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Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday Musings: Peter Budaj Shines As Habs Return From Sochi

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Photo Credit: TheChronicleHerald.ca
The NHL returned to action this week after the Sochi Olympic break came to a close.  The Habs had three extremely tight match-ups on the docket with tilts at home to Detroit, on the road in Pittsburgh and then back home for a Hockey Night in Canada rivalry game with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tough stretch indeed. In his first practice back from Sochi, goaltender Carey Price suffered a 'lower-body injury' that left him on the sidelines for the week and backup Peter Budaj took the reigns for the three games.  Budaj served admirably as the Habs took 5 of a possible 6 points for the week.  The Habs played a very sluggish game against Detroit to open the week.  The Habs barely registered any shots on goal through the first two periods and barely resembled an NHL squad until Brian Gionta flipped a backhander past Jimmy Howard to tie the game with just 29 seconds remaining in the game to force overtime.  In overtime, Gustav Nyquist scored with 28 seconds remaining in the extra frame as the Habs subsequently lost 2-1 to the Detroit Red Wings.  The next day was a spirited back-and-forth battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as both teams decided to play extremely sloppy special teams and put defense on the back-burner. This game ended up going to a shootout, where David Desharnais potted the only goal as the Habs ended up winning 6-5Daniel Briere had 2 goals and 1 assist to pace the Habs scoring attack. PK Subban was benched for the overtime period after a costly gaffe on a power-play led to a short-handed goal for the Penguins.  The Habs went home for the weekend to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game did not disappoint, as for the third time in three games the Habs went to overtime. In overtime, PK Subban found a streaking Daniel Briere and rifled a pass down the ice. Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier raced out to the faceoff dot to smother the puck before Briere got there, resulting in a delay of game penalty.  Max Pacioretty capitalized with the game winner - his 8th game winning goal of the season - and second goal of the game to secure a 4-3 win.

That's the recap of the week. Now onto my musings.

- P.K. Subban had an interesting return to NHL hockey this week after representing Canada at the Olympics.  In his first game against Team Canada coach Mike Babcock's Red Wings, Subban played solid if unspectacular and was on the ice for Brian Gionta's game-tying goal. In overtime, Subban had a huge rush and a couple of scoring chances, displaying his tremendous skating ability and stick-handling and even managed to draw a hooking call on Tomas Tatar. Unfortunately, Subban was also called for diving on the play, which negated a potential Montreal power-play. After leaving the penalty box, Subban was on the ice for the game winning goal against. Not exactly how he wanted to show Babcock his lack of playing time in Sochi was a bad coaching decision. 

The following game in Pittsburgh, Subban was again not at his best, finishing with no points and a -2 rating.  A brutal giveaway early in the third period led to a short-handed goal against by Brandon Sutter, which gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead.  Subban rarely saw the ice after that point before coming out on a late power-play and helped set up the game-tying goal by Daniel Briere.  Subban did not see the ice in overtime as Montreal won in the shootout.  Subban had a much better game against the Maple Leafs, as he scored the game-tying goal to force overtime - his first goal in 13 games and helped set up the game-winning goal by Max Pacioretty in overtime when his stick broke, sending the puck to Andrei Markov who's beautiful behind the back pass ended up on Patches' stick.  A little lucky, yes, but you need to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky.

- Michel Therrien benched Subban late in the third against Pittsburgh. This isn't the first time he's benched Subban this year but it certainly drew the ire of fans on Twitter and on the Montreal Hockey Talk post-game show.  Subban's brutal give-away came after trying to do too much on a power-play and led directly to a goal. Andrei Markov had a brutal give-away on the power-play against the Maple Leafs' that led to a short-handed goal as well. Markov was not benched afterwards.  This also drew some ire of fans on Twitter.  There's a big difference, folks. Subban has made this mistake before and likely will make this mistake again. Markov rarely makes glaring mistakes such as this and deserves benefit of the doubt. There is no double standard here. Subban needs to learn from his mistakes and reign in his risk-reward style of play slightly, especially late in close games.  As he matures and gains more experience at the NHL level, he will learn to pick his spots better and learn when to go all-out and when to take the safe approach. Once he does this, the sky is the limit for what Subban can accomplish. Sometimes you need to ride the pine after a gaffe and think about what you've done.  However, moves such as this will not improve Therrien's status with the fans. Especially when you're replacing him in the lineup with Douglas Murray. A recent Hockey Inside/Out poll determined that only 39% of the fans approve of Michel Therrien's work as head coach. He may not be losing his locker room or losing games, but he's certainly losing the support of the fans.  However, all that matters is whether or not Marc Bergevin is happy and so far its hard to say he's not.

- Carey Price left the ice after facing one shot on a power-play drill in his first practice back from the Olympics. Michel Therrien told the press that Price suffered a 'lower-body injury' while participating at the Olympics for Team Canada and would be out at least the first two games. Price has since been placed on Injured Reserve having missed all three games, and will miss tonight's game against the Los Angeles Kings.  He should return at some point over the western road trip, but only when he's at 100% health.

I find it very hard to believe that Carey Price suffered this injury at the Olympics. He was not hindered in any of his starts, including the nail-biting 1-0 win over Team USA nor the Gold-Medal winning 3-0 shutout over Sweden. If Price did suffer an injury in Sochi, why was he even on the ice during the practice.  If he tweaked something during a drill, just come out and say so. With the media at practice, you're not fooling anyone. If anything, you're making yourself and your training staff look bad by allowing him to practice when he's injured. Either way, Peter Budaj stepped up in the first-three games post-break and while he wasn't the brick wall in goal that Price is, the offense always seems to rally around him and put goals on the board. You don't need to win by 5, just need to score one more than the opposition. Budaj has been solid at doing just enough to secure some points.  Obviously, the Habs need Price back healthy down the stretch but Budaj has proven to be a very capable goaltender when called upon. 

Coming up this week, the Habs head out west for a 4-game warm-weather road trip.  First stop is in Los Angeles for a Monday night game against the Kings. Then Wednesday and Thursday sees back-to-back games against Saku Koivu and the Anaheim Ducks, immediately followed with the Pheonix Coyotes. The week ends with a Saturday matchup against the powerhouse San Jose Sharks.  In the middle of it all is the NHL trade deadline, which is on Wednesday.  While I personally do not see anything more than depth moves, rumours persist that Andrei Markov may be moved.  Markov has made it known he wishes to remain in Montreal, so I see it far more likely that he signs an extension. But this is the NHL and anything is possible. Markov would be the top blueliner available if Marc Bergevin chooses to go that route. It will be an interesting two days to say the least.

Until next week, Habs Addicts!

Three Questions From My Musings:

A) Will P.K. Subban learn from his mistakes or continue to get benched at key times?

B) If Carey Price misses an extended period of time, can Peter Budaj hold up as the starter?

C) Will Andrei Markov be dealt at the trade deadline or will he sign an extension?


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Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.


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