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Montreal Canadiens Earn Critical Two Points Against Maple Leafs

The Montreal Canadiens snapped a two-game losing streak in defeating the Maple Leafs 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.  With the win, the Habs climbed to 11th spot in the East and now find themselves 7 points out of playoff contention.  Idle Washington finds itself back in the 8th and final post-season berth while holding 2 games in hand on your Habs.  The win gave Montreal two points that will be crucial down the stretch and, just as importantly, denied Toronto any points whatsoever as the Maple Leafs remain in 9th spot looking in (or up).

Montreal was playing its third game in four nights. The victory gave them 3 of a possible 4 points in back to back games against strong opposition, namely the Penguins and the Leafs; two teams which they must catch if they are going to make a run for qualification in the only season that matters.  The team does not play again until Wednesday but the tradeoff to that is that they will face the league leading Detroit Red Wings on that night in Montreal.

Montreal, regularly accused of playing to the level of its opposition, might actually welcome that type of matchup as it looks to gain some ground in the standings.  The Red Wings are a team that no franchise can afford to take lightly and hopefully Montreal will go into that game with respect and with a sense of urgency.

As far as urgency goes, i thought that it would be more on display tonight by both teams than it actually was.  Montreal and Toronto both find themselves on the wrong side of eighth place and both must play determined hockey to climb up in the rankings.  The game was far less physical than expected.  There were also long stretches between whistles where play carried on with little intensity.  As a result, the crowd was quiet for the most part.  In a game that it absolutely had to win, Montreal only managed 23 shots on goal through 60 minutes (8 in the first, 9 in the second and only 6 in the third).  I should not criticize Montreal too much as it did emerge victorious, but can you imagine that in a must-win game, the first actual shot on goal by the Habs did not occur until nearly half of the first period was over?!?  That is absolutely insane!!!!!  Granted, the team did have a couple of scoring chances prior to that, but you definitely will, as Wayne Gretzky once said, “miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”!

Well, at least tonight, Montreal’s strategy paid off as it did not blow the game in the final frame, something which it routinely does.  In fact, the Habs only manage to win 75% of games in which they lead after the 2nd period.  While that may seem like a reasonable success rate, consider that 5 teams out of 30 in the league have gone on to win every single game in which they led after 2 periods. In fact, Montreal ranks 29th in the league in its ability to hold onto a game going into the third ahead of its opponent…clearly third period play is a source of concern!

Positives To Take Away From This Game

  • The Habs were perfect on the penalty kill.  The team successfully killed 3 Toronto powerplay opportunities.  Hal Gill looked fantastic in this role and while many would want the Canadiens to trade him or to allow him to test the free-agent market, i think that this would be a mistake. Tomas Plekanec also looked very solid when the Habs were a man down.  He is skating with purpose and is a top-notch shut down player.
  • Scott Gomez had a pretty good game.  He was skating well and made some nice passes, most notably the one that set-up Rafael Diaz for the insurance goal.  He played 17:55 and looked inspired doing it.  He played with a few different linemates in the process.  He started off centering the 4th line with Campoli and Weber but eventually played with Pleks and Bourque.
  • Number 27, Rene Bourque, is no Kovalev, but he did score his first goal tonight with his new team (his 15th of the season).  He did it by driving to the net and cashing in on a very weird bounce to beat a stunned Gustavson.  Gauthier wanted more “dirty area goals” and he is getting them. Incidentally, Bourque was playing with on a line with Pleks and Cole at the time of the goal.
  • Carey Price stopped 32 shots, allowing only one goal on 33 pucks that he faced.  He looked very     solid on several Leaf opportunities, was determined to have the puck in his sights at all times
    and generally seemed to be in a groove.  The only goal surrendered was off a shot by Matthew Lombardi who scored on a breakaway when he deked and beat Price to his blocker side.  Josh Gorges was pinching deep in the offensive zone and was unable to get back when Lombardi broke free of the pack.  No one could…
  • Alexei Emelin showed commitment and determination and team spirit when he came to the rescue on a Hal Gill turnover and dove to block a point blank Connolly shot.
  • While the power play ultimately failed, the Habs did look dangerous on a couple of occasions. Kaberle, weaving and bobbing, tried to get things going from numerous angles and even found himself deep behind Gustavson’s net at one point.  Pacioretty did his best Michael Cammalleri impersonation by positioning himself in the right-wing circle and attempting to slap in one-timers while on his knees…it was fun to watch for a change.

 Areas of Concern

  • In a word: intensity.  Sure the Habs won, but they did not show a killer instinct in doing so.  Again they sat back in the 3rd period and only fired 6 shots at the opposition.  Yes, indeed 2 of them counted but I would have liked to see Montreal keep pressing, and pressing, and pressing.
  • While the power play generated some exciting moments, the visitors were 0 for 3 with the extra man.  Something needs to be done here.  Points down the stretch are contingent on improving the teams effectiveness with the man-advantage.
  • PK Subban did not further his cause when he took a roughing penalty in the first period.  Plain and simple, it was unnecessary.  I love his passion but he has to tread carefully.  Someone needs to take PK under their wing and advise him as to how he can better balance being “leave it all on the ice” and playing smart hockey.
All in all, a good night.  I hope that the victory serves as a building block for a strong run in the remaining games. Even if it is difficult for the players to conceive that playoffs remain in the realm of possibility, there is always the argument that they should play hard, not so much to win, but to restore their confidence moving forward and their pride.  GO HABS GO!

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