Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To Hell With Pittsburgh, They beat an AHL Team Tonight

The Montreal Bulldogs played the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight and lost 3-1, it could probably have something to do with the matchup of the Top 6 and the Defence.

Penguin's Top 6:

Sidney Crosby - 420 P in 314 GP, 25 P this season
Evgeni Malin - 325 P in 259 GP, 22 P this season
Bill Guerin - 825 P in 1209 GP, 15 P this season

Actually I'll stop right there, those three guys have more points this season so far, than the combined totals of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnis, Travis Moen, Glen Metropolit, J.T. Wyman, Kyle Chipchura, Ryan White, Tom Pyatt, Maxim Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn have this season, I'll even toss in the recently departed Gui Latendresse's points on to that total. Only Ryan White among the core of Wyman, Pyatt, Desharnis and Kyle Chipchura has registered points this season, he has two assists. Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri were the only high-scoring forwards left in the lot and these two were pretty much out of gas from the game against Colombus the night before, Cammalleri was clearly running on fumes by the 3rd period after all his double-shifting.

The Penguins had all their top forwards in action basically, Montreal had 2 solid Top 6 forwards who had been with them all season in Cammalleri and Plekanec. The Ad Hoc line of Metropolit, Moen and Max Pacioretty was brought together to try and fill in for the loss of Gomez, Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn to start the match which is not exactly an equivalent replacement, no matter how hard the Triple M line works. At first, Sergei Kostitsyn served on the top line in place of his brother, his assignment changed during the game a couple of times however. Sergei had a little trouble handling his stick on some plays and reports of a twisted ankle would indicate he probably wasn't at 100%, so props to little Kostitsyn for competing anyway. His slick drop-pass to Max Pacioretty proved there is definitely a sharp player wearing No. 74 and Pacioretty's shot did not miss either, very nice bright spot on the night. Metropolit had a couple of opportunities, but he didn't quite cash in on them, however he is a career checking line guy, not Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen or Mike Knuble who live for the dirty goals and based their careers on it, he played a strong game otherwise.

The Defence:

Montreal is missing their All-Star MVP in Andrei Markov, a team that until this season, couldn't even win a 3rd of their games if Markov was out of the lineup. Hal Gill is out, not many people's favourite player, but let him play 3rd-pairing Defence and keep his minutes managed and you'll see why he's on the roster, solid positional player with great shot-blocking instinct. Jaroslav Spacek was out, the player meant to be our second-best puck-mover and had formed the shutdown pair with Hamrlik that had contained top scorers like Alex Ovechkin and kept a few games much closer than they might have been.

The finest Russian defencemen in the NHL, his likely partner had he played through the season and a shot-blocking PK man all out while the team worked with patchwork replacements, including Jay Leach, a journeyman defencemen picked off waivers from New Jersey and Marc-Andre Bergeron, who went unsigned on July 1st and was signed for 750,000$ after Markov was injured and the team's PP was anemic. His defensive zone play explains his salary compared to what Markov earns. I was pleased with Ryan O'Byrne and was heartbroken when he failed to cash in the SH goal against Fleury. Josh Gorges, Roman Hamrlik and even Bergeron himself all played solid games, but these guys were outclassed by an offence when they were missing 2 key cogs in the machine and a reliable big-body man who could've prevented Guerin from walking into the crease to poke his goal through.


Goal no. 1, Price got screwed by Mara, again. I like what Mara does sometimes, but his momentary lapses when he should have blocked a pass or been quicker to get out of the way or simply shot-block make me pretty angry at times. Goal no. 2, Price might have been able to secure that puck better, but at the same time Guerin had a free pass into the goalie crease to jam that puck in. 3rd goal not that good really but considering he's stolen the team 7 games this season I'll let it go.

The Officating: A joke, hitting from behind and tripping are not considered penalties when committed against the Montreal Canadiens. Hamrlik didn't trip that guy either, he was just clumsy, if tripping occured every time a guy's skates were tapped with a stick the entire game would be an endless series of 4-on-3 or 3-on-3 matches.

In Perspective: Montreal had a good game against a team that by all accounts, should have walked all over them and left them in a 7-1 bombing that left the team without heart or hope. They didn't though, Montreal fought hard through 60 minutes, many key players taking on many more minutes than they usually do and fighting hard for every chance they could get. The rookies simply weren't up to the level of beating NHL-level defence and goaltending, they didn't have the time they would have in lower leagues to cash in on goals and get second chances, not a knock against these hard-working kids, more a notice that they should be polishing their game in the AHL while actual NHL forwards are in their place on the big club.

Montreal has nothing to be ashamed of for the night based on what they had and the Penguins have nothing to be proud of, a couple of good bounces, a proper shot-block by Mara, Price being quicker on Gonchar and that game would have gone the other way. Had the team been boasting Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, the offence would have easily cashed in on scoring opportunities the kids just weren't up to making. I won't even mention how much I think the night would have gone in Montreal's favour if Markov and Spacek were healthy.

My Three Stars for the Canadiens:
- Tomas Plekanec, he didn't seem to lack too much energy even playing back to back and his shorthanded rush nearly made the game 3-2 when helped set up O'Byrne's chance.
- Carey Price, he made a mistake on Gonchar, but it could have been 7-1 had he not been sharp on some of those point-blank shots.
- Sergei Kostitsyn, a shaky start, but some smart defensive plays later on and set up the Pacioretty goal beautifully, especially since he seemed to have tweaked his ankle during the Colombus match. He is a real top 6 forward and when brother Andrei, unofficial Captain Gionta and Scott Gomez return, Montreal can roll out a top 6 grouping against the opposition.

Bastard of the Game: Mike Rupp, checking from behind is not a penalty against a Canadiens player once again. Hopefully in the next MTL-PIT game, O'Byrne gives him what he gave Kaleta in the pre-season.

1 comment:

  1. Robert, your passion for the game is motivating me to start following it again a bit more intensely. I've been paying too much mind to the NFL in recent years and I think I've lost a bit of love for the game (as many fans did) in wake of the Lockout.

    Your writing's very candid from the viewpoint of a passionate sports fan, it's refreshing to read. Unfortunate that Montreal's in such shambles, wearing down the good forwards you have will only be detrimental later on down the road... hopefully they can rebound from this.


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