Friday, April 8, 2011
8:29 AM Kamal Panesar No comments
With the Senators already eliminated from playoff contention and the Habs clinching their post-season spot on Tuesday, there wasn't a huge motivation for either team to win.
In addition, the Sens had a bevy of players called up from Binghamton, their AHL affiliate, meaning their skill level left much to be desired.
As such, you would think it would be an easy victory for Montreal. However they fell into the trap of playing down to their opponent's skill level.
The result was, well, a mostly lame match. Not a lot happening either way, not a lot of great scoring chances and little to cheer about for either fan base.
For Montreal, it wasn't that they played poorly, but more that they lacked intensity. Their effort was disappointing given the strength of their play against the Blackhawks the other night.
But I guess a letdown of sorts was to be expected after the high of their win over Chicago.
Montreal opened the scoring at 13:12 of the second period when Brian Gionta potted the rebound off a Mathieu Darche deflection. Jason Spezza got that one back only 36 seconds into the third, before Bobby Butler put the Sens ahead with less than three minutes to play.
Before the Butler goal, the teams looked content to go to overtime and put one point in the bank. Neither squad seemed to be pushing for the win in any way.
However after the Butler goal, the Canadiens suddenly woke up.
With Alex Auld on the bench for the extra attacker, Andrei Kostitsyn found Michael Cammalleri on the side of the net. Cammalleri stopped the puck and roofed it over Anderson, tying it at two with eight seconds to play.
The goal sent the game to overtime where Filip Kuba fired a bullet past Auld 1:16 in to seal the deal.
Final score: Sens 3 - Habs 2
Habs scorers: Brian Gionta (27), Mike Cammalleri (19)
Sens scorers: Jason Spezza (21), Bobby Butler (9), Filip Kuba (2)
Three stars: 1. Bobby Butler, 2. Jason Spezza, 3. Filip Kuba
Scott Gomez has been playing better but he's got to shoot more
Early in the second period there was a play that epitomized Gomez's offensive woes.
Breaking into the Sens zone in a criss-cross pattern with Gionta and Darche, Gomez got a drop pass from the captain three feet inside the blueline. In front of Gomez was nothing but open ice and a clear path to the net.
The right play would have been to take two strides towards the net and shoot the puck. Especially considering that Mathieu Darche was headed straight towards the blue paint.
Instead, Gomez stopped skating, coasted and looked like he didn't know what to do.
As a result, the Sens' defender caught up to Gomez, angling him to the side, and forcing a weak backhander from a bad angle.
Gomez seems to have a mental block with shooting and that is a huge reason for his drop in production.
CBC showed Gomez's shots on goal stats since 2006, last night, and they don't paint a pretty picture:
248 (2006-2007), 242 (2007-2008), 271 (2008-2009), 180 (2009-2010), 152 (so far this season).
In case you're wondering, his goal totals for those years were 13, 16, 16, 12 and seven this year.
Gomez's refusal to shoot the puck has made him into a one dimensional offensive player. Pass, pass, pass. That's all he's good for. As such, he is an easy player to defend against because you know he's always going to look for the pass.
No wonder he only have 37 points (7G, 30A), a career low, this season!
Alex Auld did what he had to do
Both goaltenders were solid last night despite having relatively easy outings.
But with two of the lowest scoring teams in the league facing off, perhaps it's not surprising that the netminders looked so good!
Still, Auld was playing for the first time in eight games and while he didn't have an extremely difficult night, he was solid when he needed to be, flashing the glove and making a few nice pad saves.
Auld finished the night with 29 saves on 32 shots.
What's Lars Eller supposed to do?
I have to admit that I was surprised when certain analysts started taking shots at Eller after the Habs last game.
Well, maybe they weren't taking shots but they were certainly talking about how his play has slumped recently.
Of course it has, he's not longer playing with offensive players.
There was a stretch between mid-February and mid-March where Eller had eight points (4G, 4A) over 12 games, while playing alongside Kostitsyn and Travis Moen.
In the last ten or so games, however, with the Habs slumping Eller has been playing with a revolving door of linemates.
With Moen getting shifted to the Gomez line and Andrei Kostitsyn finding his way into the top-six, Eller was stripped of the two players who best complement his skill set.
Last night he showed a few flashes of strong play but flanked by Tom Pyatt and Yannick Weber, what exactly is he expected to do?
Eller, more than any other player in the bottom-six, has shown that he needs to play with skilled players in order to be effective. Until he does, I don't expect that he'll be able to do much more than he did last night.
Eller has no points in his last 11 games.
Is Cammalleri coming around?
Michael Cammalleri has struggled to find his game since coming back from a separated shoulder in February. Recently, however, he looks like he might have turned the corner.
In his first 17 games back, Cammalleri had 10 points (3G, 7A) but in his last five games he has six points (3G, 3A).
In addition, and not coincidentally, his centerman Tomas Plekanec has started to look more like his former self.
Last night, while the Habs didn't win and didn't play exceptionally well, Cammalleri scored a goal that was vintage Cammy.
With the Canadiens trailing by a goal and time running out, Andrei Kostitsyn found Cammalleri through a seem at the side of the net. The puck was bobbling a little and Cammalleri stopped, settled and fired the puck in a second or two.
His quick release ensured that Sens goalie Craig Anderson wasn't in place to stop the puck, with Cammy going shelf-daddy to tie it at two.
The loss was disappointing but there are some very encouraging signs from the Habs No.1 sniper. Considering that the playoffs start next week, the timing of Cammalleri's possible resurgence could not be better timed.
Standings and Next Game
The loss, while disappointing and anti-climactic, didn't do much to the Habs positioning. With one point for the overtime loss Montreal now has 94 in the standings, ensuring they can finish no lower than seventh overall.
Montreal is currently in sixth in the East.
Just behind them are the Sabres in seventh with 92 points and two games in hand. The Rangers close out the top-eight with 91 points and one game left in their season.
Montreal has Friday off before closing out the season on Saturday in Toronto.
If the playoffs started today the Canadiens would be facing Boston in the first round. But given the logjam at the top and bottom of the Eastern conference playoff standings, things could, and probably will, change by Saturday.
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 Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America)