Monday, 30 January 2017

Game 51: Sabres vs. Habs

Montreal 5, Buffalo 2:


- ICYDH, Jeff Petry is now on a diet of chicken soup, and won't play tonight. So Habs final final final defensive pairings are ... [drum roll]...


With Markov finally returning after spending a few weeks on the list, it's unlikely he'll see more than 10 minutes of ice time tonight, ergo the 3rd line placement.

- Habs dominate first 2 minutes, hard shots on Lehner, who may or may not have the Habs number this season (it seems as though he does).

- Crazy but true, Habs have the 2nd best powerplay in the NHL right now, and they're again using the flying V their first man advantage, which is all kinds of great.

- Flynn/Mitchell/Weber/Emelin first PK unit, looks pretty disorganized, as per usual. The PK box is disorganized, frequently not resembling anything like a square. Just one of some of the issues this unit has struggled with the season under the eye of assistant coach J.J. Daigneault (who oversaw the powerplay last year, which was 6th worst in the NHL).

- I know he's been out  for 2 months, but wowzers, David Desharnais looks .... not good. Early days, yes, yes, yes ... but his first 4 shifts, just a mess.

- Speaking of uh .. less-than-impressive-returns .. Greg Pateryn isn't having a period to remember, simply pushed aside while carrying the puck near his blue line results in a clear break on Price. That's clinical bad defence right there.

- Carrying the zone is apparently not part of each team's DNA tonight. We're watching hockey at its most inelegant.

- Yup, Robin Lehner has the Habs number this year. Only option left is to fire it through him, which is kind of how the Habs scored their lone goal when they faced him last week, isn't it?

- Blazing breakout by the Habs in their own zone, Radulov with another dazzlingly smart pass to Pacioretty perfectly positioned to fire a puck that's absolutely impossible for Rehner to stop, and the Habs take a 1-0 lead. Go figure, carrying the zone works, eh?

- We already knew on paper that the Habs are the better team, and howboutthat, they were the better team in the 1st period, which while slow and grinding, at least showcased the edge in depth and talent the Canadiens have over the Sabres. Buffalo had some chances on their one powerplay, otherwise, it was pretty much a cruise control period for Carey Price. Big relief in Pacioretty beating Lehner, who for a while there, looked like he wasn't going to give up a goal for the rest of time. Solid period for the Plekanec line, excellent period for the Danault line.


- Yeah, good period for the Habbies, 61.5% CF at even strength.

- Radulov's celebration after Pacioretty's goal. Is there anyone in the League who does this better?

- Habs might be tempted to trade their future to land a big named defenseman at the trade deadline, but with players like Lehkonen in the fold, it's tempting for the Habs to just keep building off the great young talent they already have under wing. Would much rather be perpetually competitive than to give much of it away just for one shot.

- Danault line has been driving the Sabres batty tonight not only with their forecheck, but also the backcheck. It's kept Buffalo often pinned in their own zone for extended periods of time.

- Pacioretty scores again, and again it's Radulov with an absolutely incredible setup pass from behind the Buffalo net. I'm not going hyperbole here because I"m a Habs fan, but dammit, there's no other player in the NHL right now at setting up plays (and goal) than Alex Radulov.

- Recall as you might a couple of weeks ago I (and others I'm certain) were speculating about Carey Price's health. Well, his lateral movement tonight has been pretty darned fast - so I think it's safe to say that whatever was bothering Price to "struggle" through December and the first couple of weeks of January had nothing to do with his knees.

- Habs just pouring it on, the forecheck again producing a turnover in the Sabres zone, Andrighetto feeds Desharnais who wrists one against the grain to make it 3-0. Nice way to return for DD, I'm sure the coach is extree happy.

- Danault, Pacioretty and Radulov are playing on some kind of higher level right now, which means that Galchenyuk will almost certainly be working with new line mates come Thursday night. No way Therrien can split this line apart - not now, anyway.

- Radulov is playing out of his mind tonight. Just about every rush involving him resulting in high percentage scoring chance, the latest being the newly acquired Nesterov.

- More strong forechecking, yet another puck turned over by the Sabres in their own zone, Plekaenc to Markov to Byron, Lehner head on a swivel, it's 4-0.

- That's an outstanding period of hockey for the Habs, most of the play was contained in the Sabres zone, beyond that, perhaps more importantly, the Canadiens have simply dominated the neutral zone, snuffing out any semblance of a Sabres transition, and generating some pretty scoring attempts as a result of essentially owning more than one half of the ice. Just no contest tonight. Total domination.


- Yeah, total domination. CF at 62%, Fenwick 61%, etc., etc.

- Dazzling. Just dazzling. Danault line plays keepaway with the puck in the Sabres zone, with the centre setting up Pacioretty for a hat trick slam dunker. Hey, I don't know if anyone has noticed, but at 24 goals, Max is just 4 behind Sid Crosby for the League goal-scoring lead.

- Both teams more or less going through the motions to kill the clock. Sabres know they got hammered, resigned now. Habs will be more than happy to just coast this one home.

- Well, that's a bummer. Kulikov with a hard high shot that deflects past Price to deny Carey the shutout, something he should have also had last week against the Flames.

- Gionta scores off the Habs lacklustre (as usual) PK. 5-2.

- Anyway, both teams still went through the motions, so not much more to talk about during the period. Price played very solid again (more good news for the Habs), the Danault line was fabulous, and yes, even Shea Weber was extra good tonight. Now, decisions, decisions. What to do with Alex Galchenyuk if he returns Thursday. Does Therrien dare break up the Danault line? (he'd be crazy to do so). Likely, Galchenyuk will be slotted on the "3rd" line with Shaw and Desharnais. Whether or not that'll be a waste of Galchenyuk's 1C talent - we'll have to wait and see how it all shakes down.


Okay, so near as we can figure out at this point:

- Markov was "yeah maybe he'll play" yesterday, but looks good today.
- Pateryn was ruled out yesterday, but is good to play today.
- Petry was doing his thing yesterday, but is "yeah maybe he won't play" today.
- Nesterov is gonna play whether anyone likes it or not.
- David Desharnais is like "hey what about me, I'm gonna play!!" and we're all like "ugh ... right ... Desharnais is back."

More in a bit.


How was your weekend? I certainly hope not a single minute was spent watching whatever little showcase sideshow the NHL had organized. Me? I spent it mostly outside enjoying the rarity of a January thaw.

Anyway, the world is all screwed up, in case you hadn't heard or observed, but we'll keep posting Habs news and blog about their games for as long as we're all still around. So what's up today?

- Walking wounded last week were skating wounded this morning, and are imminent return this week? Andrei Markov, Greg Pateryn and David Desharnais all participated in full practice this morning (Alex Galchenyuk did not), and with Zach Redmond put on waivers this morning, it's all but certain that Pateryn will be playing Tuesday night against Buffalo. Will Markov as well?

- I'm guessing Markov won't play tomorrow, meaning the Habs defence will look something like this:


If Pateryn can't go, expect Barberio to take a spot on the 3rd line. Nesterov is mortal lock start Tuesday night.

- Okay, so Desharnais is back? I guess the party's over. Here's the Habs likely lines tomorrow night.


More in a bit.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Game 50: Habs vs. Islanders

New York (Islanders) 3, Montreal 1:


- By now you've probably heard about the little trade the Habs made this afternoon, picking up defemsenan Nikita Nesterov from Tampa Bay for a low level draftee and 6th round pick. I can see the rationale here - the Habs have seen what Zach Redmond and Ryan Johnston have been offering since Andrei Markov went down to injury, and they're not pleased. Adding depth to the 3rd line as insurance policy, I suppose would be the best way of explaining the deal.

- The Weber/Emelin pairing aren't exactly enthralling me with confidence the way they've been guarding their crease the past couple of weeks.

- This arena the Islanders play in is so substandard as a hockey venue, it's embarrassing. The backboards, obviously not placed correctly, grab Price's stick, and refuse to let go.

- Good sign for the Habs, bad for the Islanders, but it looks like Carey Price is continuing the fine play from Tuesday night right into Brooklyn:

- Bad news for the Habs, this has been a pretty bad start to the game, first 10 minutes almost all the play in the Canadiens zone, Montreal mustering up two very nothing shots on Weiss.

- Head standing not enough, as Ladd beats Price 5-hole to open the scoring, the Habs again struggling to make simple zone exits, which has only intensified the pressure this period. Really, really bad period by the Canadiens so far.

- Okay, not sure what's been happening in Brooklyn lately, but this Islanders team is playing far, far more organized hockey tonight than at any point I saw them this season. Maybe mid-season coaching changes really do work after all?

- Habs pretty badly outplayed in that first period, credit to the Islanders who look a whole lot better than they did earlier this season. New York's defence looking far more organized, while the Habs made some poor choices in how they constructed their attacks, not only failing to consistently gain the zone, but overemphasizing on feeding the line for shots, which were mostly easily blocked by the Islanders defenders. Habs will need to go back to the blackboard and come up with a different plan, or this could be a long night ahead.


- Islanders dominating the Habs 14-4 SOG in that period, 54.2% CF - a bit misleading. Eyeball test told you New York more or less manhandled the Canadiens first 20 minutes:

- Respec da udder guy':

- Weakest part of Zach Redmond's game is moving the puck forward, which more often that not, he can't, beyond just firing it at open ice. It's not doing the Habs any favours with constructing anything resembling a transition game. When Redmond is on the ice, the Canadiens' offence basically grinds to a complete halt.

- Habs on pace for a pathetic 14 shots tonight, their gameplay clearly wasn't adjusted  between periods, and it's show in 14 million colours so far. Canadiens have almost zero forecheck happening, too many players are going through the motions. 

- Price doing more headstands again, keeping the score manageable. But the Islanders are still dominating this game so much, seems almost inevitable they'll (eventually) extend their lead. 8 minutes left.

- Habs tie the game. Couple of observances. First Lehkonen makes a fantastic play driving to the net, forcing Seidenberg to take a hooking penalty (if not, likely giving up a very high percentage scoring chance). Then on the powerplay, Weber with quite possibly his hardest shot as  Hab that literally goes through Greiss (or his glove anyway) to tie the game.

- You know what? Best just keep Zach Redmond off the ice. Preferably just out of the lineup entirely, but there aren't a whole lot of other options available. Ryan Johnston? No thanks. Sigh. 

- Habs are Habbing the Islanders so far tonight, getting pretty much trounced both ends of the ice, but not losing on the scoreboard. That's two periods where the Islanders soundly outplayed, out-forechecked, outskated, and outworked the Canadiens. If not for Carey Price, New York ought have at least a 2 or 3 goal lead.


- Avert your eyes, kids. Just ... look the other way. This is scary, scary, scary stuff:

- How bad have the Habs played tonight? Here are the heat maps for even strength shot attempts:

- Crazy great scoring chances for the Islanders to start the period, including a powerplay, posts hit, loose pucks in front of empty nets barely cleared, Habs are clinging to a tied score, but only barely because of luck and great play by Price.

- Ladd puts the Islanders back in front while teams are 4-on-4. Mystifyingly, the Habs send out their defending forwards, the Islanders say "hey thanks for being stupid and sending out the wrong guys, we'll just score here."

- Alexei Emelin. The suckage has been bad tonight. That pattern has been on the incline for about a month so far. Might be time for Therrien to reconsider his pairings and give Weber a more competent mate to work with.

- Well how 'bout this? Weber just got a new partner, it's Beaulieu. Emelin now paired with Petry. 

- Andrew Shaw making his contribution, taking a late period interference penalty. Thanks, Andrew (in his modest defence, it was clearly embellished, but still, there was interference).

- Bailey right off the bat makes it 3-1, and that should do it. Oh well, it's hard to be upset about the result (beside the Habs being terrible) - the better team is winning and will win.

- Abysmal. Just abysmal. I'd be inclined to revoke everyone's vacation pass this weekend, except for maybe Price, Beaulieu and Barberio, pretty much the only 3 who showed up tonight for the full 60:

- Habs with a pathetic effort tonight, basically dominated from the first puck drop to the final buzzer. Dreadful outputs by most of the Habs offence, poor decision making by Therrien sending out the wrong guys during a 4-on-4 which gift wrapped the Islanders game winning goal - about the only players who showed up tonight were Price, Beaulieu and Barberio. Otherwise, everyone else was either going through the motions, or stumbling through their shifts. Thankfully the All Star break has arrived. It'll give this team five solid days to shake its collective head.


Hey, it's All-Star Weekend! Are you excited? Yes? Then please go away and never come back.

The rest of you who consider this four day period of unnecessary and avoidable hockey exile, you can stay.

The Habs travel to Brooklyn to finish up the unofficially first half of the NHL season, as they take on the suddenly "good" New York Islanders.

The Islanders have won 4 of their past 5 games, with one of those wins coming the day before New York unceremoniously fired head coach Jack Capuano and replaced him with former NHL tough-guy Doug Weight.  In any case, New York has a couple of impressive victories during this little run, with wins over the likes of the L.A. Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Islanders are dealing with some minor injury issues, with regulars Anders Lee and defenseman Thomas Hickey out of the lineup. Scott Mayfield will fill in for Hickey. Otherwise, New York is pretty healthy.

Same can't still be said about the Habs, with Alex Galchenyuk again being a scratch tonight after aggravating a knee injury. It's a good decision regardless of how Galchenyuk feels at the moment - an extra week of rest might hopefully get him back into game shape. So with AK27 out, the Habs will play the same lines as they did in their 5-1 win against Calgary on Tuesday night, with Phillip Danault, Thomas Plekanec and Torrey Mitchell your top 3 centers.

Okay, back to the Islanders. While they have been winning of late, it's all likely inconsequential, at least as far as their hopes for post-season qualification. A very poor start to the season, largely due to an ineffective defence (32.6 SA/60 3rd worst in the NHL, 2.84 GA 21st ranking, 46.1 CA/60 worst in the NHL) has made Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube two of the busier goaltenders this season. To their credit, Greiss (2.31 GAA, .927 Sv%) and Berube (2.82, .916 Sv%) have performed admirably - Greiss especially so, with some of the top stats in the League this season, there's a decent argument to be made for him being a Vezina Trophy candidate this spring.

The Islanders' defensive woes have mainly been systematic and structural - New York has done a very poor job coming back to defend their zone, with their forwards often leaving both defenders (and netminder) hung out to dry, especially on plays down low. If the Habs have done their homework, they ought to be emphasizing the cycle tonight in an attempt to exploit this weakness.

So enjoy the game tonight, because of this silly weekend on the way, it'll be the last game involving the Habs until the middle of next week.

It's Greiss vs. Carey Price. Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Game 49: Flames vs. Habs

Montreal 5, Calgary 1:


- More sloppy, sloppy decision making by Nathan Beaulieu, poor turnover at the Flames line springs Calgary on a 2-on-1, Price with a big ol' save to bail his underperforming defenceman. 

- Early minutes, Habs are almost certainly going to dominate puck possession if the first 7 minutes is any indicator, but they're still not doing a good job working the puck towards the middle. Too many point and permitter shots.

- Habs powerplay kind of slipping back into an over dependance on Weber, too many passes back to him, too many failed shot attempts. Having Weber hammer the puck worked for the first month, then by mid-November the opposition identified the strategy and made adjustments accordingly. 

- Good lord, Zach Redmond is terrible - at least at the NHL level. I'm sure he's doing a fine job at the AHL level, filling out the 'Caps roster with necessary veteran abilities. But with the big team? Agonizingly slow and inadequate. 

- This game ins't exactly a pretty picture, both offences struggling to make basic passes, or even carry zones competently. Basically most of the decent scoring attempts have come via broken plays. 

- Not hard to see why the Flames have been struggling so much with offence, just no flow to their game, basic inability to construct an effective attack, lot of plays going offside. You'd like to think these are problems the team can work through at practice, but I don't think the talent is there.

- Flynn with a perfect screen, Shaw with a snapshot that Johnson almost certainly didn't see, and once again, the Flames allow their opponent to score first. 

- Not a great period of hockey by the Habs, but their opponent - wow, Calgary is just a functional mess right now. Big shame on the Canadiens if they don't win tonight. 


- Even period, possession-wise, but quality of play considered, the Flames were not good.

- Danault with one of the sillier penalties we've seen in awhile, brain-cramp interference behind the Flames net, of all places.

- Habs kill the bad penalty, and then take another dumb one, and guess who - it's Alexei Emelin with a stupid hold.

- Whelp, maybe Chad Johnson was feeling badly for Emelin, as he lets in a shorthanded softie, Thomas Plekanec says thank you very much. 2-0.

- Flames are a mess, Habs with ease a tic-tac-toe powerplay goal, Radulov finishes the play. 3-0 Habs. Calgary must be wondering where it all went south.

- Flames can't convert on a 5-on-3, Price is most definitely back on his game - the Sabres game, which was very good, was a preview of tonight, apparently. Still, Calgary very much resembles a team made of a bunch of pieces that aren't fitting together. I see no light at the end of their tunnel.

- Not sure what the deal with Byron has been of late, but his tentativeness with the puck in the O-zone is perplexing. Just seems to be full of hesitation of late, frequently passing up on taking shots from pretty good spots. 

- Flames are piling up shots on Price, but it's all much a mask - vast majority of pucks that Carey Price has stopped haven't been particularly dangerous. Calgary a pretty dysfunctionally played game tonight, their powerplay looks absent confidence, and their PK was structurally MIA during Radulov's goal. Habs can and should cruise the rest of the way to the finish.


- Habs controlled that 2nd period, Calgary's offence pretty much only coming off powerplays. 62.5% CF in 2nd period alone, 54% overall for the game.

- Flames are trying, we'll give them that - at least some kind of consolation offence, something ... anything. But Carey Price is shutting the door, compounding Calgary's woes.

- Carr makes it 4-0, as Flames defence makes a mess out of a simple 2-on-2 break. When it rains, it pours, and if you're a Calgary Flames fan, the past 10 days have bene a monsoon.

- The Flames haven't been hopeless, at least not this 3rd period, applying O-zone pressure. But oh, so many basic fundamental defensive breakdowns - that's their weakest spot by far. They do more than enough up front to win hockey games, but their blue line are shambles, especially in protecting the crease/low slot. 

- Habs have had 4 powerplays tonight, registering a measly 2 shots on goal. Both of them by Radulov. Both of them goals. His 2nd an absolutely beauty of a backhander. What an incredible player.

- What a shame, Radulov takes a late penalty, Shea Weber somehow can't clear the puck, and Price loses the shutout with just a second left on the clock. Carey deserved it. 

- Anyone who hadn't watched the game but looked at the final score might figure the Habs curb stomped the Flames tonight, which would be the wrong conclusion. Yes, the score was lopsided, but the Flames were given far too many high quality scoring chances, only another great performance by Price keep them off the board. Calgary's big undoing was some remarkably terrible defence, either poor positioning or lethargic effort. Flames are now faced with having to face the Sens this week, Ottawa just coming off a win over the Caps tonight. Little reason to believe this miserable road trip won't get a bit more awful. 


It has not been a golden age for hockey, if you happen to be a fan of either local NHL team in the Province of Alberta. Since 2008, neither the Edmonton Oilers or the Calgary Flames, with exception to the Flames' brief appearance in 2015, have been able to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This season was supposed to be different, with both organizations focused on building teams built off youth from wise draft picks. For the Oilers, after 11 consecutive years in the wilderness, it appears that program is finally going to reward them with a playoff berth. For the Flames? Well ...

For awhile there, the Flames were doing it right. In the 2010 and '11 drafts, Calgary picked the likes of Sven Bartschi, Micahel Ferland, and Johnny Gaudreau (4th round!). Not franchise guys, but still, decent player selections. But then in the 2012, draft Flames scouting came up empty, selecting Mark Jankowski who ended up never playing an NHL game. Aside from their two number one picks in '13 and '14, Sean Mohahan and Sam Bennett respectively, the Flames' cupboard isn't exactly brimming.

What happens when a team tries to build from within but can't make consistently wise draft picks? Guys who sit in offices get fired. So out went General Manager Jay Feaster at the end of 2012, and in came Brian Burke who held the fort for now G.M. Brad Treliving. Betcha didn't know who Calgary's G.M. was. Now you know.

Anyway, the Jay Feaster era was where the plan pretty much got derailed - consecutive years of poor draft selections set the table for the Flames current problem - they're a borderline playoff competitive hockey team - maybe, just maybe good enough to eek out a 2nd wildcard spot, but in all probability, destined to a 9th or 10th place Conference finish. Not even bad enough for a really high draft pick.

The Flames come into tonight's game at the Bell Centre in the midst of a bad losing streak. They got edged out by (a suddenly revived) Nashville team last Thursday, then spanked at home by the arch-rival Oilers Saturday, and the final humiliation, they got stomped by the Leafs last night 4 to nada.

What's the deal, Calgary? Well, the Flames are a terrible team out of the gate. In the past eight games, their opponent has scored first, and while not scoring first isn't always a fatal blow, it certainly doesn't make the road travelled any easier when you're always trying to play catchup (for what it's worth, Calgary's record over the past eight games is 2-5-1, not good).

What's going wrong, Calgary? Well, the what's going right, exactly? The Flames suddenly can't score, exception being to Sean Monahan. When your star guys like Johnny Gaudreau finds his point totals basically grinding to full halt, winning becomes extra onerous, especially for a team that's pretty thin up front. At 2.59 GF60, the Flames have the League's 19th rated offence. Not even good enough to claim mediocrity.

Oh, speaking of Johnny Gaudreau ... well ... hold the line, there's this from last night:

Flames fans were up in arms that the Leafs Leo Komarov hit Gaudreau high, but the replay shows that Gaudreau took his eyes off the play, and that Komarov basically plowed him to the ice with a hit on the shoulder. Anyway, the good news for the Flames is that Gaudreau is okay, and will play tonight.

The bad news for the Flames is beside guys who are performing like Gaudreau on wing, and Mark Giordano on defence, Calgary doesn't have much going right now. On that blue line, besides Giordano, Dougie Hamiltion, for whom the Flames gave up one 1st round, and two 2nd round picks in the deep 2015 draft, has been a significant disappointment since coming over from the Boston Bruins. Once considered a future Norris Trophy possibility, Hamilton has regressed significantly over the past couple of seasons to the point where he's now frequently mentioned as possible trade bait. The net effect from all of this, the Flames GA60 this season is 2.73, 18th rated - again, not even good enough to rank as mediocre.

So tonight Calgary hopes to get their season somehow back on track, as they take on the suddenly Alex Galchenyuk-less Montreal Canadiens. Galchenyuk won't play tonight because he reaggravated his knee which had recently kept him out of the lineup for six weeks. Good call, Habs medical staff. Putting your start 1C back in the lineup before he's fully healed from a significant knee injury send a pretty good signal you're running a competent ship.

So without Galchenyuk, the Habs will run with these lines tonight

Carr/De La Rose/Mitchell


Carey Price

Over on the Flames side, we have (projected):

Bouma/Stajan/Freddie Hamilton

Giordano/Dougie Hamilton

Chad Johnson

Puck drops at 7:40 EST.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Game 48: Sabres vs. Habs

Buffalo 3, Montreal 2 (OT)


- Lehner gets the start - obviously Sabres not comfortable starting Nilsson back-to-back nights. 

- Predictably tight start, the Sabres doing a good job in their own zone, as per what we mentioned before about this team having strong 1st periods this season.

- Rasmus Ristolainen, who played a mind-boggling 35 minutes last night, his numbers clearly scaled back if first half of this period is any indicator. Roughly on track for 8 minutes this period.

- Good zone entry for Galchenyuk carrying the puck, covered by the defenseman, he dishes the puck off to his left to Andrighetto, which eliminated a scoring chance. While it looked like a poor play, it was his only option because the fellow who was supposed to give him a proper outlet, Andrew Shaw, was lagging far behind at centre ice. That's a pretty good example of how putting Galchenyuk next to guys like Shaw take a pretty potent quiver out of the Habs bag.

- Max Pacioretty is gonna have bad dreams about how he somehow didn't put the puck in an open net - twice. Beautiful play by Radulov to drive the net and dish him the puck for what was a slam-dunk goal.

- Danault line playing pretty free-wheeling hockey so far - generating some pretty fast zone entires, but also coughing up the puck more than you'd like to see. Sabres are getting good scoring opportunities while they're on the ice.

- Lot of attention this week about Alex Galchenyuk being "off" since his return, which is a line I'm not really buying - his speed and physicality is as good as it ever was. Someone who has genuinely been struggling since his return? Paul Byron. Legs aren't there, passing is off ... not nearly the same (very good) Byron before he went on the IL.

- Such a terrible call on Radulov for hooking. You can't penalize someone in the NHL for lifting a stick, but that's what he's been sent to the box for.

- Even steven first period of hockey - Sabres, with that suspect defence, doing a pretty good job in their zone, only a couple of broken plays that the Habs failed to capitalize on. Galchenyuk looks fast - I wonder how much longer Therrien is going to stubbornly keep him mired next to Shaw on that 3rd line. Hopefully not much longer, because the Canadiens are sacrificing plenty of offence not having him up the middle between Pacioretty and Radulov.


- Pretty even period, Sabres with more shots on goal, but scoring chances and shooting attempts were pretty much even:

- Habs massive push creates an eventual Sabres defensive breakdown, with Lehkonen skating to the low slot to receive the puck and fire it top corner past Lehner. That's Buffalo's story this year - defence makes too many avoidable errors that eventually costs them games.

- Here's a pretty good illustration of my last point - Lehkonen basically goes unmarked. It's a relatively easy goal.

- Habs respond with their own version of clunky defence, Petry falling and Beaulieu just lost in front of Price, Gionta knocking a loose puck home to tie the game.

- Danault tips home a pretty hard Petry shot from the line to give the Habs a 2-1 lead. Again, the Sabres defence not doing a very good job guarding their crease. 

- Sabres defense gets slower and slower as the game proceeds - it's plain as day. Habs are getting increasing scoring chances as the game progresses.

- So the Habs have just scored, and they're pouring it on, Sabres are clinging to life in their own zone, and then ... enter Alexei Emelin to take an absolutely stupid penalty, hitting Moulson from behind into the boards. Does he actually think while he plays? Science would say probably not.

- An untidy period, but not bad from the Habs perspective. They had tons of momentum after Danault scored to give them a 2-1 lead, but that was pretty much single-handedly ruined by Emelin's dumb board. After that, the Habs mojo just seemed to slip away, much of the rest of the period consisted of broken plays and poor passing. Canadiens have no good reason to not put this game away in the 3rd period - we'll see.


- Habs markedly better team in the 2nd period, which we kinda figured would happened in our pregame analysis. Still, the Sabres are hanging tough.

- Zach Redmond. Oy. Sabres come literally within an inch of tying the game, largely because of his wretched puck handling. 

- Sabres are just putting the puck on net - which is fine - you never know what might happen. Maybe a huge fluke, or Price whiffs, and the game is tied. But you still have to have structure, you still have to focus on generating shots from good spots. Sabres aren't really doing that right now, even though they're running up the shot clock.

- Thomas Plekanec. Is there anyone with a slower shot in the NHL?

- Not crazy about the Habs approach in this period - defence being far too passive, which is allowing the Sabres to gain the zone with a fair amount of speed. Seems like the Canadiens are attempting to sit on this 1 goal lead for an entire period. Folly.

- Finally Habs finding some legs and being a bit more aggressive, Byron and Lehkonen doing good work creating decent scoring chances, Lehner keeping his team alive. 8 minutes left.

- Wow, Franson of all guys ties the game with a seeing-eye shot from the line off the draw. O'Reilly beating Plekanec badly off the draw. And so the Habs can't hold the lead. We figured.

- Nathan Beaulieu is kind of a mess right now, and I think it's mainly a confidence issue.

- Carey Price with two incredible saves with seconds on the clock to prevent the Sabres from winning the game. We doubted his abilities? Doubt no more.

- Canadiens played a very passive 3rd period, going through the skating motions, and doing a pretty horrible job checking Buffalo. Sabres will be delighted to take at least a point out of this one, and given how much they dominated the 3rd period, would be just to take the extra point.


- So will the Habs go through the motions to try to get to a shootout?

- Habs have total puck control the first 1:30, Robin Lehner with possibly the best save of the year in the NHL, totally robbing Galchenyuk. 

- Hah, Bogosian with the game winner off the goalpost, his first goal of the year, if you can believe it, and just seconds after Lehner's incredible save. What can ya do? 

- Final analysis, that Lehner save will be of legend - it's probably going to be the best save by a goaltender for the entire year, and arguably, that's one of the most spectacular saves of all-time. But then it's a save that really shouldn't have happened in the first place, as the Habs could have snuffed the Sabres out in the 3rd period, but instead, sat back, and let Buffalo take over the game, as this possession chart indicates:

The turning point? Well, one might say the start of the 3rd period moving forward, but I'd harken back to the stunningly stupid penalty committed by Emelin in the 2nd period, right smack when the Habs were taking it to Buffalo, pinning them in their own zone, and narrowing in on what would likely have been a game-killer 3rd goal. While the Habs killed that penalty, they never really seemed to regain that momentum and pressure. It's stupid, selfish decisions like the one Emelin committed that go well beyond him spending two minutes in the penalty box - from a wider perspective, it's events like that which can rip victories from hands and turn them into defeats.


A few bullet points to help guide you through the game tonight were the Habs seek to maintain their comfortable lead atop the Atlantic Division, as they host the last place Buffalo Sabres.

- Sabres are coming off a 3-2 OT win last night over the Red Wings, yeah - the same Wings that the Habs could barely muster up a scoring chance against on Monday afternoon. Since the start of the new year, the Sabres have actually played some half-decent hockey, winning 5 of 9 games so far, including victories over the likes of the Stars, Flyers, Jets and Rangers.

- Buffalo doesn't have very many core strengths - on average each game, they give up too many shots (31, 5th worst in the NHL), but they have received some pretty good goaltending this season from backup Anders Nilsson and first stringer Robin Lehner. With a team .918 Sv%, the Sabres have the 5th best goaltending in the NHL.

- The Sabres big downfall this year? Mainly it's their defence. In particular, how their defence plays as the game progresses. This season, the Sabres have given up 28 first period goals, which is quite good (5th best in the League). However as the game progresses, Buffalo's blue line becomes increasingly disorganized. Second period goals surrendered: 47. Third period goals surrendered: 42. Add 'em all up, and you have a Buffalo team with a winning percentage when leading after 1 period of just .600, and when leading after 40 minutes, .733, 7th worst in the NHL.

- Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe was injured last night, so youngster Casey Nelson was called up from the farm. He'll play on the Buffalo 3rd D line.

- Sabres lineup tonight? Sure, no problem:

Carrier/Cal O'Reilly/Moulson


Starting in goal? Uncertain. Lehner gets the bulk of starts, but he did get a rude yank on Tuesday night, so ... Nilsson?

- Habs lineup will essentially be the same as last night's, with Carey Price this time getting the start.

- Keys for the Habs? Use speed. The Sabres blue line is sluggish at best, downright slow at worst (in particular the Nelson/Franson pairing). If the Canadiens can generate a decent number of centre ice turnovers, and execute carrying the Sabres' zone, they should be in good shape tonight, regardless of who's in goal for Buffalo.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Game 47: Habs vs. Devils

Montreal 3, New Jersey 1:


- Pretty fast start for the Habs, bolstered by an aggressive setup in centre ice - Canadiens aiming to generate some Jersey giveaways with a tight forecheck there, so far it's working.

- Yeah, gonna be one of those nights. Wrister from the point fired by Santini, defected just under the crossbar height by Zajac to give the Devils the first goal. Danault line wasn't doing a very good job coming back to defend their zone, so Jersey took advantage of the opportunity. 

- What a play by Radulov, carrying the puck and making an absolutely mind-bogglingly perfect pass behind and on Galchenyuk's tape who one-times it in off the post. Goal scoring at its purest and prettiest.

- Galchenyuk goal coming without Andrew Shaw on the first line man advantage - not because Therrien had wised up, but because he was finishing his shift when the penalty was drawn. The gods are practically screaming KEEP. HIM. OFF. THE. POWERPLAY.

- More hard work, Pacioretty draws a trip, Montreal right back on the powerplay. Betcha Shaw starts it.  I'll just bethca.


- No goals scored, but a great looking powerplay. Galchenyuk, Radulov, Pacioertty, Weber and Beaulieu had the Devils pinned hard for the first 90 seconds. Jersey lucky to escape.

- Beaulieu prefers the wrist shot, which is fine for a quick release, but it's simply not strong enough to reach the net with any potential. More often than not it's blocked, because NHL defensemen (these days) specialize in stopping shots before they reach the net.

- Strong period so far for De La Rose - his chances to establish a regular presence on this roster are fast running out, mainly because he's been improperly utilized mainly as a grinder - but that's another topic. 

- Don't see nearly the same chemistry this period with Danault up the middle with Radulov and Paciroetty that we saw with Galchenyuk centering them the Habs first two powerplays. I guess Michel Therrien hasn't realized the hints that the game is dropping him.

- That's a pretty good first period for the Habs, very reminiscent of their December 8th game which they largely dominated from the start basically right to the finish. Montreal with more speed and better forecheck in the frame, Devils had limited scoring opportunities - I counted 2, maybe 3 ... one of which found it's way in. Otherwise, a forgettable period for Jersey.


- SOG were 10-3 Habs, and even more lopsided attempt-wise - Montreal's even strength CF, an eye-popping 81%:

- More good shifts by De La Rose - really doesn't fit the 4th line prototype that Therrien has been trying to push him into for years. His NHL career should have been made (or broken) as a top-9 winger. He'll likely not ever get that chance now.

- Canadiens not showing any let down - dominance continues, Jersey offence looks pretty downright disinterested. Not sure how much longer Kinkaid can hold on before the walls finally cave in.

- 11 minutes left, Habs lowest percentage CF player is Mark Barberio, at an astounding 57%. That's 20 out of 20 which gives you an idea how one-sided this game has been, except for goal scoring. That the Habs aren't already leading this game 3 or 4-1 is another indicator this team might demonstrate some solid possession stats, but they struggle generating shots from dangerous spots on the ice. It's been this way for a good month.

- Habs taking too many low percentage shots from the line - that's fine when you're playing a patient game, or protecting the lead - but not fine when your opponent is on the ropes, and the knockout punches are there for the taking.

- Habs are swarming, not unlike the Pens were doing to Montreal on Wednesday night. The difference? The Pens were finishing their plays. Canadiens just a little bit off tonight, even though they're completely overwhelming New Jersey with ferocious checking.

- Andrew Shaw continues to be a problem, killing the setups, frequently not looking for mates in good scoring positions, and feeding the puck back to the line. It's the "safe" play, utterly uncreative, and totally stifling the Canadiens scoring opportunities. 


- More Habs dominance in the 2nd period, but it's amounting to nothing on the scoreboard because the Canadiens (again) are failing to generate dangerous scoring attempts. Too many pucks fed to the point, too many point shots that are either blocked, or easily turned aside. Anyway, Habs 5v5 CF two-period total is 70.5%:

- Stollery called for a 5 minute major as he blindside boards Beaulieu. Seems to me the NHL is finally taking these checks seriously lately. That's the 2nd 5 minute board I've seen this week.
- Whelp, it's yet another point shot, but this time it's Weber, it's unblocked, and it's unstoppable. Habs finally break through, lead 2-1, and will stay on the powerplay.

- Bit of a broken play springs Pacioretty all alone with the puck in the slot, he slips a wrister though Kinkaid's legs, and it's 3-1, the Canadiens finally breaking through on the scoreboard. Radolov, who did not have a good game Wednesday night, with 3 assists so far. Habs still on the powerplay.

- More lack of Devils discipline puts the Habs right back on the powerplay, which mostly sans Andrew Shaw tonight, has been pretty darned good.

- Habs swarm, come close, but don't extend their lead by 3. Nonetheless, the powerplay unit has looked superb much of the night, and while I'm not suggesting a coincidence, Andrew Shaw has received only 2 powerplay shifts tonight.

- Devante Smith-Pelly. His even strength CF tonight? 0%. How does he still keep a job in the NHL??

- Andrighetto has taken great strides in the right direction this season, especially since his latest callup. But he's still prone to young mistakes, a clear-cut 2-on-1 where the lone defender was basically surrendering a path to the goal to protect the pass, and of course, still learning, he passes, which is easily intercepted. Just little errors, but totally correctable ones. He'll be good, as long as Habs management continues to be patient and gives him a fair chance.

- Meek end to this game, the Devils look utterly defeated, just going through the motions, firing the occasional shot at Montoya, but nothing remotely challenging. Jersey has a bad hockey team. Very bad.

- I think we can file this as another dominating win for the Habs, second time they've done that this season. Powerplay was on fire, while the Devils were, for the most part, pathetic - especially with the puck. Nice "reset' win for the Habs, who now hope to convert the momentum of tonight's win and carry it into Buffalo to face another beatable opponent.


UPDATE: Cory Schneider indeed will not play tonight, so that means Keith Kinkaid is in. Will Schneider be dressed as backup? If not, who? Stay tuned.

UPDATE OF UPDATE: Confirmed, Schneider will dress as backup. Dang. There go my hopes and dreams of a Chris Terreri career revival.

Hey, having a great Friday? Sweet. I've been hiding under my blanket for most of the day, my television switch firmly set to the 'off' position, just hoping that everything that surrounds us is just a nightmare, and like all nightmares, we wake up and everything is good!!

Everything is a nightmare, right? Please tell me none of what is happening is actually happening. It's not happening. Right? RIGHT!?

Well like any bad dream, the Habs always seem to play some sort of a role, especially now with the Canadiens suddenly looking just as bad today as they did one year ago. Tonight, the Habs look to win again against the League's perennially most boring team, the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils, who like the Detroit Red Wings, whom the Habs couldn't score against on Monday afternoon, are also a team that's not going to be in this spring's Stanley Cup playoffs. We say that even though the Devils just came off a win over (arguably) the NHL's best team right now, the Minnesota Wild. So hey, great - the Habs are gonna play against world beaters tonight. Just wonderful.

Ah, but wait. The Devils might not have a goaltender! Cory Schneider, who basically is the only one wearing a horned jersey that's capable of stopping pucks with great consistency, has come down with the flu. Yes, but how sick is he? Well, he's sick enough that he couldn't participate in the Devil's practice this morning.

So if Schneider can't play, Keith Kinkaid will get a rare start tonight. Now, if Schneider can't even dress for tonight's game, then things get really interesting because the Devils will likely have to dress guys who normally stand around the beer stand during games, which means former NHL goaltender Chris Terreri, who hasn't played a game in 11 years and now serves as the Devils's goaltending coach, or Scott Clemmensen, who hasn't played a game in 2 years, might suit up. If for some crazy unforeseen reason neither Schneider and Kinkaid can play, then hey - the Habs have a decent chance!

Anyway, Devils are on a 3 game winning streak, which included that nifty win against the Wild, but also include wins over the so-so Calgary Flames and the awful Vancouver Canucks. So grain of salt this streak.

Anyway, if your memory reaches back far enough, the last time these two teams met, the Habs pretty much destroyed Jersey, coasting to a 5-2 at the Bell Centre. But that was December 8th, before the Habs were besieged with massive injuries from which they still haven't fully recovered from, before the Habs defence decided to take a Christmas break from which it still doesn't seem to have returned from, before when Carey Price's game suddenly went from stellar to ... 'meh'.

But Price won't be playing tonight, he'll be starting tomorrow night against Buffalo, which means it's Tony Montoya time. Mr. Montoya will be backstopping a slightly modified Habs lineup, as Alex Galchenyuk, for reasons that still mystify yours truly, will centre the Habs 3rd line, which means he'll have the wonderful task of trying to make Andrew Shaw not look completely useless. Have fun, Alex!!

Keys for the Habs tonight? Stop with the sloppy hockey, especially in the defensive zone. Far too many times this month the Canadiens defence has left their goaltenders twisting in the wind - especially when the Habs are killing penalties. The Canadiens PK has been, and still is, one of their main weak spots.

One other thing to keep in mind. While the Devils are still the most boring team in the NHL, they're not the same boring team that used to win regularly. This is a team far more apt to give up shots - they currently average 30 per 60 minutes, which puts Jersey in the bottom third of the League. Last year, they were in the top 5. That's a significant difference.

Puck drops tonight at 7:40 EST. By that time, it should be safe to turn on your TV again.


Hey, welcome to Thursday. The day before the American inauguration. The last sane, and for all we know, relatively safe day as a member of the human race. Good times. Good times.

So with out impending doom officially mentioned, let's talk hockey! Habs stuff today. Never a dull moment.

- Alex Galchenyuk played a bad game Wednesday night. We saw it, we mentioned it - heck, even some guy named Michel Therrien took notice. Action? TO THE DOGHOUSE YE GO!
Ouch. Andrighetto might actually be a pretty good fit, but Andrew Shaw? Talk about screwing around with your best resources. Therrien hockey, eh? That'll improve their "compete"!

- It appears the Barberio/Petry pairing experiment is off. Barberio was back on the Habs 3rd D line at practice this morning drilling with a couple of guys who really shouldn't be playing in the NHL - Zach Redmond and Ryan Johnston.

- Hey Carey Price. Gawd, what is going on there?? Anyway, he won't start Friday night against the Devils, but instead will play Saturday night against the hopelessly hopeless Sabres. More votes of confidence!

- Andrei Markov update! The Habs extra-sloppy defence sure misses this guy, so hey coach, got us a damn update when he's coming back?
Oh, well that seems reassuring.

More posted here if anything happens. In the meantime, enjoy your final day of happiness, freedom and security.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Game 46: Pens vs. Habs

Pittsburgh 4, Montreal 1:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Murray will start in net for the Pens.

Puck drops at 7:40, EST.


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

Monday, 16 January 2017

Game 45: Habs vs. Wings

Detroit 1, Montreal 0:


- Wings scratches for today (now official), Tomas Jurco, Ryan Sprout and ... sadly, Steve Ott. Always nice to face an opponent with not very good players in their lineup. Mike McCarron healthy scratch for the Habs, a shame since Detroit is his hometown (and often, these home returns are greeted by exceptional performances). 

- Fundamental difference between a very good defenceman such as Petry and someone who's pretty marginal, Zach Redmond. Petry takes the time to move the puck forward to one of his forwards (or at least makes the attempt), while Redmond's mantra is to dump the puck out of his zone as quickly as possible, be dammed the transition. The effect is, of course, the Habs go from being a pretty good team while someone like Petry is on, to a not very good team when Redmond is on.

- Habs again stumbling out of the blocks with their offence, which is again having trouble executing simple plays, such as short passes. Setup in the Wings zone has been pretty awful - the Canadiens in general have been pretty unstructured the past couple of weeks. Not much different so far today.

- First Habs powerplay not much different than their play even strength. Not much flow or structure. 

- Game itself is not much different from 1st period Saturday night against the Rangers - very sloppy, inelegant. 

- On a scale of 1-10 for good hockey, that first period was -281. What to say? Both teams look rusty? Tentative? Tired? If you're missing the game, you're missing nothing.


- So how bad was that first period of hockey? This bad:

Not convinced? Let's look at even strength scoring chances:

One scoring chance for the Habs in that period. One. That, folks, is bad, bad, bad hockey.

- The Jeff Petry/Nathan Beaulieu pairing continues to struggle - both are quality NHL defensemen, Petry certainly well above average, but together, they have little to no chemistry. Seems like communication is fundamentally lacking between these two.

- Last point, Habs can't get Markov back fast enough, Petry certainly seemed more comfortable with him, and Beaulieu has more or less, become befitting 3rd line responsibilities.

- One more 1st period point - Habs leaning very heavily on Weber/Emelin, whom each got close to 10 minutes playing time, while the rest of the defence were in the 4-5 minute range, Petry included. This pattern cannot continue indefinitely.

- Galchenyuk line just had their first solid shift of the afternoon. Actual good scoring chance was generated.

- Insane holding call on De La Rose. Simply touched a Wings player with his hand, gets called. There goes all the momentum from the Galchenyuk shift.

- Habs PK continues to be uninspired, stagnant. Not a lot of movement, just a lot of reaction, which is bad if you're wanting to effectively kill penalties.

- Galchenyuk line clearly humming right now - nearly breaks the scoresheet with Pacioretty slipping a nifty back pass to Galchneyuk, Coreau with a brilliant save. Therrien might want to ride that horse quickly with a few extra shifts squeezed in for that trio.

- W're at the 8 minute mark, Habs have become markedly better team as the period has progressed - Wings seem to be lagging much more with the puck, are committing more turnovers as the game has progressed.

- Wings netminder Jared Coreau made a pretty good save off Galchenyuk earlier in the period, and now just plain whiffed off a relatively routine wrist shot by Beaulieu from 40 feet, the goalpost saving his day. So there's opportunity still there for the Canadiens.

- Habs making defensive switch here, Beaulieu has been demoted, paired now with Redmond, while Barberio has been promoted to play next to Petry.

- Even though the Habs have been the more "dangerous" team this period, their even strength scoring chances are still pretty abysmal - only 3 this period with 2 minutes left, 4 overall for the game.

- Bad break for Habs, great break for the Wings, as Vanek scores after point shot hits his body and bounces in. Play was already broken after Mitchell lost his stick off the draw, and after wandering around trying to find it, lost his mark, which left the point wide open for a shot on goal. 1-0 Detroit.

- Habs may have been the better team in that 2nd period, but their lacklustre play was simply begging for trouble - or at least a bad bounce. Danault and Galchenyuk line have had their moments, while the Plekanec line has been pretty invisible, and Mitchell line more or less a vacuum for defensive letdowns. Add it all up, and the Candiens are watching a winnable game against an inferior opponent go past the board.


- Habs had more attempts, but still aren't doing a very good job generating quality scoring chances. Been that way for a solid two weeks. Excuses can't be made with Galchenyuk back in the lineup.

- Maybe the total lack of quality scoring chances corresponds with Gallagher's sudden departure? The Canadiens more or less have gone off the cliff in that department since his injury. Makes you wonder.

- Wings are suffocating the Habs offence this period, a not entirely difficult task - but especially more so. Canadiens simply unable to cleanly gain the Detroit zone. Nothing is clicking.

- Galchenuyuk line pretty much the only one capable of getting the Habs on the scoreboard today - I don't think I've seen a single dangerous scoring chance from anyone else wearing a red jersey today.

- Zetterberg fakes a Galchenyuk high stick, referee gets fooled. Just, wow.

- Habs survive a meek Wings powerplay, but two precious minutes are off the clock. 5 minutes left, and no scoring solution in sight.

- 3 minutes left, Habs pushing, opening all the valves, but still no significant scoring chances are being generated.

- Jared Coreau will never have an easier shutout in his life, Habs just sputter away to a loss this afternoon against a team that won't be in this spring's post-season. Wasted opportunity, but Canadiens have no one to blame but themselves, the effort simply wasn't there, and as a result, the Habs generated only a handful of actual scoring chances today. One more "tough" game to play this Wednesday night against the Pens before the Canadiens can finally look forward to nearly a month in the schedule were they'll play mainly sub .500 teams.


Do you know it's been almost 27 years and 25 NHL seasons since the Detroit Red Wings missed qualification for the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

By professional sport franchise standards, it's an impressive and unparalleled accomplishment in the modern era of sport. Detroit has spent the past years following a relatively simple formula for success: draft wisely, develop talent internally, scout for European talent, and hiring smart people to coach and manage your assets.

Seems simple enough, doesn't it? If you take a look around the NHL today with how teams are operated, many if not most either are (or are tying) to emulate Detroit's 30 year old model.

It didn't used to be that way - many franchises, including the Montreal Canadiens, went down a decidedly different path, which focused on finding talent mainly contained within North America, depending on trading as a "quick-fix" method to help make them playoff competitive (usually without success), and hiring 2nd rate minds to help develop what little youth they had acquired.

Like everything else in the world, whether it's Game of Thrones, the happiness of the first three years of marriage, or a free and democratically governed America, all good things must come to an end. For the Wings, their playoff streak, barring some kind of miracle, will cease as of this April, 2017.

That Detroit won't be in the playoffs shouldn't be particularly surprising - this event has been building for quite a few years, as the Wings have somewhat drifted away from the formula that was once a pretty resounding success. Detroit were once the best team at replenishing and renewing its lineup - constantly developing and if not improving, at least keeping the team perennially competitive. That was then. Now, the Wings have started to wilt under the reliance on decreasingly productive, aging, and largely overpaid players like defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and center Henrik Zetterberg. Toss those guys in with other underproducers like Justin Abdelkader, and (har!) Thomas Vanek, and, well ... Detroit might actually be headed for a few years of missing the post-season, not just the upcoming one.

So Monday afternoon (yup!) the Wings will host the Habs, coming off a sweet 6-3 victory over the top-flight Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Detroit's win this weekend broke a 3-game losing streak, but still, with only 18 wins 43 games this season, at some point in the very near future Detroit is going to have to call it a day, and start planning an exit strategy leading towards a decent pick in this summer's entry draft.

For the Habs, they're coming up a big, if not untidy victory over the New York Rangers. The Habs are getting (somewhat) healthy again, with Alex Galchenyuk back at his proper position of 1st line centre (yay!), while Andrew Shaw is ... well ... do we have to talk about him? Sigh. Fine. Andrew Shaw is back, maybe Monday afternoon he'll actually play a full period before getting tossed from the game for doing something absolutely idiotic? Fingers crossed.

Here's now the lines figure to be for the game. First, the Wings:



And for the Habs:



Take note, it looks like Mike McCarron will be a healthy scratch, making way for Andrew Carr to get a start. In the meantime, on Sunday the Habs called up Jacob De La Rose, while Chris Terry cleared waivers and is back with the Ice Caps.

Starters? We got the (still struggling) Carey Price against the Wings' Jared Coreau, whom Habs fans likely aren't familiar with because the Canadiens have never faced him before. Coreau, who's been in the Wings system for a few years, got his break this season after regular starter Jimmy Howard was placed on injury reserve back in November (and isn't expected back for another month). Coreau's stat line this season: 7GP, 4W, 1L, 3.12 GAA, .903 Sv%.

Puck drops at 3:00 p.m, NOTE THE TIME GUYS, EST, so polish up your best work hooky excuses.