Sunday, November 21, 2010

Montreal-Toronto: Carey Price, Habs Shut Down Leafs

by Kamal Panesar

On an emotion filled night where the Canadiens' organization memorialized the passing of former Habs and Leafs coach, Pat Burns, the two storied franchises clashed in front of a capacity crowd at the Bell Centre.

After a rousing montage and a moment of silence for the departed, the puck dropped in a charged building.

The Canadiens took the play to the Leafs, outshooting them 17-10 in a scoreless first period that saw Toronto's netminder tested on several occasions. Jonas Gustavsson played well for the Leafs but most of the 39 shots he faced were first chances, as the Toronto defenders did a good job of clearing rebounds.

Offensively, the Leafs weren't able to muster much push back, but when they did Carey Price was there to shut the door.

The Canadiens opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal by Jeff Halpern at 9:17 of the second period. The Canadiens' fast forecheck and smooth transition game allowed them to tilt the ice towards the Leafs end for the rest of the game.

The Habs outshot the Leafs 39-30, won 35 faceoffs to the Leafs' 18, and beat them 2-0 on the scoreboard thanks to a Michael Cammalleri one-knee special on the power play.

While the game was entertaining it wasn't your typical, rough and tumble Habs/Leafs game. Only four penalties were assessed all game and the Canadiens sole power play came at the 5:53 mark of the third period.

Final Score: Habs 2 - Leafs 0

Habs' scorers: Jeff Halpern (5), Michael Cammalleri (6)
Leafs' scorers: None

Three Stars: 1. Carey Price, 2. Jeff Halpern, 3. Michael Cammalleri

Game Notes

1. Price is playing inspired hockey.

Price was delivered a message by Pat Burns via Kirk Muller prior to the beginning of the season. While he refused to divulge the substance of what was said to him, it surely served as an inspiration to the young goaltender last night.

With the 2-0 win, Price now has three shutouts in his last six games and is tied with Boston's Tim Thomas for first overall, with four.

Price also boasts a 2.00 GAA (fourth overall), a .932 save percentage (sixth overall), and 12 wins in 19 games (tied for first with the Caps' Michael Neuvirth).

Is anyone still talking about Jaroslav Halak?

I didn't think so.

2. Lars Eller continued his strong play.

For the second game in a row, Lars Eller was one of the more effective forward for the Canadiens. Eller is clearly a skilled playmaker but he is not playing with players who can complement his talent level, and is still not getting any power play time.

Last night, defenseman Yannick Weber was inserted into the lineup and hard-working Mathieu Darche was a healthy scratch. Instead of playing as the seventh defenseman, Coach Martin had Weber as a winger on Eller's line. This made a fourth line of Weber, Eller and Tom Pyatt.

Really? Pyatt and Weber as his wingers? Zero minutes on the power play, and seven seconds of shorthanded ice time? Ya, that should get his confidence going in no time.

3. Speaking of Weber, he didn't look completely comfortable.

While Weber made the most of his 8:13 of ice time, you could see that he wasn't comfortable playing as a forward. I guess the thinking was that Weber would play on the power play as well as on the fourth line. That plan was foiled as the Habs only had one power play opportunity all game.

Maybe next match Weber will get more than 48 seconds on the pp. That being said, I am not a fan of putting players in positions they are not comfortable with. I would much rather see Weber as a seventh defenseman than playing on Eller's wing.

There is something to be said about putting young players in a position to succeed and, playing Weber on the fourth line, is not the best way to get him involved in the game.

4. P.K. Subban had a momentary lapse of reason.

I am not sure if Mike Richards' rant about Subban got in his head or not, but P.K. seemed to be running around a bit at the beginning of the game. As has become customary when Subban is playing that way, his play calmed down over the second and third periods after the coaching staff likely spoke to him about it. During the first, however, it was like he was going out of his way to be physical.

Early in the game he left his position at center ice to skate into the Leafs zone for a body check. The check was an afterthought to the play, which was turning up ice into the Habs' zone. But P.K. seemed oblivious almost like he was trying to prove something.

Fortunately, the forward on the play came back to cover for him.

Monday night is the big rematch against the Flyers, in Philadelphia, and it will be interesting to see how Subban responds. The Canadiens need him to focus on his game and not get caught up in the drama unnecessarily. Hopefully they will speak to him about it before the game, because with a team as talented as the Flyers, Subban can't afford to be running around on the ice.

5. It was Michael Cammalleri's turn to get the hot potato.

Cammalleri was playing on the second line with Scott Gomez and Travis Moen and, to be honest, he didn't look that happy about it. Watching him return to the bench, shift after shift, he seemed frustrated and uneasy.

And how could you blame him?

Cammalleri has had success with the Canadiens by being paired with Tomas Plekanec. Last night, however, Andrei Kostitsyn was boosted back up to the first line with Cammy getting the bump down to the struggling Gomez line.

I don't quite get the logic behind placing your $6 million, top sniper, on a line with a center who has been firing blanks all season. I understand that Martin is trying to find a combination to get Gomez going, but I think that when the problem is clearly the centerman, maybe it is time to demote him rather than other players who are playing well.

How long a leash is Gomez going to get?

Fortunately, Cammalleri scored a power play marker by picking off an errant Mike Komisarek pass to make it 2-0. Aside from that goal on the power play, his line didn't produce a lot though.

Tune in Monday to see who the next lottery loser is in the "let's try to get Scott Gomez going" game.

Standings and Next Game

The win move the Canadiens' record to 13-6-1 with 27 points in the standings. The victory also allows them to maintain a three point buffer over the Boston Bruins who have two games in hand.

The Canadiens have the day off before flying to Philadelphia for the much anticipated grudge match on Monday evening.

They say that you don't really have a sense of what type of team you have until around the 20-game mark of the season. Well, last night was the Habs 20th game of the season and while the wheels could theoretically fall off at any point, so far, they seem like the real deal.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)


Kamal the Gomez thing is driving me crazy. 20 games in, he still spends way too much time looking lost, lazy or disinterested. And it really doesn't matter who is on his wings - he's not snapping out of it.

I want the first line trio - Cammy, Pleky, AK - back together pronto. Gio is used to Gomez's fits so put him back too, and since JM just tweaked the PhD line for no discernible reason whatsoever, put Pouliot back on the 2nd line. Do it for more than 3 games.

If Gomez still doesn't fire, switch him out with Halpern or Eller. My patience with Gomez is gone. I'm really developing a hate for this guy.

Not only is he playing like crap offensively - whoever is on his wing automatically goes into the freezer - because his line is ineffective Pleky's line gets extra special attention from opposing defenders & forwards. The Habs have one offensive line. One.

It's a recipe for disaster. Halpern's line has been picking up Gomez's slack, lucky for Gomez. But it's gotten completely ridiculous. How long is JM going to punish his scorers for Gomez's lack of effort?

Cammalleri and Plekanec will perform no matter who they're with so it didn't bother me that they finally tried Cammy with Gomez. But Tyg is right, the Gomez thing is just getting ridiculous. I've been saying it for a month now, cut his ice time and toss him on the 4th line for a few games. I'm sure he won't like that.

Hey Tyg thanks for your comments!

I couldn't agree more re: putting the first line back together. Put them together and leave them together. Quit dismantling them to try and get Gomez going.

I also like the idea of trying Gio and Gomez together again since Gionta has got his motor running right now. I like the idea of trying Pouliot on the line too, since he too seems to have rediscovered his confidence.

Put them together for the next five to ten games and see what happens. But don't keep switching them up, imo. Give that trio a fair shake to see if they can get going. After that, if they are still not clicking, then you can start looking to bring someone up from Hamilton or make a trade.

And you're SO right about having 1 scoring line. Basically, like you said, the Plek and Halpern lines score...and that's it. If, somehow, you could get a regular contribution from Gomez's line too, you would suddenly have a very potent offensive attack instead of one that is paper thin.

Still, they are somehow managing to win, so let's hope they can keep it up.

Hey Prax and thanks for your comment!

You and I have discussed the Gomez situation before and we are both in agreement with him being demoted. Slack him down to the third line and put Halpern or Eller in his spot, and see what happens.

Do that, and I think you would suddenly have a second line that starts scoring.

Oh, and it's enough of the Moens, Pyatts, Lapierres, and Darches of the world playing on the second line. Please, JM, put a true offensive player there, not a bottom-6 winger. Pouliot, Eller, MaxPac, Palushaj....take your pick!

I'd like to see Lars Eller get a shot at second line center for a 10 game stretch. What's the worst that could happen? They don't score any goals... Oh wait, that's already happening and we're at the top (well almost) of the Eastern Conference standings. Gomez has had 20 games to get it on, and is still firing blanks. No amount of hockey Viagra is going to get him going. Not to mention he's starting to tarnish my admiration for past Habs player's who wore the number 11. Gomez for $7.5 million or Saku for 3. Muller never earned anywhere near either of those numbers.
As for Gio, I'm not in favor of keeping him on a line with Gomez. I think that equates to punishing him, and his game is getting better of late, and I don't think that would be beneficial for him. I'd like to see Pouliot-Eller-Gionta together. It makes sense. Nobody would be playing out of their natural position.
How long do we have the Gomez contract for?

Hi there Patrick and thanks for your comment!

I think we are all in the same boat in saying that Gomez should be demoted to the third line. He is just not getting it done. Time to give someone else a chance.

I like the idea of seeing Eller with Pouliot and Gionta. Eller has shown a few flashes of brilliance but, paired with players like Pyatt and Weber, is struggling to find the scoresheet.

Put him with a couple of offensive players and lets see what he can do!

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