Thursday, March 25, 2010

Morning playoff check-up and game report

Brian Gionta was saying the other night after that dormant 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators that if the team plays well and loses, it’s far easier to handle. But when you are totally outplayed it’s unacceptable. So how do your Montreal Canadiens feel this morning after squandering a 2-0 lead in the final two minutes of regulation only to lose in a shootout to the Buffalo Sabres?

Personally, if I were them, I’d be more than a little upset at my coach. Jacques Martin has a tendency to believe his team can protect a lead, no matter how small, for 20 minutes. He instructs them to sit back, clog the neutral zone, clear the middle of the defensive zone and keep the opposition to the outside. With solid goaltending, the team should come out on the winning end of the score.

The passive strategy works every now and then, but it seems to me that it gets the Habs into trouble more often than not. Shift after shift, it gives a team that had been thoroughly outplayed ever-growing momentum. It also gives them the puck most of the time, which will ultimately lead to penalties, most of them the tired and/or stupid variety.

So when Ryan O’Byrne was whistled for high-sticking in the offensive zone with 3:33 to play in regulation – Montreal’s fourth of five straight penalties in the game – it was not only predictable, it was ominous. It opened the door for the Sabres and – kudos to him – coach Lindy Ruff to pull his goalie and go 6-on-4 with a lot of time left on the clock. It worked, as Tim Connolly had a puck bounce onto his stick and only had to put it in the empty net to get Buffalo within one.

On the ensuing faceoff, Martin sent out Tomas Plekanec, which is fine. Except his regular linemates Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri went out with him, which is not so fine. They are the two worst defensive forwards on the team. By far. Yet they were the ones chosen to protect a one-goal lead with less than two minutes left.

The Habs got pinned in their zone, with Cammalleri failing on a clearing attempt while falling down, and Paul Gaustad scored to tie it up. For Martin, it was a monumental failure in game management, and now we’ll see what it costs his team the rest of the way.

As a result of last night’s win, the Sabres have been taken off the board by virtue of their 10-point lead on the Habs this morning. The Canadiens have more pressing matters to worry about, like maintaining a hold on a playoff spot, which still hasn’t reached the stage of urgency. But it’s no longer the lock it appeared to be when the Habs were rolling to six
straight wins last week, and that’s why the lowly Rangers in 10th have been brought back to the board.

Tonight’s home game against the Panthers takes on a new level of importance, one where the Canadiens need to re-build shattered confidence, and one where they need to guard against this little malaise turning into a prolonged, season-ending slump.

Other games of importance tonight include Philadelphia taking on Minnesota, Boston hosting Tampa Bay and Atlanta playing Toronto. All three opponents are non-playoff teams, so the Canadiens will be hoping for some help tonight. But the best thing they could do would be to help themselves.

Ottawa Senators – Fifth place, 39-30-5, 83 points
Last night: Did not play
Next game: @ Buffalo Friday
8 games remaining, 3 against teams in playoff spot
Home (3) – Fla March 27, Car April 1, Buf April 10
Road (5) – Buf March 26, Was March 30, NYI April 3, Fla April 6, TB April 8

Montreal Canadiens – Sixth place, 36-30-8, 80 points
Last night – 3-2 shootout loss to Buffalo
Next game: v Florida tonight
8 games remaining, 3 against teams in playoff spot
Home (5) – Fla March 25, NJ March 27, Car March 31, Buf April 3, Tor April 10
Road (3) – Pha April 2, NYI April 6, Car April 8

Philadelphia Flyers – Seventh place, 37-31-5, 79 points
Last night: Did not play
Next game: v Minnesota tonight
9 games remaining, 4 against teams in playoff spot
Home (5) – Min March 25, NJ March 28, Mtl Apr 2, Det April 4, NYR April 11
Road (4) – Pgh March 27, NYI April 1, Tor April 6, NYR April 9

Boston Bruins – Eighth place, 34-27-12, 78 points
Last night: Did not play
Next game: v Tampa Bay tonight
10 games remaining, 5 against teams in playoff spot
Home (6) – TB March 25, Cgy March 27, Buf March 29, Fla April 1, Buf April 8, Car April 10 
Road (4) – NJ March 30, Tor April 3, Was April 5, Was April 11

Atlanta Thrashers – Ninth place, 32-30-11, 75 points
Last night: Did not play
Next game: v Toronto tonight
9 games remaining, 5 against teams in playoff spot
Home (4) – Tor March 25, Car March 29, NJ April 6, Pgh April 10
Road (5) – Car March 27, Tor March 30, Was April 1, Pgh April 3, Was April 9

New York Rangers – 10th place, 32-32-9, 73 points
Last night: 5-0 win over New York Islanders
Next game: @ New Jersey tonight
9 games remaining, 4 against teams in playoff spot
Home (2) – Tor April 7, Pha April 9
Road (7) – NJ March 25, Tor March 27, NYI March 30, TB April 2, Fla April 3, Buf April 6, Pha April 11


jkr said...

RE: the lineup sent out to protect the lead. Agree totally on Cammalleri & AK - that's mind boggling. But also, why was Plekanec out to take the draw. TSN stated a little earlier that Moore was close to 80% on draws last night. He was the 1st person that should have gone over the boards & if he was too tired than call a timeout.
I expected better caching from someone as experienced as Martin & I was very disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I see you've included Rangers on the playoff contenders but for this possibly last day Florida too should be on that list. Panthers sit just 2 points back of NYR but have a game in hand on them AND also on this day they play the Habs which is their FINAL shot to make a run at the playoffs they are 9 points behind the Habs which will drop to 7 if they beat Montreal tonight and also still will have 2 games in hand over the Canadiens.

As for Canadiens tough loss last night, IT IS HISTORY - THEY MUST FORGET ABOUT IT, and come out flying and take care of business tonight. Keep the shots total down by Florida, Halak knows how to finish a game!

LeMatheux said...

I think the players know their coach by now, they can't be too surprised by being asked to sit back and can't be too surprised that it blew up in their face. It's completely unsuited to post-lockout hockey, of course, but Martin hasn't updated himself so you get what you get.

reoconnot said...


Thank you for having the courage to point out Martin's dreadful decision making. I love AK but he and Cammy should not have been on the ice trying to protect the lead Darche is as hard on the puck as any Hab.

Martin should have used 52 42 and 74.

Anvilcloud said...

JM must either be very stubborn or a very slow learner. His "protect" strategy does not work well with this team.

Anonymous said...

Anvilcloud said...
JM must either be very stubborn or a very slow learner. His "protect" strategy does not work well with this team.

And if they got cauhght up the ice and Buffalo scored on them he'd have been criticized worse for playing stupid hockey. Which his players did, not him by taking the LAST SIX penalties given out in the game especially from late in the third period on.