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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 3 - Isles 0

The return of Andrei Markov was the storyline of the night and the game - a 3-0 win by the Habs - could be summed up as great goaltending, great special teams and a very special player. While Markov's two-goal performance warmed the cockles of Habs fans everywhere, the real hero this evening was Jaroslav Halak who in turning in a 40 save shutout performance continues to raise his trade value and his value to the Habs.

1 - As is often the case this season, goaltending ruled the day. You've got to admit that before the puck was dropped it was almost unfathomable to think that anything but Andrei Markov's return would be the story of the night. To his credit, Markov did his part, but there is no question that Halak stole the show. Without Halak's shutout performance, this game might have been lost early as the Isles had many excellent scoring chances and Halak was forced to make many spectacular saves. There is nothing quite like asking to be traded because you think you deserve more playing time and then going out and putting an exclamation mark on your statement by getting a shutout. In doing so, Halak not only raises his trade value, but also shows that maybe Gainey shouldn't trade him just yet. While Price has been mostly solid for the last month, he showed last game that he can still have his moments of weakness and that ultimately, the Habs still need both of their young netminders. With all the scouts attending Habs' games, we can be pretty certain that Gainey is talking to multiple teams. However its tough to say whether a deal will be made before or after the Olympics. Only time will tell, but Halak represents a pretty big hunk of meat for Gainey to use as bait.

2 - Markov!!!! Yep, that's right, Andrei Markov is back. And how! In playing over 20 mins last night and scoring two powerplay goals - the Has went 3 for 5 on the pp - Markov reminded us all of how important he is to this team. He is simply the best player on the Canadiens roster and that is saying a lot considering how well Plekanec and Cammalleri tend to play. I have to admit that its been so long since I last saw Markov play that I forgot just how good he is. Except for his slip on the Habs second PP - its his first game back so we can excuse him - that led to Richard Park having a short handed breakaway, Markov was simply flawless. He made great defensive play, he helped the Habs breakout IMMENSELY and best of all, he was a General on the powerplay. His two goals on his two shots put his shooting percentage at 50 - he went 0 for 2 in his first game of the season. Keep it up my friend and welcome back.

3 - Plekanec the penalty taker? While Pleks was again the Habs most effective forward last night, he uncharacteristically took three minor penalties in the second period: Interference, Holding and Tripping. This was, in my estimation, due to the incredible physical duress that he was under all night. It was plain to see that the Isles game plan was to physically abuse Tomas Plekanec in order to shut him down. This is what happens you top players on teams around the league. They are given a ton of physical attention/abuse in order to shut them down. Last year, and in previous seasons, Plekanec would have become a shrinking violet. Not this year, however. The new and improved Plekanec of this season fights through checks, hits people and is still able to set up scoring chances. Last night, however, the abuse started in the 1st period as Sutton clearly got his hands up in Pleks face as he skated by. The result was a bloodied mouth for Plek and NO penalty call by the refs. This set Pleks off and as he started to fight back. The problem is that he got a little overzealous and got his team into penalty trouble. Good think the Habs PK is firing on all cylinders. Oh, and Pleks ended the evening with two assists, one for each Markov goal.

4 - After going 6 games without a point, Scott Gomez now has 7 points in the last 10 games. As much as I have been chastizing him for being invisible on the ice, he looks like he might be starting to get things going. The cross crease pass he made - during a Habs third period PP - to and open Metropolit was a thing of beauty. This guy is a passer and since Gionta went down, he hasn't really had anyone to pass the puck too. He and Sergei K seem to have some chemistry together, but they are both passers. I am thining that when Gionta returns - which should be within the next week - he should add a nice boost to that line. Who knows, if Pouliot can get his game together that Sergei might lose his spot and Gomez might suddenly be playing with two goal scorers. That is what he needs in order to be successful. Without goal scorers on his wing, Gomez becomes invisible. So maybe the problems with Gomez have more to do with his GM's lack of ability to get him good wingers - aside from Gionta. You think that Gainey is maybe using Halak as bait for exactly that type of player?

5 - Don't look now, but the Habs special teams are starting to click. Last night, the Habs went 3 for 5 with the man advantage and killed off all 6 Islander penalties. That gives them a 20.0% (12th in the league) efficiency rate on the PP and a 83.4% (8th in the league) rate in the PK. Given that the Habs are the one of the most penalized teams in the league, they need that PK to keep clicking. And given that they don't score many goals 5 on 5, they need that PP to keep clicking. They say that in order for your special teams to be a factor that the combined percentage totals needs to equal 100. Well, as of this morning, the Habs are at 103.4 (20%PP+83.4%PK) and you can see the results in the games.

6 - What happened to MaxPac and Sergei? While both players were on un upward swing a few weeks ago, they now both seem tentative and ineffective on the ice. MaxPac, keep in mind, the Habs drafted instead of David Perron so he needs to pan out. Sergei looks like the same ineffective Sergei from last year. He looks lazy and complacent on the ice and it shows as he has zero points and is minus 4 in his last 9 games. Ouch! MaxPac has two assists and is even for the same period. For the Habs to be successful, they need these player to be producing points. This brings up the question of what will happen to Sergei when Pouliot is ready to join the big club - he is presently on a conditioning stint with the Bulldogs. I think that it does not bode well for Sergei and that he might be part of any deal that Gainey can put together.

Things don't get any easier for the Habs as they fly to Atlanta for their second game of a seven game road trip. This is the make it or break it trip for the Habs as their 35 points ties them with the Rangers for 9th in the East, two points out of a playoff spot. An extended losing streak on this trip could put them too far out of contention. An extended winning streak could propel them up the standings. With Atlanta at 39 points and holding three games in hand on the Habs, Monday's game is another 4 pointer. Let's hope that Markov, Halak et al. can keep this part rolling.

K.

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