Wow, not THAT was an interesting game to watch. As I sit looking outside at this cold, windy Friday morning I am basking in the afterglow of last night's Habs game vs. the Pens. Not basking in a win, mind you, but rather in a 3-2 regulation loss, one in which the Habs probably deserved a better fate. While on the one hand, Montreal got what the deserved, again being outshot badly - 41 to 21 - and again taking way too many penalties - handing the pens 5 powerplay - on the other hand, the skated with the pens for a full 60 minutes. Ok, maybe not a full 60 minutes, as the Habs seem to have developed a specific M.O. which is to be M.I.A. in the first 20 minutes and to count, heavily, on their goaltender to bail them out until they find their legs in the second. Considering that this is how they opperate, one cannot be totally shocked that it finally caught up with them and that they lost.
However, this was a game that, after the 1st period, was very winnable by the Habs. An early whistle, by referee Lee, in the third - when Fleury did NOT have control of the puck and Gomez fired it into the open net - meant that the Habs were denied their comeback bid. After going down 1-0 in the first, storming back to get a 2-1 lead, letting the Pens tie it back up and taking the lead, Montreal was determined as heck to get that tying goal and they displayed a dogged determination in the process. They showed that when they want, they can play with the best of them. The more the Habs play like this, the more I can't wait to see what this team can really do once everyone - read Gionta and Markov - are healthy. Considering Markov took part in full practice lined up next to Hamrlik, two days ago, I think that that reality might happen sooner than later.
1 - Montreal's goaltending tandem continues to shine. In stopping 38 of the 41 shots he faced last night (.938 save %), Price continues his brilliant performances in the face of total onslaught. He looks so solid and confident in the net that, as a player around him, I imagine that you can't help but be buoyed by his confidence. Way to go kid! He is even starting to get whisper of Olympic mention - although in reality there is no way he will be ahead of Brodeur, Luongo and Fleury for the Olympics this year. But four years from now?
2 - Mike Cammalleri is a man possessed. He was all over the ice and shooting pucks from everwhere. While it only resulted in 2 shots on goal, Cammy had many chances, including a 2 on 1 break with Pleks, where he was beautifully setup but couldn't find the handle and hit the side of the net instead. Cammy won't miss too many of those in a season, but it happens every once in a while.
3 - SK74 continues to elevate his game. This kid needs to play with a goal scorer on his wing, because he is one of the best setup men on the team. His on ice vision is close to being unparalleled. Him and MaxPad has to be the two most improved young guns on the team.
4 - Speaking of MaxPac, he continues to be the catalyst to that third (3M) line of Metro, Moen and himself. He displays youthful vigour, he hits, he passes, he shoots and generally makes things happen for him line every time he is out there. If there is one trend that is becoming a constant, it is that our third line seems to spend most of the game in the offensive zone.
5 - While I understand that everyone is upset at the ref for blowing the whistle when it should not have been blown, we have to remember a couple of things. The first being that the ref blows the whistle when he loses site of the puck, which the clearly did. It doesn't mean it was the right call, it just means that for HIS perspective, the play was dead. My only beef with the whole thing is that they did not go upstairs to review the play, but I guess going upstairs is not done if the ref has ruled the play dead, but only if the goal is disputed. The other thing to rmemeber, is that Montreal's habit of being asleep in the 1st, and getting brutally outshot during games, was bound to catch up to them. It is not, in my opinion, a good strategy for winning. Now, to their credit, Montreal keeps getting outshot by such a high margin because they take so many penalties. When your opponent is always on the power play, then tend to have many more shots than you do. The other interesting thing, is that Jacques Martin's system means that the opponent will get a lot of shots, but most are from the outside as the Habs vigourously protect the slot and keep the opponent ot the outside. So while they get outshot, many shots are of the less harmful variety. That being said, the winning goal, last night, was of the less harmlful variety. Dupuis simply fired the puck, one step over the blue line, and it took a wierd descending trajectory and flopped over Prices glove and down into the net. This just goes to show, that the Habs' style of play can come back to bite you in the butt, and it did last night.
Overall, it was an enjoyable game and you see that this team has fire in its eyes. While on the surface, it looked like a game that the Habs' should have had at least 1 point out of, the important thing is that they showed determination in pushing for that tying goal. There are still many more games to play this season, and many more injured player yet to return. I can only imagine that the powerplay will be a few percentage points better once Markov is back.
One last note is that there has been a lot of chatter, the last few days, that Montreal is actively shopping Jaro Halak. While that might be true - as there are certainly no shortage of teams needing help in nets - it remains to be seen whether something like that will happen before the Christmas trade freeze deadline. I am more inclined to think that this kind of move will happen closer to the trade deadline. Only time will tell. Next stop, Atlanta.
PS: Thanks to all that voted in the Habs To The Top poll. Check back often for other game time poll and updates!
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