Sunday, November 29, 2009

Game Slips Away in Against Washington

Yesterday the Habs ended up losing in the shootout to the Washington Capitals. I was unable to tweet the game, but I did catch Canadiens Express on RDS to get an extended highlight reel of the game.

After a stinky first period, Montreal came back strong and angry in the 2nd and 3rd, and persistance paid off -- since they couldn't score on a clean shot on Varlamov. Each goal needed a few kicks at the can, in order to get that goaltender, who was playing really well, to show some cracks. There were also a few times when Varlamov stood up to the challenge, and was able to withstand the Montreal assault.

Price on his end also played pretty awesome. He stopped Ovechkin on a breakaway, made some spectacular saves, and after a bad first period, had that killer instinct to close out the game...

... Until the last 15 seconds. Was Price to blame for the last goal? Was Price to blame for letting the 2 points get away?

Yessir! Price Blew It!
Not a completely unreasonable point of view in this case. Price's job, in a close game like this, is to do everything he can to close out the game. And for the last 5 minutes, Price was doing just that - on his head stopping all sorts of amazing chances. Its what top-tier goalies do, and why he has got the starting job. But then, off a faceoff loss, he let one slip through his legs. He let the team down, and he let himself down. But after those 3 or 4 amazing saves, you gotta have one more to win the game.

You're Crazy! Price Played Great! It's a Team Game!
Also true. I'm crazy (I talk to myself) Price played great, and it is a team game. Why was Fehr left open for not one, but 2 cracks at the puck just on top of the crease? Price had already bailed the team out several times, and once again gets no help in the dying seconds! Price sure takes a lot of blame. In other markets, like Calgary or Anaheim or even New Jersey, the goalie would not be blamed for that goal. Yeah, it would be called a bit soft, but no further blame would be given. In Montreal we point the finger, call for a trade, chase someone out of town... and that's ridiculous. Fehr should have never been allowed to shoot. Period.

So Price should be angry with himself. He probably went home and had goalie nightmares; not of Ovechkin punching 3in holes in him - but of a guy named Fehr dribbling pucks through him, slow motion and him unable to do anything about it. Angry dreams of knowing exactly what he did wrong, and what he should have done to make the save. He should be angry that after the team came back to support him with 3 goals, he couldn't keep teh door shut long enough, despite some spectacular saves. And he should be pissed that because of one lousy mistake, his solid performance is now worth only 1 soggy consolation point. He should be angry because he wanted to win -- and he should be angry, because Brodeur would be angry - Roy would be angry - Belfour would be drunk (cheap shot) and any star goalie would be angry.

The 'happy' ending here, ladies and gents, is that Price was angry. And that means he's not gonna let it happen next time. Our star goalie is finally starting to burn.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Canadiens v. Penguins Tonight

After yesterday's exciting win over the Blue Jackets, my expectations have been raised! And perhaps unfairly.

The Canadiens really put the pedal to the floor on their 4 cylinder Toyota Tercel yesterday, and were able to wrestle out a victory from a Columbus team that, by the end, really started to show its wear from their previous game on Monday. And now its Montreal's turn to perhaps fade away...

Although the defensive core is starting to recover, it is now the forward's turn to take a injury snack break. 2/3 of The Talent is out (the GGs) and now Andrei Kostitsyn is out . We have called up another minor leaguer, who has no NHL experience, to play against the Stanley Cup champs.

Anything can happen in the game of hockey, and Martin is gonna play a tired goalie (who admittedly is doing pretty good right now) and rely on the mighty Thomas Plekanec to head his offence! Sometimes you can get lucky and catch a team napping -- but I'm pretty sure Pittsburgh will be ready to feast on the limping turkey-bird that is the Montreal Canadiens.

I hope for another exciting game, with Laps and SK74 and the rest really picking it up and playing at the hectic pace they did yesterday. But with a forward core of mostly 4th liners and rookies... against the Stanley Cup champs and 2 stars from the Quebec leagues (Fleury and Crosby) it is gonna have to be a Thanksgiving miracle for the Habs to pull this one out. Anyone have a wishbone handy?

For those about to get shelled, I salute you!!

Exciting Game vs. Blue Jackets!

Yesterday's game ended up being one of the most exciting games of the season.

After scoring the first goal, the Habs seemed to go to sleep, and the Jackets really came back to take control. They answered with 2 goals in the first; and for much of the first 40 minutes, the Jackets used their size to keep the puck away from the smaller Canadiens. They dominated the play, were first to the puck, and prevented the Canadiens from clearing their zone. Why, even when the Habs drew even with a power play goal in the second, Columbus answered almost immediately to take the lead again.

It looked to be another night where the Habs would be out-skated and out-hustled by a team they should be able to handle (Columbus having played the night before). Despite a slow defence and a shaky goalie, it looked as though our Canadiens would simply chase the puck and wave their sticks and let the game run away.

Then, something happened.

I'm not sure what it was, but an excellent power-play in the second period that had a different shape (Mara at the point, Bergeron down low, and everyone directing passes) sparked some offense. And where in the past the Habs lose their momentum, this time they didn't. In the third period the Habs kept up their pace: they were working hard, taking hits to make plays, being first on the puck and driving the net. And Holy Moley, what a game! Suddenly our Blue-Blanc-Rouge were generating chances; suddenly they looked dangerous; suddenly they didn't look so small (ok, yeah, they did, but they won the puck battles) and suddenly they looked like they could win!

It is true that Garon had a pretty bad game. He gave up lots of rebounds - and unlike Halak, who is always ready for the follow-up shot, Garon often looked lost and confused. But it doesn't really matter: what matters is the team found a vein that hadn't been tapped since perhaps even 2008 - and if Martin can get this team to play like they did at the end of last night, then this year's Montreal Canadiens are gonna be an excellent team to watch!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How the Trade Went Down

I'm sure we're all shocked and stunned by the sudden move of shipping Guillaume Latendress for Benoit Pouliot yesterday. Although LaTender certainly looked to be tired in Montreal and need of change (to say the least) looking at the stats, it looks like we didn't really do much better -- a consistently hurt minor leaguer who might one day get good.

But wasn't it Sergei Kostitsyn who demanded the trade? Aren't Sergei's numbers better than both Latendress and Pouliot? Sure he's got attitiude problems, but he's got to be movable...

I think this is how the trade might have gone down:
(conversation between Bob Gainey and Chuck Fletcher)

Gainey: So look, I am shopping around for Seirgei Kostitsyn... he is a good player with a good competitive attitude who can put the puck in the net. He is ready for the big league, but doesn't really fit on our roster right now...

Fletcher: Yeah yeah. He's kinda risky too. Tell you what, I'll give you Benoit Pouliot for Sergei Kostitsyn.

Gainey: HAHA! As if! Sergei's got like a point a game in the AHL, and Pouliot is constantly hurt! Man that's a good one! What else you got?

Fletcher: All I'm willing to part with is Pouliot.

Gainey: That's crazy. Pouliot. Heh. Pouliot is more like a match for Guillaume Latendress! Hahahaha

Fletcher: deal.

Gainey: Hmm? What? Oh... uh... hmmm. Huh. Yeah, Ok. I guess we have a deal...

Fletcher: ok, bye.

Gainey: (scrathicng his head) yeah... no problem Fletcher, good talking to you.

Gainey: (thinking) did I just get rid of Latendress and make room for Sergei on the roster? How good am I?

I think Gainey has got to be liking this trade. He can keep Pouliot in the minors until he develops, he can give Sergei the icetime he wants, and if Sergei does well, it either ups his trade value, or at the very least improves the team.

As for Latendress: I hope you find your hands and feet in Minnisota.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Do We Do Now?

Gionta is confirmed out indefinitely, and what are we to do without him?

Gainey's top line acquisition has hardly been the toast of the league, scoring less that a goal a game; whereas other top lines can at least be counted on for at least 1, if not more. Gaborik, for example, has 15 goals -- will Gomez get there in the year? Part of it might be chemistry; but Gionta and Gomez were combining for some spectacular passes and plays, attacking with speed -- but the puck was not going in the net. Cammilleri is fitting in well, taking some amazing shots -- but again is failing to pot the sucker.

Chemistry aside, that line is too well defenced against. The top line, and the goalies, are ready for anything The Talent can chuck at them: cross ice passes are anticipated; speedy breaks are well covered, and the front of the net is well defended against passes to the front. In short, for all their speed and creativity, they are unable to surprise anyone.

And now Gionta is out, by far the most dangerous forward. So what do we do? Gomez is playing like a heartbroken teenager, there is a giant hole on the first line that cannot be filled with the assorted 4th liners (no matter how hard they skate) and the offence is in the toilet. Without Plekanec, this team would be worse off then the leafs!

Its pretty clear that Martin is not going to get a killer powerplay like Carbonneau had, and that is becoming the difference. Our goalies are playing great, keeping the opposition to 1 or 2 goals until late in the game, and normally that would be enough for the Habs to score on a man advantage and make a game of it. But Martin an the boys got nothing this year. I'll let you decide why the power play sucks - I'll just leave it as a fact that it does.

So what can we do? No special teams goals, and $13 million worth of talent (minus Gionta, who I think brought it up to $18 million) that can't score.

I think Martin needs to free up some ice for Gomez and Cammilleri. They are too well covered and taking the all the focus of oppositions defence. The 3rd and 4th lines are no threat whatsoever, so why bother? But Plekanec has shown he has come to play every night, recovering the form he had 2 years ago. Kostitsyn is finally getting into the groove of things, too.

I say give Pleks and Kostitsyn top line honours for a few games: the majority of the minutes - but only by a few. Give them the job of driving most of the offence. This will hopefully achieve the following: get Kostitsyn going, as he will feel the pressure of being on the top line. Give Plekanec a chance to show his top-line center talent, if any. And finally give Gomez and Cammellari some releif from getting checked into the ground each game. Once they start scoring, they can be swapped to the top again.

What do you think? Does the 7million dollar man deserve a break, or should he be forced to play through his struggles?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flames beat Habs 1-0

Tonight's game was a very interesting match. The stats would tell you that with the 1-0 win, and the shots 31-25 for the Flames, that Halak played an amazing game and just came up short. Or that Kipper was amazing in net to take the victory... but despite the score, I am reluctant to give it all to the goalies.

That's not to say they played poorly - Kipper made some awesome saves in the second, on Gomez' breakaway and with Cammalleri buzzing. Halak made a few great pad saves, and a couple through traffic. But the defence on both sides played great, and limited the chances and cleared the rebounds.

What I saw, especially in the second, was an aggressive Calgary team, and a passive set of dudes in vintage jerseys. The Flames were first on the puck; they were tough in their end, and annoying on the forecheck. They wanted the puck, and either got to it first, or where on the Habs so fast they were forced to turn it over.

Technically the Habs were not intimidated tonight; they threw lots of hits, got messy in the scrums, and won both the fights... but when it came to the hockey, they were weak. Very few guys driving to the net with the puck, instead opting to go wide. Losing races to the puck - deliberately - to throw a hit instead (after the puck was safely moved away.) And that's what matters: are you willing to sacrifice for the puck, take the hit to make the play, so to speak, or take the easy way out?

Habs needed get aggressive on the puck, and take the game to the Flames. And they didn't. They haven't lately - they seem to get caught watching too much. And they won't start winning until they start paying the price - and anticipating the play.

Final notes: Gomez and Gionta were off tonight; dunno if they got rattled or forgot their coffee before the game. Pleks and Cammalleri played well, Halak played well, and the new kids were solid. Kipper was awesome, but the Habs can do better.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Hot Hand

The Habs lost to the Thrashers tonight, 5-4. Its difficult to say the goalies played well in this kind of game, but in reality, both did a pretty good job! Pavelec certainly continued to make timely and at times spectacular saves. Price, for his part, played a solid game, but was consistently punished by Thrashers left floating in the slot or open at the side of the net.

The team defence stunk as a whole - they would chase the puck instead of anticipating the pass, and they were unable to strip the puck from the tenacious Thrashers forwards.

Anyhow, the question at hand is, should Price get the next start?

Points for starting Halak:
  • He wins.
  • He's a hard working goalie that the team seems to rally around a bit.
Points for starting Price:
  • He's actually playing really well.
  • He needs to play in order to get better.

The team seems to rally around Halak a little bit. They play like they are not relying on the goalie to do everything. Halak is a very good goalie who works hard in his net; this, combined with his size, makes him very active in his net. When a goal goes in against Halak, it rarely looks like he wasn't trying (maybe he was out of position or something, but he always looks like he's trying).

Price, on the other hand, relies on size and positioning. When Price is scrambling, its a disaster. When he is in his zone, he makes it all look too easy. When goals go in, it looks like all Price's fault! Even if he has no chance, fans are left looking at Price wondering: what did you do wrong? Which of course is unfair. The team seems to treat him a bit like an Uber-star: I don't have to play defence, Pricey's got it. But really, did Florida treat Luongo that way? The Devils treat Brodeur that way? I'm pretty sure you have to help your talented goalie look good. You have to save eachother's skin sometimes.

I want to see Price start the next game. He has been sitting too long, and has lost a bit of his confidence, and his mental edge. He needs to get in a zone of winning. Or even just stopping pucks in a game situation. That's not to say Halak should be relegated to the bench so The Oh So Talented One can get his act together -- Halak has played well and deserves starts. But Martin's "you win you're in" system didn't work in Ottawa, and it won't work here. Its bullsh!t. You can't punish a goalie for a team's bad game. Price needs to start the next game, and then it should be 1-to-1 tandem for the next month or so. Let the goalies feed off eachother: let the team play the same for each goalie. Level the ice, and see which goalie earns the starts moving forward - this system allowed Theodore to thrive, Huet to make a name for himself, and Carey Price to first discover his game.

Let Price play. Make both goalies better.