Monday, December 20, 2010
11:34 AM Kamal Panesar No comments
Their first stop was last night in Colorado against the smoking-hot Avalanche, winners of five straight games. The Habs and Avs are two teams that don't play each other very often so the only real pre-game storyline was former Hab Ryan O'Byrne—who now plays for the Avs—facing his former teammates for the first time.
On the ice, the Canadiens employed their usual trapping road game strategy, shutting down the center of the ice, clogging the neutral zone and ensuring that there wasn't much pace to the game. Patiently waiting for their opportunities, the Habs opened the scoring when Michael Cammalleri blasted his 12th of the season past Craig Anderson on a nice give-and-go with Tomas Plekanec.
But the Avs tied it up with five seconds left to play in the first, spoiling what had up until that point been a perfect road game.
While the first period was a sleeper the game got more exciting in the second as the team traded goals and the pace quickened. The Avs, who are a fast, skilled-based team, seemed to get better as the game progressed, dominating play in the second period.
Coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, the Avs took the lead in the second frame by capitalizing on a weak clearing attempt from P.K. Subban, while they were outshooting the Habs 15-8. Once again, if it was not for Carey Price, this game would have been over in the second.
Despite being down by a goal, the Canadiens threw everything but the kitchen sink at Avs' goalie Anderson, outshooting Colorado 14-5 in the third. Anderson was equal to the task, however, shutting the door for their sixth straight victory.
Final score: Avs 3 - Habs 2
Habs' scorers: Michael Cammalleri (12), Alexandre Picard (2)
Avs' scorers: Ryan Wilson (2), Kevin Porter (7), T.J. Gallardi (5)
Three stars: 1. Ryan O'Reilly, 2. Craig Anderson, 3. Michael Cammalleri
1. Cammalleri is in his rightful place alongside Plekanec.
For a second game in a row, Michael Cammalleri scored the first goal of the game and it is apparent how comfortable he is playing with Plekanec.
Plekanec is the perfect setup man for Cammalleri, who is able to find the prime scoring spot, post himself there and wait for the pass. Plek then saucers him a sweet feed and Cammalleri is ready to deliver a patented one-knee-Cammalleri-special.
When Cammalleri is able to position himself for the shot he tends to play his best hockey, as opposed to when he was trying to carry the play by himself during his stint on Scott Gomez's line.
After starting the season slowly, Cammalleri now leads all Habs with 12 goals for the season and has eight points (5G, 3A) in the last seven games.
Cammalleri is currently on pace to score 30 goals and 32 assists.
2. The Habs let in another late period goal.
Aside from a goal late in the period, the Habs played a perfect road game in the first frame. They gave the Avs little to shoot at, shut down the neutral zone and overall stifled any flow to the game. The result was a boring but effective period for the road team.
Jacques Martin hockey is not always exciting but it is often successful.
The problem, as has become a regular occurrence, is that the Habs got themselves in trouble with bad turnovers and it cost them the game.
There is a big difference between going into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead after having shut down the opposition, or going into the break tied at one after letting the opposition tie the game with five seconds to play.
The six most important minutes of any game are the first and last minute of each period, as goals scored for or against during those minutes tend to do the biggest job of creating or destroying momentum.
Since losing 3-0 to the Nashville Predators on November 18, 2010, the Habs have a 7-8 record and have struggled to find consistency. It is also during this stretch that their egregious giveaways, poor decision making and late or early period goals against have been sinking the ship.
The Canadiens need to get back to taking care of the small details on the ice if they want to push past the .500 barrier for the first time since mid-November.
3. Price continues to be as steady as a metronome.
Making key saves at key times, Carey Price continues to keep his team in each game with heart stopping saves to cover up for his teammates' ugly turnovers and giveaways.
As good as Price has been this season—and he has been spectacular—he has let in one weak goal in each of the last three games. Last night, it was on Kevin Porter's tying goal. It was a backhander that slide under Price and is a goal that he would surely like to have back.
While it is nothing major to worry about I wonder if this is perhaps a sign of fatigue kicking in.
Price has played all but three games this season and is currently on pace to play 75. While Price is young and in excellent shape, if you look at the last few playoff seasons, history tells us that playing goaltenders too much in the regular season doesn't tend to produce good results come April.
Players like Miikka Kiprusoff and Martin Brodeur who average in excess of 70 games per season, don't have very much to show for it come playoff time over the last few seasons. As such, I think the Habs would be wise to try and aim to play Price in no more than 65 games this season, giving Auld a good 15-20 starts rather than the seven he is on pace for. That would allow Price to be rested, sharp and ready come playoff time.
Given his age, however, Price might be ready for the playoffs regardless of how many games he plays this season.
But why take a chance?
4. Scott Gomez continues to look like he has found his game.
Since coming back from injury, Gomez has five assists over three games, a revival that coincided with the arrival of Max Pacioretty on his line.
Gomez seems to have come back from his injury absence with his head screwed on straight and is making better decisions on the ice as a result. That being said, you can't discount how much of a difference Pacioretty makes on that line.
Using his size, speed and skill to create room for his linemates, MaxPac has been the offensive catalyst on the second line.
While Gomez has played better and seems to be on the right track, it would be nice to see him shoot the puck a little more often. Nine times out of ten he passes the puck, even when there isn't a good passing option, and that is making him a little too predictable.
Last night he was actually shooting more than usual and it resulted in the Habs' second goal of the game. Regardless of his shot total, however, he is having success again and that is a good thing for the Montreal Canadiens.
5. The turnovers have got to stop.
The Habs do a great job of collapsing down-low around Carey Price, and Price is proving that he has was it takes to be en elite goaltender in this league, but does that mean that they have to make it harder for him by turning the puck over so much?
As of this morning, the Montreal Canadiens are second in the league with 910 giveaways so far this season. The only team with more giveaways than the Habs is the Oilers, with 1055, and they 26th in league standings.
The first Avs goal last night was scored on a power play. Previous to the PP, Andrei Kostitsyn made a brutal turnover at the Habs blueline, leaving his defense vulnerable. Jaroslav Spacek hooked the Avs' player in an attempt to stop him from getting a clear scoring chance, resulting in the penalty.
The second Avs' goal was scored after a weak clearing attempt by Subban ended up on the Colorado player's stick and in the back of the net.
The Canadiens have made an unfortunate habit of terrible unforced-errors and have been doing so all season long. The only reason the Habs have been able to get away with such sloppy play is because of Carey Price. His phenomenal play has hidden a lot of the blemishes of this team and has made them look better than they really are.
I shudder to think where they would be right now without Price's excellent play.
Standings and Next Game
The Habs missed a golden opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Boston Bruins last night. The loss drops the Habs' record to 19-12-2 with 40 points in the standings and the Bruins have 38 points and two games in hand.
Montreal now travels to Dallas for game two of this seven game road trip, to take on the Stars on Tuesday evening. The Habs will be trying to avoid losing two games in a row for the third time this season.
(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)