I find myself making this observation after every game:
Jaroslav Spacek gives it his all, but he’s too small and, at 35, too old to play 25 minutes a game, including the power play and shorthanded situations.
His fellow Czech defence partner, Roman Hamrlik, is the same age but is bigger ad has more skill. But Hammer played 28 minutes last night … which is fine if your name is Jay Bouwmeester.
Were Spacek and hamrli responsible for the 5-4 loss?
Spatch was on for four even-strength goals, two by each team, and finished the night even.
Hammer was on for one Atlanta goal, three by the Canadiens and was plus-2.
Monster minutes for the top D pairing is not unusual in the NHL. But given their age, I really worry how Hamrlik and Spacek will hold up through this month, December and however much of the new year Andrei Markov will be unavailable.
The Canadiens were missing three regulars – Markov, Ryan O’Byrne and Hal Gill – on defence last night.
And it showed.
Defensive zone play was a mess. With the exception of Mark Popovic’s ridiculous knuckleball from the point, all the Atlanta goals were the results of an aggressive attack and crisp passing that left the shooter open for a good look at Carey Price.
Paul Mara and Josh Gorges played their hearts out, like they do every night, but let’s underline the obvious:
Mathieu Carle is not an NHL defenceman.
Neither is Marc-André Bergeron. And insult to injury, MAB has become useless on the power play because every shorthanded team pressures the puck, which gives him zero good looks from the point and many opportunities to either fall down, fan or turn the puck over.
look, I’m all for reducing the number of Canadiens on EI, but get this guy back on the pogey before he’s minus-57.
After Mike Cammalleri scored late in the second period and Brian Gionta got one early in the third, the score was 3-3 and the Bell Centre – dead for much of the evening as Atlanta built its lead – was rocking.
It is essential that after a tying goal on home ice, the next shift continues to build momentum.
That didn’t happen.
Carle was on the ice after Gionta’s tying goal. He was beaten at the Atlanta blueline and had to take a tripping penalty t prevent a breakway.
With five seconds remaining in Carle’s penalty, the beleagured Canadiens’ penalty killers – 3-for-3 to that point – give up a goal to Pavel Kubina.
And yes, I know: Travis Moen, one of my faves, should have done a better job of tying Kubina up at the lip of the crease. That shorthanded shift was Moen’s only ice time in the third period. He was joined on the bench by Glen Metropolit. Max Pacioretty was tried, to no great effect, for a few shifts with other linemates. The Canadiens were a two-line team for most of the final period.
The turning point, however, was Carle’s ineptitude. His penalty gave Atlanta a chance to regain the lead and deflate the Habs’ balloon.
But the Cardiac Canadiens weren’t done.
Tomas Plekanec – who has matched, and on some nights exceeded, the top lines brilliance this season – is the beneficiary of some hard work by his latest set of linemates, Max Lapierre and Gui! Pleks scores from a crazy angle to tie the game, and the joint goes nuts.
The all-important next shift includes Scott Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri. But on D: Mara and Bergeron.
It takes Atlanta 36 seconds to get the winner. Evander kane, who’s going to be a star in the league, blows past MAB on the right side to start a sequence of puck control that ends with Colby Armstrong alone in front.
So where is this organization’s vaunted depth if two Palookas like Carle and Bergeron have to play crucial minutes in tight games?
Price’s performance will inspire the usual bitterly polarized debate between those who still believe in The Franchise (count me in that group) and others who believe the goaltender is overrated and never makes the big stops.
Just once this season, I’d like to see this team build a big lead in front of Carey Price. Give the kid a two-goal cuhion, and let’s see if Price can protect it.
That hasn’t happened. The Canadiens led the season opener by a goal for a total of less than seven minutes against Toronto.
They never led against Buffalo, Vancouver or Edmonton. Price managed to protect a one-goal lead for 24 minutes against Colorado. He played behind against Ottawa, Chicago and, last night, the Thrashers.
Some suggests the team plays better in front of Jaro Halak. That judgement requires a more discerning eye than mine, but Price has had to lay on the razor’s edge in each of his starts.
“So what?” the Price-bashers will say. “That’s what good goalies do. They make key saves and win close games.”
But maybe not when they’re 22 years old, coming off a troubled season, working with a new goaltending coach and trying to put some Ws together – not least because RFA status looms this summer.
Was Price the better goaltender last night?
No. Ondrej Pavelec, who’s knocking socks off around the league, made 34 saves.
But did Price cost his team the game?
Again No. He was beaten high glove side … again … by that Popovic knuckleball from downtown. But there was nothing Price could do about the other four Atlanta goals. When a player is wide open between the faceoff circles 20 feet out, the puck often goes in.
Let Pavelec try to play behind Mathieu Carle and Marc-André Bergeron.
We’ll probably see how Jaro Halak fares with that depleted defence on Thursday in Boston.