About last night …

Let’s be clear about something on this crisp, sunny Saturday morning in Montreal: the penalty call was brutal, but your Montreal Canadiens did not deserve to win the game.

For the second straight Friday in Buffalo, the home team outhustled and – gasp! – outskated the visitors, with the predictable result that the Sabres bagged two points to continue their climb back into playoff contention.

Once again, the Canadiens gave up the first goal … and it would have been more were it not for some good Carey Price stops in the first period.

They wasted a four-minute power-play.

Their PK gave up two goals in three Buffalo opportunities.

With the exception of some flurries of activity by Tomas Plekanec’s line in the third period, the Canadiens generated no sustained offence.

The NHL does not offer stats on intercepted passes or first-on-the-puck. If it did, the Sabres were in triple figures.

The Ol’ EEEEE-mailer, who has never played ice hockey in his long life, offers this one word of advice for tonight’s rematch at the Bell Centre: Hit.

The Sabres are one of the few teams in the NHL that are less physically imposing than the Canadiens. It’s imperative that the guys in red sweaters lay a bit of smack-down on the visitors tonight to take them off their skating, slick-passing game.

In particular, the Canadiens have to target Brian Campbell. They can’t let the Sabres’ superb defenceman dance out of his zone and cruise up the ice to QB the offence. Make Campbell and the other Buffalo defencemen work to clear their zone. Puck cough-ups will ensue, as will scoring opportunities.

Intensity and hard-work just might salvage a split of this home-and-home. An effort like last night’s will hand the Sabres a sweep.

A few observations:

• Price has been good, but we’ve yet to see him stand on his head and steal one.

• Mark Streit is nervous and tentative with the puck. Let’s hope it’s a passing phase.

• Seeing Andrei Markov up and moving was as good as I’ve felt with my clothes on in a long time.

• Alex Kovalev was in a bit of a fog last night. Let’s hope it was a temporary relapse.

• Christopher Higgins is carrying BOTH of his linemates.

• Do you think teams have figured out how to defence the Canadiens’ PP?

• Memo to Guy Carbonneau: No more "fun" practices on off-days.

30 Comments

  1. Chuck says:

    I’d also like to add that Price also appears to be a bit of a victim of his own hype. He’s been described as “The Saviour of the Franchise”… “The Next Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy” and “The Goaltender That Will Lead Us To Our Next Stanley Cup”. Everyone’s heard the hype, so they expect him to be that good NOW. He’s still a youngster. Give him time to develop.

    As and example, he forces 5 of 8 NHL-calibre players to fire wide during a shootout, and the only thing that some folks can talk about is how easy the Penguins made it on him by forcing him to make only three saves! There’s a reason why those Penguins were forced to aim at slivers of almost non-existant twine, folks… and it was the goaltender in white that night.

    Our scouting is right. He IS that good. Unfortunately when talking about a goaltender a lot of us equate “greatness” with “flashy”. A highlight reel goaltender Carey Price will never be, but that’s because his skillsets afford him the luxury of not having to play that type of game. And that’s a good thing.

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    ______________________________________________
    “Vote Saku for All-Star… or little Timmy gets it!!!”

  2. Ed says:

    Mike, you make a good point about the Sabres being one of the few teams in the NHL that are less physically imposing than the Canadiens, and the guys in red sweaters must lay a bit of smack-down on the visitors tonight to take them off their skating, slick-passing game. I always wonder why some players don’t hit, while others do. A look at the stats show a big discrepancy from top to bottom, with Komisarek at 77, and Plekanec with only 8.

    http://www.nhl.com/nhlstats/app?fetchKey=20082MONSASAll&page=Stats&service=page&sort=hits&viewName=rtssPlayerStats

    It is obvious that our defense is not very intimidating, when you look at Begin, Ryder, Kostopoulos, and Latendresse being 2nd to 5th on the team. Why don’t defensemen hit any more? Three of our defence are averaging less than a hit per game. Look at the 1977-78 Canadiens, and you had Robinson, Lapointe, Savard, Bouchard, Chartraw, Nyrob, Lupien. In addition to offense, some of those guys could hit. Thus the forwards did not need to hit as much, but they still had Risebrough, Lambert, Gainey, Tremblay, to keep the opposition honest.

    Some of the present day forwards could step it up too. Kovalev is not known as a hitter, but he can do it. Ask Darcy Tucker. But he has 27 in 22 games, while Higgins, who is known for his strength and hustle, has only 22 in 22 games. Ryder, who receives a lot of criticism for his lack of offense, is hitting, and at 186 pounds, is the smallest regular on the team.

    http://canadiens.nhl.com/team/app?page=TeamPlayers&service=page&srt=wt&type=roster

    In the game last night, the Canadiens outhit the Sabres 19 to 13, but they have had games where they had many more hits than 19. Maybe they were resting for tonight, and that is something you should never do. Also, you can only hit when the other team has the puck, and the Sabres had the puck a lot more than the Canadiens did. Markov and Ryder led with 3 hits each, and they are not the ones you expect to lead your team in hits. Five players had no hits at all, and I can’t understand how that is possible in a hockey game. In hockey, everybody should throw at least 1 check a game. What has happened to this physical game?

    While searching for a site which shows all 24 HABS Stanley Cup banners (I have a sheet showing all 24), I found that the site seems to no longer exist. I printed it on March 3, 1996. However, I did find an interesting article from the New York Times dated March 1989. It is mainly about Robinson and Gainey, and some people might find it an interesting read.

    http://72.14.205.104/search?q=cache:ichAH2rl_YAJ:query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html%3Fres%3D950DE0DE1F39F934A15750C0A96F948260+canadiens+stanley+cup+banners&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5

  3. Wencz says:

    There are some nights where this team just doesn’t come out and give the effort that’s required to win — last night being one of them. When they play hard they have shown that they are a tough team to beat and an exciting team to route for. While the forwards need to get harder on the forecheck, win battles and support each other better, the defense has concerned me lately. Despite his great numbers and the big plays, Markov continues to make questionable decisions; to me he almost looks arrogant out there. And Brisebois, man… I was fully behind him at the start (and I still support him), but I don’t feel that he’s putting the effort in that’s required. How many times are guys from the opposing team gonna be able to just gonna sit out in front of the net uncovered, able to slide one in, deflect a point shot, or bang in a rebound? Besides the howitzers, these are the only ones that are getting past Price (can you see him glaring at his D?). Top marks to Chipchura, Kostopolous, Begin and Dandenault for their hustle and play, but they should not be setting the tone, the big lines should. This team is a playoff team but needs to mature before they are in the same class as the Sens and we can call them contenders (hope it doesn’t take as long as it did in Ottawa).

  4. Chuck says:

    I think that you hit the nail on the head, von. With a goaltender, you want consistency. Being there in person last night, I thought that Price played a fine game, as did, by the way, the Sabres fans sitting around me. They were raving about his positioning and his economy of motion, and were really taken-aback by his puck handling skills. His outlet pass to Kovalev at the opposite blue line to beat the Sabres line change brought out more than one “Holy crap” kind of statement, and might have been the best one of the game.

    I think that fans look back at a Price game and don’t remember seeing a flashy stretch glove save there’s a tendency to describe his game as ordinary. Call it that if you will, but what he has going for him in spades is positioning, size, rebound control, puck handling skills, calm demeanor, maturity, and a great sense of anticipation.

    I was lucky enough to catch all of his games during the Calder Cup run, and watching him play in so many games in a row is when you really appreciate what the kid brings to the table, and why the organization is so high on him.

    Do I think that he should be our number one goaltender right now? I say no, but only because teaming with Huet for the time being is a great learining experience for the kid. But if they were to trade Huet tomorrow, I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep knowing that Price is our number one.
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    ______________________________________________
    “Vote Saku for All-Star… or little Timmy gets it!!!”

  5. HabsProf says:

    Yes, the Habs did not deserve to win the game.

    BUT….

    Good teams find a way to win games they otherwise don’t deserve. How many times last year did we hang with Buffalo or Ottawa, even outplay them, only to lose a close one? Commentators always said “well, the good teams find a way to win even when they don’t deserve to win”.

    We may not have “deserved” two points last night, but the fact is that the game was tied, we were starting to dominate the play, and then came the phantom call. Buffalo scored and then they had the momentum.

    Yes, we could have killed the penalty. But why should we have to when it wasn’t a penalty?

    Habs fans have every right to moan and groan about the boys in striped shirts taking the chance away from us. It is Carbonneau and the Habs players who can’t focus on the refs. We fans can gripe to our collective heart’s content.

  6. ClaytonM says:

    As long as I was posting it on Stubbs’ page, here goes. This was from the article in the link on the front page of HIO

    Montreal’s vaunted power play finally struck two minutes later, but it appeared to catch a break. Captain Saku Koivu had a bump with Ryan Miller as the goaltender made a save, and Miller had to scramble to get to his skates. Meanwhile, Christopher Higgins collected the rebound and ripped a shot past Miller.

    The play incensed the goaltender. He hinted that the referees didn’t call a penalty as a form of retribution for a comment he made earlier.

    “His explanation was I was yelling at him about a gloved puck in the first period,” Miller said. “That’s all he said to me after that, so I’m really confused as to why he wasn’t watching my crease.

    “Koivu does it every night. All the refs here should know that he’s going to come and touch the goalie at least once a night, or make it look like he got pushed in. It’s pretty obvious, and it’s every year, every season, every game. I don’t see how the refs cannot know players. They ref enough.”

    No mention of the Komisarek “penalty” in the article.

  7. roadrunner says:

    Good point about the hitting Mike. They always seem to play better when they send in two on the forecheck and finish their check. I agree about the goaltending…not bad…but nothing spectacular.

  8. Uwey says:

    An element of CaPri’s(Carey Price) game that the tem has yet to utilize is his puck handling ability.

    Once the coaching staff can utilize this talent & the players get use to his skill, it could make for a vey interesting offensive weapon this team can use to catch other teams off guard or keep them somewhat on edge knowing that there is a possible long range passing threat from deep in the Habs zone, causing to play the habs more tenative!!!

  9. Uwey says:

    Look the fact remains that the Habs blew a first period 4 min PP that generated little in the line of offense, last night!! Nobody going to the net has been a problem most of the season, particularlythe couple of games. Mark Streit & Patrice Brisebois playing like freightened kids in their own zone has been a problem all season. & last but not least, in recent games, veterens like Koivu, Kovalev & all season Ryder, has created little in the way offense!!!

    So blaming the refs for losing this game is B/S by both the fans & the Habs media!!!

    Carbo’s whining & constant bitchin’ gives the players a needless mental crutch to blame the officating for their loss’!!! Maybe what he should do is keep it to himself on the bench & try & use it as motivation in the dressing room!!!

  10. von says:

    “Price hasn’t proven greatness yet…and if he doesn’t at least show some flashes of it soon, there’s going to be a goaltending issue when it comes time to decide what to do with Huet.”

    As much as thats true, he certainly hasn’t been the cause of us losing any games. He is a million times a better puck handler than Huet. He freezes the puck whenever he can, and he is, for the most part, amazing at putting rebounds into the corners.

    Huet has played amazing games, but also poor ones. In my opinion, Carey Price has been alot more consistent. And for a guy that plays maybe what, every 4 or 5 games, thats pretty impressive.

    Like Josh Gorges, you can’t expect him to be playing at the same level when their not getting that consistent playing time. Speaking of Gorges, hoping to see him in the line up tonight!

  11. Naila Jinnah says:

    One thing is for sure, as JT pointed out, Price has been very regular as of late. If we’d had extra-ordinary Price last night, he could have carried the team to a win they didn’t deserve. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Habs can only win by working hard. They’ve got a few natural talents in the lineup, but most of their players need to skate hard, shoot hard, and simply play hard in order to get results.

  12. Lafrich says:

    SASKHAB. HOLY S–T! You are right. That play was offside! How come no one has mentioned it? Weird right? I noticed it at the time, and even rewound it with my dvr, but it was difficult to see because of the HORRIBLE Buffalo coverage (I live in NYC now, so I have the Center Ice package). That is one, I would like to see again.

  13. saskhab says:

    Streit had a really awesome rush last night that led to a great chance by Guillaume. I actually think Streit is slowly rounding into form. But it seems when he switches partners he’s in trouble… he’s probably the only d-man to not look particularily strong when Markov is his partner.

    Markov had a hell of a game defensively last night. It was his best of the year. Maybe that scary board collision knocked something loose in him.

    By my count, the score should’ve only been 1-1. The 2nd Buffalo goal was both offside and, earlier in the sequence, knocked down with a high stick by a Sabre right in front of Price. The 2nd Montreal goal should’ve been called back because of Koivu knocking down Miller. He was not guided there, it was Koivu that, not looking, ran into the Buffalo d-man, which re-directed him (the d-man didn’t, it was a natural re-direction), into Miller. It should’ve been one of those no penalty, no goal scenarios. The 3rd Buffalo goal was obviously a bad call by a ref, and a call that shouldn’t be blown at this level of the game. Even the EN Buffalo goal came as the result of Markov’s legs been taken out by Afinogenov to get the puck.

    I don’t remember a game with so many bad calls/non-calls directly leading to so much of the offence.

    On that brutal 4 minute PP last night, I don’t remember the guys passing it to Kovalev once. That’s just not very smart. The passes were also way too soft last night on the PP, making it easy for the Sabres to defend the middle of the ice.

  14. Will Longlade says:

    Mike, your observations about the team are bang on, but I would have singled out a few more players for their recent lacklustre play. Smolinski has been making lots of forced and soft passes and he’s losing many battles for the puck that he should be winning. Frankie hasn’t laid out anyone with a body check since he returned from his injury. Lats hasn’t connected with a crushing bodycheck on an opposing defenceman in a few games, but he sure has given the boards a workout. The Hab’s simply need more guys to step up and bring their game to the rink.

    As mentioned by other posters, one of the keys for Carbo is to get more production out of the first line. IMO, Montreal’s first line has been totally smothered by the opposition in recent games. But there’s no time for major tinkering for tonight’s tilt. Looking ahead, the strong play of the Plek’s line may make Carbo tentative about breaking up this line in a bid to cure the ills of the first line. I think the outcome of tonight’s game will determine whether there’s some major tinkering before the Habs face the Leafs next week.

  15. mjames says:

    There is a way to counter a strong forecheck. We did it on one or two occasions last night. Depending on the team we are playing one might be required to alter one’s playing style. Since I am not the coach I will leave that up to Carbo to figure out.

    mjames

  16. Mike Boone says:

    Huet tonight. It was announced by Carbo early in the week.

  17. Moey says:

    I wonder if Huet is in nets tonight?

  18. JF says:

    The only good thing about last night was that they managed, for the first time this year, to come back from a 2-goal deficit and, had it not been for the bad call on Komisarek, might have stolen a point. I agree, Mike, they need to hit, intimidate their opponents, make them work to get the puck out of their zone. They rarely play two bad games in a row; hopefully they can rebound tonight with a strong performance and a win. Otherwise they’ll meet their bête noir on Tuesday night coming off back-to-back losses.

    Streit is really having a hard time. We no longer see from him the crisp passes and intelligent decisions that we did earlier in the season and last year (although he did make a couple of good plays last night). He seems to have lost his confidence. I can’t help thinking that playing him as a forward for a while might help him get it back.

    Price’s record so far is better than his actual performance. The only game in which he really looked outstanding was his first (against Pittsburgh – the only real goal scored on him in that one was the result of a beautiful pass from behind the net by Malkin). Otherwise he has been quite ordinary, good at times but not great. Whereas Huet, despite a few so-so games and soft goals, does come up with miraculous saves. He also comes back really strong after a bad game. This shows great strength of character.

    The Sabres, after a slow start and a few injuries, seem to have adjusted to the loss of Brière and Drury and are getting back into the playoff hunt. Ryan Miller is looking like the goaltender we saw last year. It’s more than time for the Canadiens to stop taking this team lightly, as they seem to have done the last two meetings. They have to come out flying, hitting everything in sight and impose their game plan. Otherwise, J.T., you could be right and we’ll soon be looking at last season all over again. But I KNOW they’re better than that; I just wish they would show it on a consistent basis.

  19. The Ian Cobb says:

    You called this one Mike. I watched at a friends untill mid 2nd, left to come home and read your posts and play my own game on the computer. It was realy the only thing worth doing. Tonight is another start, and if they don’t pick up there socks the boo birds will!!

  20. Revolution No. 9 says:

    That win % after trailing remains at .000. Very disappointing.

    I have to agree that they did not deserve the points but at least they played better then that awful 4-1 loss plus we get to come right back them at home. Win 1- Lose 1 hockey isn’t too bad so long as you’re few games over .500 but it would be nice to string together a few wins.

    It looks like teams have also figured out that you can’t let Kovy walk into face off circle on the PP.

    Finally, it would be great to see Price play up to his hype. Is he good? Yes. But has he totally robbed a team yet? Still waiting…

  21. Revolution No. 9 says:

    Hmm. I double posted and now I can only edit the second instead of deleting.

    Drat. Or is it too early for “Humbug!” ?

  22. J.T. says:

    Okay, it’s time to take the blinkers off now. If you can conclude that overtime losses are still losses…then this team is at 12-10. And for the last couple of weeks it’s been playing .500 hockey. The blowouts have been fun, and the domination of teams in every second game exhilarating. But it’s games like last night that bring us back to reality. And that reality includes some hard facts.

    Koivu is slumping offensively (while playing some very nice D). I know the points totals still look good, but they haven’t been piling up at the rate they were earlier in the year. That, coupled with Ryder’s continued inability to score means it’s time to blow up the first line as far as I’m concerned. It hasn’t been the first line in a while anyway. I don’t want to see Carbo keep a line that’s not working together way past its expiry date a la Pleks/Kovalev/Samsonov from last year, just because the other scoring line is performing well. The team won’t win with only one good line going anyway, so it’s best to try and find a solution to get the other one going now. I want to see Carbo witch Kovalev and Higgins and give us a super-threat in the Pleks/Higgins/Kostitsyn line, and maybe rejuvanated Kovalev can do something good for Koivu and Ryder.

    The PK still needs work. Thankfully the team has been very disciplined for the most part, so the problem isn’t as bad as it could be. And there have been some brilliant 5-on-3 kills lately. But overall, the PKers are too passive in their own zone.

    Good goalies stop the pucks they should stop and give up goals on the shots they shouldn’t stop. Great goalies miraculously stop pucks they shouldn’t. Price hasn’t proven greatness yet…and if he doesn’t at least show some flashes of it soon, there’s going to be a goaltending issue when it comes time to decide what to do with Huet.

    When a team has two lines of scorers and two lines of pluggers, the pluggers had better show up every single night even when the scorers aren’t scoring. There have been too many periods lately when the pluggers aren’t doing their thing.

    Streit is not the player we saw from camp and in the first several games. He looked then like the guy who should be the unquestioned number four defenceman. Now he often looks like the number seven, behind Josh Gorges. Like the team, he’s wildly inconsistent…making a brilliant defensive play one minute, and then a terrific gaffe the next.

    The team continues to fall victim to any opponent that employs a strong forecheck. This is going to happen, so Carbo had better come up with a plan for dealing with it.

    All that said, the biggest problem they’re facing is their own inconsistency. In the first dozen games of the year, I think I counted one in which they didn’t play the entire game like they cared about winning it. Now, it’s every second game. This stinks of last year, and if they don’t start putting some wins together, I can see the team sputtering its way to the December 23 precipice from where it’ll free fall down the standings in a replay of our most recent nightmare.

    This is a good team. I can’t stand to watch them blow another year. It’s worrying me that it takes a loss to get their dander up and make them play to win the next game.

  23. Lafrich says:

    The Sabres are so aggressive in all three zones, at all times. Power play, PK, even strength, it doesn’t matter. They are constantly skating at full speed, and NEVER let a player have any time at all to make plays.

    The Canadiens HAVE TO BE COACHED BETTER. I am not an NHL-calibre coach, but Carbonneau should be. He has to work on a way to combat highly aggressive play.

    On the PP, the Sabres chase the guy with the puck so that he has to make a pass immediately. It causes so many turnovers, or at least bad passes. The HAbs have to alter their game accordingly. Very quick passes. No holding on to the puck, etc…

    Another thing that makes the Sabres so successful is that they have extremely active sticks. That is why passes never get through, and that the puck is constantly stripped away from the Habs. It also makes for lots of hooking and slashing penalties. The Habs have to work on the alteration of their power play to counteract the aggressiveness. If they can do these things, they can beat the Sabres.

    The Habs have the talent, they just need to step it up, just like the Sabres always do.

  24. Bill says:

    Over the last ten games the Habs morphed into a .500 club. Perhaps this is simply the reality-setting-in that many have been predicting. Or perhaps it is a temporary let-down, inevitable in a long season? I only hope it is not another chapter in the Habs eerie recapitulation of last season’s performance.

    The Habs haven’t been robbed many times this year: by and large, they’ve won the games in which they’ve outskated and outworked their opponents. They’ve also stolen only a couple, losing just about every time they lay out a less than “110%, leave it all on the ice” performance. Anyone who’s watched them a lot this year knew they were going to lose by the time the game was 10 minutes old.

    Speaking of reality setting-in, the Habs have stopped playing harder in front of rookie Price. I wonder how he enjoyed being treated like a veteran? Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

  25. DD says:

    I couldn’t agree with JT more about our inability to adapt to a team that employs an aggressive forecheck. It became blatantly obvious to me during the 3-2 loss to the stinkin’ leafs on Nov 3rd, that Carbo has not found a way, or adapted, to counter balance a team that can keep us pinned in our own end. The real problem with this, in this age of video, other teams will employ this tactic to beat us and unless we find a way to get the puck out of our end, we will be seeing a lot more of the same.

    I don’t know if bringing the wingers back in our defensive zone is the answer because this will inherently leave the opponents point men open for easy shots. Maybe bringing up some bigger D-men like O Byrne up, to give us a bit more size and grit in the back end might help out. Komi’s playing like a human wrecking ball, but the days of playing the whole game like Eddie Shore did are over and Komi can only keep things honest for 25 minutes or so.

    I usually don’t criticize Carbo, but I hope him and his coaching team find a way to fix this problem before it becomes an epidemic like last year.

  26. JF says:

    DD, what is that Leaf emblem doing there?

  27. Moey says:

    Obviously the team now has confidence in Price, so they’re leaving him out to dry like they do with Huet. They have to bring their “A” game and work really hard for a win. They can’t afford to slack off. If they keep winning one/losing one, where does that leave them in the standings after 82 games?

  28. Bill says:

    Would leave us 42-37-3, with 87 points, out of the playoffs for certain.

  29. Moey says:

    Saku said at the beginning of the season they would have to work really hard to get into the playoffs. We don’t have any superstars or high scorers so every game is an uphill battle, every player has to give 110%. i’m sure Carbo knows what their shortcomings are, if we can see it, obviously he can. I still say the aquisition of a big scoring center will make a huge difference. If Saku, Higgins and Kovy are off their game, you’ve still got the sniper. At this point, none of them can afford not to show up.

  30. The Ian Cobb says:

    It reads Maple LOSERS


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