Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Jaroslav Halak's Brilliant Performance Forces Game 7 in Washington

Wow. I mean, wow. What an unbelievable performance by Jaroslav Halak.

Yes, the Montreal Canadiens won 4-1 last night against the Washington Capitals to force a Game Seven, Wednesday night, in Washington. But the score doesn't necessarily reflect the game story.

As has become the case for most of the games in this series, the Habs came out like they were shot out of a cannon. They took the play to Washington and scored two first period goals—both by Michael Cammalleri.

After that, it was Jaroslav Halak that shut the door on the Caps and vaulted the Habs into victory.

There was a key 5-on-3 powerplay for the Capitals in the first period, with the Habs leading 2-0, but Halak and the Habs penalty killers were able to keep them off of the score board.

The Habs got goals from Cammalleri (2), Maxim Lapierre, and Tomas Plekanec (empty net), and the Caps responded with a lone goal from Eric Fehr with less than five minutes to play.

Final score: Habs 4 - Caps 1. The series is tied 3-3.

Game Notes
1. Halak played one for the ages.

With 53 saves on 54 shots for a scintillating .981 save percentage, Halak was the undeniable star of the game.

The win pushed Halak's record when facing 35 or more shots to 12-1 and 9-0 when facing 40 or more shots.

You've got to be kidding me!

This is a guy who wants to be in the action, who thrives off of being busy, and who rises to the top of his game when he is being bombarded.

Make no mistake, however, that despite Halak's performance the Capitals are not a team that you can give up 54 shots to on a regular basis, and expect to win.

2. Powerless powerplay or powerful penalty kill?

The Canadiens played an undisciplined game last night, and allowed the Capitals six powerplay opportunities, including a 5-on-3 PP in the first period.

Despite all of their opportunities, the Capitals continue to fire blanks on the PP and while part of it the problem is with the Caps pp, you have to give a ton of credit to an extremely tenacious Montreal penalty kill.

Lead by Hal Gill—the shot blocking machine—and Josh Gorges, the Montreal penalty kill has limited the Caps No.1 powerplay during the regular season, to one goal on 30 powerplay opportunities.

With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green and others on their powerplay, that is a truly amazing stat.

If the Caps had been scoring on their pp so far, this series would be long over.

The Habs, on the other hand, continue to score one powerplay goal per game, as they did last night. Clearly, they are winning the battle of the special teams.

3. P.K. Subban is alright.

With 10:02 of ice time last night, P.K. Subban did not look out of place. While he looked a little over excited to start the game—a natural side effect of playing for the first time in the NHL playoffs in front of the raucous Bell Centre crowd—Subban quickly settled down to become an effective player for the Habs.

Subban was paired with Roman Hamrlik last night—due to the continued illness of Jaroslav Spacek—and did not look out of place.

If there is one thing that is evident, it is that Subban has a ton of self-confidence and he displayed it was a few between the leg passes, and a nifty feed to Cammalleri on his second goal of the game.

In case you’re counting, that is three NHL games for Subban and he has three assists.

4. The supporting cast came out to play.

Starting with Maxim Lapierre and ending with Ryan O'Byrne, the Canadiens got contribution for their entire lineup.

O'Byrne saw just over twenty minutes of ice time, paired with Andrei Markov, and looked every bit like Mike Komisarek of last year but with better skating.

OB was blocking shots, clearing players from the front of the net, and dishing out punishing body checks all night long. It makes you wonder why Coach Martin decided to bench him until Game Four.

Lapierre too, played one of his best games of the season. He was combative and moving his feet all night long. The result was a bunch of scoring chances and his first playoff goal at 4:17 of the third.

Despite his strong play, Lapierre was up to his old tricks and took two diving penalties as a result. As much as his contributions up front were needed and appreciated, he cannot go around putting his team in trouble like that.

The Habs are very lucky that their indiscipline didn't lose them the game, and must cut down on stupid penalties if they want any chance of winning Game Seven.

Look Out Ahead!
The Habs won Game Six in Montreal in an improbably fashion, and will be playing a do or die Game Seven in Washington on Wednesday. That being said, and despite the win, they need to be better if they want to win this series.

While the Caps outshot the Canadiens by an unbelievable 54-22 margin last night, the worst part was that they had about 15 clear shots from prime scoring areas. This was a disturbing trend last night, and if it wasn't for Halak's brilliance the Habs would surely have lost the game by three or four goals.

If they want to win on Wednesday, they must do a better job of protecting the high slot.

For the Caps, I would expect that they will basically try to emulate their Game Six performance. I mean if the game plays out identically on Wednesday, there is no way the Habs will come out with the win again.

That being said, I noticed the Caps players getting frustrated during the third period and wonder how much Halak has started to get into their heads.

When you see Alex Ovechkin passing instead of shooting from a good shooting area, you have to wonder. He was not the only Caps player to look for a pass when a shot was the right play, last night, and that tends to point to them being affected by Halak's play.

Next Game
The Habs have done the supposedly impossible and forced a Game Seven. Both teams have the day off before playing a winner takes all match in Washington tomorrow night.

As much as the pressure has been on the Habs for the last two games, it now shifts to the Capitals.

For the Canadiens, they weren't even supposed to make it this far. While they have clearly grabbed the momentum in this series, if they lose tomorrow, they still go home as heroes.

For the Caps, however, it is a different story. They were the No.1 team overall in the league who were supposed to contend for the cup this year.

If the Caps lose tomorrow, they go home as zeros. They have everything to lose while the Canadiens have nothing to lose and should play loose.

That being said, anything can happen tomorrow and I would not be surprised if either team wins.

For Habs fans, whether your team loses tomorrow or not, you should be proud. They have done so much more than anyone expected and should come home carrying their heads high.

So let's see what happens Wednesday in the final installment of what has been one of the most entertaining series' in a long time!

So what do you all think? Who wins the next game and the series?


Jaro Halak is driving me crazy, but in a good way. Heart attack Halak strikes again. Thank God he's a Hab. I'm glad I saw that game. It'll make the Classic highlight reels for decades to come. If he was in the net for Washington we'd have never gotten anywhere near a game 7. Proud proud of Les Boys, regardless of whatever happens on Wednesday (but I want them to WIN)! Habs need to stop the nonsense and make Jaro an offer he can't refuse and just sign the man already. I read on one of the boards that apparently Jaro has a God Mode 2.0. I think that about sums it up.

If it weren't for his injury, Cammi's stats would have been far more impressive for the season. That said, he's shown why he's worth the money this playoffs. Did someone set his hair on fire?

I'll let Max have it for that first dive. Yo, it's not an acting gig, it's hockey. Luckily he remembered that in time to come out and play, and play he did. He deserved the 3rd star. IMO the 2nd dive call on him though was wrong, and the one on Gionta was just clear cut BS by the refs. Seriously, do they get paid more if the Caps win?

The Habs know Jaro stood on his head and bailed them out. Gill admitted after the game that Jaro shouldn't have had to face that many shots. Gill is already a PK machine that's truly excelling this post-season, but he's also a leader in the dressing room from what I've read, so look for a tighter D in game 7. With PK - who totally impressed me more than I thought he would - the D can only get better. Also, props to O'Byrne, who is getting physical with the Caps forwards. He's been taking notes from Gill too.

OK - now the bad stuff. MAB MAB MAB. Only 5 mins on the ice and you managed to piss me off for all of it. What good are you if you can't put it in the net, or even show some urgency in retrieving the puck to reset the PP? Trade him. I've seen enough. Ditto with Roman Hamrlik. He talked about upping his game on TSN yesterday, but failed to deliver.

And of course, my absolute favorite pet peeve - JM. Idiotic lunacy, sitting on a freaking lead in a playoffs game! 3 shots on goal in the 2nd? (Insert string of creative profanity here.) You're lucky your players are rising to the occasion, because your stupid system is a JOKE! Yeah, I still hate this man. Some things never change.

Hey there Tyg, was great to have you on the live Chat last night, and thanks, as always for you insightful comments!

Ok, let me dig in:

Re: Halak...I love the God Mode reference. Hilarious! Halak has arrived. He is showing that he is a legit No.1 in the league. Personally, I would try to sign BOTH Price AND Halak, and see what happens next year, and only because I think Price will have a much better year next year than this year.

That being said, if you can trade Price for a boatload of goodness, you probably can't go wrong sticking with Halak.

Re: Cammy....if it wasn't for injuries, Cammy would have 40 goals this year. That is sick. We haven't had a 40 goal scorer since Recchi, back in the day.

Re: Lapierre...yep, he's got to stick to playing hockey and forget about trying to be an ass or dive. Just play your game man, and all will be good. He's scary when he's moving his feet!

RE: OB and Subban. Yep, both were solid. Sad that JM waited so long before putting OB in the lineup. As for Subban, I personally would like to see him stay with the team. I'd rather him in the lineup than Darche, or Pyatt or MAB.

RE: MAB. Yep, he sucks. 1 dimensional and that 1 dimension is hit shot. That's it. Apart from the shot, which has failed to be on net very much lately, he is a liability EVERY time he is on the ice! Even on the PP he is a liability, contastnly turning the puck over at the blueline.

Re: JM, no question, his sit back and protect the lead strategy is horrible and ridiculously stressful to watch.

The Habs were bombarded from the second period on and just sat back and took it.

Why? When the Habs attacke, like in the first, the can push the Caps back on their heels.

*sigh*...imagine this team with a more balanced/offesive focused coach!

PS: You think you can get some people from the hockey boards you read to get involved in our discussions here?

Hey Kamal I've been pimping your site everywhere dude, but I'll rise to the occasion like our boys and try to up my game.

This team with a more balanced and offensively minded coach would not need a goaltender to stand on his head time and again.

Awwwwww.....you're the best! And, honestly, I'm really happy that you like my writing so much.

I'm just a Habs addict, like you and its cool to see people enjoying what I have to say!

As for the Habs, yep, there is NO question that this team with more balanced coaching would NOT need Halak to be the 1st star every game in order to win.

Imagine Guy Boucher with Kirk Muller as his assistant?

Ahhhh, to dream!

Great articles bro. Ur a talented writer.

I really hope that if Martin doesn't take us far in the next 2 years, that Boucher would be the Head Coach in MTL. Looks solid doing what he does.

Neways....following u all the way from T.O. but a MTLer in my heart. Take it ez.


Hey there Usman and thanks for your comments!

How's T.O. treating you? Thanks for the accolades, man...I'm glad you like my writing!

As for the Habs, yep I think we all hope that JM gets replaced...hopefully THIS summer rather than in a few years.

The problem is that Guy Boucher is doing such a good job that if the Habs wait too long, he will probably get hired by another NHL team somewhere.

That would be a HUGE missed opportunity for the Habs.

Anyway, enjoy the game tomorrow and again, thanks for your comment!

Isn't Boucher under contract though? Can an NHL team approach him without an okay by the Habs? I don't know how that stuff works, but I'd rather he came up as an assistant to JM for a year or two (God help us) if necessary than fly off to parts unknown. If a rival needs the Habs okay to woo him, I hope Gautier at least has the sense to say no. Or is that asking too much?

Hi again Tyg!

Yes, Boucher IS under contract to the Habs (Bulldogs) and would need the Habs permissions before talking to him.

That being said, the Habs, like most organizations in the league, tend NOT to stand in people's way of advancement. Whether that is Trevor Timmins being solicited for a GM job somewhere, or our head scout interviewing for an assistant GM position...

There tends to be a "...we don't want to prevent anyone from advancing..." mentality and as such, the Habs would likely grant permissions.

That being said, I have fear that he will be coveted this summer, especially in light of the run that the Bulldogs are on.

Scary, but true.

Last night's game was not really what I expected to see from the Habs. Besides Halak stumping Washington, I was really impressed by Montreal overall. They blocked shots, were intense and everyone contributed something. Did they allow too many shots? Probably, but they still looked like the team that deserved to win, despite Halak's performance. Playoff hockey starts with good goaltending but after that, execution, desperation, persistence, grit, agression, and a whole lot more is required to win. I saw a team that had the desire to win last night. That's what it takes. Montreal looked like the team ready to do whatever it takes. And that's what they did. Can they do it again?

Good points, Pat!

I think McGuire put it best when he said the victory was a system beating out skill.

Sure, the Caps have a boatload more skill than the Habs, but the Canadiens, to a man, knew their responsibilities and played like a team.

Everyone is pulling in the same direction and Halak is on fire. That is a combination that can lead to playoff success.

The Pens should make for a heck of a series!

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