Monday, May 3, 2010

Canadiens-Penguins: Jaroslav Halak Stars as Montreal Ties Series with Pittsburgh

So how we feel about yesterday's game Habs addicts? Sleepy enough for you?

During a hockey game where the pace was that of molasses slow dripping out of a jar, the Montreal Canadiens managed to stifle and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, to tie their second round series at one game each.

More importantly, with the win, the Habs have stolen home-ice advantage from the Pens as the series now shifts to Montreal where the frenzied Bell Centre crowd awaits.

As much as yesterday's game was dull, it was precisely the type of game that the Canadiens wanted to play against the more skilled Penguins. The Canadiens clogged the neutral zone, generally kept the Pens to the outside, shut down their power play—then Pens went 0-for-3 for the game—and Halak shone to earn the Canadiens the win.

The Penguins frustration was evident as Crosby threw his broken stick and Craig Adams was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting Marc-Andre Bergeron from behind, with less than four minutes left to play.

Adams will undoubtedly have a date with the NHL's discipline office and I would expect him to get a one or two game suspension.

The Penguins' lone goal was scored by Matt Cooke and the Canadiens responded with Michael Cammalleri—he scored two—and Brian Gionta.

Final Score: Habs 3 - Pens 1. The series is tied 1-1.

Game Notes
1. The Halak Attack is back.

After getting shelled for five goals on 20 shots in Game One, Jaroslav Halak bounced back with a vengeance.

Rediscovering his form from the series against the Capitals, Halak turned aside 38 of the 39 shots he faced for a sizzling .974 save percentage.

It is no coincidence that Halak's bounce back came during a game in which the Pens got 39 shots on net—versus the 20 they had on his last game.

Halak's record when facing 35 or more shot this season is now at 15-1-2. When facing 40 or more shots, it is at a frightening 10-0-1.

This guy simply needs to be busy and excels while being barraged. Maybe the opposition should try not to shoot as much as they'd likely have a better chance of winning.

2. Michael Cammalleri continues to be a leader on the ice for the Habs.

With two more goals last night, Mike Cammalleri pushed his playoff point total to 13. His eight goals and five assists over nine playoff games put him third overall in playoff league scoring—one point behind San Jose's Joe Pavelski (14 points) and three points behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (16 points).

More importantly, Cammalleri continues to score important and timely goals as his two game winners and his five power play points demonstrate.

As much as he took flak for being ineffective during the playoffs for Calgary last year, Cammalleri is showing this year that he can carry a team offensively.

3. The system is the answer.

It might be boring and it might be antiquated, but Jacques Martin's system works when his players commit to it. And as much as Halak shone during yesterday's game, the Canadiens got back to the game plan that brought them success against the Caps.

That system is the one where the Canadiens do an excellent job collapsing down low, keeping shooters to the outside or the point, do a good job of clearing the front of the net, and generally speaking limit the number of second chances and rebounds.

This hermetic defensive system coupled with an opportunistic offense that scores on the power play and takes advantage of turnovers and giveaways, is how the Canadiens roared back to beat the Caps in Round One.

This same formula worked in Game Two against the Pens and it was what was missing from the first game where the Habs looked too slow and tired to execute.

It will be interesting to see how the Pens adapt their play for Game Three in Montreal.

4. Speaking of system, those who do not follow are banished.

Another component of Jacques Martin's system, at least during the playoffs, is that he is rewarding players who buy-in and punishing those who don't.

The Pens goal last night was caused by horrible defensive zone coverage by the Habs fourth line of Ben Maxwell, Mathieu Darche, and Andrei Kostitsyn.

AK46 in particular completely missed his assignment and it lead to Matt Cooke streaking in alone to score on Halak.

The fourth line saw a total of two shifts during the first period and none for the rest of the game.

You think they got the message?

Look Out Ahead!
As much as the Habs commitment to their system won out over the skill of the Pens last night, Pittsburgh is known to be a team that can adapt well.

It will be interesting to see what tweaks Coach Bylsma makes for Game Three in Montreal. Given that they will be on the road where the Habs get the last line change, it might be more difficult for them to gain an advantage over the Habs system.

That being said, I fully expect a frustrated Crosby to take his game to another level. While he looked tired at times during Game Two, Crosby is the best player in the world and will not lose without a fight.

For the Habs, expect Jaroslav Spacek to be back in the lineup on Tuesday in Montreal. His return combined with the excellently poised play of rookie P.K. Subban should buoy the Habs defense enough to survive the loss of Andrei Markov—he is gone for the playoffs.

Next Game
The scene now shifts to Montreal where the hockey-mad Canadiens fans will be looking to rain boo's on the opposition and lift up the Habs with their support.

Crosby and co. always lift their game in Montreal, so I would expect Tuesday's Game Three to be one of the most hotly contested games of the series.

So what do you think? Who will win the next game? Will the Pens be able to overcome the Habs' stifling system? Will Halak shine again?


Sorry I bailed on the chat. I've been not feeling well, and I had to tape the game to watch it later. I didn't find the game as dull as you (maybe it's the meds), but I did see the Habs go back to what worked against Washington, which is Rope-A-Dope hockey. Ali would be proud.

This is Halak - he bounces back, regains focus and locks down hard. That said, the first game he had poor defensive support, and the man is not God, despite what some pundits are posting. He had help last night. He had a refocus and recommitted team in front of him, so he could himself refocus and work his magic. It was nice to see.

The only complaint I have about Michael Cammalleri is that we can't clone him. Instantly.

Man, I hate JM (still) and I really find it hard to be a fan of this system, but at the same time it seems to be working, so once again WTF do I know? Apparently nothing = status quo. I read somewhere that playoffs are won by defense, and the team certainly seems to be buying into it. As long as they continue to work as a team and show the heart they have shown, maybe it'll work. I dunno. This is why I'm not a pro-hockey coach. I think Muller is a huge force though, and should not be discounted. He's having as much to do with this success as JM, and so is Pearn.

JM's benching the 4th line worked, but realistically he can't continue to do it. He needs to put Max back in the pressbox, overcome his prejudice, and suit up SK. It's the playoffs, and SK can help. It might help AK too, cause right now AK is only helping the Pens, and we don't have enough bodies to box the ones we need to, especially with Markov gone.

PK Subban is a great kid, in many, many ways. We got lucky with him - thank God. I hope the boys can overcome their fear of home ice, and actually take both at the Bell Centre, but I'd be happy with a split again. Their fans deserve a treat on home ice this series. I hope Les Boys feel the love from their devotees, and it propels them to a fantastic performance as a result.

Last note - I really think Sid is probably the best overall player in the league (Ovi is too selfish to be a team player), but that display was just over the top. CBC commentators said any other player would have gotten boxed for it, and I agree. And that right there means the playing field is not level. That's why I don't think Adams will get suspended during the playoffs. I think a Habs player doing that to a Pens D-man would have.

As much as it galls me to admit it, MAB upped his game. Yeah, he had gaffs, but what I did see was more effort from him, and a couple of good plays beside. He got that penalty, but he also prevented a breakaway shot on the net. He also clean checked Sid to paint in front of Jaro, and no, it was not an accident. MAB trying to clear the crease. What's next? UFOs?

Hi there Tyg and NP on bailing on the chat!

Glad to have had you join us, no matter how short!

You nailed it: The Habs rope-a-dope is what seems to be working for them right now. And, only because all players are buying into it.

I think that is the single override force behind the Habs' recent success: EVERYONe is buying into the system.

The ones who aren't, a.k.a AK46, get benched.

But you're right, JM can't sit AK for too long. But he is maddeningly frustrating to watch. He seems to be floating out there...lost...

What gives with that guy? Is he a mini Kovalev? Tons of skill but just doens't often pull it together?

SK74 SHOULD be in the lineup, imo. He has the skills to producing points from the bottom six and the Habs need that in order to continue to have success.

But, alas, JM put in Ben Maxwell instead of Sergei, if it was at all clear how much he despises that kid.

Game three should be intense as I fully expect a PO'd pens team, lead by Crosby, to give full effort.

The Habs will need to continue to stick to their system because, like you said, it is working!

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