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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 1 - Devils 2

Who knew, when Brodeur was selected 20th overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 1990 NHL draft, that he would go on to have such a prolific career. Clearly, he was a good player to have been selected so high in the draft but even at that I don't think anyone would have been able to predict the brilliance that this man has displayed year after year. And in continuing to pad his resume, Brodeur's start last night tied him - at 1029 games played - with Patrick Roy for the most games played by an NHL goalie in their career. Congratulations, Marty! You can add that to your record 578 career wins and 103 career shutouts. With a shutout last night against the Habs - a team that Brodeur LOVES to play against - he would have broken Terry Sawchuk's all time shutout record. But alas, it was not meant to be. While the Devils did win the game - 2-1 in regulation - Travis Moen broke the goose egg early on to ensure there would be no shutout.

The Moen goal, unfortunately, was the highlight of the game for Montreal. Apart for the Brodeur angle of historical significance, this was likely one of the most boring games I have watched in a long time. But I guess that's what happens when you have Jacques Martin coaching against Jacques Lemaire. The two Jacques' both run defence first systems and as a result we witnessed a lot of neutral zone play, much like a soccer game. There was a lot of trapping and dumping the puck into the opposing zone only to have the goalie (both Brodeur and Price) come out to play the puck and pass it right up to their defenders and up the ice to repeat the play on the other end. Bo-ring. Very few scoring chances on either end, very few dangerous shots, no hitting, lots of clogged up neutral zone...blech. At least if had got two points out of this game, it woulda been worth it. Instead, I feel that those are 2.5 hours of my life wasted.

1 - Apart from Moen's charging goal in the 1st, Montreal amassed very few scoring chances, were again outshot by their opponent (27-18), and were decimated in the faceoff circle 23-36. Losing that many faceoffs does not lead to a 'puck posession' game that Martin preaches.

2 - Penalties, penalties...when will they stop with the penalties. Like every game over the last few weeks, Montreal's mantra going into it was 'discipline'. The Habs, before last night's game, were the third most penalized team in the league. Considering that they are not a physical team and don't have many bangers, that is hard to believe. Hard to believe because physical teams often get penalized but if non-physical teams are taking a lot of penalties that means they are either slow, lazy or tired. The Habs, are definitely not a slow team so that leaves the latter two - lazy/tired - as the only logical options. The last three games that the Habs have lost have all been lost, during the third period, by taking stupid penalties and letting the opponent snatch the two point out from under their clutches. Last night, however, the Habs started early, with the penalites. Four 1st period penalites, including a 1 minutes 5 on 3 PP for New Jersey, are not the way to start a game.

3 - Continuing with the theme of bad penalties...for some reason, O'Byrne seems to have made a habit of taking bad hooking/tripping/"I'm behind the play" type penalties. Given that O'Byrne is not the most mobile guy on the team - he is not slow like Gill but he is definitely not excessively mobile - he needs to be positionally sound in order to make up for it. When he started the season and when he first came back from injury, O'Byrne WAS playing very positionally sound hockey. He seemed to always be in the right spot and was able to angle opposing forwards out of harms way. Lately, however, he always seems a step behind and is trying to make up for it with his stick. Sorry buddy, that is pre-lockout hockey you are playing and it doesn't fly.

4 - A lot of, if not most of, the Habs problems right now come down to fatigue. On top of the fact that they have second tier players playing top tier minutes - and largely playing over their heads - they also have the compressed pre-Olympic schedule that is grueling to say the least. This is the second week in a row that the Canadiens are playing 4 games in 7 nights, and it is starting to show. Now, Montreal is not the only team with this kind of schedule, as all teams are playing on a compressed timeline, however the Habs smaller less physical forwards seem to be wearing down by the time the third period comes around and it is costing them games. Yesterday's loss to the Devils was the fourth winnable game in a row that they lost due to their own malaises. That is 8 points in the standings. Those eight points could mean the difference between 5th place and 13th place in the end of year standings.

5 - Price was solid all game until he wasn't. That might not seem like a sensical sentence unless you watched the game last night. From the drop of the puck, Price matched Brodeurs work save for save. He played the puck just as often and effectively as Brodeur, was always square to the shooter and looked poised in his net. That was until he threw is glove up to catch a puck that was destined to go over his head and hit the glass behind him. With the Habs leading 1-0 in the second period and the Devils seemingly unable to get anything going offensively, Ilkka Pikkarainen - ummm....who? - flicked a shot at Price, from just over the Habs blueline. It was a high rising shot that was in the process of sailing over Price's head. However, Price threw his glove hand up, failed to catch the puck and instead deflected it down behind him, it hit the post, then hit is skate as he backed up looking for the puck, and went in the net. Price let in the same kind of goal against the Penguins a week or so ago, and it ended up being the winning goal. Last night's goal tied the game up and let the Devils back into a game that they looked to have checked out of. That set the table for Patrick Elias to pick up the rebound off of the Brian Rolston shot, to take the lead with less than three minutes to play in the game. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was all she wrote!

Overall, last night game was the brand of boring, put your to sleep hockey that they tried to legislate out of the league when they took out the red line. It is the type of hockey that the Devils have been playing for over a decade and while it is not enjoyable to watch it is usually a pretty effective strategy. You can tell how unexciting it is by the lack of people in the stands. Man, how the heck do the Devils pay their bills with a bulding that is constantly half full? But I digress....

Last night, Montreal simply got lulled to sleep by a team that plays their system even better than they do and it again cost them two valuable points. But, no rest for the weary as Montreal flew home last night to take on Gui! and the Minnesota Wild tonight at the Bell Center. I wonder what the over/under is on how many penalties the Habs will take tonight. If the trend continues, I'd say 4.

K.

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