It’s not too often you can win a hockey game when your netminder gives up a goal every six shots.
But that’s exactly what happened at the Bell Centre this afternoon, as the Canadiens blew a pair of two-goal leads to salvage a 6-5 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers.
The goaltender in question: Jaroslav Halak. Head coach Guy Carbonneau, who tends to be a patient man, went right back to Halak after his backup goaltender was yanked after two sketchy periods of Friday’s 4-1 loss in New Jersey. Halak responded with another sub-par effort, surrendering five goals on 30 shots. However, this time, his team mates bailed him out: or as Carbonneau said when this one was over, “We got two points for him.”
This was a strange 65 minutes of hockey. The Canadiens started in fine fashion; crisp passing as they came in waves against Craig Anderson. However, they sagged in a big way in the second half of the opening period, after they failed to beat the Panthers’ netminder. Goals by Brett McLean at 12:57 and David Booth less than six minutes later put Florida ahead 2-0.
Give the Canadiens credit (at that point, at least) as they refused to fold their tents. The Habs exploded for four goals in the second period by Francis Boullion, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tom Kostopoulos, and Robert Lang. Leading 4-2 after two, it appeared the Canadiens were on easy street against a Florida team that played 24 hours earlier against Pittsburgh.
Not so fast.
Radek Dvorak made it 4-3 early in the third before Andrei Kostitsyn, with his second of the game, re-established Montreal’s two-goal lead at 3:58 of the third.
Which way to Easy Street?
Oops. Another detour.
Jassen Cullimore made it 5-4 Montreal midway through the third, and with 102 seconds remaining in regulation time, it was Dvorak with his second of the night, to send this one into overtime. The goal capped a wild scramble in Halak’s crease, during which time the Montreal netminder was turned inside out.
Thirty shots. Five goals. You do the math.
After a scorless overtime, and a goalpost by Keith Ballard late in the O.T. session, the teams went to a shootout. The first five shooters fired blanks, leaving all-star defenceman Andrei Markov as the sixth, and potentially final, shooter. And he didn’t dissapoint. Going with what he acknowledged as the only scoring move he knows, Markov slipped a backhander through Anderson for the winning goal.
An uglier two points you will never see.
Alex Kovalev’s turnover that resulted in Dvorak’s first of two on the night? Ugly.
The Habs 0-5 performance on the power play, including back-to-back two-minute advantages midway through the second period: Ugly with a capital “UGH.”
The lazy backhander by Brett McLean that beat Halak? The “blast” (I’m being charitable here, folks) by Cullimore from the outside edge of the faceoff circle that eluded Halak to pull the Panthers to within one, midway through the third period?
You figure it out. Because, clearly The Coach is having a hard time doing just that, when it comes to the performance of his backup netminder who has been thrust into a starting role as a result of an injury to Carey Price. I said it before and I’ll say it again: This season Jaroslav Halak has been a .500 goalie who is playing like a .500 goalie. The Canadiens need to be able to count on him when they turn to him, and right now, they can’t. Count on him, that is. Will they turn to him Wednesday in New York against the Rangers? Time will tell.
All right, let’s move on. Some positives for the Canadiens? The play of Robert Lang, Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn, brought together as a line for this one. They combined for six points and a plus 8 rating, with Sergei a plus 4. The newly-formed line of Kovalev-Plekanec-Pachioretty had its moments, with Pachioretty coming “this close” to scoring his second as a Hab in the first 90 seconds of play. Kovalev also had a goal post for his efforts. Truth be told, Kovalev had some magic on that stick of his today. But there was clearly no magic involved in his turnover that led to Florida’s third goal. And let’s not forget about Andrei Markov, who, despite being minus one on the afternoon, did something that Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn failed to do in the shootout:
Score. And bail out his goaltender in the process.