes of making the playoffs this season.

The Lightening, headed into tonight's game, are 5 points behind the Boston Bruins for that 2nd and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. While Tampa still holds 2 games in hand over Boston, a loss tonight against the Canadiens will likely spell the end of any realistic hopes.

Tampa's injury woes extend beyond Stamkos. The losses of centres Tyler Johnson, and Cedric Maquette, as well as defensemen Jason Garrison, have hampered Tampa's ability to put together a winning streak needed to make the post-season.

That said, Tampa is riding a 4-game winning run headed into tonight's game, their last being a narrow win over the (very bad) Red Wings. So hopes are still measured.

Here's Tampa's lineup tonight:



Meanwhile, the Habs are maintaining status-quo, which means no changes to the top 3 lines, while the 4th line will continue to rotate bad players. Fortunately tonight, the Habs are starting someone who's actually qualified to play in the NHL, as Mike McCarron will centre the 4th line, while Steve Ott, who really should be the guy in charge of taping the sticks, will stay back at the hotel.



Starting goaltenders - it's Andrei Vasilevskiy (2.68/.915) against Carey Price (2.23/.924).

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

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