Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Canadiens-Flyers: Leighton's Second Straight Shutout Puts Habs in 2-0 Hole

Well, that was better than last game, but not by much.

While the effort from the Canadiens was missing in Game 1 against the Flyers, last night you could not make the same complaint.

The Canadiens tried.

There was effort there, however, they were still completely ineffective and were shutout for the second straight game.

While many will be pointing to Michael Leighton this morning as the goaltending savior for the Flyers, the fact is that the Canadiens have done nothing but making things easy on him.

While the Habs did play with determination last night, they still refused to go to the net, and were essentially a bunch of perimeter players.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you do not score many goals on NHL goaltenders with shots from the outside.

The familiar recipe from Game 1 repeated last night with the Flyers scoring two of their three goals on the power play—they now have four goals on eight power play opportunities for a 50% success rate.

The Flyers got goals from Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, and Ville Leino—a rare weak goal allowed by Jaroslav Halak.

Final score: Flyers 3 - Habs 0.

Game Notes

1. Halak is not the problem.
OK, let me start by saying that Halak has not been the peak of perfection so far in this series. Let me continue by saying that the third Flyers goal—from the outside on a narrow angle—was bush-league and would have been stopped by a minor league goaltender.

That being said, we must remember that if it was not for Halak, the Canadiens would not have made the playoffs to start with and would not have beaten either the Caps or the Pens.

In addition, we must keep in mind that the Canadiens have yet to score a goal in this series.

So while many will be asking whether the Canadiens should play Halak or Carey Price tomorrow night, I think the question is not even worth asking.

The only way Price gets the start is if the coaching staff sees or knows that Halak is tired and needs a break. They do not put Price in the net based on Halak's play so far.

Halak has gotten the team this far and it is his series to lose.

2. Leighton? Really?
Newsflash people: Michael Leighton is not the second coming of Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy.

While he is clearly a serviceable NHL goaltender, the Canadiens have not done any of the things that are necessary in order to score at this level.

Sure they outshot the Flyers 30-23, but how many of those shots were dangerous, second chances, recouped rebounds, deflections, or shot through screens?

None, or very close to none.

People will point the three saves that Leighton made on Michael Cammalleri during a first period Habs power play as evidence of his excellent play.

I say, watch that replay.

The first shot was along the ice, right into his pad, the first rebound was along the ice right into his pad, and the second rebound was along the ice right into his pad.

To Leighton's credit, his positioning was solid and he was in the right spot. That being said, none of those three shots by Cammy were dangerous.

3. The Flyers are giving the Habs a taste of their own medicine.
Whereas the Habs spent the first two rounds taking away the middle of the ice, pushing the Caps' and Pens' skilled players to the outside, scoring opportunistic goals on their few scoring chances and the power play, the tables have clearly been turned on them against in this round.

The Flyers combination of grit, size, and skill on defense has turned the entire Canadiens offensive corps into perimeter players.

As a result, the small but speedy Habs' players are taking shot after shot from 30 or more feet out, from the outside, with no one in front of or going to the net.

For the Habs to be successful, they need to start chipping the puck into the corners and creating foot races with the Flyers defenders. This is where the Habs strength lies as they are much faster than the Flyers, overall.

If they can create foot races, this will lead to defensive zone break down, odd man situations, and much more room to maneuver.

Instead, however, they seem content to look for the perfect, pretty play.

How many times, last night, did we see a Scott Gomez, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, or Maxim Lapierre get the puck in the corner and sweep behind and around the net, rather than driving straight towards it?

There is a mental block with the Habs as they are not currently willing to try to drive to the net and get abused. So, instead they sweep around, throw it out in front, to a sea of waiting orange sweaters with nary a red one in sight.

The result? Two consecutive shutouts for the Flyers, a highly successful power play, a few lucky goals, and a 2-0 series lead.

4. Scott Gomez again sunk his team.
Not only is he ineffective on the attack and the penalty kill right now, but so far in this series Gomez has taken a series of boneheaded penalties that have cost the Habs dearly.

Again, yesterday, Gomez took an early penalty that sent the Flyers to the pp and a quick 1-0 lead in the game. That Flyers' goal was the only one scored in a first period where the Canadiens outshot them 16-6.

There is a big difference between outshooting your opponent and being tied 0-0 than down by one goal.

5. Speaking of waking up, it is time for Jacques Martin to do just that.
Before yesterday's game, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that 6'5", 250 lbs Ryan O'Byrne would be in the Habs lineup that was in desperate need of size.

However, not only was O'Byrne not in the lineup but Sergei Kostitsyn—whose attitude was deemed so bad recently that he was effectively kicked off of the team—was in the lineup instead.

As expected, SK74 played without heart, emotion, or any sign that he gave a crap for all of his 4:57 of ice time.

So my question is that if Coach Martin is intent on playing Marc-Andre Bergeron on defense—a position that he is ill equipped to play—then why not put O'Byrne on the fourth line as a forward with the mission of body checking Pronger, or any other Flyers defenseman, every chance he gets?

I think he'd also look pretty good parked in front of Leighton—a position that no other Habs forward took up all night long.

Look Out Ahead!

Look out indeed, as the Canadiens are in an early hole just when you thought they had some momentum.

You get the impression with this series, that once or if the Canadiens finally score, the floodgates might open up. As good as Leighton has been, he is still a goaltender who has an up-and-down history of inconsistency.

If the Canadiens can get a few by him, maybe he gets out of his comfort zone and starts to think too much. If that happens, anything is possible. But the Canadiens need to get in his face if they want any chance of knocking him off of his game.

Go to the net, make contact with the goaltender, give him a snow wash, and do something, anything to make his life difficult.

If the Habs continue to be spectators and take shots from the outside, I would be surprised if they win even one game in this series. If they change that tendency and start going to the net they still stand a fighting chance.

Next Game

The teams now travel to Montreal for games three and four of this series.

The boisterous atmosphere of the Bell Center might be just what the doctor ordered for a Habs team who looks frustrated but not angry.

Anger is the emotion they need to start exhibiting in order to have success, but frustration seem to be the one guiding them right now.

They say that you're never in trouble in the playoffs until you lose a game on home ice. While that tends to be true, I believe that given the way the Canadiens have played so far, they are already in trouble.

If they don't change their ways on Thursday night, this could be a four game sweep where the Habs don't score a goal for the entire series.

Let's hope that they shake things up for Game Three and/or get a lucky bounce or two. We all know they could use one!


1. Been preaching this since last night. You can literally brick up the net. If there's no offense, there's no win. Price was the scapegoat of choice in 2008. I guess it's Halak's turn now?

2. First Jaro was the 2nd coming. Now it's Leighton. Probably Crosby and Ovi are relieved there's a fresh face for the NHL to pimp out. At this rate, Habs would make a peewee goalie look good.

3. Agree with all of it, except Pleks who made the effort. He was the only one I saw trying for it, driving Timmomen (sp) crazy without drawing a penalty, and hitting Pronger. Pleks tried, but didn't score. Others get no such pass from me, and Pleks said he's not satisfied with his own game offensively. Neither am I. Want a raise? Want to stay in Montreal? Earn it.

4. Someone on the Habs forum suggested trading him for Vinny Lecavalier of TB. As long as Vinny can stay out of the box, we'll get the better end of the deal. Say what you want about MAB, but Scotty's a worse problem right now. For that kind of money, he's effectively hamstringing his own team.

5. JM is married to this stupid system, and Muller (who is the only reason we got through the first two rounds) is hindered by having to adapt within its confines. Do not look for any changes, because JM will not allow them. SK playing was to punish Pouliot, which is how JM has proven he operates. He's never going to overcome this stupid system. Yes, it was effective against a swiss cheese defense like Washington has, and Pittsburgh has no money to pay decent wingers since they're all about Malkin, Crosby and Staal. If they'd had hot linesmen, or MAF hadn't been the guy his stats reveal him to be, we'd have gone down vs. the Pens. This system forces the forwards to play so much defense that they can't get creative, can't forecheck in tandem, and hinder their own offense. When your snipers are shut down, which is what Philly is doing, this system needs to be thrown out.

Perfect scenario - JM canned, Muller made head coach, Boucher brought up as assistant. Instead we'll get another 3 or 4 years of JM, Muller and Boucher will go on to win cups with some other organization.

Habs talking the talk about going to the net, but they're not doing it. Time to walk the walk, or else the next walk they take will be down the back 9.

Hey Tyg!

1. Yep.
2. Ditto.
3. Good point as I did see Plek trying on a few occasions. But again, the problem is that loop-around-throw-it-in-front thing that is so frustrating. It seemd like every time a Habs player had the puck, the just threw it in front, almost without looking!

There was never anyone in front to connect with so what's the point? You've got nothing, send it back to the D and then GO TO THE NET!

4. Vinny to MTL is unlikely, I think, unless McGuire become GM of Tampa. Me fear with Vinny is that he has maybe 3 or 4 years left at his peak but 10 more years on his contract. That is dangerous and not something I personally would go for. And yes, Gomez is an anchor right now. How many boneheaded penalties can one guy take? I guess he should ask Lapierre for the answer to that question.

5. JM's system looks great when they win. Correction, it looks less bad when they win. But when they lose, it looks antiquated and ridiculous.

Kirk backed by Boucher would be great. I'd love to see it but I think Bouch might get poached before the Habs have a chance to bring him up as I don't see JM going anywhere short term.

There were games against the Pens where the Habs didn't go to the net, too, and those games resulted in Pens wins and MAF shutouts.

The next game, however, the Habs DID walk the walk. They have not yet done so in this series and HAVE TO on Thursday or this could go from ugly to Rod Brind'amour in a hurry.


Amidst all the Habs hate and bashfest today, there is an article that's worth reading. Check it out.

O'Byrne played his heart out in first two series (and was remarkably effective) and his reward is a healthy scratch? Pouliot has size and is a worthy playmaker and he is sitting? What is JM thinking??? Crash the net like the "bully's" do. Don't drift so aimlessly away from the front because often the puck is right there!!!!!!!!!!

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