Are your Montreal Canadiens all the way back after their late-season near-death experience?
Too early to tell, but we should have the answer by about 10 o’clock Wednesday night.
The team is in Carolina for its final back-to-back game of this long season.
And this one is a doozy, because the Hurricanes refuse to die.
Their shootout win over Washington last night means beating the Canadiens would draw Carolina closer to a playoff spot – and prevent the Canadiens from virtually sewing up a postseason berth.
So we’ll have to wait … and please, don’t let the mystery last until that April 9 dance at the ACC.
No one’s nerves could take it.
Fortunately, there were signs at the Bell Centre that the ship is beginning to right itself.
Scott Gomez played an outstanding game, and his line was bolstered by the addition of Mathieu Darche.
Tomas Plekanec looked fast and determined, rather than a step slow and tentative, which he had been since returning from injury.
Andrei Kostitsyn was a beast, with six hits – albeit with some shaky defensive play.
The defence still has issues. Hal Gill, Paul Mara, Brent Sopel and, to a lesser extent, Goal-of-the-Year scorer Roman Hamrlik are slow, and making a clean, crisp first pass is a challenge for them.
Atlanta repeatedly made cross-ice dump-ins to the right side of the Canadiens’ D – a curious strategy because it put the puck on the sticks of the two most mobile Dmen, P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski. P.K.’s ability to move the puck efficiently or skate it out are proven commodities, but I was particularly impressed by the Wiz’s grace under fire: smart plays and many excellent first passes.
It helped that the system was in gear last night. Forwards were coming back deep to help, and zone clearances were more efficient than what we’d seen during the slump.
You’d still like to see more offence. The Canadiens scored twice in 11 seconds and AK46 bagged an empty-netter. In between, there was too much perimeter play, too many blown opportunities.
The power play took another 0-for. The PP has not scored in its last 14 chances.
Know who scored the last man-advantage goal?
P.K. Subban, the second goal of his Minnesota hat trick. Since that night, P.K. has seen minimal power-play duty, and I can’t understand it.
With the Tomas Plekanec point experiment consigned to history, the first-wave point pairing against Atlanta was Wiz and Hamrlik, each of whom logged almost six minutes on the PP. Subban and Paul Mara, the second-wave pairing, had 1:53.
I know it’s desirable to have a LH/RH combination at the point. And Jacques Martin may draw comfort from having Hamrlik’s experience out there.
There’s also the possibility the coach likes Subban rested so he can go with his top pairing, P.K. and Hal Gill, coming out of the PP, when you often see a pushback shift from the team that was penalized.
But isn’t there something to be said for going with your best? Wiz has the shot, P.K. has the creativity we used to see from Andrei Markov on the PP.
Put them together, Jacques, and ride them for as long as they can be used during man advantages.
That’s it for my coaching tips.
Contrary to what Georges Laraque has been saying – who in their right mind listens to that phony? – Martin knows what he’s doing and, on the evidence of last night’s must-win play, has the confidence of a united room.
Oh, and he also has a pretty good goaltender.
Carey Price was brilliant again last night: 27 stops, and many were tough – notably stops on Dustin Byfuglien, Eric Boulton and Blake Wheeler when the game was still scoreless.
Had Carolina lost last night, we might be seeing Alex Auld against the Hurricanes. That didn’t happen, so Price will be back for his 67th start of the season.
Can ward, the guy at the other end of the ice, will be making his 68th start.
Should be a good one.
• • •
One of Scott Gomez’s assets in the room is his good relationship with the Canadiens’ younger players.
They usually listen to his wise counsel, but Gomez joked last night about at least once instance of incredulity:
“Davey (Desharnais) can’t believe I once scored 333 goals.”
• • •
The Canadiens took their 14th Too Many Men minor last night.
At least they lead the league in something.
But for the first time since Minnesota, the Canadiens took fewer minors than their opponents.
• • •
Guest Comment from Hard Habits:
The Habs can thank Carey Price for making those big saves early and throughout the game that kept the Habs in it.
2 goals in 11 seconds and an empty netter isn’t a scoring explosion unless your name is Count Systemula. But that’s all that was needed in view of Price’s brilliance.
Guess who lead the forwards in ice time?
S. Gomez 18:17
M. Cammalleri 19:27
T. Plekanec 19:44
B. Gionta 21:03
That’s exactly the kind of numbers that got the Habs to the ECF’s in the play-offs last season. Looks like Martin is going to live or die by the sword-stem.
Albert Einstein said Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So am I to assume that JM is a Genius of Einsteinian proportions because he is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results?
Taking a closer look at Pouliot, who has all the tools but lacks all the confidence, and a training regime, had the least amount of ice time (8:14) of the forwards but was an awesome 0-0-0 +/-0 for another inconsequential evening, but hey, he didn’t take any stupid penalties.
Gomez in his defence, which is painful to do, played a good game until he started chirping away again but in the final analysis it’s better that other teams focus their frustrations on him rather than any of the Habs’ young stars like PK, Eller and Price. One good thing is late in the game with 3 minutes left to play in the offensive zone when the Gomez line was battling for the puck and Atlanta started to slowly get repossession of it, even though Gomez eventually coughed it up, at least he didn’t take one of Saku Koivu’s patented late game offensive zone hooking calls.
J. Wisniewski 24:24 and R. Hamrlik 23:33 had the most ice time for D men as the new top pairing and were both +1. Mara 16:10 who had the least amount of ice time amongst defense men, believe it or not was a +2.
What does this say? Typical JM hockey. The system. We hate it when it loses and we begrudgingly accept it when it wins. Please. Everybody raise your hands who says they love it. I thought so. The rest of you are in denial.