Thursday, December 3, 2009

Montreal-Buffalo, The League's running a memo on Montreal's D...

All it reads is "Montreal can't handle a rebound in front of the net, just crowd it and you will get goals". That's how Goals 2, 3, 4 occurred, Goal 5 came off of a huge screen, Goal 6 a defensive breakdown and No. 1 was Halak's trademark weakness, rebound control.

The First Period: Unmitigated disaster, Halak's rebound control problems emerge and goal #1 comes off his not handling the initial shot, then his teammates failing to clear. Goals 2 and 3 come off of the team's inability to make a rebound, Halak makes the initial save, but again the rebound kills the team, Buffalo's up 3-0 by the end with a 15-3 shot advantage. The team had about two minutes of good offensive pressure total, even our top centre through most of the season, Tomas Plekanec had a tough time getting anything going. Scott Gomez played with a bit more jump in his game than his first game back fortunately. Referees left the game wide open, both teams had one blatant penalty that should have been called, but quiet generally.

The Second Period: Didn't get much better, defensive miscues around the net give Buffalo their 4th on the night. At this point in the game, the patience of the Refs was tested a lot more, Buffalo got away with three pretty blatant tripping minors, Ryan O'Byrne got caught giving a bear hug to a Buffalo player to give Buffalo the first PP of the game, Montreal played their best hockey of the game in those two minutes really, following that, a neutral zone play gave Montreal a spark of hope. A breakout play by Sergei Kostitsyn started in the neutral zone with Gomez with him, Sergei fed a pass to Gomez who steadied it on his stick to give Montreal their first goal of the game. Sergei's ability to be a set-up man was evidenced once more as they scored with just over 3 minutes left in the period. Things had a tinge of hope and Montreal avoided playing five entire periods of NHL hockey with no goals. Montreal managed five shots on net that period, Buffalo got another 14.

The Third Period: The refs were garbage, absolute 100%, knuckle-dragging, Milbury-ite jerks who handed Buffalo the period, Montreal's players were tripped at least a half-dozen times during the period and denied them vital PPs that would have allowed a comeback. Montreal got one power play off a holding penalty and got close, although I imagine they would have gotten a lot closer had they recieved the PP opportunities Buffalo would have recieved had the situations been reversed I imagine. They would press on offensively and a great rushing play by the Lapierre line, with a shot by Lapierre then the rebound picked up by a streaking Gorges would make the game 4-2, granted there were less than nine minutes left but Montreal had been managing the offence for nearly the entire period, they had twice almost collected shorthanded goals on the Tom Pyatt penalty that was taken earlier in the period, Sergei gave Gomez a chance to get his 2nd of the game, but Gomez shot high, showing he's got a lot to work on when it comes to shooting. Buffalo would then exploit the Montreal D-zone vulnerabilities, a screen prevented Halak from seeing the 5th goal, a slapshot from the point and the 6th came from a neutral zone giveaway that set up a classic two-on-one breakaway that couldn't have been set up better in a team practice for Buffalo. Halak is good, but his first start in 10 games and he doesn't have Price's brilliance for that astounding save, he'll battle to make saves but he doesn't have that extra level I see in Price's game. Montreal would have fifteen shots on net in the third period, after managing a mere eight in the previous two periods, leaving them 23-37 against Buffalo's final shot total.

Thoughts: Buffalo would have won 9-2 had some of their players connected better on some of te near-goals against Montreal. The team is missing Gionta badly, he was often the one that sparked the team to come back after bad periods, scoring or assisting on that goal that helped turn things around or talked the locker room up to get them going. Mike Cammalleri gives a good interview and seems to be a good team guy, but is not that strong of a leader I believe and his status as a streaky scorer (His 39 goals came in 29 games last season) means he's less able to score the opportunistic goal and get the team going. Gionta's excellent work ethic and relentless play with Montreal this season gives a better on-ice leadership example than Cammalleri too. The Defence needs to work on clearing the rebound, or Montreal is doomed for the next while because the opposition is pressing around the net and getting far too many opportunistic goals with pressure around the goal crease.

Offence: Sergei Kostitsyn shows why he should be wearing the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, he set up the Gomez goal and nearly gave Gomez a shorthanded marker during the Pyatt penalty. Top line work for him for now, the people who can use his brilliant offensive zone passes do not have names ending in Pyatt, White or Moen for that matter. Max Pacioretty, he's got to strap that helmet of his own tighter, it came off twice during the game and the kid's going to get hurt one of these days playing like that, he made some good moves tonight and is improving. Cammalleri seems to have lost his scoring touch for the moment, I'm sure it will be back but that's the nature of Cammalleri, he is a streaky goal scorer. Tomas Plekanec didn't play well until the third, on the whole, Gomez was a much better forward than he was tonight. Andrei Kostitsyn, he keeps making the right moves, nearly dangled himself to a goal at least twice but couldn't quite finish it off. Nice offensive zone work, but his inability along with the rest of his line to prevent goals didn't help him. Moen, Metropolit make all the right moves generally, but they're low-scoring checking forwards and shouldn't be counted on for more than the odd goal now and then, this team needs them for regular scoring they're in more trouble than they thought. Pyatt and White are good kids, but they don't have the stickhandling ability to handle a puck and release a shot in an NHL-pace game right now for any kind of reliable scoring. Mad Max? A pleasure to watch in action towards the end of the game, his shot set up the Gorges rebound goal and he even played PK minutes, he's getting himself back together.

Defence: O'Byrne is a godsend to return, he's the only truly reliable big-body D, but his inexperience showed when his drop to prevent the cross-crease pass for the Buffalo goal did nothing, he'd have been better off covering the man who came in to put the puck in the net. Bergeron made some mistakes, but his offensive zone assistance was a major help. Hamrlik and Spacek worked their asses off, but they've been doing that nonstop since the season started and it's already cutting into their performance at times. Gorges was a champ and got the 2nd goal, which gave the team the spirit to keep trying for more goals and maybe tie it up and push it to overtime, he made good defensive plays and kept it from getting worse. Mara was a good guy to teach that little bastard Kaleta a lesson, but it would've been much more welcome towards the start of the game, get the team fired up then, rather than the dying minutes of a lost game. Mara had a better night tonight, but not that good considering the score, his D-zone coverage makes me shake my head at times, he forgets the basics too much.

Goaltending: Not going to dump on Halak, he should have controlled the rebound better on the 1st goal, but the other 5 were much more on the team than he was, he hadn't been in nets since November 10th and it showed as well, he would have had to make at least 4 game-changing saves to deliver this for Montreal and he didn't have it in him.

Ex-Habs Recognition:
- Saku Koivu scored the opening goal of the Anaheim-Dallas Game, but they lost 3-1 off of two bad goals and an EN shot.
- Komisarek managed to not be a boat anchor for Toronto since he returned from injury, he might have learned to finally stop overplaying his position and trying to be Chris Pronger.
- Gui Latendresse has 2 goals and 1 assist since being traded to the Wild, although I doubt his streak will last, he rarely finds the inspiration to play well for very long.

Washington Capitals Report:

They've actually done well this season when Ovechkin has been injured or away (currently on a two-game suspension, which is just as well since he hurt his knee in the Gleason incident), which is good but at the same time the moment he's back they seem to step back and wait for him to deliver each game for them, they need to keep up their efforts more often when Ovechkin is playing. Recently returned sniper Alex Semin had a 4-point night, 2 goals, 2 assists on his first game back from having wrist problems for the Capitals, his wrist seems to be working fine now to deliver a 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

Special Note: Semyon Varlamov is a brilliant goalie when it comes to low shots and goalmouth jamming, he's been notably a bit weak on his glove side at times but teams that rely upon dirty goals don't get much with him at all. He gets his glove in strong condition, the Capitals could win a Cup with him.

Chicago Blackhawks Report:

Toews, Kane and Keith were all signed to long-term deals, 6.3 million for five years was given to Toews and Kane each, Keith signed a longer deal, 72 million over 13 years with the team with a no-trade clause attached. The talk now is that Chicago must deal away something immediately to be cap-compliant, as teams must have a salary cap situation that is within bounds for the following season, not just the current one. Brent Sopel and Thomas Kopecky are two players on the team with low salaries that can moved to cover this, I expect an exchange for a pick or prospect to solidify Chicago's future.

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