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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Post Game Quick Hits: Habs 1 - Panthers 2

Wow, that was ugly.

After a glorious weekend that saw the Habs down the Devils in Jersey and obliterate the Rangers in Montreal, the Habs have come back down to Earth with a terrible effort in Florida. In losing 2-1 to the Nathan Horton-less and David Booth-less Panthers last night, the Habs show that they are truly a Jekyll and Hyde team. One day they are handily beating teams that have no business beating and the next they are losing to bottom feeders.

Last night was the classic recipe for a Habs loss. They were badly outshout (29-17), didn't score 5 on 5, and only managed 1 powerplay goal. As usual, if the Habs don't have outstanding goaltending and their special teams don't produce multiple points they lose. Halak was solid in goals, but one goal for is just not going to do it in this league.

No matter how much I try, I still can't make heads or tails of this team. Just when you think they are turning a corner, they throw a curveball. A couple of outstanding victories followed by a stinker of two and it is difficult to figure out why.

Last night, the Habs came out flat and carried a lack of effort and intensity from the first to the third period. While Halak held the Habs in the game long enough for Plekanec to score on the PP to give the Habs the lead, everything fell apart in the third. Defensive zone breakdowns and missed assignments were plentiful for the Habs and one in particular led to a Shawn Matthias breakaway early in the third. Gorges had no choice but to hall him down, earning the Panthers player a penalty shot and the tying goal. After that, the Habs went limp.

10 minutes after his tying goal, Matthias would score his second of the night off of a goal mouth scramble, and that was all she wrote. The Habs did, however, start to press a little with less than three minutes to go in the game. However with Halak on the bench for the extra attacker Spacek failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone on two separate occasions, and that sealed the loss for the Habs. Sad, pathetic and disheartening for Habs fans.

Game Notes:
1 - Halak is the Habs #1 goalie. With 54 games in the books, it is now clear that Halak is ahead of Price as far as development go. While I am sure that Jacques Martin will still put Price in the nets on a semi-regular basis, I believe that the time for that has past. The Habs desperately needs points right now, and for whatever reason the team just seems to play better with Halak in nets. Halak, for his part, did what he had to do. It was because of Halak that the Panthers only scored 2 goals. But, as a team, a one goal performance will not win you games in this league.

Bottom line? Halak has wrestled control of the number one spot away from Price and should play the bulk of the games until the end of the season. That will give the Habs their best shot at making the playoffs.

2 - The second line was the only line that was going last night. The Panthers played a stifling neutral-zone trap last night, and the Habs just couldn't counter. In order to counter the trap, you need to dump the puck in and chase. The problem is that if you are not first to the puck and if you don't win your battles in the offensive zone, you fail to maintain puck possession. Aside from the Gomez line, the Habs mostly failed to mount any kind of pressure in the Panthers zone.

3 - If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Martin, for some reason, had Travis Moen on the first line with Plek and Cammy, last night. Why? In the two games over the weekend (vs. NJ and Rangers) Mathieu Darche filled that first line winger role. While Darche is not a permanent solution to what ails line number one, he did get three points over the two weekend wins and the first line was a factor. Just like with his boss - Gainey - Jacques Martin sometimes leaves fans guessing as to what he is doing and why.

4 - Habs fans should learn to expect the worst, this way we'll never be disappointed. Every time, this season, we think the Habs are turning the corner, they lay a stink bomb, hence the .500 record. They are playing an antiquated system (passive-resistance) with an inflexible coach who sticks to line matching and systems, rather than trying to play a more attacking style which is better suited to his quick, skilled forwards such as Gomez, Cammalleri, Gionta, SK74, AK46, Plekanec, etc. Until the system, personnel or coach changes, this will continue to be a win one lose one season.

5 - Markov has slowed a bit since his fiery return. While he was a monster, scoring 13 points (3G, 10A) over his first 11 games back from injury, Markov has slowed a step over the last 8 games, potting only 3 assists. In addition, he is making uncharacteristic turnovers and bad plays.

This was to be expected as players returning from injury often have an adrenaline boost for a few weeks. But the reality of having missed so much time usually catches up from a conditioning perspective. Not to worry though, as this is a temporary lull. Markov is an elite defenseman among elite defensemen and will rediscover his game soon enough.

Oh and one more thing in regards to Markov...when is Gainey going to go out and get a true #2 defenseman to play as his partner. Don't get me wrong because Josh Gorges is a very hardworking committed player who gives every ounce he has, night in and night out. But let's be honest here. Josh is a fourth to sixth defenseman at best.

6 - During his first game with the Habs, Ben Maxwell was invisible. Maybe it was just me, but for most of the night I didn't even know which line he was playing on. It was only when he was switched to Plekanec's line for a few shifts that I first noticed him. That being said, you've got to give the kid a free pass for his 1st game as the whole team lacked effort. Additionally, it will take him a few games to acclimate. When he does, however, I am anxious to see what he can do!

Standings and Next Game:
The loss last night leaves the Habs in ninth place with 55 points. If they had even lost in overtime or shootout, they would be in 6th with 57 points, but alas. The Habs are tied, in points, with Philly, the Rangers and the Panthers who have three games, one game and one game in hand, respectively. Behind the Habs are Boston, Atlanta and the Islanders each with 54 points and three games, two games and one game in hand, respectively.

The Habs get right back on the horse tonight as they go into Tampa Bay and try to beat Team Quebec South.

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