Saturday, October 30, 2010

The view from the top

"If we win some games, maybe I could get a hot chick like that."

Ex-Hab Chris Higgins comes into tonight's game tied with Hab goalie Carey Price in scoring. 
They both sit comfortably in the standings, tied for second-last in the league with one assist. David Booth leads the way in scoring for the pussycats with 7 points, though he's a -4.

Tonight the Panthers play the third game of a three-game road trip, which has included losses to the Leafs and the Senators. That said, they had the day off yesterday while the Habs will be playing their third game in four nights, coming off of back-to-back victories against the Islanders. If the Canadiens aren't careful, they could end up being surprised by a team that's probably better than the standings indicate: just three wins (two of them Thomas Vokoun shutouts) and one win on the road.

Tonight marks the return of defenseman Andrei Markov to the lineup after sustaining a knee injury against Pittsburgh in last season's playoffs, and subsequent surgery. He's nothing if not a fast healer: his original prognosis had him returning around the end of November. Hopefully his return will have an immediate effect on a woeful Montreal powerplay, which is mired in second-last place in the league at a paltry 8.8% efficiency inefficiency. For some perspective, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Philadelphia have the same number of short-handed goals as the Habs have powerplay goals: 3.

Yet despite the lack of firepower with the man (or 2-man) advantage, the Habs come into tonight's game first overall in the entire league. Hopefully it'll be a long stay at the top.

2010-2011 Regular Season, Game 11: Florida at Montreal

  • Missed a good chunk of the first period getting in late from work. Here we go...
  • Great. Flip on the game just in tome to see Price make a great glove save, but can't get across in time to get the rebound. 1-0 Panthers
  • Is the team having to learn to play with Markov?
  • Habs looking like they're trying to make the perfect play, instead of getting the simple things done first
  • Subban is in love with his slapshot. Other teams are keying on it, though

A bit of a restless period for the Habs. Giveaways, poor passing, bad decisions, getting beat to the open puck, not skating hard enough. Hopefully Martin gives them an earful between periods. Florida had the edge in shots, 11-9.

  • A much livlier start to the period. They're skating harder
  • Darche comes out from behind the blueline and shoves it behind Vokoun. Great effort, his 1st of the season. Tied at 1!
  • Price has been a little sloppy with his puck handling
  • Florida doing a good job of standing up at the blue line to try and change the flow
  • Carey with a couple of HUGE stops; a breakaway, then the , which was the tougher of the two
  • Hamrlik caught up ice, Spacek has to trip Booth: penalty shot, great move to the blocker side, goal. 2-1 Panthers
  • 4 minutes left to pot one in this period. I don't want to see them have to come from behind in the third
  • Subban throws a knee on Higgins and gets away with it
  • Booth is the best player on the ice tonight
  • Delay of game, then Darch high-sticked. 5-on-3 for the last 19 seconds of the period; no goal

The story so far: Panthers defense is outplaying the Habs defense. Smart decisions and quick first passes are keeping the Habs from getting presence in the Florida zone.  Full effort for their 2-1 lead. Habs look tired; RDS says that they landed at 2:30am, long after the Panthers were tucked into bed. Habs have the edge in shots with 16 (25) to Florida's 11 (22).

  • Habs start the period with a 5-on-3. A great opportunity here to take advantage
  • One skate in front of an open net, in close, and Gionta manages to hit it. He can't buy a goal right now
  • Habs keep coming, but Florida keeps turning them away. And now they've got to kill a penalty. Man, a shorty would be nice...
  • Even Vokoun's juicy rebounds are turning into breakout passes
  • Too much passing to guys that are covered. Then again, there's not enough skating to get open
  • Time is winding down, and it feels like nothing is getting done. At least the Leafs are losing
  • Passing drills in practice tomorrow, perhaps?
  • Poor defensive coverage costs them again. Price makes the leg save, no one there to cover the trailer. 3-1 Panthers. And Subban takes a penalty to completely kill their chances of a comeback.
  • Habs had better zone presence on that penalty kill then they did on their last powerplay

The Canadiens just couldn't get any traction that period, due to a combination of trying to be too fancy with the puck, poor execution, and sound defence by the Panthers. Their third game in four nights and fourth in six nights had them looking like a tired team. Shots in the period: 16 for Montreal (41) and 9 for Florida (31).

Thank you, Mr. Plante. Photo: Habs Inside/Out

Well, it was good while it lasted.

Their four-game winning streak ended, by the time the Habs wake up tomorrow (pending on the outcome of the Tampa/Phoenix game) they might find themselves looking up at the Lightning in the Eastern Conference standings. They'll still head up the Northeast Division, but the Bruins are making a charge on the back of Tim Thomas' other-worldly start to his season.

With the Habs only potting one goal this evening, the lack of production from Gionta and Gomez is becoming a concern, moreso when secondary scoring isn't able to pick up the slack. Normally a season-high 41 shots in a game is nothing so sneeze at, but it was a very quiet 41 shots; not many solid scoring chances with a lot of shots being directed from the outside. When the Habs were able to work the puck in close, the simply weren't able to convert. The biggest miss came midway throught the 3rd period when down ba a goal, Gionta found himself parked in front of a yawning net, only to hit the one thing between him and a sure goal: a defenseman's skate.

The biggest news of the evening (aside from the loss) was the return of Andrei Markov to the lineup. He had 5 shots on goal, another 5 wide or blocked, and played a solid 23:03. Unfortunately, the Habs seemed to view Markov's return as a cure-all for what's been ailing the team, most notably the powerplay. It fizzled again tonight, but that might have more to do with having to work Markov back into the system, and getting his teammates to work with Markov's vision and patience with the puck. Andrei's one of the league's best passers with the man advantage; get your stick open, and let Markov find you with a pass on the tape of your stick. Markov's calming presence should also help PK Subban as the trigger-man on the point, and teach Subban that shooting first and asking questions later isn't always the best plan of action. Instead, pick your spots and make sure that your shot gets through to a spot where it can be tipped or create a rebound.

After the one-game homestand, the Canadiens now head back out on the road for a game Tuesday in Columbus and Friday in Buffalo before returning to the Bell Centre to face the Senators (again!) on Saturday night. Here's hoping that in the mean time they work some extra passing drills into practice.

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