Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Canadiens-Penguins: Fleury Earns Shutout As Pittsburgh Takes Series Lead

I guess Marc-Andre Fleury silenced his critics last night, eh?

After performances in Game One and Two where Fleury looked shaky, he put in arguably his best performance of the playoffs, last night, and earned a shutout in the process.

The Habs had their chances, as they took the play to the Pens during a first period in which Pittsburgh wasn't even in the same building.

However, as has been the case too many times this season, the Canadiens couldn't score and that gave the Pens enough time to regroup and storm back.

In essence, the Habs got "Halak-ed" by Fleury.

The Pens got scoring from Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis (empty net) while the Habs were blanked.

Final score: Habs 0 - Pens 2. Pens lead the series 2-1.

Game Notes
1. Jaroslav Halak was good, but Fleury was better.

While there is no question that Halak played another strong game for Montreal, we have to remember that the Canadiens are a team that has a very small margin for error.

This is largely due to their lack of depth and the passive-resistance style that they play. Essentially, for the Habs to win they need outstanding goaltending, good special teams, and opportunistic scoring i.e. they have to capitalize on their chances.

The Habs dominated the first period against the Pens last night, but couldn't put one past Fleury. This allowed the Pens to go to the dressing, regroup, and turn the game around.

While Halak kept the Pens scorers at bay for most of the night—he stopped 23 of 24 shots against him—he Habs ultimately did themselves in by taking penalties at the end of the second period.

As a result, the Habs started the third period shorthanded with both Josh Gorges and Hal Gill—the Habs two best penalty killers—in the box. The result was the game winning goal by Evgeni Malkin at 1:16 of the third period.

While Fleury only faced 18 shots on the night, many of the saves that he made were of the spectacular variety. He is the reason the Pens went into the second period tied at zero, rather than being down by one or two.

Had the Habs been able to score in the first period, the game would have been over.

2. P.K. Subban is going to be a stud on the blueline.

Playing a team leading 22:09 last night, Subban put in his best performance so far. Making great first passes, excellent defensive plays, blocking shots, hitting people, and proving an offensive spark from the back end.

While Andrei Markov is Andrei Markov and no one can replace him, Subban was given the nod to eat up the extra minutes left by his absence.

That the coaching staff is looking to a 20-year-old to fill is for their No.1 defenseman speaks volumes about Subban's maturity and his development in Hamilton.

If the Habs want any chance of winning this series, they will need every ounce of Subban's talent with Markov out and Jaroslav Spacek with no clear timeline to return.

3. Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot are key cogs for the Habs.

Both AK46 and Pouliot have been struggling for at least the last two months. Over the course of the playoffs, neither has been effective and it is hurting the Habs chances to win.

Both players are the third component to their respective lines—AK46 with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri, and Pouliot with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta—and neither are producing.

Starting the game on the fourth line, AK46 played some of his most inspired hockey in a long time, last night.

AK46 was making passes, taking shots, and even taking the body. His effective play earned him a promotion back to the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri.

Unfortunately for the trio, they couldn't capitalize on their chances.

Pouliot suffered a similar fate last night, as he had a few shifts where he looked effective, but ultimately failed to do anything.

The result was that Jacques Martin, desperate for offense, was forced to put Cammalleri with Gomez and Gionta, meaning that the Habs only had one effective scoring line.

This is a desperation move and one caused by the fact that one third of the top two lines are not contributing anything.

This is disturbing, for the Canadiens, because 92 games into the season is not the time when we should be talking about players "waking up".

While I have so far not been impressed by the Penguins and see them as a team that is eminently beatable, if the Canadiens do not win I feel that it is their lack of scoring depth that will do them in.

Look Out Ahead!
For the Canadiens, there is not a lot that needs to be changed before next game. Getting Spacek back in the lineup would be great but he is suffering from some kind of inner ear problem that is giving him vertigo. The result is a lack of balance and no clear timeline for return.

If Spacek can't come back next game, it will mean that the Habs top three defensemen will continue to be Subban, Hamrlik, and Gorges. When compared to Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski, the Habs don't stack up very well.

If there is one thing the Habs will want to do next game, it is go to the net more often. While Fleury was outstanding last night, the Canadiens made his life easier than it needed to be by not going to the net for screens, deflections, and rebounds.

As such, almost all of the Habs' chances came on first shots. Very few rebounds, or second chances, were picked up by the Habs and in this league, you're not going to score too often like that.

Next Game
The teams both enjoy a day off before playing a pivotal Game Four in Montreal, on Thursday.

Needless to say, Game Four is a must win for the Canadiens because as much as the Pens are a team that can be beaten, they are not going to give up a 3-1 series lead.

Win on Thursday, and the Habs go back to Pittsburgh with the series tied 2-2. Lose, and things might be over in a hurry.

So what do you think about last night's game and who do you think will win the next game? Can the Habs pull it off? Will the Pens steamroll the Canadiens?


I can't agree with you this morning, Kamal. Once Fleury stops a 40 or 50 shot bombardment from the Habs who are incessantly in his face, I'll run comparisons to Halak. He didn't earn the shutout - he was helped along by the Habs, who only took 18 shots at him, most of which came in the 1st. If he can't stop 18 shots (most of which were coming from poor angles) in 60 minutes, he doesn't belong in the NHL. It's hardly a Halakian level performance. He did get a shutout, and Halak did let one in that he took responsibility for, but I'd still rather have Halak than Fleury. I don't think Fleury silenced his critics by any means, but in the Pens-loving NHL, it will be pimped as a triumph of epic proportions.

PK is doing better than he though I would, but given the sudden fanfare and media whoring on him, how long is that going to last? AK showed up last night, and it was nice to see. Is it going to continue, or was it the exception to the rule again? Pouliot couldn't buy a goal if his life depended on it. He's doing the right things and working hard, but it's just not happening, so it's down to bad luck I guess. Hard to get that particular monkey off your back. I suspect Spacek is as gone for the year as Markov.

If Sid gets our 2 best PKers tossed into the box again, Pens easily will take this series. Pens aren't doing well against Habs in 5 on 5, and did not run away with the game by any means last night. Habs stopped trying offensively after the 1st, and this seems to be some sort of mental block they failed to overcome during the regular season that is back with a vengeance again now.

I don't understand why Bell Centre ice is an advantage for every single team except the Montreal Canadiens, especially if the visiting team is icing a French Canadian goalie. The visitors get pumped and feel the excitement, and the Habs feel overwhelmed and stressed. Winning 1 playoff game on home ice every 3 seasons is a ridiculously poor statistic, and pretty much a slap in the face to their loyal fans. Habs talk about their love for their fans, but then fail to deliver where it counts the most - right in front of their faces. It's fast becoming my biggest pet peeve with this team.

Hi there Tyg and thanks, as always, for your awesome comments!

I agree in that Fleury wasn't busy last night, the Habs did not make his life difficult, there were no secondary scoring chances, and no one going to the net.

All of those things meant that he has an easier night than he should have. That being said, he did made several key saves among the 18 shots he faced, and those ones ended up being the difference.

Did he outplay Halak? Not at all. Jaro was Jaro and the Habs impotent offense was the reason they lost.

PK, yep, I hope the media doesn't crush this kid either. If there is one trait that he has that makes him well equipped for life in MTL, imo, it is his confidence.

AK showed up, but still produced nothing. Him and Pouliot MUST get going for the Habs to have an easier time winning.

No quesiton, with Gill and Gorges in the box you felt that PP goal coming.

I agree with you, however, that the Habs have been the better team 5-on-5. I still think the Pens are extremely beatable. They are not showing me anything impressive and are not the pens team from last year.

They look tired, imo, and if the Habs can take Game Four, I think they'll win this series.

You're right re: Habs home ice advantage, or lack thereof.

It doesn't exist for the Habs. All other teams get pumped playing in Montreal so there is no advantage there at all.

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