Wouldn’t a draft cock-up be the perfect way to cap this frustrating season?
The Canadiens go on a winning streak and inch their way up the standings and out of contention for the top-rated junior prospects.
It could happen … although the team we saw losing 3-2 to Florida will be hard-pressed to beat the Rangers and Washington in a back-to-back on the road this weekend.
As usual, there was one functioning forward line.
Max Pacioretty had nine of the Canadiens’ 29 shots. And the rare moments of uplift for the 21,273 fans – a goodly number of whom were dressed as empty seats – were provided by Erik Cole’s rushes down the wing and David Desharnais’ playmaking wizardry.
It should be noted, however, that DD had a rough night in the faceoff circle, losing 14 of 20 draws. Tomas Plekanec (more about that poor sod in a moment) lost 15 of 22. The only centre with a positive faceoff effort against Florida was Lars Eller, who won five of seven.
Ya gotta feel for Pleks. My pressbox neighbour pointed to a play in the first period that he felt exemplified Plekanec’s season.
“He dekes a guy and makes a great play to keep the puck in the slot. What’s he going to do with it? He’s got Frédéric St. Denis at the point and a rookie (Louis Leblanc) on one wing. He could pass to Bourque in front of the net, but that (expletive deleted) wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
Rene Bourque actually made the scoresheet against Florida. He had three hits, two blocked shots and a shot on goal.
But Bourque extended to nine the number of games he’s gone without registering a point – futility he’s achieved in 27 of the 33 games he’s played in the uniform of the Montreal Canadiens. Ah well, only four more years on his contract
The shootout ended with Scott Clemmensen stopping Leblanc. But LL played a solid game, cashing that sweet head-man pass from St. Denis and racking up four shots on goal to go with his four hits.
In his postgame remarks, Randy Cunneyworth praised Leblanc’s speed, vision and fearlessness. The coach said the Canadiens’ first-round draft choice in 2009 has to get stronger, and Leblanc might be more advanced physically had he stayed at Harvard and focused on off-ice training, as opposed to leaving after one year to ride buses in the QMJHL.
LL is going to be a good player. As we survey the damage in this train-wreck of a season, Leblanc is one of the reasons for fan optimism going forward – the more so now that Cunneyworth has promoted the kid to the Plekanec line, where Leblanc got 17:20 of ice time.
I thought Eller played a decent game. Neither of his wingers, Ryan White and Michael Blunden, can score; but White proved his courage, if not his good sense, by losing another fight to Erik Gudbranson; and Blunden impresses me with his speed and willingness to play the body.
The Canadiens have a surfeit of fourth-liners: White, Blunden, Aaron Palushaj, Brad Staubitz, Travis Moen (when he’s healthy and if the Canadiens re-sign him) and Petteri Nokelainen.
The challenge is filling out the Top Nine. And finding a physical defenceman.
Cunneyworth praised the play of St. Denis, whom he described as “not the biggest or the strongest” but blessed with smarts and the ability to read situations.
Of course, this description fits Raphael Diaz, too. Will they both be on the team next season? What about Yannick Weber?
Andrei Markov and his D partner, Alexei Emelin, were on for both of the goals Florida scored. Their matching minus-2s are deceptive, however, because neither could be faulted for long-range shots that somehow eluded Carey Price.
The Panthers play like their coach, Kevin Dineen. In scoring a first-ever season sweep of the Canadiens, Florida played doggedly determined and desprate hockey. The Panthers create havoc down low with their forechecking, and the puck kept popping out for point shots the Canadiens’ scheme never bothered covering.
The game’s oddest statstic was hits: 42 for the Canadiens (Emelin had five, Staubitz, white, Leblanc and Cole four each), Florida only 17.
Yet at no point did it seem the Canadiens were manhandling the Panthers. If a small team gets 40-plus hits, does the death-by-a-thousand-cuts factor eventually wear the opponent down? It didn’t happen in this game.
One more stat to chew on: Your Montreal Canadiens have emerged on the short end of the final score 25 times at the Bell Centre this season.
No one, not even Columbus, has lost more often on home ice.
Oh, and your rock ’em/sock ’em Habs have had fights in seven straight games.
If you can’t beat ’em on the ice …