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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canadiens-Canucks: The Price Is Right For Rare Habs Win In Vancouver

by Kamal Panesar

With the memory of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Calgary Flames still fresh in their minds, Montreal took to the ice against the Vancouver Canucks last night in what seemed like a mismatch of epic proportions.

Prior to the game, the Canucks where first place in the league, had the best goals-for, the best goals-against, the No. 1 power play and the fourth overall penalty kill.

Add to that the fact that Montreal hadn't won in Vancouver since November 2000 and that they were on a three-game losing streak, and the outlook was bleak.

Despite the long odds against them and true to their form of showing up when you least expect them to, the Canadiens came out and played one of their best road games of the season.

Vancouver tends to win games with skill instead of brawn and, as such, Montreal actually stacks up pretty well against them.

With a fast paced, skilled-based game being employed by both teams, the match was extremely entertaining and a real glimpse of what true skilled hockey looks like. With very few stops in play and end-to-end action, the fans certainly got their money's worth!

Montreal got on the board first, when Benoit Pouliot sprung David Desharnais with a breakaway pass that he tucked five-hole on Roberto Luongo. Only 1:07 later, Brian Gionta potted the rebound off a P.K. Subban slapper for his 22nd of the season to make it 2-0.

The shots were 14-1 Montreal by the 10 minute mark of the first before Vancouver was able to mount any push back. After that, the tables were turned, with the Canucks firing 11 shots to Montreal's two over the final 10 minutes of the first and out-shooting the Habs 39-25 on the night.

Montreal got themselves into penalty trouble, handing the Canucks' first overall power play six man-advantages, including four in the third period, but were able to stop all but two.

Henrik Sedin got the Nucks on the board 3:27 into the second, before Andrei Kostitsyn fired his 14th of the seasonthe eventual game winnerpast Luongo at 10:36 of the same period.

The Canucks made it a one-goal game early in the third, but Carey Price, who stopped 37 shots on the night, stood tall, turning aside shot after shot to secure the victory.


Final score: Habs 3 - Canucks 2

Habs' scorers: David Desharnais (6), Brian Gionta (22), Andrei Kostitsyn (14)
Canucks' scorers: Henrik Sedin (15), Mikael Samuelsson (17)

Three stars: 1. Carey Price, 2. Ryan Kesler, 3. Brian Gionta


Key Moment

With time running out and the Habs clinging to a one-goal lead, lead-footed Hal Gill got into a foot race for an icing call. Gill dove and used his long reach to touch the puck first, sending the faceoff back to the Canucks' zone with about 30 seconds to play.

Gill's diving play prevented the Canucks from pulling Roberto Luongo for the extra attacker and helped ensure the Montreal win.


Game Notes

1. Will the real Montreal Canadiens please stand up?

The Canadiens, clearly intent on reversing their recent fortunes, employed their most intense net-presence game of the season last night. They unfortunately didn't maintain this style for the entire game, but in the first period, Montreal looked more like the crease-crashing Flyers than the habitually perimeter-playing Canadiens.

From Andrei Kostitsyn to Travis Moen to Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty, it seemed like every line had players who were crashing the crease. The result was a flurry of goal-mouth scrambles and scoring chances by Montreal, with players falling all over Luongo.

As much as a physical presence has been lacking around the opposition's net for most of the season, the Canadiens showed last night that they actually do have players who can play that role.

Why they don't do so more often is a bit of a mystery to me, but they should take note from last night's game and try to consistently reproduce that style of play.


2. Four players, four huge games.

While Carey Price was the uncontested hero of the night, the entire team put in a solid effort, helping the Habs snap their three-game losing streak.

With a 2-0 lead in the game, Coach Martin decided to shorten his bench by essentially sitting the Desharnais line for the balance of the game. I'm not sure what the exact motivation was for this move but, with the other three lines firing on all cylinders, perhaps Martin wanted to go with the lines he felt could guarantee him the win.

The entire team played well, but a few players in particular stood out: Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Plekanec.

All four players finished the night with more than 20 minutes of ice time, with Subban and Gill doing yeoman's work, clocking in at 26:17 and 25:53 respectively.

Gill, Subban and Hamrlik led the charge in boxing the Canucks out of the high slot, clearing the front of the net and getting rid of rebounds.

Subban in particular has truly grown into the role of the No. 1 defenseman on this team. While he still has a lot to learn and will undoubtedly continue to get better each year, at 21 years of age, you have to be impressed with his incredible poise on the ice.

As for Plekanec, while a lot has been made lately about his lack of offensive production on the road, he continues to take care of things on the defensive side of the puck.

Plekanec was one of the main reasons why the Canucks' vaunted power play only managed two goals last night and, coupled with Travis Moen, he continues to be the Habs' best penalty killer.


3. The Habs owned the defensive slot.

Montreal did an excellent job of boxing out the Vancouver players for most of the night, especially on the power play, and this despite the excellent work by Ryan Kesler to constantly be in Price's face.

Try as they may, the extremely skilled Canucks weren't able to get to the high slot with the puck very often and, as such, the dangerous scoring chances from prime locations were kept to a minimum.

As much as Jacques Martin's system can stifle the offensive instincts of a team, its ability to keep opponents to the outside is truly its crown jewel.

Time and again last night, the Canucks had trouble getting to the front of the net, especially on the power play, where they went 2-for-6 and had no answer for Hal Gill lying down to cut the cross-crease pass.

The Canucks still did a great job of getting bodies in front of and all around Price, but his focus was as unwavering as his desire to win and his strong work, backed up by excellent defense, sealed the deal.


4. Lars Eller needs to play at center.

Eller hasn't exactly been ripping up the league in his inaugural season in Montreal, but he is still a tremendously skilled player, despite what many Habs’ fans are saying.

The thing is that Eller is a natural center and playmaker and for most of the season, he has been playing on the wing. In the few brief stints that we have seen from him at center, he has looked his best and more importantly, most comfortable.

Last night with Jacques Martin juggling his lines, Eller, who has played on the wing with Scott Gomez and Kostitsyn since the All-Star break, found himself centering Kostitsyn and Moen on the fourth line.

At first glance, that might seem like punishment, but with Eller up the middle, a bonafide goal-scorer (Kostitsyn) on his wing, the fourth line was one of the Habs' most effective. They used speed, skill and grit to produce the Habs' second goalKostitsyn's first in 12 games and first point in nine.

With Moen digging the puck out of the corners, Eller setting it up and Kostitsyn getting into shooting position, the trio complemented each other very well and helped bring balance to the Canadiens' lineup.

It is amazing how much more you notice Eller's skill and vision when he is playing at center as opposed to wing, so here's hoping Coach Martin leaves him there.


5. Price had his work cut out for him.

Price, like the rest of the team, hasn't played his best hockey of late.

So much so that in his last six games prior to last night, Price had let in 23 goals for an abysmal 3.83 GAA, with only one victory to show for it.

Needless to say, for the Habs to have any chance of defeating the first overall Canucks last night, Price needed to shine.

And shine he did.

While Price wasn't really tested early, the Canucks came to life over the back half of the first and took control in the second. Moreover, as they started to rack up the scoring chances, the Canucks' game plan took shape and its prime component was to crash and crowd Price's crease.

With an almost constant screen in front of himfrom players like Keslerand players crashing around him like waves against the rocks, Price somehow managed to stand his ground.

Fighting through traffic to see the puck, displaying excellent lateral movement and unbelievable puck-tracking abilities, Price was clearly in the zone. After two terrible past experiences in his home province, Price really wanted the win last night and you could see it in his play.

So as much as Quebec-born goalies seem to bring their A-games to the Bell Centre, Price certainly returned the favour to the Canucks last night and is the main reason for the victory.


Standings and Next Game

With the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins both winning last night, the Canadiens could not have picked a better time to halt their losing streak.

The win gives the Habs 71 points in the standings with a 32-22-7 record, good enough for sixth overall in the East. Ahead of Montreal are the Bruins with 75 points and one game in hand, the Penguins with 77 points and the Capitals with 74.

In the rear-view mirror are the Rangers with 68 points and one more game played, the Hurricanes with 65 and the Sabres and Thrashers with 60 each and three and one game in hand respectively.

Montreal, who were only able to salvage two out of a possible six points on this Western road trip, now return to the friendly climes of the Bell Centre for a Thursday night tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs.



---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images North America)

4 comments:

First off, I have to say I hate west coast games. They start late, finish late, and even when you're up by two, you don't feel like you're going to win. The west coast teams seem to play play-off hockey all the time. Its hard hitting, net crashing, no whistle blowing hockey. A couple teams in the east practice this style of play, but not many. That said, the Canucks, as you mentioned tend to win with skill. Problem is they can do both and after the ten minute mark in the first last night, I found their style of play to be a bit of skill and a bit of banging. Montreal looked like the dominant team in the first ten, but looked like they were losing for the rest of the game. Now, some of that seemed to be because they took their foot off the gas, but some of it was due to the Canucks tightening up their game and punishing the habs smaller forwards. The habs couldn't do anything about the Canucks making adjustments, but why take your foot off the gas when you only have a 2 goal lead against a team that has the number 1 and 3 scoring leaders. Disappointing...
A last note, I don't get why Martin benched the Desharnais line. They didn't seem to be struggling against their match-ups. Heck, they scored a goal. They were faster, good on the fore check, quick to loose pucks... I didn't see any turnovers... I don't get it?

As you mentioned, the Canucks

Hi Patrick and thanks for your comment!

Good stuff in there my friend!

The West is and always has been a very different conference from the East.

What impressed me is how well the Habs played in the first but, as you said, they took their foot off the gas. I think that, coupled with some adjustments in play by Vigneault are what changed the momentum.

The bottom line is that the Canucks are a superior team to the Habs but Montreal's defensive system coupled by excellent goaltending Price is what delivers wins for them.

I agree re: Desharnais too. That was a head scratcher to me. The only "bad" thing was the horrible penalty by Pouliot. Aside from that, they looked good out there.

Maybe something more will come out in the press today but so far, I've yet to hear any real explanation.

Its been awhile since I commented on here but thought i would get back into it today. I said on Twitter i wasnt going to watch last nights game but I caved. After watching the 1st period how could anyone not watch the rest? Then the 2nd period came and i found myself saying 'here we go again'. I knew 2-0 wasnt safe against the Canucks, but when they didnt tie the game in the 2nd i held out hope the Canadiens would hold them off. I am glad they won, it does wonders for their confidence.

I agree with the benching of Pouliot in this game, that penalty he took was terrible, and he took it at the absolute worst time. The rest of his line deserved more ice. DD is flourishing with quality minutes.

Eller has impressed me alot. His physical play in unexpected but he sometimes goes to the dirty areas more than Travis Moen. It is great to see from a skilled forward for sure. No fear.

This game proves that if Montreal plays a a full game like they did in the 1st period of this one they can be competitive with most teams.

A skilled forward at the deadline is a must, they really need it. I think Mara helps shore up the DLine a bit. A grizzly vet who is better out there than Picard in my eyes. I would love to see Penner in a Habs uniform and I can say I would even welcome someone like Rivet. I hope they target Hemsky or Huselius. It would really give them 3 solid scoring lines. And then piece together a 4th line of grit.

I am hoping to be surprised on deadline day.

Hey Hirky, welcome back!

I have to agree on Mara...while a lot of fans threw their hands up in the air, the bottom line is that he is a better, more experienced vet than Picard and he is tougher too.

I'm not so sure about Penner, since he has the ability to play excellent and terribly all within the same week. He definitely brings the size that Montreal needs but his inconsistency might drive Habs fans crazy.

I like your Hemsky/Huselius idea, although I'd think they will be better served by trying to get bigger as well as more skilled.

A top-4 d-man would also be a boon for the Habs.

I wouldn't hold my breath for a blockbuster given PG's philosophy, but you never know!

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