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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Canadiens-Blues: Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak Faceoff For the First Time

by Kamal Panesar

For a city and a league that is still reverberating from Zdeno Chara's ugly hit on Max Pacioretty and the NHL's subsequent lack of disciplinary measures of any kind, it's kind of difficult to turn the focus back to hockey today.

But, as with all entertainment, the show must go on.

Tonight's game was supposed to have as much hype surrounding it as the Canadiens previous game against the Bruins, with the return of Blues' goalie Jaroslav Halak to the lineup to face his former teammate, Carey Price.

However, this head-to-head matchup is dampened by the massive backlash that seems to be growing against the NHL today.


Standings

The Habs, looking to push their winning streak to six straight games, are currently sixth overall in the East with 81 points in the standings. Montreal is only a few points back of the logjam at the top of the Eastern conference, while having a healthy seven-point lead over the teams behind them.

A win tonight would put the Habs one point back of both Tampa and Boston.

Things are much less rosy for the Blues who are in 13th overall in the West with 69 points and all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

The Blues are 10 points out of the eight and final playoff spot in the West with only 13 games to play. As such, they seem destined for an early golf season.


Goaltending

This is where the storyline for two teams that rarely play each other begins and ends: Carey Price versus Jaroslav Halak.

These two were teammates in Montreal last season with Halak beating out Price for the starting job and going on to put on a goaltending performance for the ages in the 2009 playoffs.

Then as Halak was traded to the Blues in the offseason for Lars Eller (and Ian Schultz)—a player who is starting to come into his own—Price took the ball and ran with it, establishing himself as one of the best goaltenders in the league this season.

You can't make stuff like this up!

Price will be gunning for his 33rd win of the season and has been on fire lately, helping the Habs to a 5-1-0 record over their last six games.

Halak will be playing only his second game back from a hand fracture and while he set the world on fire at the beginning of the season, he lost him game after the first twnety or so games as the Blues, devastated by injuries, went into a nosedive.

Halak has 20 wins, a 2.64 GAA and a .906 save percentage to Price's 32 wins, 2.31 GAA and .924 save percentage.


Scoring and Special Teams

Aside from the goals-for category, there is a bit of a mismatch in the scoring and special teams departments.

Both teams are tied in goals-for at 2.7 per game—the Blues have the 18th best to the Habs 21st best in virtue of a few decimal places. But Montreal is substantially ahead in all other categories with the eighth best goals-against at 2.5 per game, the sixth best power play at 20.3 percent and the seventh best penalty kill at 84 percent.

St. Louis, on the other hand, has the 21st goals-against at 2.9 per game, the 13th best PP at 17.9 percent and the 19th best PK at 81.1 percent.

As such, if the Habs stick to their game, shut down the front of the net and use their speed they should be able to make short work of their opponents.


Roster Changes and Injuries

Official lineups have not yet being announced but suffice it to say that the Habs will have no choice but to do some juggling with Max Pacioretty out indefinitely. His absence leaves a huge hole on the second line with Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez.

However if we go by what we saw at practice yesterday, it looks like Benoit Pouliot will finally get a real shot at playing on the second line with the two Gs.

Other than that, I would expect little to no change from a lineup that handily beat the Bruins 4-1 on Tuesday.

The biggest change for the Blues continues to be the return of Halak to the net. But like the Habs, St. Louis continues to have a bevy on injured players like B.J. Crombeen and Roman Polak, who are listed as day-to-day, while longer term injuries to Vladimir Sobotka, David Perron and Philip McRae continue to keep them on the injury reserve.

The Habs are still without long term absentees Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Mathieu Darche and Jaroslav Spacek. Max Pacioretty now joins the infirmary, out indefinitely with a concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck.


Key Matchup

Three words: Price versus Halak

Game time is 8 PM.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

6 comments:

Am I the only one who thinks we should call up Dawes? We lost a scorer, why not replace him with one?

Hard to get up for this game, but Patches'll be watching so how could I not?

Ps Hey Chara if I see you on the street ahead of me I'm going to run you into a light pole. What? That's a typical sidewalk play!

Kairos (Matthew d'Awe)

Hey Anonymous/Kairos/Matthew and thanks for your comment!

You know if you just sign up for a Google account or something your posts will show as "Kairos" instead of Anonymous.

As for Dawes, I couldn't agree more and wouldn't be surprised to see him in the lineup at some point over the next week or so. This could be his big chance, although JM really likes Pyatt and enjoys having him in the lineup.

"...sidewalk play..." LOL!!!

There's been so much craziness in the last couple days, I completely forgot they were in St. Louis until this morning!! What a difference a year makes. Price sure has silenced his critics hasn't he?

Is it just me or has this been the craziest couple years Habs Hockey has seen in a loooooooong time?

"Sidwalk play" That made me laugh so hard people are staring at me in Dicken's Pub in Burlington.

Oh well, I'm wearing a Canadiens hat so it's a nice change from the sympathetic glances I've been getting all day!

Hey ponch58 and thanks for your comment!

You are SO right...this whole Chara business has really sent shockwaves around the league and around North America.

I agree about the craziness too! Lots and highs and lows in Hab-land in recent years to be sure!

Keep showing your colours from Burlington my friend!

The NHL has made it clear how they want the game to be played.

It is for Montreal now to comply with the rules. I suggest for the next game versus the Bruins we should give one day contracts to:

- Clarence "Screaming Buffalo" Swamptown, I'll never forget an exclusive interview in which Swamptown revealed that he calls his hockey stick the "Big Tomahawk," and he usually refers to the opposing players as "the little scalps".

- Andre "Poodle" Lussier, defense. Andre, as you know, has been living in semi-seclusion in Northern Quebec ever since the unfortunate Denny Pratt tragedy.

- Gilmore Tuttle from Mile 40, Saskatchewan, where he now runs a donut shop, number 10, former penalty-minute record holder for the years 1960 to 1968 inclusive.

- Ogie Ogilthorpe. This young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him, well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle...


The NHL want to make it a goon-show, well,... they can have it !

Hey Jos and thanks for your comment!

Well said, my friend...

Ultimately, while it would be gratifying for fans to see the Habs goon it up and put a beating on the Bruins, we all know that is highly unlikely.

But your point is salient, in that the more the NHL keeps letting things slide the more this is becoming a bush league.

Before the Pacioretty hit, I had a fear that the NHL was heading towards a moment where a player would be hit and would die on the ice. And to be honest, when I saw Pacioretty on the ice, my first thought was that he was dead.

It is miraculous that he didn't die and wasn't injured worse...and the fact that the NHL is just turning a blind eye to this incident is seriously troubling. Hopefully the momentum and backlash that is building can push forward some changes because heaven knows this league needs it!

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