Sunday, May 9, 2010

Canadiens-Penguins: Pittsburgh Wins Pushing Habs to the Brink of Elimination

Yesterday's game was a mix of good and bad for the Montreal Canadiens.

They blanked the Pens big guns—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—again last night, which was good. But they let the Pens defenders score twice, which was bad.

The Habs, for a rare occasion, outshot the Pens 33-25, which was good. But they still lost the game 2-1, which was bad.

Despite beating the Canadiens last night, the Pens again looked like a slow, tired team. The problem is that for long stretches of the game, so did the Habs.

The result was the Habs scoring on the power play with 29 seconds to play in the game, to make it a one goal game. With Jaroslav Halak still on the bench for the extra attacker, that Habs were unable to tie the game.

The Canadiens lost defensive stalwart Hal Gill to a skate cut to the back of his knee, during the second period of the game. Gill did not return and went to the hospital. His condition will be reevaluated today.

With Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek already out of the lineup with injuries, the Canadiens cannot afford to have Gill, their shot blocking machine, out for Game Six in Montreal on Monday.

Final score: Habs 1 - Pens 2. The Penguins lead the series 3-2.

Game Notes
1. Halak was solid, as usual.

Despite only facing 25 shots on net, Jaroslav Halak did what he had to do. As has become the norm for him, he was making great saves, limiting the number of rebounds, and just looking like the old dependable Halak we have come to expect.

The two goals that were scored on him were both on slap shots by defensemen through screens. If Halak see the puck, he stops it. It's as simple as that.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury was good but the Habs made his life easy.

Yes, Fleury stopped 32 out of 33 shots thrown his way for an excellent .970 save percentage, but how many of those were secondary scoring chances? A handful, at best.

While Fleury did what he had to do on the first chances, he also let out a ton of rebounds, none of which the Habs were able to capitalize on. The Canadiens almost never had a man in front of Fleury for a screen, deflection, or to pick up the rebound.

In addition, the Canadiens didn't win many battles to rebounds and loose pucks. If they had, even once or twice, they could easily have won the game.

So, while everyone is glowing about Fleury's performance, I would temper that enthusiasm by saying that the Habs made his life easy. You don't score many goals in this league on first chances, as the Washington Capitals learned in the first round against the Habs.

If the Habs want any chance of winning Game Six on Monday, they have to do a better job of going to the net and winning the battles for loose pucks. If not, it will just be more of the same and likely another Habs loss.

3. Marc-Andre Bergeron has no place in the NHL.

I think a lot of people fell in love with this player when he was scoring goals on the power play during the season. The problem is that in doing so people forgot the fact that not one of the 30 NHL teams saw fit to offer Bergeron a contract before the season started.

The Canadiens, who were decimated by injuries to defenseman to start the season, reached out to Bergeron as a stop-gap solution.

Bergeron is a one dimensional player and his one dimension is a booming slapshot. I will not take that away from him either, as he has one of the hardest shots in the league. The problem is the Bergeron has the defensive skills and on ice awareness of a career minor leaguer.

It is embarrassing and frustrating to watch him continuously turning the puck over to the opposition, making horrible passes that put his teammates in vulnerable positions, and generally making things easier on the opposing team.

His league worst minus-10 rating over 12 playoff games shows how much of a liability he is. Even on the power play—where Bergeron only has one goal in the playoffs so far—he is constantly turning the puck over at the blueline under pressure.

The problem is that with all of the injuries to Canadiens defensemen—Markov, Spacek, and now Gill—the Habs have no choice but to play him more and more. If the Habs don't get at least a few bodies back on the blueline for Game Six, the fact that they will have no choice but to lean more on Bergeron might end up being their Achilles Heel.

Look Out Ahead!
The Habs now have their back against the wall again and a loss Monday will send them to the golf course.

With the leadership group that this team has, I don't think there is any chance of losing that room to doubt. I think that the Habs feel that they can win Monday and force a Game Seven in Pittsburgh. Plus, there are worse things than fighting for your playoff life with the raucous Bell Centre crowd behind you.

The Canadiens will undoubtedly come out like lions and would do well to score the first goal. The critical factor to their success will be to see if they can get bodies to the front of the net and win battles to loose pucks. The inability to do so cost them both Game Three and Game Five.

The two time Stanley Cup finalist Pens know how to close out a team and will do everything to weather the expected Montreal storm, on Monday night. If they can escape the first ten minutes unscathed or even with a one goal lead, they will have the Habs right where they want them.

Next Game
The teams fly back to Montreal for a highly anticipated Game Six on Monday night. The Canadiens are determined to push this series to seven games and still feel that they can win.

The Pens will be trying to knock off the Habs and go to a third straight conference final.

Can the Canadiens pull off the win on Monday? Will the Pens shut them down and send them packing? Will the Canadiens get any of their wounded defensemen back from Monday night? Can this series go to seven games?

In a little more than 24 hours we will find out. If you're a superstitious person in Montreal this morning, and you woke up to the sight of snow falling in the city, you might see it as a sign.

The last time it snowed, the Canadiens eliminated the Washington Capitals in the next game and the joke was the hell must have frozen over.

Perhaps, again, hell is taking a dip into sub-zero temperatures to give the Habs the added incentive to ice the Pens on Monday.

Tune in tomorrow to find out.


You'll think me crazy, Kamal, but I'm happy this morning. Les Boys have served notice. Some tweaking in the off-season, and we're a legitimate contender next year, instead of backing into the playoffs. This is, of course, barring another season of massive injuries, followed by a post-season of ill-time and inconvenient injuries. The fact that Markov and Mara (yes MARA) are skating around the ice this morning is a prime example of the heart, soul and drive of this team. Anyone who thinks the Habs just got lucky this year is either smoking something illegal or just visiting from Fairytale Land.

Both Cammy and Halak mentioned this morning that they made Fleury's life easy last night, what with not crashing the crease, not capitalizing on the rebounds and not screening him. Look for that to change next game. They made Fleury look good, and they know it. Halak was quoted as saying "Undo unto others", and I think it's perfect. The Habs know how to do it - if there's any doubt just look at Laps' line, who consistently is in the crease, the net, and the goalie's headspace. Time to execute, boys, and they know it.

It's not midnight yet.

Oh yeah, MAB needs to go. NOW! Spacek was quoted by a fan as saying he's playing Monday, and Gill just "has a cut", so we need to offload him in the summer. Also, lose AK46 along with his brother.

Pouliot has potential, but needs some serious work. Our D core is solid next season. We need some adjustment on the offensive line.

Excellent points Tyg and I agree that you and all Habs fans should be happy this morning!

Regardless of what happen tomorrow or for the rest of the playoffs, the Canadiens have shown fans that they have a great core of players.

Two or three tweaks and this team can become a contender. First thing on my shopping list if I'm Pierre Gautheir in the offseason? A Dustin Byfuglien-type player who will park his keester in the opposing goalie's face all night long.

Gionta is the only Habs player who does that and, if his body was as big as his heart, he'd be ridiculously effective at it.

No, the Habs need scoring size and grit on the top two lines. Crease crashing goal scorers.

This has been the Habs problem for YEARS! That and small centers.

In all honesty, I would not hesitate to trade Plekanec in the offseason IF we can get back a BIG No. 1 center in the trade. If not, then you have to sign him.

I think the Habs will have Gill, Spacek and maybe even Markov back on Monday.

Should be a barn burner!

How can you trade Pleks if he's an UFA? I'd rather offload Pouliot (wimpy) and AK46. I don't have a problem with Cammy. He's proven his worth this post-season. I'm happy with Gio too. Gomez is hit or miss (mostly miss) for me, but I think we're stuck with him.

LaPresse is reporting no Gill and no Markov on Monday. Spacek is a maybe.

Yes Pleks is a UFA, but I might try to package him before July 1st, if I couldn't sign him.

As good as Plek played during the season, he has been a ghost in the playoffs and especially this series.

That, imo, decreases his value.

As for Pouliot and AK46, I think it is a forgone conclusion that they are gone...or at least AK46 is. The problem is that his value is not very high, unfortunately. What a waste of a 10th overall draft pick.

To think tha Habs could have chosen any of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards or Ryan Getzlaf instead of Andrei K, just makes me sick.

Markov and Mara skated today but neither are expected tomorrow. Spacek is likely but a game time decision. Gill hopes to play and is also a game-time decision.

If we can get Gill and Spacek back tomorrow, that would be HUGE as I can't stomach another 22+ mins of MAB on the ice.

The horror. The horror.

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