I knew the Montreal-Washington game wouldn't be pretty but I really had hope going into those last thirty seconds of regulation time.
The first period wasn't that bad, but Carey Price didn't have much of a first period really, missing out on two goals he should have stopped and I feel he would have under other circumstances. If this wasn't his eigth straight start of the season, with two sets of back-to-back games on his recent record plus his 53-save performance in Nashville. This is only his third NHL season and since his second one was the requisite sophomore slump all goalies seem to go through these days (see Steve Mason in Columbus!) it's only really his second in some ways as Carey Price, The Franchise. The first period was marred by the fact that Montreal again, doesn't have nearly enough NHL-calibre forwards to take on their opponents, kids like White, Pyatt and Pacioretty have all the heart but they haven't developed enough skills to score and handle the puck to make scoring chances happen in these games. Montreal's cardiac moments in the defensive zone led up to the goals, a weak deflection by Eric Fehr to make it 1-0 to beat Carey Price on something he should have stopped with his blocker, albeit Ryan O'Byrne wasn't that helpful on the play. Alexander Ovechkin would then notch his 18th goal of the season on a slapshot from the point, beating Price blocker side once more. Things did not look good as the period ended, Price had allowed two goals he probably should have had and while Montreal had outshot Washington 7-4, 2 of those Washington shots were on the scoreboard.
The second period saw the team come around and take the game right against the Capitals right after Price stoned Ovechkin when Ovechkin outmuscled Spacek for the puck alongside the boards and went straight in on a breakaway. I can only imagine how Jacques Martin must have felt about one of his players trying outmuscle a guy who at last count, weighed 237 pounds and was known for hitting like a battering ram when he was 20 pounds lighter. Montreal would first convert on a power-play when Washington rookie Jay Beagle was caught tripping and Jaroslav Spacek would release a slap shot from the point that would bring the game to 2-1 and help charge up the offensive drive of Montreal. There were several scoring chances that Montreal would fail to convert on later, but this owed to some brilliant netminding by Washington rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov as well. Varlamov is extremely difficult to beat down low, he always seems to find a way to get a leg pad or his stick in the way of any shot that comes low or someone attempts to force in. It was just over eight minutes later that the top line of Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Sergei Kostitsyn would create a scoring chance that allowed Plekanec to sneak a rebound from a Roman Hamrlik shot through Varlamov's 5-hole to tie the game. I should also take the time to mention that Hamrlik is continuing to impress me with each game he plays, this is his best season with Montreal yet by far. Montreal would continue to generate offence through the second, but the game stayed a tie, Montreal still held their shot advantage, 16-11 by the end of the second period.
The third period was a tightly contested game, Montreal would grab a 3rd goal when after drawing one penalty and then another on their power play, they enjoyed a 1:17 of 5-on-3 advantage, but getting too fancy and trying for a very peculiar sharp-angle shot saw the 5-on-3 end. The power play unit was not unsuccessful though, theyl managed to convert with 27 seconds left in the second penalty when they brute-forced the third goal by feeding PP specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron on the point multiple times, who let loose a series of successive shots until a Travis Moen redirection on his final shot slipped past Varlamov's glove side, giving Montreal their first lead in the game. Montreal played a strong defensive game for the rest of the third period, but Washington is a very persistent offensive force and with time winding down in the third period, Varlamov was pulled for a 6th attacker and Washington took over. Montreal lost a series of faceoffs and a mad scramble around the net saw Paul Mara caught for high-sticking on a rather bad crease-clearing attempt. With 15 seconds left on the clock, Washington had a 6-on-4 advantage, a faceoff win led to another Alex Ovechkin slapshot which Price stopped, but Eric Fehr tucked the rebound in to tie the game with 12 seconds remaining. Price wasn't good on the goal, but the penalty was what killed it, unnecessary and it prevented coverage that could have prevented Fehr from getting his hands on the puck. When a goalie's not having a good night, the defence needs to give him more help than usual, just as a goalie must step up and save his team now and then.
The overtime led to some scoring chances on either side, the 4-on-4 setup does very much favour the speed-based play of Montreal's forwards, but when half of their Top 6 is out of the lineup, it's rather worrisome since Plekanec-Cammalleri is your only truly reliable forward pair. Washington's also known for their offence but neither side got anything done, so the shootout was next.
Again, the injury situation killed Montreal on this. Of the three regular shooters they had to win their first three shootouts in Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri, only Cammalleri was available tonight. Lapierre and Plekanec were selected as second and third shooters. Cammalleri's a sniper and his shootout move was just a quick shot that Varlamov turned aside. Price stoned Tomas Fleischmann when he tried to get fancy and then it went to Lapierre. I really like Lapierre in the shootout, but he's been shaky this season and he's not up to 100% yet I find, his shot missed the net. Price beat Ovechkin when he tried a rush with a last-second shot, but he ran out of room as Price contained his shooting zone. I'm still not sure why we have Plekanec on shootouts, he's 1 for 13 now in his career and he didn't exactly do anything Datsyukian, it was a bad attempt and Montreal failed in three tries, Nicklas Backstrom for Washington didn't miss, snapping a quick shot over Price's blocker side, he was beat there three times on the night, none of them good.
Post-Game Thoughts: Montreal salvaged an OT point while playing without a number of key players, but when you think about how the night went, it's not that bad while Montreal fields so many rookies and patch-in replacements for the regular roster.
Offence: There is only one scoring line right now in truth, Plekanec, Cammalleri and Sergei Kostitsyn, they created the most offensive chances and they will continue to do so until Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta return from injury. Glen Metropolit, Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty do an admirable job working as hard as they can on the 2nd line, but they're not scorers, they're grinders and Pacioretty is a rookie power forward with 60 NHL games under his belt, 6 goals and 14 assists to go with them. Lapierre's starting to pick up his game more, but he'll need to keep playing every game harder as that is how he improved last season, by working as hard as he could every game. Pyatt and White are good linemates for Max when it comes to checking line work, but they're too slow with their reactions to create effective scoring chances in NHL games, they need more time in Hamilton. Chipchura, I don't care what people say about his heart, he doesn't have the legs for the NHL, his slow speed is irritating for a youngster who doesn't possess the muscle or stick skills to be an effective NHL forward from seeing him last season and this one. J.T. Wyman is the definition of a call-up forward and showed it, Jay Leach was the definition of a plug-in replacement, a defencemen put on forward because of the injury situation.
Defence: Hamrlik and Spacek are champions for this team right now, without them it would have been a slaughterhouse with Ovechkin going into his next game with a hat trick, they continually broke up his control of the puck and offensive zone chances, shot-blocking and doing everything humanly possible to keep him from getting a scoring chance. Ryan O'Byrne, outside his mistake on the Fehr deflection goal did good things all night long, he blocked shots, broke up plays and gave out some big checks to go with his performance that including drawing the initial penalty that led to the Montreal 5-on-3 opportunity. Josh Gorges had another quiet, but productive night that saw him make very few mistakes and make a number of good moves, just the kind of guy you like to have on a team when it comes to your lower-tier defencemen. Marc-Andre Bergeron is continuing to improve in his own end, he seems to have trouble handling the puck in his own end at times but his bombardment of the net during the power play led to Montreal's 3rd goal and he did make several smart defensive plays through the night. Paul Mara's on my list though and that's not a good list to be on, he made a foolish crease-clearing move that led to the Washington power play, which led to the 3rd goal and cost Montreal the win. Price wasn't good on the rebound goal, but Mara made the situation happen at the same time so the blame has to be cast on to him as well. Mara's career as a minus player is starting to tell, I remember him failing to break up the play when Patrick Kane set up the game-winning goal when Montreal played Chicago, his screening Carey Price when Sidney Crosby scored the first goal in Wednesday's Pittsburgh game, I can't remember the specific incidents right now, but there's at least two more situations like that were Mara has forgotten to manage the basics of his position in a close game and it's led to a goal that cost Montreal.
Goaltending: Carey Price needs a rest, he's been a great goalie over the last eight games but his goals allowed tonight were not particularly good and while he made brilliant saves several times to rob Washington of goals and keep Montreal in the game, I get the feeling three games ago, this would have been a shutout for him. There's no shame in it, he played eight games in a row and as I mentioned above, four of those were a set of back-to-back performances and his 53-save game in Nashville, all goaltenders need a rest now and then. Calgary hasn't figured that out yet though, which is why I don't see Kiprusoff in Calgary leading his team to any Stanley Cup Finals while he's playing 70+ games per regular season. Jaroslav Halak is a good backup goaltender and he's more than capable of taking the next series of starts provided he plays a good game and gives Montreal the chance to win provided they score 3 goals or more a game, which is a key to victory as we can't expect our goaltenders in Montreal to post shutouts or a 1.00 GAA to the team to win off 1 or 2 goals a game. Let Halak get his feet wet and take a few games for the team if they can score enough to say they earned the wins, Price can take some time off, refocus and have that blocker side ready for the next time that tries to beat him by going to that side.
Three Canadiens Stars
- Roman Hamrlik, his blue-line work was dominant and kept Montreal in the game.
- Tomas Plekanec, he scored a goal to tie the match and helped set up a number of scoring chances that could have put the game out of Washington's reach.
- Marc-Andre Bergeron, he played his best game yet for Montreal, managing both great offence and his best defensive game yet.
Recognition of Ex-Habs tonight:
- Alex Tanguay assisted on the game-tying goal by Tampa Bay to force an Overtime the team would lose, but they gained 1 point thanks to his work.
- Guillaume Latendresse scored the game-tying goal for Minnesota in the 3rd period of the Colorado-Minnesota game, he must have figured out he might have to play hockey to keep his job there.