Jacques Martin has a few pet phrases he likes to use in his post-game press conferences.
The coach almost always talks about the importance of goaltending and special teams.
“Execution” is another favourite Martinism.
But after the streak-ending loss to the team he used to coach and general-manage, martin popped a new one.
The Canadiens, Martin said, were not “direct enough” in their attack. That and too many turnovers through the first 40 minutes, Martin suggested, doomed his team.
I’m not sure what the absence of directness means in the context of a hockey game.
A reluctance, perhaps, to play north-south against a team that kept the Canadiens east-west attack in check for most of the game.
P.K. Subban said it was winnable. The rookie defenceman thought he and his teammates could have bagged five goals.
The Canadiens had 41 shots, a season high (they had 40 against Ottawa two weeks ago).
The Panthers blocked 18, and there were another 14 misses.
So it’s not like they didn’t fire some rubber on or toward Tomas Vokoun.
There were few occasions, however, when the Canadiens had second-shot opportunities.
While Carey Price was beaten twice following rebounds, Vokoun was rarely under any kind of sustained, in-close pressure.
Martin didn’t talk about special teams beyond saying he thought the Canadiens’ 5-on-3 power-play at the beginning of the third period was the game’s turning point.
It was part of another futile night for the PP – the eighth 0-for in 11 games this season.
The return of Andrei Markov was supposed to help, and it did. Markov and Subban formed a solid blueline combo – two skilled players highly adept at keeping the puck alive and moving on PPs.
It was somewhat surprising, then, that Martin chose not to use Markov on the 5-on-3. Instead, Mike Cammalleri played the right point with Subban shifting to the left behind forwards Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta.
“We had a shooter in Subban and a shooter in Cammalleri,” Martin said of the deployment. “And we had some chances.”
Gionta had an open net, Martin said, but his shot hit the skate of a Florida defenceman. It’s been that kind of season for the Captain. Four more SoG against Florida – 44 on the season, with one goal to show for it.
The Top Six forwards were stymied all night. Cammalleri has one goal in his last nine games. Lars Eller is learning, but he doesn’t look like a scorer.
Mathieu Darche works his ass off, but he’s not going to get 20.
Tomas Plekanec, the best player on the team through 10 games, lacked his usual jump and creativity. Playing his fourth big-minutes game in six nights – and the second of a back-to-back that included late-night travel – Pleks looked tired on some shifts.
Markov played 23:03 – second only to Subban’s 24:49. Markov had five SoG and another five that missed, an indicator of his rustiness. On balance, however, the returning superstar played as good a game as could be expected – if not as spectacular as last season’s two-goal return to action.
The rested Panthers skated with the Canadiens and exerted pressure on the D. The first 40 miunutes were reminiscent of Friday’s second period on Long Island: stretches when the Canadiens’ zone clearances were laborious, their passing inaccurate.
Martin said he wwould look at the game tape before deciding what adjustments are in order before a Tuesday game in Columbus.
There’s no need for radical surgery.
As the coach said, the Canadiens took six of a possible eight points in a tough week – and had a chance at eight.
The loss was disappointing and the lack of scoring, particularly from Gomez’s line, is worrisome.
Roman Hamrlik’s ill-advised to skate through a Florida trap left his p[artner, Jaro Spacek, chasing David Booth and hauling down Florida’s best forward. Booth’s goal on the ensuing penalty shot was the game winner.
The Markov-Subban pairing was solid, and Spatch’s minutes, with no PP duty, were down to 16:58. They are, however, the weakest pairing right now … and this might merit a shakeup if the Canadiens hit a rough patch.
For now, however, a tired team lost to rested team with a hot goaltender.
And although the Canadiens are 0-1 with Markov, that should change.
• • •
Kudos to the fans for astute and non-homer Three Star picks: Mathieu Darche third, Booth second and Vokoun first.