Monday, December 28, 2009

Everything's backwards

Scott Gomez, after the Habs had allowed a staggering 94 shot attempts to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Boxing Day, half jokingly told reporters that he feared how Jaroslav Halak would react if they ever allowed fewer than 40 shots.

I'm not blaming Halak for Monday's 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, far from it, but I think we got our answer to that hypothesis. The Canadiens played their best collective team game in weeks in front of Halak on Monday night, meaning that for the first time in a long while he didn't need to be super human to get a win.

Montreal held Ottawa to only 50 shot attempts in the game, which is an indication of how much more the Canadiens had the puck and how often it was at the other end of the ice. That gives a goalie time to breathe, time to recuperate mentally, time to...lose his edge? Maybe in Halak's case, but generally speaking, the Habs will win a lot more games than they lose if they play the way they did in Kanata.

Again, I am not blaming Halak for the loss, I want that to be crystal clear, but he was merely good in this game. Not great, but good enough to win, if it weren't for the other goalie playing an outstanding game in his own right.

There were a lot of positives that came out of this loss, a lot more than came out of the four previous wins combined. But the one habit the Habs couldn't break was their propensity to take penalties in bunches.

After playing perhaps their best first period of the season (at least it feels that way), the Habs began their penalty parade with one minute left in the opening frame when Andrei Markov was called for interference, then went on to take another three in the second, and another in the opening minutes of the third. We all know what the residual effects of those penalties are, and the result was that when the Habs needed a goal in the third the great offensive rhythm they'd established in the first was long forgotten.

Another interesting note was that the Glen Metropolit line did not have a single shift in the second half of the third period. I didn't really catch their transgression, other than the fact they were on the ice for the winning goal, but I thought the blame on that one would have been placed at the feet of Marc-Andre Bergeron more than anyone else.

Finally, the Habs have to get better in the faceoff circle. Tomas Plekanec was 4-for-20 and Scott Gomez was 9-for-23 in the game, which explains why Mike Cammalleri took the draw with the goalie pulled at the end. Plekanec was 6-for-19, Gomez 5-for-14 in Toronto the other night, and those guys simply have to be better because in order to be a puck possession team, it helps to possess the puck.

On the positive side of things, we can now remember just how impressive Brian Gionta was to start this season. This guy just has something about him and that appears to have a very tangible effect on his teammates. Scott Gomez continued his strong run of games and Benoit Pouliot scored his first in a Habs uniform, the line accounted for 14 of the team's 31 shots on goal and a good number of the scoring chances as well.

The trickle down effect of Gionta's return had many streams. First, it takes pressure off the Tomas Plekanec line to produce not only goals, but time in the offensive zone. It causes a bit of a quandary for opposing coaches as to who they will use their top defence pairing against. And finally, it makes the Habs fourth line a pretty effective one with Maxim Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and Matt D'Agostini.

If Roman Hamrlik can indeed come back into the fold in Florida, we might finally see the Canadiens team we expected back in training camp, one that hasn't played at full strength since Game One of the season. And if they bring what they showed in Ottawa down to sunny Florida, that reunion of sorts risks being a pretty joyous one.


Olivier said...

It's a partial account (holidays means I'll have the definitive version on January 3rd), but by my count, the scoring chances last night were +19/-11 at even strength. Gomez was +11/-4, Gionta +9/-4 and Pouliot +9/-5.

Gionta still hasn't come back on the PK, but is it me or did Martin gave a little tryout to Lapierre and Pouliot? Getting a 3rd pair to support Moen/Pleks and Gomez/SKost would be nice.

john deere said...

On Saturday's HNIC broadcast they mentioned that Plekanec's was on a 1 year contract and therefore league rules forbid any negotiating until January. So maybe in a couple of weeks we will find out what Gainey plans to do.

Looks like Halak will be the starting goalie for Slovakia. Good luck to him and Montreal may be the perfect place for him to practice.

Arjun said...

I'm tired of Jacques Martin's "system." I'm tired of Jacques Martin and his big ears and bad suits. And who sits when Hamrlik comes back? O'Byrne? I thought he played a pretty good game - and he's starting to hit. Bergeron, meanwhile, was the goat on the third goal but he can fire the puck from the point. Hmmm...

Olivier said...

Arjun: My bet is on Bergeron taking D'Agostini's spot on the 4th line when Hamrlik comes back. But Mara could give Martin an excuse for a defense shakedown; I wouldn't be surprised if he was tempted to put Mara with Gill, reunite the two old Czech and pair Markov with Gorges.

Paul said...

Mara and Gill is a bad idea. Gorges is fast enough on his feet to support Gill, but Mara is not. That's a pair that will look bad A LOT. It looked bad at the beginning of the year.