Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Montreal-Philadelphia: Flyers Third Period Comback Downs Habs

by Kamal Panesar

For all the preamble to last night's game and all of the talk about P.K. Subban and Mike Richards, the only thing that materialized was two teams that came to play hockey.

Actually, that is not an entirely accurate statement as neither team came ready to play a full 60 minutes. The Canadiens controlled the first 20 minutes of the game and took a 2-0 lead on two fluky goals by Maxim Lapierre, but the Flyers came alive over the final 40 minutes to claim the victory.

Lapierre actually came within a hair of getting a hat-trick when he rung the puck off of the post on a 2-on-1. The Canadiens, however, took their foot off of the accelerator in the second period and allowed the Flyers to dictate the pace of the game. And man, did it get ugly!

The Flyers outshot the Habs 21-4 in the second period and 45-31 overall, with the Canadiens leaving Price to his own devices. Were if not for Price's brilliance, this would have been a blowout in the second period.

Instead, the Habs carried a 2-1 lead into the third period where they were again unable to mount any pressure in the Flyers' zone. The result was two Flyers' goals before the eight minute mark and a 3-2 Philly win.

Flyers' goaltender, Brian Boucher, looked shaky all game but the Habs were unable to take advantage of his soft play and their missed opportunities came back to haunt them.

The lack of venom in this game was almost as much of a lunch bag let down as the 2-0 first period lead that evaporated. And while there are 82 games in a season and the Habs are not going to win them all, losing after taking a 2-0 lead on the road is unacceptable for a team with aspirations of being a contender.

Final score: Flyers 3 - Habs 2

Habs' scorers: Maxim Lapierre (3, 4)
Flyers' scorers: Ville Leino (4), Claude Giroux (12), James van Riemsdyk (1)

Three Stars: 1. James van Riemsdyk, 2. Carey Price, 3. Darroll Powe

Game Notes

1. Carey Price continues to lead this team.

Price was once again the best player on the ice for the Montreal Canadiens last night. The problem is, where the team in front of him usually puts in a solid effort, they took the last two periods off and left Price to take care of business.

And take care of business he did.

Stopping 20 out of 21 second period shots and 42 of 45 on the night, Price has yet to yield more than three goals against in regulation over 20 games played. As such, the Canadiens are second in the league for fewest goals against with 42. Boston has 38 but has played two fewer games than the Canadiens.

Were it not for a myriad of brilliant saves, this game would have been a blowout. What was amazing was to see how many pucks were hitting Price square in the chest, whether from head on shots or left to right saves. Those stops are a testament to Price's positioning, as pucks just tend to hit him in the chest when he is on his game.

As much as the team knows they can rely on Price, it is not an effective strategy to sit back and let him do all the work. All you have to do is look back at last year's playoffs to see how that strategy will only get you so far.

2. Lapierre, Jeff Halpern and Benoit Pouliot looked real good together.

The Habs' third line usually consists of Halpern centering Pouliot and Mathieu Darche, but the latter has been a healthy scratch the last two games to make room for Yannick Weber.

Last night, with Lapierre on their wing, this combo was yet again the Habs most dangerous line. Like Price, this line is as steady as a metronome and is consistently the Habs most effective trio.

Lapierre added a nice dose of speed and skill, and the result was two first period goals with assists going to Halpern and Pouliot on each. Lapierre's skill set is a good complement to the tenacious forecheck of Halpern and the skill of Pouliot.

While both of Lapierre's goals were weak ones that Boucher would surely like to have back, his line gave the Habs the opportunity to win last night's game. If the Habs had been able to muster one power play goal—they went 0-for-4—or one goal from either of the top two lines, victory would have been theirs.

It's great to see the third line contributing on a regular basis, but that should be a bonus and not main offensive thrust of the team.

3. The Scott Gomez situation is beyond tiresome.

I know I seem to bring up Gomez's poor play after almost every game but believe me, I am as sick of talking about it as you are of hearing about it. I keep thinking that this game or the next game, Gomez will finally play well, will be more involved in the play and will get some points. But game after game, it seems like he is becoming less and less effective.

In case you're counting, Gomez has been averaging 18:17 of ice time over 21 games, and has six points (2A, 4A) to show for it. In addition, he has only three total points (1G, 2A) over the last 14 games and three power play points (3A) over 21 games.

These are the kind of production numbers you'd expect from a third or fourth line center playing ten minutes a game with no time on the PP. But Gomez has been getting almost double that amount and is always on the second wave of the power play.

So the question has to be asked: how long a leash does Gomez have? Can the coach keep throwing him out there, game after game, for close to 20 minutes without him producing?

During last night's game, Gomez had 19:59 of ice time, 3:23 of power play time, zero shots on goal, was 30.8 percent in the faceoff circle, had zero points and finished the night a minus-1. That is simply not acceptable for a player who is supposed to be the Canadiens second line center.

As @ckraks noted on Twitter last night:
When Scott Gomez plays more than 18:40, the Montreal Canadiens are 1-6-0. When he plays 18:39 or less, Habs are 12-1-1.


4. The Habs top two lines are in disarray.

The top two lines are not getting it done consistently and I think the reason starts with a "G", ends with a "Z" and has the word "ome" in the middle.

I've been saying for a while that the coaching staff should demote Gomez from the second line. Now, however, the mainstream media is starting to say that same thing, so maybe Coach Martin will shake things up next game.

The biggest mistake that the coaching staff has made this season has been to split up the No.1 line in an effort to get Gomez going. The result has been spotty performances from the first and second line, instead of a resurgence of Gomez.

The Tomas Plekanec line has been dismantled and recombined several times in an effort to light a fire under Gomez, but it is not working. Were it not for the Halpern line, the Canadiens would be in serious trouble in the standings right now.

Jeff Halpern, averaging 13:21 of ice time is fourth team scoring with 13 points (5G, 8A), and Benoit Pouliot, averaging 12:16 of ice time is tied for fifth with 11 points (5G, 6A).

In addition, Mathieu Darche, Travis Moen and Maxim Lapierre—averaging 9:37, 12:39 and 11:57 respectively—each have five points; one less than Gomez.

I say enough is enough, it's time to try someone else as the second line center. If Martin is not ready to use Lars Eller as the second pivot, then he should put Halpern in that spot and drop Gomez down to the third line.

As my Hockeybuzz.com colleague, Steven Hindle, pointed out yesterday on Twitter, if Jacques Martin can't get Gomez going soon, this could quickly become Pierre Gauthier's problem.

5. Yannick Weber looked a little more comfortable on the fourth line.

The line of Eller, Weber and Tom Pyatt had a bunch of excellent scoring chances last night. And while Weber looked more comfortable playing as a forward, he is still playing out of his element and that makes it harder for him to contribute to the success of the team.

Weber, who has been ripping it up while playing the right point on the power play in Hamilton, is being placed on the left side on the second wave of the PP, with Roman Hamrlik, and you can see that he is not comfortable. If you watch the replays, Weber was unable to keep the puck in at the blueline a few times because he was on his off wing.

I don't know what it is about the Canadiens that they always seem to put players in positions that they are not comfortable with, in order to keep them in the lineup. Mark Streit, Jaroslav Spacek, Josh Gorges, Lars Eller, Yannick Weber, etc. Why not find a place for these players to play in spots they are accustomed to instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole?

Sure some players can adjust to position changes, but most cannot and it shows in their on-ice performance. If the Habs want to get the most out of Weber, they should be playing him as the seventh defenseman on the right side.

Ultimately, it is hard to properly evaluate Weber's play so far when he is averaging 9:42 of ice time on the fourth line.

Standings and Next Game

By letting a 2-0 first period lead slip away, the Canadiens missed a golden opportunity to leapfrog over the Flyers into second overall in the East. The loss drops their record to 13-7-1 with 27 points in the standings—first overall in the Northeast division.

The Boston Bruins, 3-1 losers against Tampa, failed to make up any ground and are still three points back of the Canadiens with two games in hand.

The Canadiens travel back to Montreal for a rare visit from the L.A. Kings on Wednesday evening. The Kings are a team that hopes to contend for the cup this year so it will be another big test for a Canadiens.

Hopefully Jacques Martin has a few tricks up his sleeve because the Habs' forward ranks are in major need of a shakeup.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images North America)


Hey Kamal - the next shakeup that Jacques should make should be to put Ak and Cammy back with Pleks and leave them there. Slot Halpern in between Gio & Pouliot on the 2nd line. Gomez can play with Lapierre and Darche. IMO he's no longer capable or willing to even consistently try centering the 2nd line. Just under 20 mins TOI last night, without a single SOG. He turns over pucks like a short order cook flipping pancake.

Halpern's earned the promotion and Jacques is not going to put a green rookie on one of his top two lines. I'll eat my Habs hat if he does.

Also new pet peeve today - Price leading the ASG goalie votes. Last time he went to that idiot game he took a turn for the worst. I'm voting for Bobrovsky.

Hey Tyg and thanks for your comment!

You nailed it, Gomez on the third, Halpern on the second, and AK and Cammy back with Plek.

It's enough already.

The sad part is that Habs Inside/Out is reporting that the lines from today's practice were as follows:

AK46 - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Scott Gomez _ Mike Cammalleri
Tom Pyatt - Jeff Halpern - Maxim Lapierre
Benoit Pouliot - Lars Eller - Mathieu Darche

The extra players today are Weber and Dustin Boyd.

So, uh, I guess JM didn't get the memo.

Re: Price, the last time he was in the ASG he was 21 and the game was in MTL.

I think he has matured sufficiently to be able to deal with it. And, no disrespect to Raleigh, but it doesn't have the distractions that Montreal does.

Price will be fine IF he makes it and he definitely deserves it. Although a rest would be nice too!

I realize what I'm about to post wont happen, but I'd bench our $7.5 million dollar, "number one", center for a few games. I could care less who it pisses off. We don't have a winning record because he's in the lineup, so I can't see the harm in taking him out of it. In my opinion, he's had more than his fair share of chances. $7.5 million is too much money for a guy likely to amount to less than 30 points this season.

Kamal - so not only is Pouliot not fit for the 2nd line, he's now not fit for 3rd line duties? He's our 5th best scorer! I don't understand JM's need to tinker with the line combos that WORK: AK-Pleky-Cammy & PhD. Please explain the logic to me. Please?

@Patrick: Yep, I can't argue with that and, if the coach doesn't bench him, he should at least be demoted. He is not helping this team win, at all. And there is no question that he is paid too much but that's not his fault, that is Glen Sathers fault.

Hey, if my boss offered to pay me about twice as much as I should be making, who am I to tell him not to? The problem is that his $7 Mil price tag puts huge expectations on his shoulder.

Ultimately, however, this is why I was never a fan of the Gomez trade.

@Tyg: I've got nothing, my dear. I'm at a loss and all I can say is that I HOPE that these are just practice lines and not the final roster JM intends to go with.

Halpern and Pouliot have been magic together, why in the world would he split them up?

Even more unbelievably, how can Gomez STILL be lineup on the second line? What is the message here? Go out and play and no matter what happens, whether you play well or not, you'll still have your place on the second line secure?

That is not the way to build a winner, imo. Ice time should be earned, by ALL players. Like spandex, it is a privilege, not a right.

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