The Canadiens come to town in what is shaping up to be a tale of two underperforming teams heading in opposite directions. The Lightning have put together a couple of really solid efforts that have us looking upwards towards greener pastures. The Canadiens are still so enigmatic that it is so hard to read. On the one had, you think that they might do something still this season, but on the other, it's just so obvious that they don't have the talent to compete for a playoff spot. Consider that each and every year since the Gionta era began that this team has been expected to miss the playoffs yet has managed to come through with clutch performances down the stretch. This season, they may not be so lucky. Even under new coach Randy Cunneyworth, the team has yet to really show any immediate improvement. Here’s what I had to say in my little prediction blog:
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“Here is where the Lightning will get their first win of this stretch. Mired in a huge coaching “controversy” of sorts, the Canadiens are a team in a lot of trouble. They seemingly weren’t happy under Martin and they don’t seem any more content under Cunneyworth. Without Carey Price and Erik Cole, this team would be last in the Eastern Conference. The defense is young and vulnerable and the forward group doesn’t have a lot of size. If the Lightning can utilize their speed, it should be a very winnable game. To me, this is the kind of game Stamkos and St. Louis should thrive in. Playing against a weak defense on home ice should make for a very offensive match. If that’s the kind of game that is played, the Lightning shouldn’t have any problem beating the Habs.”
Think about the Lightning for a second and think about how unhappy we have all been with their play this season. Despite having solid efforts in two straight games, it’s not like this season is saved. Well, in our last game we are 4-5-1. It sounds pretty darn terrible until you take a look at the Canadiens’ last game. They are 3-5-2. Now, you might say “but Michael, that’s only a one point difference!” You would be absolutely right. However, I think the mentality of only winning three games in your last ten is FAR different than that of winning four. Call me crazy, but that’s just my opinion.
The Bolts head into tomorrow night’s game on the heels of two of their best performances of the season. The last two games, against the Avalanche and Flyers respectively, were full of sheer will and determination. On top of that, the Bolts received the kind of goaltending they haven’t had since the days of Roloson in the playoffs last season. Garon is showing that he really wants to will this team to victory. Without him, the last two games could have been very different.
The Philadelphia game especially emphasized the defensive flaws in this roster. The Lightning were brutally outshot and outplayed in the first period of the game and had it not been for Garon, the game likely would have had a different outcome. It’s tough to put a value on goaltending, but I’ll put Garon’s value at about two points for last game. Of course, the offensive muscles of this team were flexed later in the game but there’s a good chance that wouldn’t have happened without Garon’s heroics in the first.
The Canadiens will pose a different challenge than the Flyers as they are not even in the same league when it comes to offensive prowess as the high flying Flyers. If Garon can even turn in half the performance he showed against the Flyers, this should be a very winnable game. When you get solid goaltending, and you have the league’s leading goal scorer, good things typically happen. Stamkos, now with 22 goals on the year, comes in as the hottest player on either side of the ledger. The Canadiens’ defense will have their work cut out for them with Stammer and Marty coming in on hot streaks. Marty is playing at over a point per game since his return from injury.
Steven Stamkos was quoted as follows on the Lightning’s website:
“You take them any way you can get them. It wasn’t pretty, but if you look at the factors, the style of play we wanted to play, we had to change the game plan even more and we had to be a lot more disciplined.” – Steven Stamkos, on Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over Philadelphia
As fans, we can’t really disagree with that statement. This team will take any victories it can get right now. That said, the Lightning really did show a lot of resilience in the victory. If the Bolts can come into the Habs game with that same mentality, they should be able to outplay whatever game the Canadiens throw out on the ice.
Well, thank goodness Pierre Gauthier fired Perry Pearn. That should surely save the season….
Oh, hold on. Thank goodness Pierre Gauthier fired Jacques Martin. That should surely save the season….
Has anyone considered that maybe the coaching in Montreal isn’t the problem? Like him or hate him, Brian Burke has a pretty good handle on this sort of situation. People used to scream for Ron Wilson's head. Burke was always adament that he wouldn't fire Wilson because HE hadn't proivded Ron Wilson with a strong enough roster to win with. Does that sound familiar to the Montreal fan base? To me, it really holds true. The onus is on Gauthier to actually bring in players that can perform in Montreal. Jacques Martin wasn't the problem if you ask me.
Say what you want about him, but I feel like Jacques Martin was the perfect coach for this club. They don’t have enough top end talent to compete with the likes of the Flyers, or even the Lightning (offensively). What this team needs is solid defensive systems. Other than Ken Hitchcock, there aren’t many coaches in the league with a better grasp on defense than Martin. Even better, he’s bilingual! We could have avoided that whole commotion by just sticking with Martin.
Since Cunneyworth took over, the Habs haven’t been any better. They come to the SPTF in the middle of a six game road trip in which their record is a stellar 1-3-0 to date. Ummm…not exactly lighting the world on fire are we? This should be a perfect game for the Lightning to flex their offensive muscles. Even if the offense makes mistakes, the Habs don’t really boast any forwards who are going to hurt you on a consistent basis. Hey, Cam Ward, the goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes, has more goals than Scott Gomez does this season. If you think we need an amnesty buyout for Vinny’s contract, Montreal needs it more. At least Vinny can still put the puck in the net with some sort of regularity.
I don’t typically like to harp on a team as much as I am right now. It’s just that I really haven’t been impressed with Pierre Gauthier as GM. His work really hasn’t done anything to dramatically improve this team since Bob Gainey left. Was he really that bad? At least he made moves that he thought would improve the team. Gauthier just seems scared to do anything that would jeopardize his job. News Flash: You are on the hot seat, Mr. Gauthier. We can see it from Tampa Bay.
One last note again regarding the WJC and our Brett Connolly. He has another GREAT game for Team Canada. He was physical, strong on the puck and just plain dangerous every time he was on the ice. His goal was a true testament to his ability to just fight to produce offense. Good for Connolly.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the game tonight. I’ll have my post-game re-cap and analysis up late tonight.
Follow me on Twitter: @michaelstuart93
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