Friday, April 30, 2010

Habs News Links - Pens Game 1 preview, Gill, Halak, Gorges, Letang says Habs favorites?

Round 2, Game 1 - Pre-Game: Habs @ Pens
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens at Penguins
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33832

Are you ready?
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33831

RDS - These guys know how to win (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298183.html

Everyone is healthy in Pittsburgh (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298184.html

Letang says the Habs are the favorites (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298159.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-penguins

Gill out to prove former team wrong
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=319955

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300430016

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Jaroslav Halak Leads Montreal to Game 7 Upset over Washington

Oh...my...god! What an incredible game.  And by incredible, I mean stomach-churning, stress-inducing, hair-losing, nail-biting hockey.
Wow.

In defeating the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Game Seven last night, the Montreal Canadiens became the first eighth seed to comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against a No.1 seed since the NHL adopted the current playoff format in 1994.

For a franchise that owns the record books I think it is fitting that they add this achievement to their already full mantle of accolades.

As we have become used to in this series, the Canadiens took the lead early and Jaroslav Halak shut the door the rest of the way to earn the win.

The Caps came close to scoring first, as snake-bitten Alexander Semin rang the puck off of the cross bar on a 3-on-1 early in the first. Had that goal gone in the Caps would have been off to the races and likely would have won the game.

The fact that it didn't go in—and that the Caps had a goal called back early in the second period for goaltender interference—were microcosms of the entire series for the Caps.

For whatever reason, they never played a full 60 minutes, throughout the series, and it came back to bite them in the butts.

TSN's Pierre McGuire put it the best when he said, last night, that a system won out over skill.

The Canadiens got goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron on the power play and Dominic Moore, and the Caps lone goal was scored by Brooks Laich.

Final score: Habs 2 - Caps 1. Canadiens win the best-of-seven series 4-3.


Game Notes
1. What more is there to say about Jaroslav Halak?

By shopping 41 shots last night, Halak pushed his record when facing 40 or more shots to 10-0-1 this year.  That is a staggering stat that shows that this is a man who thrives off of being busy in the crease.

Last night, as he has done on so many nights this season and during this series, Halak was again the games first star as he put on a goaltending clinic in again limiting the potent Caps offense to 1 goal against.

In case you’re counting, Halak has had 134 shots against over the last three games and has let in three goals for a scintillating .977 save percentage.

If there was any doubt before this series allow me to dispel it.  Jaroslav Halak has arrived as a legitimate No.1 in the league.


2.  After Halak, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges are the second and third stars of this series.

Again last night, the duo of Gill and Gorges completely shut down the Caps offense for large stretches of the game.  Acting as the Habs' No.1 defensive penalty killing unit, the stopped all three Washington power plays last night—the Caps pp finished the series 1-for-33—and both were shot blocking machines.

Hal Gill now leads all players in the playoffs for shots blocked with 31.

While Halak was spectacular again last night, the real story was the incredibly hermetic Canadiens defensive system and the number of blocked shots—the Habs lead the league in the playoffs with 117.  To keep that in perspective, the next closest team is the Ottawa Senators with 77 blocked shots.


3.  The fourth line continues to contribute.

During the third period where the Caps threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Canadiens, the Habs' fourth line seemed like the only one that was able to keep the puck in the Caps zone for any extended period of time.

Lead by Dominic Moore and a suddenly resurgent Maxim Lapierre, they caused havoc for the Caps defenders by using their speed and effective cycle.

The winning goal was scored by Dominic Moore as Lapierre knocked his man off of the puck to send Moore in alone who tucked the puck under Varlamov's arm to make it a 2-0 game.  Good thing too, because the Caps scored less than a minute later with 2:16 to play in the game.


4.  A team effort.

As unbelievable as this historic comeback is for the Montreal Canadiens, it was achieved by sticking to a system and working together.  It is interesting to hear the players' comments and to see them coming together as a group.

There is nothing like a little adversity to either bring a team together or tear them apart, and it is during those times that you really see what kind of group you have.

Whatever happens for the rest of the playoffs, the Habs have the hockey world that they are a much better group than most people, myself included, thought.


Look out ahead!
In eliminating the Capitals last night, the Habs earned the right to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins—starting tomorrow night—in round 2 of the 2010 playoffs.

Like with the Capitals, the Canadiens matchup surprisingly well against the Pens due to their focus on skill.  The Habs tend to play better against skill-based teams rather than brute-based teams.

That being said, the Pens are a much more balanced team than the Caps and have excellent goaltending so this will definitely be another uphill battle for Les Habitants.


Next Game
There's no rest for the wicked as the Habs fly to Pittsburgh to start round two on Friday at 7pm EST.  Game Two will be played on Sunday at 2 pm EST.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Habs lose Game One on Friday as it is very difficult to switch from focusing on Ovechkin and co. to Crosby and co. with only one day in between.  That being said, if Halak continues to play the way he has played through the last three games of the Caps series, who the heck knows what can happen!

So what do you think will happen on Friday and in the series against the Pens?  Do that Habs have a chance?  Does their Cinderella run end with the Pens?

Habs News Links - Habs win, Post Game, Caps in shock, Halak, and more...

Game 7 - Post Game:  Habs 2 - Caps 1
Habs Inside/Out - History was written in Washington
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33641

How sweet it is!
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33828

RDS - Cap on Pittsburgh (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298076.html

Lapierre - a Nice surprise (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298133.html

The Caps are in shock (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298131.html

TSN - Habs win
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=319842

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300428023

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Game Seven - Habs @ Caps - Live In-Game Chat!

Hello again Habs addicts! Well, Game Seven in the 2010 NHL Playoffs between the Montreal Canadiens and the Washington Capitals is only 3.5 hours away!

And, we are doing another live in-game chat! Sign up and take part below:

Pre-Game Primer: Can Habs "Cap" Comeback against Washington?

Stressed? Anxious? Does your stomach feel a little more than a little upset?

Ya, me too.

But that's what it is to be a hockey fan in the playoffs.

Moreover, that's what it is to be counting the hours—as of this post, there are about ten left—till the Montreal Canadiens take on the Washington Capitals, in Washington, for all the marbles.

Winner takes all. Last man standing. King of the hill.

After 82 regular season and six amazingly entertaining playoff games, the Canadiens-Capitals series is poised to come to an end tonight and there are no shortage of storylines.

The Habs, who went down 3-1 in this series—and who most pundits picked to lose in four or five games—have somehow, miraculously come back to tie the series on the back of a stupendous performance by Jaroslav Halak.

Just so you know, Halak's 53 save performance was the most saves in any post-expansion NHL playoff regulation time game by any goaltender, in a winning effort, ever.

One for the ages indeed.

Now the stage turns back to the city of Washington with the Habs seemingly grabbing the momentum in the series. More important than momentum is pressure. Do the Habs really have none and the Caps a truckload?

It would seem that all the pressure in the world now lies squarely on the shoulders of the Washington Capitals, while the Habs have nothing to lose—except for Game Seven.

As I said yesterday, if the Caps lose tonight, their season will be considered a disaster. If the Habs lose, however, they will go home as heroes as they have already done so much more than was expected of them.

While the Caps played the "war of words" a lot during the first five games of this series, they seem to have abandoned that strategy since the Habs tied things up.

And, as much as the Canadiens have stayed away from the trash talk, yesterday there was a gem of a quote from Habs' Michael Cammalleri, which looks like a shot across the bow of the Capitals team.

When asked about tonight's game, Cammalleri said that all the pressure is on the Capitals because they are supposed to win the Stanley Cup, and they are supposed to beat the Habs in order to do so.

Subtle, but a comment that will no doubt resonate through the Caps dressing room. Not that they need additional pressure as I am sure that ever single player on the Caps team knows exactly how much is at stake tonight.

So, with about half a day to go before game time, questions start to arise about tonight's game.

Questions about whether or not Halak has started to get into the Capitals' players' heads. Whether the loss of Tom Poti—the Caps best 5-on-5 defenseman in the series with a plus-9 rating—will weaken an already porous Caps D-line.

Can Alexander Semin—who has zero goals in this series—wake up and finally score? Can the Caps powerplay that was first overall in the league during the season wake up—the Caps PP is 1-for-30 in the playoffs—and take advantage of the myriad powerplays that the Habs are giving up?

For the Habs, the questions are less numerous and more to the point: Can they complete the comeback? Can they really take three in a row from the Capitals? Can they win for a third time in this series, in Washington, and can Halak shutdown the Caps offense one more time this season?

No one knows the answers to these questions and, like an episode of Soap, you'll have to tune in later to find out.

But suffice it to say that I am expecting a full-bore effort from both teams as they both desperately want to win tonight's game and the series.

The Caps need to win it and the Habs want to.

The motivation may be different for each team but both will see a loss tonight as a failure. In a back and forth, up and down series, I expect both teams to come out like lions and fight to the death, or rather, to the next round of the playoffs.

So, whether you are a Habs or a Caps fan, I say let that sick feeling in your stomach build into a crescendo. Don't fight it. Let that nervous energy carry you till tonight's 7:05 pm faceoff.

And why the heck not? It shows that you care just as much about your team winning as the individual players do. So enjoy the game as it's sure to be the final cherry on what has been a supremely entertaining series so far.

So what do you think? Which team wins tonight? Will it be a blow out? Will it be a close one?

Habs News Links - Game 7 preview, Halak, Subban, Poti out, Pressure on Caps?

Game 7 - Pre-Game: Habs @ Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Round 1, Game 7: Canadiens at Capitals
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33641

Mo wears CH
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33638

RDS - Halak deserves respect, according to Melanson
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298060.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-capitals

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300428023

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Jaroslav Halak's Brilliant Performance Forces Game 7 in Washington

Wow. I mean, wow. What an unbelievable performance by Jaroslav Halak.

Yes, the Montreal Canadiens won 4-1 last night against the Washington Capitals to force a Game Seven, Wednesday night, in Washington. But the score doesn't necessarily reflect the game story.

As has become the case for most of the games in this series, the Habs came out like they were shot out of a cannon. They took the play to Washington and scored two first period goals—both by Michael Cammalleri.

After that, it was Jaroslav Halak that shut the door on the Caps and vaulted the Habs into victory.

There was a key 5-on-3 powerplay for the Capitals in the first period, with the Habs leading 2-0, but Halak and the Habs penalty killers were able to keep them off of the score board.

The Habs got goals from Cammalleri (2), Maxim Lapierre, and Tomas Plekanec (empty net), and the Caps responded with a lone goal from Eric Fehr with less than five minutes to play.

Final score: Habs 4 - Caps 1. The series is tied 3-3.


Game Notes
1. Halak played one for the ages.

With 53 saves on 54 shots for a scintillating .981 save percentage, Halak was the undeniable star of the game.

The win pushed Halak's record when facing 35 or more shots to 12-1 and 9-0 when facing 40 or more shots.

You've got to be kidding me!

This is a guy who wants to be in the action, who thrives off of being busy, and who rises to the top of his game when he is being bombarded.

Make no mistake, however, that despite Halak's performance the Capitals are not a team that you can give up 54 shots to on a regular basis, and expect to win.

2. Powerless powerplay or powerful penalty kill?

The Canadiens played an undisciplined game last night, and allowed the Capitals six powerplay opportunities, including a 5-on-3 PP in the first period.

Despite all of their opportunities, the Capitals continue to fire blanks on the PP and while part of it the problem is with the Caps pp, you have to give a ton of credit to an extremely tenacious Montreal penalty kill.

Lead by Hal Gill—the shot blocking machine—and Josh Gorges, the Montreal penalty kill has limited the Caps No.1 powerplay during the regular season, to one goal on 30 powerplay opportunities.

With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green and others on their powerplay, that is a truly amazing stat.

If the Caps had been scoring on their pp so far, this series would be long over.

The Habs, on the other hand, continue to score one powerplay goal per game, as they did last night. Clearly, they are winning the battle of the special teams.

3. P.K. Subban is alright.

With 10:02 of ice time last night, P.K. Subban did not look out of place. While he looked a little over excited to start the game—a natural side effect of playing for the first time in the NHL playoffs in front of the raucous Bell Centre crowd—Subban quickly settled down to become an effective player for the Habs.

Subban was paired with Roman Hamrlik last night—due to the continued illness of Jaroslav Spacek—and did not look out of place.

If there is one thing that is evident, it is that Subban has a ton of self-confidence and he displayed it was a few between the leg passes, and a nifty feed to Cammalleri on his second goal of the game.

In case you’re counting, that is three NHL games for Subban and he has three assists.

4. The supporting cast came out to play.

Starting with Maxim Lapierre and ending with Ryan O'Byrne, the Canadiens got contribution for their entire lineup.

O'Byrne saw just over twenty minutes of ice time, paired with Andrei Markov, and looked every bit like Mike Komisarek of last year but with better skating.

OB was blocking shots, clearing players from the front of the net, and dishing out punishing body checks all night long. It makes you wonder why Coach Martin decided to bench him until Game Four.

Lapierre too, played one of his best games of the season. He was combative and moving his feet all night long. The result was a bunch of scoring chances and his first playoff goal at 4:17 of the third.

Despite his strong play, Lapierre was up to his old tricks and took two diving penalties as a result. As much as his contributions up front were needed and appreciated, he cannot go around putting his team in trouble like that.

The Habs are very lucky that their indiscipline didn't lose them the game, and must cut down on stupid penalties if they want any chance of winning Game Seven.


Look Out Ahead!
The Habs won Game Six in Montreal in an improbably fashion, and will be playing a do or die Game Seven in Washington on Wednesday. That being said, and despite the win, they need to be better if they want to win this series.

While the Caps outshot the Canadiens by an unbelievable 54-22 margin last night, the worst part was that they had about 15 clear shots from prime scoring areas. This was a disturbing trend last night, and if it wasn't for Halak's brilliance the Habs would surely have lost the game by three or four goals.

If they want to win on Wednesday, they must do a better job of protecting the high slot.

For the Caps, I would expect that they will basically try to emulate their Game Six performance. I mean if the game plays out identically on Wednesday, there is no way the Habs will come out with the win again.

That being said, I noticed the Caps players getting frustrated during the third period and wonder how much Halak has started to get into their heads.

When you see Alex Ovechkin passing instead of shooting from a good shooting area, you have to wonder. He was not the only Caps player to look for a pass when a shot was the right play, last night, and that tends to point to them being affected by Halak's play.


Next Game
The Habs have done the supposedly impossible and forced a Game Seven. Both teams have the day off before playing a winner takes all match in Washington tomorrow night.

As much as the pressure has been on the Habs for the last two games, it now shifts to the Capitals.

For the Canadiens, they weren't even supposed to make it this far. While they have clearly grabbed the momentum in this series, if they lose tomorrow, they still go home as heroes.

For the Caps, however, it is a different story. They were the No.1 team overall in the league who were supposed to contend for the cup this year.

If the Caps lose tomorrow, they go home as zeros. They have everything to lose while the Canadiens have nothing to lose and should play loose.

That being said, anything can happen tomorrow and I would not be surprised if either team wins.

For Habs fans, whether your team loses tomorrow or not, you should be proud. They have done so much more than anyone expected and should come home carrying their heads high.

So let's see what happens Wednesday in the final installment of what has been one of the most entertaining series' in a long time!

So what do you all think? Who wins the next game and the series?

Habs News Links - Habs win, Game 7 looms, Halak Shines

Game 6 - Post Game: Habs 4 - Caps 1
Habs Inside/Out - Round 1, Game 6: Canadiens force game 7
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33492

RDS - Halak is the Man (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/298030.html

7th Heaven with Halak
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297967.html

TSN - Halak comes up huge to force game 7
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=319591

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300426010

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Live In-game Chat for Game Six - Habs v. Caps.

Join us online tonight for another LIVE in-game chat with a ton of Habs and Caps bloggers and fans. Sign up for a reminder and chat live, using the app below:

Official Habs Press Release - Habs Recall P.K. Subban

Canadiens recall P.K. Subban from the Hamilton Bulldogs

Montreal (April 26, 2010) – The Montreal Canadiens announced today that defenseman P.K. Subban has been recalled from the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. Subban will be at practice this morning, and will be available for tonight’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre.

Subban, 20, had been recalled from Hamilton for the first time this season on February 11. The 6’ ’ 206 lbs 00’, defenseman played two games with the Canadiens, and recorded two points (0-2-2).

Subban ranked third in scoring with the Bulldogs this season, third amongst AHL defensemen with 53 points in 77 regular season games (18 goals, 35 assists). The Toronto native scored 11 powerplay goals, added 188 shots on goal and 82 penalty minutes, and maintained a +46 plus/minus differential.

Subban contributed to the Bulldogs victory over the Manitoba Moose in the first round of the AHL playoffs. The Bulldogs eliminated the Moose in six games with a 3-2 overtime win last night in Hamilton. Subban led the Bulldogs with nine playoff points (3 goals, 6 assists), including two game-winning goals. He led the Bulldogs in playoff points, tied for fifth in the AHL.

Pre-Game Primer: Can Habs force Game Seven versus Caps?

Enjoy the weekend everyone? I know I did.

As much as I love watching the Canadiens, I have to say that the two days off between games were a welcome reprieve from the playoff stress. And, like the Habs and Caps, I got to enjoy a little R & R.

Well, the Habs and Caps likely didn't enjoy as much R & R as I did, but during a playoff stretch where games are played almost every second day for months, I am sure the players welcomed the additional day off.

So, all are rested and feeling good in preparation for tonight's Game Six in Montreal.

So what happens now?

The Canadiens who were never supposed to have any chance in this series, pulled off a surprising, nail-biting win on Friday in Washington, to force Game Six.

But can they do it again, forcing a decisive Game Seven in Washington on Wednesday?

As for this morning, it looks like Habs defenseman Jaroslav Spacek is still suffering the effects of a virus, and will likely not play tonight, or be a game-time decision.

As well as the Habs played on Friday, they will need all hands on deck if they are to win tonight. So far in this series, the home team has lost four out of the five games played.

That doesn't bode very well for tonight and the Habs will have to leave it all on the ice against a Washington team who knows they blew a great chance to advance, on Friday.

Moreover, this is a Caps team who desperately wants to avoid playing another game against the Habs, in Washington, for all the marbles.

If the Habs can somehow win tonight, they will not only force a Game Seven but they will do so with momentum clearly on their side and more than a modicum of doubt installed in the Caps heads.

Lose and they go golfing, like everyone thought they would. So the pressure is clearly on the Caps. It will be interesting to see if they can rise to the occasion or if they buckle under the pressure.

So once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

Tune in tonight to see if the Habs have a date with destiny or the golf course.

So what do you all think? Can the Habs force a Game Seven? Will they fall to the Caps tonight?

NOTE - as of 9:59 AM EST, Montreal media outlets CKAC and the Team 990 are both reporting that the Habs have recalled P.K. Subban from the Hamilton Bulldogs and that he will play tonight.

This has not yet been officially confirmed, however if he does play, he will add a wildcard, X-factor to tonight's game that might tilt the table in the Habs favour.

10:23 AM EST - It's official: Habs recall P.K. Subban. Click here to view the official Habs press release.

Habs News Links - Game 6 preview, Halak in nets, Hamrlik wants to do more, Spacek still out?

Game 6 - Pre-Game: Habs v. Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Round 1, Game 6: Canadiesn v. Capitals
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33492

Habs Recall P.K. Subban
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33494

Spacek not at Sunday practice
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33480

RDS - Hamrlik needs to and wants to do more (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297926.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300426010

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Habs News Links - Back to practice, the 7th man in Montreal, Belanger before and after

Habs Inside/out - Back to practice on eve of Game 6
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33477

Capitals warrior Belanger - before and after
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33476

RDS - Habs are counting on the 7th man (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297883.html

Boudreau let's his frustration out (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297904.html

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Halak Leads Habs to Win, Forcing Game 6 versus Washington

Habs win, Habs win!

OK, now that I got that out of the way, let me get to the nitty-gritty. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Washington last night.

And yes, the game seemed to follow the same script as three out of the five games so far: the Habs came out with fire in their eyes and took an early lead. The Caps scored to bring the Caps back into it and pressed for the tie in the third.

This time, however, it was not to be for the Capitals, as the Habs' goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, stood on his head and kept the Caps off of the board.

The Capitals received a goal from Alexander Ovechkin (5), and the Habs responded with goals by Michael Cammalleri (3) and Travis Moen (1).

Final Score: Habs 2 - Caps 1. The Caps lead the series 3 - 2.


Game Notes
1. Halak, Halak, he's our man....

As porous as Jaroslav Halak was during Game Two and Three—he let in nine goals over 88 minutes of play, on 50 shots against for an .820 save percentage—he was a beacon of strength last night versus the Caps.

From the drop of the puck, Halak made save after spectacular save to hold the lead for his team. Halak stopped 15 shots in the first period, 12 in the third, and 37 (out of 38) overall for a scintillating .974 save percentage.

Talk about a bounce back! As guess those three days off helped, as Halak looked out of gas during his last game. So does this mean that the two days off before Game Six on Monday will also do him well?

2. Jacques Martin, is that you?

Most of the criticism and blame for the Canadiens misgivings, over the last few days, have been focused on Jacques Martin.

Martin, for all his experience, has tended to be slow to adapt and generally speaking, has stuck to his system. As such, the Habs have been outcoached on far too many occasions this year.

Last night, however, Martin put on his best coaching effort of the season and playoffs, and it played a huge role in the win.

For starters, Coach Martin has Travis Moen on the second line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta and it paid dividends with Moen scoring his first of the playoffs and what would be the eventual game winner.

In addition, he shortened his bench in the third period, when the Caps were pressing for the tie. Not only did he sit Marc-Andre Bergeron and Roman Hamrlik, but he shortened his forwards to three lines. This is something that Martin has been reticent to do very much this year but which is necessary at certain times in a game.

It just goes to show that if/when Martin chooses to do in-game adjustments, he can coach with the best of them. Let's hope he keeps it up!

3. Moen, and Gionta, and Gomez, oh my!

As mentioned above, Jacques Martin decided to start the game with Travis Moen on Gomez and Gionta's wing and it worked. Moen brought a well needed physical element to that line and it served to provide much more room for Gomez and Gionta to ply their skills.

In addition, Moen was always driving to the net which created havoc for Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov and resulted in Moen picking up the Habs' second goal of the game.

It just goes to show how desperately the Habs need some jam on their top two lines.

4. Hal Gill is a playoff warrior.

As much as Gill was maligned by the fans base for most of the season for being slow-footed, a turnover machine, always taking bad penalties, and generally being ineffective, he is shining at the most important time.

Since the beginning of the playoffs, Gill has been consistent and effective for the Habs. Whether taking away shooting lanes, blocking shots, or being a stalwart on the penalty kill, Gill has so far been one of the unsung heroes for the Habs.

Now we see why the Pens were unhappy to lose him to free agency.

5. Speaking on unsung heroes, Josh Gorges ain't bad either.

Gill's defensive partner, Josh Gorges, has quietly been one of the Habs most consistent and effective defensemen all series long.

Last night, with Jaroslav Spacek out of the lineup, Gorges put in a yeoman's effort in helping to shutdown Ovechkin. The result was a team high 27:45 of ice time for Gorges and a 2-1 win for the Habs.


Look Out Ahead!
Like Pittsburgh losing to the Senators the night before, the Caps seemed a little bit like a team who was already looking ahead to the second round versus the Flyers.

I expect them to come out with a more voracious effort in Game Six in Montreal on Monday. The problem for the Caps, is that they might have lost their best chance at eliminating the Habs, last night, in the comfort of their home rink.

Now, they have to roll back into Montreal and try to fight off a Habs team who will be buoyed by their ravenous fans.

Yes, the Habs have lost the last six home playoff games they have played, but if they can buck that trend they will force a Game Seven and go back to Washington with momentum clearly on their side.

That is a big 'if' as they still have to win the game. I am wondering if the Caps, who felt they were cruising in this series, now begin to have the first pangs of doubt. If so, this series could take an interesting turn on Monday night in Montreal.


Next Game
With two days off before Game Six in Montreal on Monday night, both teams will have a lot of time to think. For a Habs team where I am certain not everyone believed they could win before last night's game, the weekend could serve as a rallying point.

In addition, the two days rest should allow enough time for virus stricken Spacek to get better and back into the lineup. He will be joining a lineup that wakes up this morning feeling that they actually have a chance to force a Game Seven and maybe even win this series.

For the Caps, they will have time to think about the lost opportunity and to focus on closing things out Monday night in Montreal. I wonder if the loss will ring in their heads a little too long and if doubt will truly creep into that dressing room. If it does, the Habs might truly have a chance to win on Monday.

If not, then the Caps should be able to press to close out the series in Montreal.

Either way, this continues to be one of the most entertaining playoff series in a long time. So, enjoy the weekend, Habs addicts and, like the Habs, gather your strength for Monday.

So will the Habs win on Monday? What do you all think? Is Game Seven in their future?

Habs News Links - Habs win, Halak Shines, Game 6 in Montreal looms

Game 5 - Post Game: Habs 2 - Caps 1
Habs Inside/Out - Canadiens Extend Series
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33323

Snapping home-ice skid will force game 7
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33472

RDS - Vacation will have to wait (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297775.html

TSN - Halak Shines as Canadiens Earn Victory over Caps
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=319194

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300423023

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Star Studded Live in-game Chat tonight!

Take part below:

Sal, the Angry and passionate Habs fan - Does he speak for us all?

In case you haven't heard it yet, here is the clip of Sal, the angry Habs fan, calling in to the Team 990 post-game show after the last Caps game.



I think he speaks for a lot of us, especially when he says that he is a "...proud and frustrated Habs fan..."

You listening, Geoff Molson?

So what do you think? Does he speak for you? Do you agree with Sal? Disagree?

Habs News Links - Spacek still sick, Game 5 preview, Is this it?

Game 5 - Pre-Game: Habs @ Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Ailing Spacek to miss game 5
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33321

Round 1, Game 5: Habs - Caps
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33323

RDS - Habs need one with no mistakes (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297740.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-capitals

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300423023

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Canadiens-Capitals: Habs Blow Lead Again in 6-3 Loss to Caps

Where to begin?

Should I start by talking about how the Canadiens once again let a lead evaporate?

Should I discuss the fact that in losing 6-3 to the Capitals, the Canadiens now have their back against the wall going into Friday's Game Five, in Washington?

Perhaps I should start by talking about how the Habs once again completely dominated the Caps for 40 minutes, but failed to capitalize on their chances only to give up another shorthanded goal to let the Caps tie the game?

To be honest, it doesn't matter where we begin when the final result of last night's game was that the bile of the entire nation of Habs fans is starting to rise.

Listening to post-game shows across the city last night and this morning shows how angry and fed up fans are.

While I tend to agree with most of the fans and think that the Habs need to do a clean sweep of their front office—president Pierre Boivin, GM Pierre Gauthier, and coach Jacques Martin—I think that expectations for many were unnaturally high.

People seem to forget that he Habs couldn't win a game over their last two weeks, and backed into the playoffs by losing to the Leafs in overtime. The Habs could have, at any point over the last month, earned another point or two and they would not be facing the Caps in round one. So this is really their own doing.

The Caps got goals from Alex Ovechkin (two), Mike Knuble (two), Jason Chimera, and Nicklas Backstrom, with the Habs responding with Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Dominic Moore.

Final score: Habs 3-Caps 6, Caps lead series 3-1.


Game Notes
1. Carey Price played well enough to win, but the team is just not good enough.

Winning the first game of the series gave Habs fans the unrealistic notion that they could beat the Capitals. In a way, it was not an entirely false notion considering that the Canadiens have severely outplayed the Caps for long stretches of this series.

Despite the focus constantly being on the Canadiens goaltenders—their one area of true strength—the fact remains that this team is just not very good. They are what their record during the regular season reflects: A team barely good enough to make the playoffs.

And why, you might ask? Well, I think a lot of it has to do with having a coach whose style does not mesh with the players on his roster, and vice versa.


2. Oh, Roman Hamrlik, how far you have fallen.

Yesterday marked the second game in a row where Roman Hamrlik was on the power play and turned the puck over resulting in a back-breaking shorthanded goal against the Habs.

Yesterday the Habs were leading 2-1 in the second period and completely dominating the Caps when Hamrlik turned the puck over on the power play. The Caps were able to convert on their shorthanded two-on-one to tie the game with three seconds left in the period. Talk about a momentum killer in a period where the Habs outshot the Caps 21-9—and were outshooting them 33-19 overall.

As much as Hamrlik was a hero over the first 30 or so games of the season—filling in admirably while Markov was out—I think he played too many minutes too early in the season as he looks like he has nothing left in the tank.


3. The Habs defense is in disarray.

Yesterday's game started with Jaroslav Spacek being a game-time scratch from the lineup. This was bad news for the Habs as Spacek had to that point been their most effective player at shutting down Ovechkin.

In his absence, the role of Ovechkin killer fell to Josh Gorges who filled in admirably.

Ryan O'Byrne was also, finally, inserted in the lineup and played a relatively invisible game, which is to say he was neither noticed for major mistakes or major triumphs.

Unfortunately, however, Jacques Martin continued to use Marc-Andre Bergeron as Andrei Markov's defense partner. While most of the players on the team are minuses right now—a reflection of the Habs lack of five-on-five scoring ability—the worst of the bunch is MAB.

Bergeron was again a minus-three last night and now, over four games, is a league worst minus-eight. If it wasn't clear before last night, it should be crystal clear today: MAB is a defensive liability.

Play him only on the fourth line and the power play, or not at all.


4. The Caps are a good team, but I don't think there is any way they can win the cup.

Now I am sure to get flamed by all of the Caps fans out there for saying so, but how can the Caps win the cup?

This is a team who the Habs are running circles around, and the Habs are not a good team. How in the world is Washington going to beat Pittsburgh, Vancouver, or Detroit, or any real contending team?

No, this is a team built for offense only and the Habs have exposed them as such. If the Habs had any kind of elite level skill, they would be burying the myriad chances they have been getting.

That, by the way, has been the Habs problem all year long: They are unable to capitalize on their chances. Moreover, and far too often, they get a ton of chances, can't score, the other team scores, and they fall apart.

That has largely been the story of this series.

But back to the Caps for a second. The team and their fans are ecstatic at their thumping of the Montreal Canadiens, and they should be. Before the series started, I said the Caps would win it in five games and I am still sticking to that prediction.

That being said, Caps fans, I wouldn't get too high on your defeat of the lowly Habs. There are real teams up ahead and if your team continues to play the way they have against the Habs, I feel they are in for a world of hurt.


Look Out Ahead!
The Habs will surely be spinning all of the standing clichés over the next 48 hours. We have our backs up against the wall. We have to take this thing on game at a time. We still believe we can come back.

All the clichés in the world do not change the fact that the Habs need a major miracle to comeback and beat the Caps in seven games.

This is not impossible, but highly unlikely. In order to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, the team has to believe. Not just say that they believe, but truly, deep down, believe that they can win this thing.

After three heartbreaking losses, I expect that more than a few players in the Habs room feel that this is over.

Last night there was a report that Jaroslav Halak stayed on the ice long after his teammates had gone to the locker room, staring up at the banners in the rafters. Clearly this report was meant to indicate that Halak might be thinking that he has played his last game in Montreal.

Whether its true or not, it reflects the feeling that this series is over and I for one believe that it will be on Friday.


Next Game
The teams now fly back to Washington for Game Five on Friday night.

Can the Habs win on Friday to extend the series? Yes. Absolutely. If they play they have played every game in this series, and do so for 60 minutes, then yes, they can win.

But what are the chances of that happening?

The Canadiens are a mediocre team at best, and as such their margin of error on any given night is razor thin, especially when facing the likes of the Capitals. The pattern over this series has seen the Habs play dominant hockey until they make a mistake and the mistake almost always ends up in their net.

If things go according to Hoyle, the Caps will not only win on Friday, but both Alexander Semin and the Caps powerplay—neither of which have produced a goal—will also wake up.

According to NHL.com, teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series a total of 229 times and have come back to win the series on 20 occasions or 8.7 percent of the time, so miracles do happen.

Will the Canadiens find a miracle of their own? Starting Friday night, we will find out.

Habs News Links - Caps wins and command series, Price, Ovechkin

Game 4 - Post Game: Habs v. Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Caps command series
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33181

RDS - Vaction time approaches (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297650.html

TSN - Caps take series strangehold
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=318941

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300421010

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Habs Vs. Caps Live Game Four Chat

With all of the debate leading up to tonight’s game, we in the Habs and Caps blogging community are doing our best to put together one of the strongest in-game chats available.

Join us tonight, beginning at 6:30pm for the pre-game show and through the game as we will be doing a Cover-it-Live Game 4 mega chat tonight.

Along with myself, we have an excellent spread of talent from both blogging communities.

Be sure to set yourself a reminder!

Pre-Game Primer: Changes Abound But Can Habs Win?

So far this morning—and according to Pat Hickey from the Montreal Gazette—the Habs are making several changes to their lineup as follows:

1. Carey Price will be in the net
2. Ryan O'Byrne will be back on D
3. Marc-Andre Bergeron will be on the 4th line and power play
4. Mathieu Darche seems like he will be the one giving his place up to MAB

Personally, I think all four of these things will be good for the Canadiens. Price, because he is bigger than Halak and better suited to the physical abuse that is being dolled out in the Habs crease.

Also, Price seems to have a much better, more mature, more humble attitude. I think Halak's rise to stardom served Price up a big slice on humble pie and maybe helped to get his head screwed on straight.

The Ryan O'Byrne decision is a no-brainer and I am not sure why it took Jacques Martin three games to figure out that he should be in the lineup.

O'Byrne is the ONLY Canadiens defenseman who brings a physical aspect to the game. He is big and strong and will be more effective than MAB in clearing the front of the net.

MAB should never have been playing as Markov's defense partner on the first pairing. This is another hair-brain scheme hatched by Jacques Martin. While there is no question that MAB, and his bullet of a slap shot, make an excellent addition to the Habs powerplay, he is a major liability 5-on-5.

You just have to look at his minus-3 rating last game. He was the only Habs defenseman who was worse than a minus-1.

MAB is a player that should simply play about five minutes per game on the fourth line plus whatever minutes he gets on the first power play unit.

Lastly, Mathieu Darche seems like he will be a healthy scratch. While I like Darche a lot, he really hasn't done anything in this series to keep himself in the lineup. The Habs bottom two lines need to bring more to the table and if Darche isn't doing it, then switching him out is a good call.

So the Habs are making changes. That much is clear. But will it bear fruit on the ice? Will it enable the Habs to play a full 60 minutes and to win another game in this series?

Only time will tell, but if the Habs cannot win tonight—in the friendly climes of the Bell Centre—I fear that this series will be over in five games.

If, however, they can shutdown the Caps, use their speed and skill, play an attacking style, get traffic to the net to disrupt Varlamov, keep scoring power play goals while stifling the Caps PP, and get outstanding goaltending from Price, they should be able to tie the series.

That sounds like a lot to ask for, and maybe it is, but I truly believe that they can do it. By around ten pm tonight we should know if I am right or not.

---
Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter

Habs News Links - Game 4 preview, Price in nets, Biggest game of the season

Game 4 - Pre-Game: Habs v. Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Price gets the call
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33180

Round 1, Game 4: Habs v. Caps
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33181

RDS - Price gets the call (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297650.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300421010

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Montreal-Washington: Caps Steamroll Habs to Take 2-1 Series Lead

Look away, look away! They're hideous!

Gross. Ugly. Putrid. Embarrassing.

Pick a negative adjective and it probably accurately describes the Canadiens 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night.

A loss in which the Canadiens completely dominated the Caps during the first period, let them score a short handed goal to take the lead in the second, left Halak to his own devices only to be pulled in favour of Price after the score was 3-0, then imploded with a series of frustration-laden penalties, and misconducts.

Ugly.

The Habs did, however, calm themselves and play a decent third period, but the game was already too far out of reach by that point. Hopefully they can take some good things from their third period into Wednesday night's game four.

The Caps Semyon Varlamov was solid in the Caps net but, like on too many occasions this season, the impotent Habs offense made him look like more of a star than he actually is.

The Caps got scoring from Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and Matt Bradley. The Canadiens lone goal was scored by Tomas Plekanec on the powerplay in the third.

Final score: Habs 1 - Caps 5, Caps lead series two games to one.


Game Notes
1. Did Halak crumble under the pressure?

Yes and no.

While Halak has been far from stellar over the last two games, he was left largely to his own devices last night. The result was a terrible shorthanded goal at 1:06 of the second period, which basically opened the floodgates for the Caps.

On the play, Roman Hamrlik—and why was he on the powerplay?—failed to block the Caps clearing attempt which setup a 2-on-1 with Jaroslav Spacek as the lone defender.

Halak made the initial save but Spacek slid into him freeing the puck and handcuffing the Habs goaltender. Gordon merely jammed the rebound in for a bit of a "gimmie".

After that, poor gap control, weak defensive zone coverage, and missed assignments meant that Halak was abandoned by his teammates and driven from his net.

On a night that I had previously described as the defining moment of his career so far, Halak was not a difference maker but was also not responsible for the loss.

2. What veteran leadership?

While a lot of talk over the first two games has focused on the veteran leadership and Stanley Cup experience brought to the table by Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, and Travis Moen, last night they failed to deliver.

Once the Caps had taken a 3-0 lead, Gomez and Gionta completely lost their composure and the rest of the team followed them down the drain.

Following a goal mouth scrum, Gionta got two minutes for unnecessarily cross-checking Jason Chimera while Gomez got a ten minute game misconduct for lipping off at the ref.

A few minutes later, Plekanec got a two minute minor for interference and another two for mouthing off at the ref—following Gomez's example.

That is not veteran leadership, and that is not a calming influence.

Just when the Habs were at their lowest point of the game, Gionta and Gomez only helped the Habs dig a deeper hole rather than settling the troops while the game was still within reach.

Frustration or not, their role on the team is to provide leadership and Stanley Cup experience. As such, their personal, selfish implosions set bad examples and ultimately, both players should know better.

3. Jacques Martin is the Achilles Heel of the Montreal Canadiens.

While fans have been complaining about Coach Martin's poor decisions since the beginning of the season, this playoff series has only served to amplify his shortcomings.

Martin simply looks like a person who the game has passed by and his personnel decisions from game-to-game do not seem to make sense.

If there is one thing that has become glaringly obvious during this series, it is that the Canadiens are just way too small to compete. So why then is Ryan O'Byrne—the only Habs defender who can bring any physical dimension to the game—a healthy scratch?

Moreover, why is Marc-Andre Bergeron—a severe defensive liability—on the top defensive pairing with Andrei Markov?

While most players on the team were minuses last night, MAB was the only Habs defender who was worse than a minus-1 for the night—he was minus-3. He simply should not be playing more than five or ten minutes a game on the fourth line and the powerplay, and this is ultimately the coach's decision.

Martin just seems to make curious decision after curious decision, misses opportunities to call timeouts, refuses to deviate from his "system", is slow to adapt to the other team, and ultimately, is out coached far too often.

If he is still here to start the 2011 season, the Habs are going to be in for another year of misery.

4. Glen Metropolit should have taken another night off.

Playing only 5:37 and finishing a minus-1 on the night, Metropolit was clearly not ready to return to the lineup. Yet, despite this fact, Coach Martin chose to sit Sergei Kostitsyn in favour of Metro.

While I admire Metro's courage and determination in wanting to get back into the lineup three weeks ahead of schedule—his shoulder injury was supposed to keep him out for six to eight weeks—the Canadiens could have used SK74's skill last night.

This is another oddity of Coach Martin who clearly does not like Sergei K and always seems to be waiting for any opportunity to sit him.

This is sad because unless Martin is fired in the offseason—an unlikely prospect given his history with GM Pierre Gauthier—then it seems likely that Sergei will be traded.

In a situation where the coach does not want a player it is either the player who ends up going or the coach. If Sergei is gone in favour of Martin, I think the Habs will be keeping the weaker of the two links.


Look Out Ahead!
This series is looking more and more like the Canadiens let it slip away in their 6-5 overtime loss on Saturday. Leading 4-1, the Habs should have won that game and if they had done so would have had a good chance at winning this series.

While this series is far from over, the Canadiens seemed last night, like a team who had given up. You would expect more from a team with four Stanley Cup winning players on their team.

With Carey Price taking over in the net for Halak after the score was 3-0—he stopped 21 of 23 shots—it seems likely that he will be in the net for Wednesday nights uber-important game four.

And why not?

The 6'2" Price is much better suited to playing against the crease-crashing Capitals. Plus, he had a 2-1-1 record against the Caps during the season.

However given Coach Martin's ability to do wacky things, I wouldn't be surprised to see Halak back in the net. Disappointed, but not shocked.

Either way, I believe that in order for the Habs to have any chance of remaining in this series, their goaltender—whoever it ends up being—will have to steal the next game. The Canadiens have the goaltending to steal a game in this series, and if they can't do it on Wednesday, then I think the Caps will close this series out in five games.


Next Game
Both teams have one day to prepare for Wednesday night's game four in Montreal.

Habs fans across the city this morning are hoping that the Caps players get done in
by the holy trinity of Montreal: Super Sex, Wanda's, and Chez Pare.

While my heart tells me that the Habs still have a chance, my head tells me that this point, plus a lot of luck, look like the only way the Habs will be able to win this series.

Habs News Links - Caps take series lead, Halak pulled, Habs implode

Post Game - Game 3: Habs 1 - Caps 5
Habs Inside/Out - Caps take series lead
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33027

Home playoff skid hits five games
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33177

RDS - Caps make some noise (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297545.html

A doubley frustrating second half (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297582.html

The question is back: Halak or Price? (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297587.html

TSN - Loud and Clear
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=318685

ESPN.com - Recap
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300419010

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pre-Game Primer: Is Tonight the Defining Moment in Jaroslav Halak's Career?

As we await tonight's third game in the Montreal-Washington first round playoff matchup, most of the conversation is focused on the goaltending in this series.

As my colleague from HockeyBuzz.com, Steve Hindle, astutely pointed out before the series started, we have seen three goaltenders so far.

Steve is also reporting this morning that it looks like Theo will be in the net tonight. If this turns out to be true, I think this is a decision that plays nicely in the Canadiens' hands as Theo just doesn't seem to play very well in Montreal.

As for the Habs, Alexander Ovechkin got things going yesterday when he said that he noticed that Halak's hand was shaking every time he grabbed the water bottle in the last game. Halak must be nervous and that is a good thing for the Caps.

Now, Ovechkin is a smart guy and is clearly playing psychological playoff games, and why not? What's to lose in making a comment like that, which will surely get back to Halak? At worst, he ignores it, is unaffected, and goes out and does his thing.

At best, however, Ovie's comment seeps in Halak’s mind, poisons him, and makes him nervous for tonight's game. If this scenario plays out, the Habs will be in big trouble.

An RFA at season's end and clearly gunning for a big contract, Jaroslav Halak will be playing the most important game of his relatively young career tonight. While he let in a couple of soft goals last game that helped the Caps tie and win the game, I think that in my mind, it is a no-brainer to go back to Halak tonight.

If it wasn't for Halak the Habs wouldn't even be in the playoffs in the first place. Also, Halak has shown the ability to bounce back from a weak performance when given the chance—however sparingly he was given that chance this year.

Tonight's Game Three could be THE defining moment in Halak's career and I fully expect him to produce one of his best efforts of the season so far. And don't kid yourself, because a lot of GM's around the league will be watching to see how Halak responds.

It is in times like this, during the playoffs, that you get to see a player's true colours and how well or poorly Halak responds to the pressure will help determine how valuable an asset he will be in the offseason.

If he falters badly, however, I would not hesitate to go with Carey Price in Game Four.

So, while like many Habs addicts, I sit here with that sick, nervous, seven-and-a-half-hours-till-game-time-feeling in my stomach, I hope that Halak will succeed tonight. However, I am also aware of the fact that the Washington snipers have now figured out that they have to shoot high to score on Halak.

The last two goals—from last game—were evidence of this fact as Carlson and Backstrom scored identical goals from about 30 feet out, by whipping the puck high, glove side.

Tonight's game is pivotal in the series and I think that the winner will very likely go on to win the series.

Here's hoping Halak can recover, the Habs can keep the Caps from running his crease, and that the refs can find their whistles if they do.

Enjoy the game folks!

UPDATE: Halak and Varlamov are getting the starts tonight, Glen Metropolit is back in the lineup, and Sergei Kostitsyn is a healthy scratch.

Habs News Links - Game 3 preview, Ovechkin says Halak is nervous, Metro coming back?

Pre-Game: Game 3 - Habs v. Caps
Habs Inside/Out - Round 1, Game 3
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33027

Coaches in the spotlight Monday
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33026

Metropolit a game time decision for Game 3
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33023

RDS - Ovechkin says Halak is nervous (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297500.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-canadiens

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300419010

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Montreal-Washington: Nicklas Backstrom's Hat Trick seals OT win for Caps

Oh man, was that every close!

In losing 6-5 in overtime to the Washington Capitals, last night, the Montreal Canadiens came within one goal of taking a 2-0 series lead.

Despite having a 4-1 lead nearing the end of the second period—albeit for approximately 40 seconds—the Canadiens could not hold on as the Caps stormed back in the third.

With third period goals by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson—with 1:21 to play in the game—the Caps bombarded the Canadiens and roared back to send the game into overtime.

Despite getting a hat trick from Andrei Kostitsyn, the Caps came away with the victory only 31 seconds into overtime as Backstrom scored his third of the night to seal the deal.

Final score: Habs 5 - Caps 6 (OT)
Series: Tied 1-1


Game Notes
1. For a rare occasion, Jaroslav Halak was not on top of his game.

Despite making some great saves in the game, Halak let in a few softie's tonight—more specifically the tying and winning goals.

On both plays, Halak was too deep in his crease and while both were good shots, they ultimately came from a good 20-plus feet out and were eminently stoppable.

The other problem for Halak is that the Caps were crashing his net all night long. that is not necessarily a problem however on one of the goals Halak was clearly interfered with—as was pointed out by TSN's game crew.

While I am not generally one to blame the refs—as I understand that they have a difficult job to do and are only human—last night, there were some very bad missed calls and they might have contributed to the Habs losing the game.

Ultimately, the Habs were masters of their own destiny and let the Caps back into the game. But, suffice it to say that Halak let in a few goals that he would like to have back. Six goals on 36 shots is not very good.

2. Speaking of goaltending, I thought Jose Theodore was not on a short leash this year?

After letting in two goals on the first two shots by the Habs, Caps Coach Boudreau pulled Theodore in favour of Semyon Varlamov. This despite coming out publically before the series to say that Theo was not on a short leash.

I guess Coach Boudreau's definition of a short leash is different than mine.

3. Alex the Gr8 woke up.

Of course he did. Would you have expected anything less? Did you expect him to be held shotless two games in a row?

No, last night, Ovie was intent on making a difference in the game as he came out on his first shift like he was shot out of a cannon.

The result was one goal, three assists, a plus-3 rating, and six shots on net. Pretty much exactly what was expected of him and the Caps were able to win as a result.

4. Hello, Andrei Kostitsyn, and welcome to the party!

In score a hat trick last night, AK46 moved into a first place tie for points in the playoffs, with five.

As of this morning, he sits tied with the Caps' Nicklas Backstrom and the Pens' Sidney Crosby.

Not bad company to be hanging with.

It's great that he is scoring but I get the sense that Habs fans are holding their breath. And why not? Andrei's skills have never been in doubted but his consistency is something that has always been a problem.

Here's hoping he can keep it up because the Habs will need him to be scoring if they hope to have a chance with the Caps.

5. Speaking of hat tricks, Nicklas Backstrom is a sick player!

While the Caps were ecstatic to see Ovie get back on the scoreboard, it was actually Backstrom that stole the show.

Scoring twice in regulation and sniping the winner 31 seconds into overtime, Backstrom showed exactly why the Caps are categorized as a "quick strike" offense.


Look Out Ahead!
On the RDS post game show last night, former Habs coach Jacques Demers said that while he thinks Halak is not to blame for the loss, he would put Carey Price in the net next game.

And cue the goaltending controversy. I am sure this means that the talk over the next 48 hours will focus largely on this aspect of the Canadiens game. And, while Halak did let in two soft goals, we have to keep in mind that the Habs held a 4-1 lead with less than three minutes to play in the third period.

While I don't think the Habs can go wrong with either Price or Halak, I think that Halak, as the unofficial No.1, should get the next start. If he falters in game three, then and only then would I look to bring Price in. Give Halak a chance to redeem himself.

As for the Caps, I think it is pretty likely that we will see Semyon Varlamov starting the rest of the Caps' games.

Short leash indeed.


Next Game
Both teams now fly to Montreal for game two on Monday night at the Bell Centre. While I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the noise and passion level demonstrated by the Capitals fans in their building, suffice it to say that they ain't got nothing on Montreal.

Despite Habs fans feeling depressed this morning with what could have been, we must keep in mind that the Habs barely squeezed into the playoffs while the Caps are the best team in the league.

As such, leaving Washington with a split is actually a great outcome. So trust me, Habs addicts, the disappointment of what got away will fade and the realization that the Habs still have skated with the Caps for two games will emerge.

Moreover, the realization that despite the Caps being an offensive machine, the Habs can still very much win this series. Or rather, after coming out of Washington with a split and almost up by two games, the Habs actually have a chance of winning this whole thing.

As is usually the case, Game Three in any series tends to be one of the most pivotal and it will be fun to see who takes the lead Monday in Montreal.

Habs News Links - Washington ties series, Halak, Backstrom

Game Two: Habs 5 - Caps 6 (OT)
Habs Inside/Out - Round 1, Game 2
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/32860

Late afternoon meeting for Habs
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/33023

RDS - A victory by Backstrom
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297410.html

TSN - Backstrom Scores in OT as Caps Rally to beat Canadiens
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=318453

ESPN.com
http://espn.go.com/nhl/recap?gameId=300417023

Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

History Will Be Made - Thomas Plekanec Overtime Goal

Thanks to the hot tip by Habs addict @BNHabs on Twitter for sending me this video. This is an absolutely hilarious video in reference to the whole Thomas-Jagr-gate scandal.

Enjoy:

Pre-Game Primer: How Will Alex Ovechkin and Caps Respond in Game Two?

The nervous excitement in the city of Montreal is palpable this morning. The surprise of the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 overtime win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday has morphed into cautious optimism.

And why not?

The Habs were supposed to be swept in four games, right? And, despite playing a horrible first 20 minutes, last game, the Habs finished strong and pulled out the victory in OT.

The focus, since Thursday, has clearly been on Caps superstar, Alex Ovechkin. Questions as to why he played so poorly mixed with whispers of him not being 100% have been the talk du jour at press conferences.

Despite Cap coach Bruce Boudreau telling the media hordes that Ovechkin just played a bad game and is not injured, many people are still scratching their heads.

Ovechkin too took full blame for his poor performance and said he needs to be better tonight in Game 2.

So now the stage is set: Ovechkin HAS to be better tonight.

He said it, his coach said it, and the media, and the Canadiens expect it. So can Ovechkin deliver?

Given his skill level and determination, I think the answer is likely 'yes'. That being said, there is always the possibility that the Habs shut him down again.

What then, for Washington?

While I fully expect Washington to play a much stronger game against the Habs tonight, I don't think that they exactly played a bad game last time.

So does this mean that the Habs just played a system that worked in neutralizing the Caps' potent offense? Maybe. The fact that Halak stood on his head, yet again, also helped.

Despite having 47 shots against, last game, very few of those shots were second chances or rebounds. This points to the Habs been good and collapsing down-low around Halak, giving up shots from the outside and the point and working to make sure that there are no rebounds to jump on.

So how will the Caps counteract that strategy tonight?

We'll have to see what Boudreau has in store, but suffice it to say that if they decided to try and create more offense off the cycle they would have a much easier time against the smaller Habs players.

So what happens if the Caps lose tonight?

While I think the chances of the Habs winning a second straight game in Washington are low, there is always the possibility that they will reproduce their result of the last game. And then what? Can you imagine the Caps being down by two games and having to play game three in Montreal?

That is a scenario that they would do well to avoid. As such, I believe that tonight's game is the most important game of the season for the Caps. I know they say that game three tends to be one of the most important in a series, and that still holds true, but given the pressure on Ovechkin and the Caps, I truly believe that they cannot afford to go down 2-0 in the series.

Moreover, while I still think the Caps will win this series I think that IF the Canadiens can somehow win tonight's game, all bets are off.

A Habs win tonight, in my opinion, will turn all predictions—and the series itself—on its head. The Habs have already taken home ice advantage away from the Caps and winning tonight will give them the confidence to know, not think, that they can beat this team.

That being said, I fully expect a Herculean effort from Ovechkin and the Caps tonight and for the teams to go back to Montreal tied 1-1 in the series.

However, this is the playoffs and anything can happen. Let's see if the cautious optimism turns into inspired confidence or comes back down to Earth in the form of grounded reality.

Your move, Ovechkin. Rise to the challenge or crumble under the pressure.

Tune in tonight to find out.

Habs News Links - Game 2, Price on Halak, Ovechkin

Pre-Game: Habs v. Caps - Game 2
Habs Inside/Out - Round 1, Game 2
http://www.habsinsideout.com/main/32860

RDS - Reproduce the same recipe (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297410.html

Price remains humble behind Halak (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297407.html

What will Ovechkin do in Game 2? (French)
http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/297401.html

TSN - Gameday
http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/scores/gameday/?hubname=nhl-capitals

ESPN.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/preview?gameId=300417023


Like this story? Don't be selfish, Share it!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Montreal-Washington: Tomas Plekanec's OT Winner Draws First Blood for Habs

With all the talk the past few days and all of the supposed controversies between Plekanec and Theodore, all of the question marks surrounding goaltending and all of the pundits—this one included—giving the Habs no chance in this series, the Canadiens decided to shake things up a bit by winning game one versus the Capitals.

The Caps came out flying in the first period and shelled Jaroslav Halak for 19 shots. However, Halak held the fort until the Habs could get their legs under them.

After weathering the Capitals' storm, the Habs came to life and actually started to push back during the second period. The result was a 2-2 game that was, fittingly, ended by Tomas Plekanec in overtime to give the Habs the 1-0 series lead.

The story, or should I say stories, of the game were the Capitals getting 47 shots on goal with Halak saving all but two and Alexander Ovechkin firing none of them. That's right; the Habs played an excellent team defense and shut down Ovechkin in the process.

The Canadiens got goals from Scott Gomez, Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec, while the Caps got scoring from Joe Corvo and Nicklas Backstrom.

Final score: Habs 3 - Caps 2 (OT)


Game Notes
1. For all the question marks, Halak brought his A-game.

What question marks, you might ask? Well, while Halak was as constant as a metronome, throughout the season, he looked a little shaky in his last few games of the season. So much so, that some people were questioning how he would play in the playoffs.

Well, last night Halak showed that his shaky play over the last three games was a mere aberration. This guy is for real.

In stopping 45 of 47 shots last night, Halak pushed his record when facing 35 or more shots against, to 10-1 this year.

Unbelievable.

After stopping 19 shots in a first period where the Habs weren't even in the same rink as the Caps, Halak was wholly responsible for the Habs win last night. Without him, this game was over in the first frame.

2. Jaroslav Spacek played one for the ages.

Clearly tasked with being "the" guy to shadow Ovechkin, Spacek played his best game of the season.

With 19:51 of ice time, Spacek was not the most used Canadiens defenseman—Andrei Markov was at 27:38 of ice time—but he was arguably the most effective.

Time and again he was on the ice taking away Ovechkin‘s time and space, making great first passes and even better defensive plays.

His best play came as he completely neutralized a Caps 3-on-1 break in overtime. A few minutes later the puck went the other way for the winning goal.

3. Gomer is a gamer.

Along with Travis Moen, Brian Gionta and Hal Gill—all of whom have Stanley Cup rings—Scott Gomez pushed his game up to another level last night. It is in the playoffs that we get to finally see why Bob Gainey signed many of the players that he did last summer.

Gomez was brought on board for his two Stanley Cup victories. That is invaluable experience that can be used on the ice and in the dressing room to calm younger players.

Last night, Gomez was the sparkplug in tying the game for the Habs as he weaved beautifully through the neutral zone to setup a give-and-go with Gionta for the tying goal.

If he keeps playing like he did last night, the Canadiens should be able to continue competing with the Caps.

4. The Habs best players were their best players.

Looking at the score sheet, the Canadiens got goals from Gomez, Cammalleri and Plekanec with assists from Markov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Gionta, Pouliot and Spacek.

That is pretty much all of the Habs' top players contributing on the scoreboard and exactly what the Habs need in order to compete with the Caps.

A very important point that can be easily overlooked from last night's game was the Michael Cammalleri scored his first goal since coming back from injury.

You could see a much more relaxed Cammalleri in the post game interviews and that is a good thing for the Habs. Cammalleri is sniper and when he is scoring they tend to go in in bunches.

5. Team defense rules the day.

While Spacek might have been the most prominent figure in shutting down Ovechkin, the reality is that the Habs stuck to a strict team defense plan and it worked.

Every time Ovechkin was on the ice, all five Habs players were aware of his presence and they worked as a unit to shut him down. Ovechkin was repeatedly frustrated as he had no time or space to fire shots or make moves. The result was zero shots on goal by Ovie and a 3-2 Habs win.


Look Out Ahead!
While the Habs ultimately won the game and likely gained some confidence from the victory, I caution fans from getting too far ahead of themselves.

Keep in mind that without Halak stopping 18 shots in the first period, this game could have been out of reach early.

I fully expect the Caps to adjust their game in order to try and create more room for Ovechkin. Moreover, I fully expect a pissed-off Alex Ovechkin to take him game to another level on Saturday night.

He will simply not be held shotless two games in a row.

I wonder if the Caps will switch to a dump and chase style and try to create offense off of the cycle instead of the rush, next game. While that might sound counter-intuitive, the cycle style is one the Habs have a tough time defending against while the rush-style is one that works better for their smaller players.


Next Game
The Habs take their 1-0 series lead into Saturday night's second game in Washington. Conventional wisdom would have us believing that the Caps will be hungry for revenge and will decimate the Canadiens on Saturday night.

While that is quite possible, there is also the possibility that the Canadiens win again. Can you imagine them holding a 2-0 series lead coming back to the raucous climes of the Bell Centre?

I dare not think such a thought.

Please remember, Habs addicts, that one game is far from a series and while it is reason to be happy, there is a long road ahead. One game at a time people. One game at a time.

So by all means bask in the victory, just don’t let it get to your head.