About last night …

Your Montreal Canadiens don’t have much time to enjoy the scenery, up at the dizzying heights of seventh place.

Their charter had to be de-iced – good idea! – and was late leaving New York. That meant a 2 a.m. bedtime for players who have to face the well-rested Penguins tonight.

So morning skate is optional.

Most of my thoughts on the W are in Quick Hits.

Jacques Martin coached brilliantly. He made quick adjustments to what was and was not working – actually, who was not working. The result was limited ice time for Lars Eller and David Desharnais.

Mathieu Darche and Benoit Pouliot got to play with Tomas Plekanec, and the ad-hoc line produced the tying goal. Then Benny, who played like his hair was on fire, popped the winner.

It was also significant that on the shift preceding Jaro Spacek’s goal, a reconstituted line of Jeff Halpern, Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty kept the puck in the New York zone – territorial dominance the Canadiens had rarely enjoyed through the first 37 minutes of the game.

With Eller, who was skating in Michael Cammalleri’s spot, and DD on the bench, Andrei Kostitsyn was dropped down to a checking line with Moen and Halpern. AK46 had only 13:11 of ice time but he responded to the demotion with a pretty good game, skating hard, winning puck battles, acquitting himself well in defence of a one-goal lead.

I don’t think we’re looking at the second coming of Bob Gainey, but with AK46 you celebrate any positive contribution and hope it signals better games to come.

You also hope the win at MSG is a harbinger of better performances on the road.

 

 

Of the 16 teams currently qualifying for the playoffs in both Conferences, only two have losing road records: the Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks.

The ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes are 11-8-4 on the road, as are the Atlanta Thrashers, whom the Canadiens leapfrogged into seventh place last night.

If the Canadiens go down to the wire in pursuit of a playoff spot – and I think they will – four of their final five games are away from home, beginning with what proabbly will be a four-pointer in Carolina on March 30.

Last night, we saw flashes of what you need to win on the road.

The Canadiens were disciplined, taking only three minor penalties … although Lars Eller’s O-zone hold won him a good seat to watch the game and possibly punched his ticket for Hamilton.

You can’t be intimidated in road games, and the Canadiens got good, physical play out of Benny, Darche, Max-Pac, Moen and AK-46.

Alex Auld continued his mastery of the Rangers and in the process lowered his GAA to 1.74 and raised his save percentage to 94.1.

Both stats are better than Carey Price’s. Let’s start a goaltending controversy.

I liked P.K.’s 22 minutes last night, even with his holding penalty. Jaro Spacek was really good – and he had to be, paired with Yannick Weber. Roman Hamrlik was solid, as always, and his defensive abilities complement James Wisniewski’s O-oriented game.

Hal Gill was a pylon on Brandon Dubinsky’s goal. But in the replay that the RDS guys, Joël Bouchard and Gaston Therrien, broke down, P.K. should have played more aggressively in support of his partner. His tardiness allowed Dubinski, a LH shot, ample time to cut in front of the net to beat Auld.

This is nit-picking, as is pointing out the Rangers’ 39-28 hit advantage.

The Canadiens played a very good road game.

They got great goaltending, excellent performances by some key players (notably Benny), outshot a home team 38-26 and bagged two valuable points.

No rest for the weary.

Crosby-less Penguins tonight.

•  •  •

Ryan McDonagh: 10:46 (low among their Dmen), no shots, no hits, no blocked shots and plus-1.

If he did anything noteworthy, I missed it.

40 Comments

  1. Dunboyne Mike says:

    Amen amen. Best for both goalies if there’s better distribution of the load. Just because Price is a young stallion and could play 75 games doesn’t mean he should. Better, imo, to keep Auld involved by playing him more, better that his mentality be that of sharing the load rather than of being the last resort or the emergency option.

    Going back to the last Leafs game, someone here pointed out how the dramatic irony of that loss was intensified by the perception that playing Auld insulted Toronto. If I were coach I would try to avoid situations where a player’s morale — yes even a professional player’s morale — was subject to so potentially damaging an analysis of his selection. I was therefore delighted Auld got the call against legitimate playoff-spot rivals last night.

    Cheers

  2. Dunboyne Mike says:

    All makes sense PD, agree with all except that perhaps chemistry doesn’t always require time, cf the Wiz. But I am exactly with you on Eller. I wanted him thrown in the deep end, but reckon now it’s time — or nearly time — for him to develop on the farm.

    Cheers

  3. PeterD says:

    I really like Eller longer term…and I have been one of those here that didn’t want him going to Hamilton…

    BUT…at this pont in the season team wins are more important than individual learnings…we need both of course, but the team the we put on the ice now and into the post season needs to be one that has already learned from basic mistakes and been taught through benchings and press box time…what we need now is execution of the team’s system and commitment to stay the course and follow the game plan.

    Sending Eller to Hamilton now and trading for a strong established forward/center would solidify our forwards and bring more depth to the forward lines…doing it now would allow sufficient time for chemistry to be formed between any new skilled guy coming in.

    Gomez, Plekanec are our best centers…followed by Halpern who seems to be slipping a bit…still strong and good in a fourth line role…We should solidify Halpern in a strong 4th line role with other energy banging type guys…but we need a big skilled and capable 3rd line center right now and fill with Desharnais, Eller or even Boyd if we run into injuries…but not try to fill that cetner position on our 3rd line with inexperience no matter how much potential or long term up side they may have. 

    I say Pierre and company should go ahead and make a trade now for a strong big skilled center (rental or otherwise) for the stretch drive and next year make sure we have room in October to insert Eller and Desharnai at 3rd and 5th line center positions for the entire season.

  4. Wayne says:

    Nice wrap as usual, Mike. Thanks for your efforts. Nobody does this better than you.

  5. RJB says:

    I have a feeling that if we win tonight, you will just say that it really does not prove we are a playoff team and that we have to wait until the NEXT game to find out….Why tonight? Why not last night?

    “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
    – Bilbo Baggins

  6. RetroMikey says:

    By tonight we will see if we are worthy to be a playoff contender. 

    I still think we don;t have enough fuel to finish in 8th place with Carolina right behind us.

    Id we do, do we really think we have enough energy to go far in the playoffs?

     

    “We will win the Cup one day only with ? in the nets “

  7. HardHabits says:

    I said it before. The team needed to play Auld more often. Yes Price is chomping at the bit to play today. This is good. He’s hungry. Let him fly out of the gates come play-off time. As I stated the team started cheating with Price’s stellar play. It exposed him to a higher probability of error. Now the team is learning to win regardless of who is in nets. With that style of play and attitude, drop Price in the mix and the Habs go deep come play-off time.

    I would also like to point out the work that this coaching staff, notably Pearn and Groulx, did while in Florida.

    2008-2009 Season save percentage leaders:

    Rank, Name of Player, Team, Games played, Minutes played, Save percentage

    1 Tim Thomas BOS 54 1580 .933
    2 Tomas Vokoun FLA 59 1717 .926
    3 Craig Anderson FLA 31 903 .924

    I have full confidence in the system, that it would make Auld look good if and when he played.

    I also stated the team needed some come from behind wins but this is getting ridiculous. Here. I have a new suggestion. The team needs to have a few wins where they score first and never look back. Let them start scaring the crap out of opponents. The Habs can win if they don’t score first and they’ll throttle you if they do.

  8. oshawahabsfan says:

    Well put Mats. He should get some special teams time, considering how Martin raves about how responsible he is defensively, put him on the PK here and there, save some of Pleks energy for scoring, we sure as hell aren’t lighting it up on the scoresheet, how about some PP time. I can understand benching him if they had scored on the penalty he took as it was undisciplined, but they didn’t, in fact I don’t recall them even getting a good shot on it. There’s very mixed messages being sent to a player in this situation, espescially when similar mistakes by everyone else on the team go without punishment

  9. heartandgoal says:

    I loved AK46 with Moen and Halpern.  Other than the 2 consecutive spinoramas – the second of which resulted in a turnover – I saw him invoived, aggressively forechecking, and standing in Hank’s crease being obnoxious.

  10. HabsProf says:

    “Both stats are better than Carey Price’s. Let’s start a goaltending controversy.”

    I know you are kidding, but I do think Auld deserves a little more playing time.  And while Price insists he did not get tired or worn down recently, I don’t see why the Habs don’t give the Bald One a few more starts.  Its a long season and a (hopefully) long playoff run.

    Re: McDonagh “If he did anything noteworthy, I missed it.”

    What else do you want out of a young defenseman making his first start?  He did nothing noteworthy, but that counts both ways.  The big thing for rookies like Ryan is “Don’t screw up.”  He didn’t. 

    Good on Benny for a great game.  And good for Darche for his usual smart and hard-working game.  We sometimes scorn Maguire on TSN, but he made Darche his Monster, and I think it was well deserved.  By the way, replays clearly showed the first goal went off of Darche’s skate and in the net, so it should be his goal, not Spacek’s.  As of this posting, NHL.com still shows it as Spacek’s goal.

     

    _____________________________________

    They brought their f____ing toys with them!

  11. Jordio-oh says:

    I was going to correct you and point out that we’re actually 19th in the league in penalty minutes. But the i checked “times shorthanded” and noticed that we are 6th (and very close to 2nd).

    Which basically means we rarely fight and we rarely take misconducts. This isn’t news to anyone but its interesting that we have about 180 less pims than the ducks, but have been shorthanded as many times as them.

  12. Coach K says:

    Agreed on the bad penalty call.  If the ref closest to the play doesn’t call it then there must be a good reason.  The replay clearly showed that Eller did not use a “free hand” to haul him down.  Another blown call by a ref who is clearly too far out of position to make that call.  The league needs to address that kind of thing. Maybe instruct the back official to stuff his whistle if the guy who is actually in position doesn’t call the infraction.

    My other pet peeve is the one-handed hooking call – usually called by the back referee because again, he’s so far out of position that he can’t see what’s really going on – the “offended” player is usually grabbing the stick and tucking it under his arm.  Give me a break!  What determined, 200 pound, NHL calibre hockey player skating flat out can seriously be impeded by a single handed tug?  The only way that takes away a scoring chance is if the “offended” player dives or quits on the play. 

    And while I’m on an officiating rant… IMHO, all elbowing calls should be a 5 minute major for deliberately attemping to injure, particularly since they are always aimed at the head. There’s no such thing as an “excuse me” or accidental elbow (like you can have with a high stick for example).  Nobody ever recieves a penalty for elbowing somebody in the ribs.  Elbows, by their very nature are thrown at the head with intent to injure.  Just ask Crosby or any of Pronger’s many victims.

    Change of topic… is it me or does AK look to be very slow footed lately?  He struggled to skate with Moen for crying out loud! 

  13. DearyLeary says:

    I’m glad someone else is watching the same game that I am.  

  14. Mats Naslund says:

    I’m all for giving credit to the coach who’s defensive system allows us to eek out 1 goal wins such as this one. 

    But if he gets the credit for that – shouldn’t we also question his by-polar approach young players? Lars Eller goes from a 3 game vacation in the press-box to the top line (playing the wing as opposed to centre), and back to riding the pine within 6 minutes of game action?

    C’mon! Who was the genius that had him up there in the first place? If you’re going to ambush him with that kind of responsibility – the least you can do is give him a shot at redemption! The movie is old and tired. We’re one of the 2 most (haven’t seen the stats in a few days) penalized teams in the league! I can understand hating a guy taking a frustrating penalty – but if we benched everyone who took a dummy penalty we’d have no one left!

    If Eller is to be learning harsh lessons – he needs to do so in Hamilton away from the Montreal media who blow everything out of proportion (I remember when the Kostitsyn’s ruined the Montreal Canadiens by being gangsters). Eller is a kid with above average puck control skills, good speed and excellent vision. If those aren’t skills we need at the NHL level – then he needs to be in the AHL so that Martin can add another Darche to play on the top lines and miss 7 chances for every one that bounces in off of his skates. 

    I love the hustle – don’t get me wrong. But the BEST way to become a contender in the NHL is to take young cheap players and turn them into Claude Giroux’s, Logan Couture’s, James Neal’s etc. You simply won’t accomplish that without letting the kids make their mistakes. 

  15. DearyLeary says:

    Eller’s ‘penalty’ was a terrible call.  There was no grab, he was just trying to establish position and the little wuss of a Ranger fell down.  The referee closest to the play (the one with a view on where Eller’s hands would have been had he actually held on) didn’t call the penalty, the trailing ref called it when he couldn’t see jack squat.  He reacted to a player falling down, which results in Eller seeing no ice to speak of for the rest of the game.

    I understand that eventually you have to see results out of players, that you can’t just reward effort, but Eller has been coming along well, and to be punished for a bad call is poor coaching.  He showed effort there, and after not even getting one period of game time to get used to a new line he was stapled to the pine.  It sends mixed messages, he did the right thing, and the ref made a bad call.

    I fail to see how he’s going to learn anything, or get better, if he’s not allowed to play.  A demotion to Hamilton, and it would be a demotion considering his de facto replacement would be Desharnais (who has yet to impress me in an NHL game) would be crushing.  

    For all the positives that he’s shown, he’s received no positive reinforcement, just a scornful look from the coach and a healthy dose of Bell Center hot dogs.  If we’re rewarding production above habits, then it’s no wonder we’ve been so inconsistent.

  16. JF says:

    Only saw the second half of the game, so I missed the part where the Rangers were all over us.  I liked the intensity, the aggression, the tight forecheck, and I thought Pouliot and Darche were our most effective pair. Pierre Ladouceur suggests that Darche acts as a mentor to Pouliot and pushes him to keep up the intensity, and I think we saw this last night.  Without both players going hard to the net, Spacek’s goal probably would not have happened.  Pouliot has been excellent the last three games and could be part of the answer to our scoring woes if he continues this way.

    As for Eller, a short stint in Hamilton might help him gain confidence and eliminate some of the errors from his game.  He has the speed, the smarts, and the strength to play in the NHL, but right now it’s not working for him. I don’t think JM is “ruining” him, I just think he’s not quite at the point where he can play well and with confidence shift after shift.

    Auld was excellent and in fact has only played one bad period in the five games he’s started, quite an achievement considering how far apart his starts are.  It can’t be easy to keep your focus and be ready when you’re playing at most one game a fortnight.  I hope he gets a few more starts in the second half of the season to keep Price sharp and well-rested.

    The team I’m really afraid will catch us is Carolina.  They keep winning, and the last couple of years they’ve been a great second-half team.  I’m hoping the Thrashers will wilt more than they’ve been doing, because I can’t see us continuing to win these one-goal games at the rate we’ll need to to stay in the race.  We need more goals!  I’m hoping Cammalleri’s couple of games off will light him up.


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