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Friday, December 2, 2011

Canadiens - Sharks: San Jose Ties it Late, Drops Habs in Shootout

The Montreal Canadiens played and lost to the San Jose Sharks yesterday, extending their streak of futility against their Western conference foes.

The last time Montreal won in San Jose was November 23, 1999. But yesterday's game was one that was winnable.

In fact, the Habs held the lead three times during the game before allowing a late goal and losing in the shootout. So this really was their game to win (or lose) but they once again let victory slip through their fingers.

Montreal had a much better effort than their sad-sack performance against the Ducks on Wednesday. But ultimately, the results was the same: another W and another shot to their already fragile confidence.

But at least they got a point. California dreaming indeed.

Final score: Sharks 4 - Habs 3 (SO)

Game Notes

A lift for Leblanc - It never ceases to amaze me how predictable Jacques Martin can be.

Prior to the Habs game against the Ducks, Pierre McGuire was discussing Louis Leblanc with Mitch Melnick, on TSN 990. They were talking about how it is useless to play Leblanc on the fourth line for six minutes and that he should play an offensive role in order to have success.

Result?

Leblanc played 7:52 in 10 shifts on the fourth line against the Ducks.

Hooray.

Last night, however, Martin changed his rigid ways, playing Leblanc on the third line with Lars Eller and Travis Moen, and it made a big difference.

In contrast to Wednesday, Leblanc played 8:56 after two periods against the Sharks and 14:25 for the game. And the best part? It looks like he and Eller are starting to develop some nice chemistry together.

That and he didn't look out of place at all playing against NHLers.

As much as Leblanc was drafted as a center, he is projected by most in the know to be a strong top-six winger. Against the Sharks we saw why.

Leblanc is not only big—even though he could use some more meat on his bones—but he is also incredibly quick and has excellent stick-handling skills. While he didn't score last night, his speed seemed like the perfect complement for Eller.

With Max Pacioretty serving his third and final suspension game tomorrow against the Kings, it will be interesting to see what Montreal does going forward. Will they keep Leblanc in Montreal once Pacioretty is back? Will they send him back down to the AHL?

I'm thinking that latter but, for a team sorely lacking in scoring ability, perhaps keeping Leblanc around might not be such a bad idea.

A Cammalleri Christmas - Well, well, well, look who decided to join the party?

With five goals in 20 games—prior to last night—Cammalleri was on pace to score 19.5 goals this season—he missed four games so far this season. Moreover, the Habs supposed sniper had scored only twice in the previous 14 games while looking mostly disinterested and unhappy.

Last night, however, he came to life opening the scoring with a beautiful deflection from in front.

But it wasn't on a patented Cammalleri-one-knee-special, but rather a dirty, in the crease type goal.

On the play Cammalleri was standing one foot in front of Antti Niemi and had a Sharks defender draped all over him. He fought off the check long enough to get his stick on a P.K. Subban blast, tipping it past the Sharks netminder.

And that is something we have seen far too infrequently from Cammalleri this season: him standing in front of the opposing goaltender.

Moreover, if that wasn't enough proof that he was fully engaged, Cammalleri made a sliding shot block in the dying seconds of the first period. His block broke up what could have been a prime scoring chance for the Sharks.

The play was significant if you consider Cammalleri only had three shot blocks all season prior to last night.

He finished the game with two.

If Cammalleri is blocking shots that can only be a good thing for the Canadiens fortunes going forward.

You kill me - Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen make an excellent duo on the penalty kill. That is all.

The hit heard around the world - Well maybe not the world, but certainly the NHL milieu.

When Alexei "I'm gaining more fans by the game" Emelin stepped, shoulder first, into the chest of Joe Pavelski during the first frame, he again showed why his presence is desperately needed in the Habs lineup.

Here's the hit if you didn't see it:


Talk about dropping the hammer!

Not only is Emelin constanly physical—he finished the night with five hits—but he is solid defensively and has an excellent first pass. And we are being treated to more and more of the latter two skills lately.

Emelin still has defensive lapses and growing pains, but I feel that he makes the Habs a better team. That and unlike Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz, he seems to be getting better every game.

Clearly Jacques Martin and co. are paying attention too because Emelin saw 22:39 of ice against the Sharks, third only to Josh Gorges (23:39) and P.K. Subban (25:43).

Oh, and Emelin is currently 17th overall in the league for hits, with 65 in only 18 games.

What a night for Desharnais - The Habs second line (first?) of David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Michael Cammalleri were responsible for all of the Canadiens offense last night.

While all three played well Desharnais was the clear catalyst, playing his best game of the season.

Their line finished with seven points (3G, 4A), 10 of the Habs 32 shots on goal and a collective plus-6 with Desharnais seeing 19:44 of ice with 1:28 on the powerplay.

Desharnais' strength has always been his playmaking abilities combined with outstanding work ethic and hustle. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to show those skills on a game-by-game basis so far this season.

But last night he did.

It was never more apparent than on the Habs third period go-ahead goal, where Desharnais out-worked Joe Thornton for the puck in the corner. He then proceeded to skate behind the net and fire a cross-crease pass to a streaking Cole for his eighth of the year.

At 5'6 and 175 pounds, Desharnais winning a one-on-one battle with 6'4, 240 pound Thornton is no small feat.

Despite his offensive prowess, DD continues to struggle on the defensive side of the puck and in the faceoff circle. Last night, he was a brutal five for 13 (38.5 percent success rate) in the dot.

In addition, his poor defensive zone coverage continues to be an Achilles Heel; Desharnais was unable to cover Ryan Clowe on the Sharks tying goal with 87 seconds to play.

And this dichotomy shows why Desharnais can never be a long-term solution for the Habs. He is just too small and not quick enough to defend with any authority.

WTF of the night - Travis Moen in the shootout. I know he's got a seemingly impossible eight goals so far this season, but Moen has no place being a SO shooter.

Moen scores most of his goals by driving to the net and causing massive collisions, not with fancy footwork and stick handling abilities.

So unless they are going to put traffic in front of the goaltender during the shootout, I just don't understand the logic of letting him shoot instead of, say, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Louis Leblanc or even Lars Eller.

I shake my head in disgust.

Stat of the night - Four. That is the number of games, in a row, that Montreal has held the lead but ultimately lost.

Defensive hockey indeed.

Question of the night - What is going on with Andrei Markov?

No, seriously. Prior to the game speculation was rampant that he had reinjured his knee, that he was traded or that he was even still back in Montreal.

It turns out that he is in Los Angeles, where the Canadiens play tomorrow night, meeting with one of his doctors.

So all is good then, right? Maybe not.

Word this week was that Markov was practicing with the team and would return the week, quite possibly yesterday against the Sharks. Now, however, it seems he hasn't practiced in a few days and is visiting his doctor.

So does this mean that something has gone awry? We'll never know with the Gestapo-like lockdown the Canadiens have on information flow. That being said, I'm not sure there is anything good about him stopping practice to go visit with his doctor.

Up Next - The have the day off today before continuing their Western road swing with a stop in L.A. The Kings represent the strongest and most difficult opposition of the three team Montreal is facing, and the Habs have already lost the first two.

The amazing thing is that despite that Canadiens sub-500 record and apparent ineptitude, they are only one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East—Montreal has 25 points and the Sens are in eighth with 26.

So all hope is not lost. Yet.

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Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of  HabsAddict.com and Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on TSN Radio 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM.  Listen live at http://www.tsn.ca/montreal/

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(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

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