With the glow of a magnificent All-Star weekend long faded, the Montreal Canadiens kicked off the unofficial second-half start to the season with a 5-3 loss to the Lightning in Tampa, with the Habs showing the same tendencies they exhibited during back-to-back losses heading into the All-Star break:
Shoddy goaltending, sloppy play in front of their net, a sputtering power play, and the inability to bury the puck.
So, after putting together an inspiring December run at a time when this team was hurting, the Canadiens are stumbling as regulars begin to return to action.
Saku Koivu, who returned to action prior to the all-star break, was joined by Chris Higgins, who was back last night after a 19-game layoff with a shoulder injury. Even Ryan O’Byrne was back in the lineup, recalled to the big team after a solid 13-game stint with the Hamilton Bulldogs. And the big defenceman finally showed some confidence out there, something he rarely did before his demotion.
Higgins and Koivu were joined by Matt D’Agostini for most of the night. And for most of the night, the three could generate little in the way of offence. Then again, you could say that for two of the other three forward lines as well.
True, the Canadiens exploded out of the blocks with a 20-shot barrage on Mike Smith in the opening period, outshooting the Bolts 20-7 in the process. But they found themselves clinging to a one-goal lead on goals by Maxim Lapierre, his 9th, and Alex Kovalev, his 13th. The goal by Kovalev was a gift after Smith put the puck on the stick of the 2009 NHL All-Star MVP, thanks to a sloppy clearing attempt, and Kovalev connected. The writing was on the wall in this one when, late in that period, the Canadiens blew a 5-on-3 that went on more almost a minute and a half.
Once again, the only line that was a threat out there was the so-called fourth line of Lapierre-Guillaume Latendresse-Tom Kostopoulos. That’s because, once again, the Canadiens’ best players failed to be their best players. The line of Lang and the two Kostitsyn bro’s? Invisible.
In the end, it was a second-period meltdown that did the Canadiens in, as the Bolts took advantage of a flopping Carey Price with a three-goal explosion on only six shots to make it 4-2 Tampa. Latendresse got one back with his 9th of the season, a goal that was originally credited to Lapierre. But it was much too little, much too late.
Let’s hope the play of Ryan O’Byrne last night was a sign of things to come for this young defenceman, for Montreal’s sake. Because the Habs, after finally tightening things up defensively in recent weeks, have been giving up way too many goals in recent games: 18 in their last four starts. Other disturbing statistics surround the plus-minus play of some of the team’s D-men. Over his last seven games, Roman Hamrlik is -8. Over HIS last seven games, Josh Gorges, is -9. Patrice Brisebois was in that neighbourhood, as well, until he was yanked from the lineup to make room for O’Byrne last night. But all indications are that Brisebois will be back in the lineup tomorrow night when the Canadiens close out this five-game road trip in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers.
I’d like to know: why? Why would coach Guy Carbonneau want to put Patrice Brisebois back in the lineup after Ryan O’Bryne has finally put together a solid 60-minutes of hockey for the first time in almost two months (as a member of the Habs, at least).
We might begin to find out the answer to that, and other questions, as GM Bob Gainey takes a good, hard look at the talent he has on this hockey team, with the March 4th trade deadline just five weeks away.
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.
It didn’t take long for Max Pacioretty to make an impact at the NHL level.
Pacioretty, one of four members of the Hamilton Bulldogs called up by the Canadiens this week as a result a growing list of injured players, scored in his very first NHL game, on his very first shot, against the New Jersey Devils last night at the Prudential Center.
Unfortunately for Pacioretty and the rest of the Canadiens, it was the only damage the Habs could do on this night against Scott Clemmensen and the rest of the Devils, who prevailed 4-1 to snap Montreal’s three-game winning streak.
Pacioretty wasn’t the only freshly-minted Montreal Canadien to see action last night. He was joined by fellow Bulldog Kyle Chipchura on a line with veteran Steve Begin. And goalie Marc Denis ended up seeing his first taste of action as a Hab in the third period, after Jaroslav Halak, the starting netminder, was pulled after 40 minutes. Halak fought the puck all the night, surrending two goals on the first eight shots he faced, before being yanked at the end of the second period, with the Canadiens trailing 3-1.
With Carey Price once again fighting a lower body injury, Halak took his .500 record into last night’s game for another starting assignment. And you know what? He looked like a .500 goaltender. None of the three goals he gave up, Brian Gionta from the edge of the face off circle, Zac Parise through the five-hole from a bad angle, and John Madden, high on the glove side, were world-beaters. Then again, Halak didn’t have a whole lot of help from his defence, as witnessed by the goal by Madden in the second period, which came on a 2-on-1 after Patrice Brisbois was caught way out of position after pinching in.
With players like Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Chris Higgins out of the lineup, you just know that the law of averages is going to catch up with you. And it did last night in Jersey. Sure, there’s the giddiness that surrounded the goal by Pacioretty in his first NHL game. But last night the Habs looked more like the Hamilton Bulldogs than the Montreal Canadiens, although that’s not to take anything away from the play of Pacioretty, Chipchura and young Maxim Lapierre, who isn’t too far removed from the Bulldogs, himself.
Of immediate concern for the Canadiens, next to the crowded situation in sick bay, is the ongoing listless and unproductive play of Tomas Plekanec; the inability of the Plekanec-Kovalev-Andrei Kostitsyn line to gain any kind of traction this season, and another “Oh-fer” performance by the power play: 0-for-4, on this night. It would also be nice to see Matt D’Agostini find the zone again after making such a splash when initially called up from Hamilton. It would also be nice to see Robert Lang make some noise out there, again.
We’ll cut the injury-riddled Canadiens as much slack as they need, however, as they prepare for their next game tomorrow afternoon when the Florida Panthers are in town. Whether or not Carey Price is ready to return to action, remains to be seen. Whether or not Guy Carbonneau gives Marc Denis the starting nod, in case Price isn’t ready to go, also remains to be seen.
I say if Price can’t play, you hand the puck to Denis. He deserves a shot. Halak deserves to sit.
Look for Yannick Weber to make his regular-season debut against the Panthers, likely as a power-play specialist and occasional fourth-line forward, a-la Mark Streit. The Canadiens didn’t call Weber up from Hamilton to sit on the bench in Montreal. The young man will get his opportunity, and my bet is that it will come tomorrow.
This was a hockey game that was decided in 6:39 seconds of hockey. And it was decided by Maxim Lapierre’s hustle, desire and second-effort, which led to a three-goal performance by number 40.
Let’s take you back to the second period of last night’s game at Bank Atlantic Centre: the Habs vs. the Panthers. With the score tied at two, the Canadiens found themselves struggling to keep up to a Florida team that had limited the Canadiens to two shots on goal through the opening 15 minutes or so of the middle frame. At 16:01, of that period, Lapierre moved in on Craig Anderson and attempted to stuff one between the Florida netminder and the goal post, on his forehand. After finding no room to do so, Lapierre swung behind the Panthers’ goaltender, and tried the same play,on the other side, this time on his backhand, and was successful: his second effort resulting in Lapierre’s fifth of the season, and first of the night.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Lapierre took a drop pass from Guillaume Latendresse and beat Anderson with a snap shot to make it 4-2 Montreal. Lapierre’s second of the night, and sixth of the season.
4-2 Montreal. Total elapsed playing time between goals: 6:39 seconds.
Lapierre wasn’t done yet.
With the Canadiens shorthanded in the dieing seconds of this one, and the Florida net wide open in favour of an extra attacker, Lapierre stripped the puck from Bryan McCabe deep in Florida territory and scored his third of the night with 6.2 seconds showing on the clock, completing the natural hat trick for Lapierre, and the first three-goal performance of his N.H.L. career.
This one was all about second effort by the Canadiens, the goal by Tomas Plekanec early in the second period, another good example of that. Plekanec refused to give up on a loose puck deep in Florida territory with the Canadiens playing shorthanded, beating Anderson for his 7th of the season, and first in 11 long games.
Alex Kovalev had the other for the Canadiens, on a 5-on-3 power play; Kovalev’s 9th of the season.
This one was also about goaltender Carey Price shaking off a skittish start, beaten by a shot from the faceoff circle by Michael Frolik to open the scoring 5:18 into this one, and coming up big when he had to. You look for your goaltender to give you a chance to win a hockey game. Carey Price did exactly that, and certainly couldn’t be faulted on Florida’s second goal, which tied the game at 6:49 of the second period, after Sergei Kostitsyn and Ben Maxwell played patty-cake with the puck in front of Price, leaving David Booth to beat the Montreal netminder.
This was also a game that was decided by Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos, who both assisted on Lapierre’s first of the night. Fourth liners? Sure, on paper at least. But on the ice, these two players have lifted the Canadiens to victory on more than one occasion this season. Kostopoulos? He won’t win you any scoring titles, but you can bet the Canadiens will take his plus three performance in almost 14 minutes of well-deserved ice time.
Maxime Lapierre? A plus three as well, when all was said and done. And although he won’t win you any scoring titles, either, he captured the scoring title in last night’s game between the Canadiens and the Panthers.
You can’t ask much more from a guy, than that.
Jaroslav Halak claims there was a little luck involved in keeping the puck out of the net for most of the night against the Florida Panthers. Maybe. But luck will only take you so far when you are faced with 36 shots, and turn aside 35 of them.
Halak, in his second start of this young season, gave his hockey team a chance to win tonight. And win they did, 3-1 against a smothering Florida Panther team that threatened to take this one to overtime.
After team captain Saku Koivu opened the scoring at 2:07 of the second period, converting a backhanded seeing-eye pass from the game’s second star, Andrei Markov (Halak was the first star), the Panthers started to take the play to the Canadiens, and had the Habs chasing their tails for long stretches deep in Montreal territory. Keith Ballard, the best player on the ice for the Panthers, tied the score at 7:20 of the third period. However, Francis Bouillon saved the day for the home-town team with a long blast from the blue line to beat Tomas Vokoun with what proved to be the winning goal at 10:53 of the third.
Tomas Plekanec, in need of a goal more than anyone one else on this club, finally got his first of the season. Granted, it was an empty netter, but it was huge. With Maxim Lapierre in the box for two minutes for holding the stick (!?!?!), and Vokoun pulled for an extra attacker, the goal by Plekanec was more than just icing on the cake. It was all that, and the cherry on top.
The goal by Koivu marked the 600th point of his inspirational career with this club. It was a moment not lost on The Captain, who is clearly taking the time to stop and smell the roses this season, acknowledging after this game was over that, at this stage in his career, he doesn’t know how many more seasons he has left in him.
The goal by Bouillon came in his first game of the season, having started the year in sick bay. After playing much of the opening period up front to help ease him back into the lineup, Coach Guy Carbonneau liked what he saw from number 51 and put him back on the blue line in the third period. It was a move that paid instant dividends.
One thing’s for certain. Now that Bouillon is healthy again, look for Ryan O’Byrne to become the odd man out along the blue line. O’Byrne has not had a terrific start to the season, as witnessed by his three turnovers in less than nine minutes of ice time last night. Last season, O’Byrne saw plenty of action: from the press box. He’s destined for more of the same, based on his early play.
Tonight’s game was Kyle Chipchura’s first of the regular season. With Steve Begin joining Chris Higgins, Georges Laraque, and Andrei Kostitsyn in sick bay, Chipchura was recalled from Hamilton of the American Hockey League and played on a line with Robert Lang and Tom Kostopoulos. Chipchura saw 11:26 of ice time and put in a solid effort. Yes, he was on the ice for the Ballard goal. However, he was also on the ice for the Bouillon goal. And his biggest play of the night was one he didn’t make. It appeared that Chipchura had a chance to snag the puck that was headed to the blue line in the moments leading up to the Bouillon goal. But Chipchura never touched the puck, which ended up on Bouillon’s stick, and in the Florida net.
After bouncing back and forth from Montreal to Hamilton and back again, Chipchura a deserves a chance to unpack his bags, and call Bell Centre home for awhile.
Don’t look for Andrei Kostitsyn to be on the ice tomorrow night when the Montreal Canadiens play host to the Florida Panthers. But do look for Kostitsyn to take a turn on the ice during the morning skate, which is good news indeed for the Habs, and for number 46.
Head coach Guy Carbonneau emerged from today’s optional Bell Centre skate (about a dozen players, including the two goalies, took to the ice while the rest of the players worked out in the gym) to say that Kostitsyn is doing a lot better today.
“I talked to him, he’s clear, no headaches,” said Carbonneau. “We want to put him on the ice, that’s the goal, tomorrow to see how he feels. However, I have a tough time believing he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow.”
With five days off after the Panthers’ game, it’s clear that Carbonneau wants to use those five days to give Kostitsyn some time off. “I don’t want to risk his health, especially after an impact like that. I don’t want to take a chance.”
Carbonneau added that Kostitsyn can recall pretty well everything that happened last night. What happened, is that Kurt Sauer of the Coyotes took a run at Kostitsyn and plastered the Habs’ forward along the boards. It took six set of hands to help him off the ice. He did not return to the game.
Carbonneau said, from he understands, the NHL doesn’t look at the hit on Kostitsyn as a hit to the head. He disagrees.
“I’ve seen the replay 50 times. You see him (Sauer) definitely push his arm forward. I mean, his two feet leave the ice. That tells me the hit was pretty high.”
With Kostitsyn out of the lineup, for at least one game, look for The Coach to go with younger brother Sergei on the line with Tomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev. The three played together last night after Andrei went down with his injury. You can also expect to see both Chris Higgins and defenceman Francis Bouillon in the lineup, coming off injuries, although Carbonneau says he won’t make that decision final until after tomorrow’s morning skate. Higgins would line up with Robert Lang and Tom Kostopoulos. Jaroslav Halak will get the call in goal.