I normally don't criticize officiating too much, but tonight was a pretty sad event.
Montreal had lost their first game of the six they will take against their division rival Ottawa this season, but this is a new century for the Habs team and a much more competitive, coordinated squad than the one that Ottawa faced in October.
The Roster: Some juggling involved, Matt D'Agostini was scratched, Tom Pyatt and Ryan White were back in to the lineup and Bergeron took over on Defence, with the upper-body injury to Mara. To start the match, Pyatt would take D'Agostini's place on the 2nd line with Gomez and SK74, White would suit up with Lapierre/Laraque to start the match, but that wouldn't last, but more later. Jaroslav Halak would get the call to start in nets, allowing Price, who had started in nets so often you sometimes wondered who the guy sitting on the end of the bench was.
The Opponent: Ottawa was having a better season than Montreal so far and hold two games in hand against Montreal although tonight's win would draw the team even in points if Montreal won. However, they had a scoring defiency in their elite players, high-flying Jason Spezza has only 3 goals this season, Alex Kovalev has 4, Cheechoo 3 as well. Mike Fischer had been putting up impressive numbers compared to last season, but he's been a lone bright spot. Ottawa backup goalie Brian Elliot had not been dominant as a goalie and Ottawa's D has been questionable for years. Factor in only 1 win in their last five games, the Senators looked good for a team to pounce on.
The First Period: Montreal would continue their trend of being outshot in the first period, which would have been trouble had Jaroslav Halak not shaken off the rust.
A period that would be dominated by Ottawa's offence, no penalties were drawn by either side in the game, Montreal would have few offensive chances, while Halak kept the Senators off the score sheet with some good saves, albeit his rebound control continues to be frustating at times.
Late in the 3rd, a Tomas Plekanec play that would see him steal the puck and race through the neutral zone, a deft play that would force Ottawa netminder to commit to him, then a quick saucer pass to Mike Cammalleri to slip a puck in and put Montreal up 1-0.
Jaroslav Spacek would take a puck off the side of his knee and left the ice limping, he would not return to the game. Ryan White also had to leave the game, apparently a miscommunication between the Canadiens organization and the League about bringing White up and putting him back on the Montreal roster, seems someone screwed up down the line. Montreal would be at 16 skaters to start the 2nd period.
The period would end 1-0, Montreal would be outshot 13-5 by the Senators during the first period.
The Second Period: The start of the officiating showing that they had money on Ottawa winning the game.
Mike Fisher would collect a goal, after blown defensive coverage in front of the Montreal net left him open with a sprawling Jaroslav Halak in front of him to lift the puck high and tie the match. Ottawa would soon get many chances to take the lead in the match.
George Laraque would get caught on the first penalty and it was a fair call, Laraque was an idiot and he was trying to give Kovalev a bear hug apparently on the play. Montreal's penalty kill unit went to work once more, Halak would make the right stops and Montreal would limit their opportunities.
Four minutes later, Travis Moen would violate the little-known Wearing the Montreal Canadiens Sweater Rule, which has been a common penalty for Montreal to take this season. A key penalty kill member was off the ice, but Montreal's PK unit, working with Jaroslav Halak would deny any glory to the Ottawa PP unit, including a heroic unit during the Moen penalty that held for over a minute with no change. Moen would be slipped the puck when he got out of the box and would make a breakaway attempt, but chasing Ottawa Ds would tackle him down in front of the net, which looked like an interference penalty from where I sat.
After several ignored infractions by the Senators, Ottawa's Erik Carlsson would be cited for an interference penalty, giving Montreal their first power play of the game. With a pass from Roman Hamrlik, Marc-Andre Bergeron would release another one of his lasers from the point, an Ottawa stick would deflect the puck down to knuckle through the Ottawa goalie's 5-hole, Tomas Plekanec would also collect an assist on the play, his 2nd on the night. Montreal takes a 2-1 lead in the game.
Not long after the goal, Hal Gill would get caught on a tripping penalty, another key Montreal penalty killer off the ice, but Montreal would not give an inch. Saves by Halak, shot-blocks and keeping the shots to the outside, Ottawa's PP unit continued to be rather unimpressive for the most part.
Ryan O'Byrne would get caught next, because as he discovered, backchecking and playing your position is also a penalty when you play for Montreal, but another strong penalty kill and strong saves by Jaroslav Halak would keep the score 2-1 for Montreal while the clock winded down on the period, leaving about 25 seconds left in the O'Byrne penalty for the start of the 3rd period. Montreal would have 13 shots this period, but Ottawa now held a 31-18 shot advantage.
The Third Period:
Ottawa came out with a power play, but it ended quickly and Montreal didn't allow any chances as back-and-forth offence continued.
More Ottawa infractions that went unnoticed, but Bergeron and Gill were caught about five minutes apart one apparent penalties that were questionable at best, Montreal's penalty killers had to go to work once more, again missing one of their best PK men in Gill on his 2nd penalty on the night, but the hard work of the PK unit and Halak eliminated both chances for Ottawa.
Former Hab Alex Kovalev, near toward the end of the Gill penalty would get caught for a slashing penalty on Bergeron's stick, but Montreal was held off during their power play after brief 4-on-4 action and would collect no goal.
Max Pacioretty would then get caught for a tripping penalty, again after Ottawa penalties were ignored, which would lead to one last Ottawa power play, a heroic PK unit would do all they needed and Jaroslav Halak would do all he needed to do.
A foolish, boneheaded Too Many Men penalty would sink Ottawa's hopes of closing the gap, with six Ottawa skaters clearly on the ice and the goalie in nets with just less than 3 minutes left. Montreal would take their third power play of the game and seal the deal.
A Marc-Andre Bergeron end-to-end rush which produced a shot and rebound off of Ottawa goalie Elliott, Andrei Kostitsyn would pounce on it and put it in the back of the net to give Montreal a 3-1 lead. Tomas Plekanec would get his 3rd assist of the night and restore himself to point-per-game numbers for his season.
Just over a minute later, an aggressive Scott Gomez forecheck would give him the puck and after a weak shot bounced off the goalpost, Gomez would force his way in to tap in an empty-net goal as Ottawa had pulled their goalie for a 6th attacker with a minute and a half left.
Montreal would pick up their 3rd straight win, after being outshot 47-26 over three periods, however quality of the shots ruled the day and superb penalty killing and goaltending lifted Montreal over a division rival for two key points in the standings.
The Offence: Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn continue to be Montreal's best line, offensive creativity, speed and smooth stickhandling that challenges any line that goes up against them. 27 goals so far between the three with 17 by Cammalleri, but you can tell a lot more are going to be generated pretty soon.
Gomez/Pyatt/Sergei Kostitsyn, didn't last long as Max Pacioretty would earn a promotion later on so the line could generate more offence, but Sergei's great moves in the offensive zone, in additional to his penalty killing abilities make for a great player, Gomez showed much more commitment than he has in previous games without his buddy Gionta in the lineup, his hard work gave him that EN goal. Pyatt's okay, but I get the feeling he's better off on the farm for development.
Metropolit/Moen/Pacioretty, they will bring the playoffs as I've said before, they haven't scored in the last two games, but they've looked pretty close to scoring and you can't say they've allowed even half the number of the scoring chances they generate. Metropolit defines being an MVP for his pay grade, creativity, faceoff skills and a relentless attitude that puts games in Montreal's hands because nothing happens on his shift unless he lets it happen.
Lapierre/Laraque/White, this didn't last long, Laraque rode the bench in the 3rd period, White had to leave the game, which meant Lapierre would be rotated through the other three lines through the course of the 3rd period and really denied Lapierre any chance to generate anything. He's having to work his way up into Martin's good graces after a sad effort through his first 25 games or so, he'll have to keep working hard but tonight sort of worked against him for having a regular line.
Defence: Is it possible to say too much about these guys? They're heroes as always.
Spacek did an admirable job as long as he was in the game as per usual, I really hope he comes out of his latest injury pretty quickly and it's not serious, he and Hamrlik have been such a great top pair while Markov is out.
Hamrlik had 28:11 of ice time, after putting in just short of 24 minutes the night before, not bad for the 35 year old former first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he's playing some of the best hockey of his career with smart defensive hockey and good stick handling, he does all the team needs him to do and never complains. A team player in every sense of the word, elevating himself when he has to, filling in while Markov is gone to form a solid Top D-Man for his team.
Ryan O'Byrne is continuing to be an impressive defensive defencemen, coming back from a disasterous partial season in Montreal last season, he has made smart plays, used his body well and helped cover his goaltender, his contributions to a shorthanded rush during the game nearly gave Montreal a shorthanded goal, as he nearly almost got one against Pittsburgh a few nights ago. He and Bergeron played a solid amount of time together, although since defensive assignments were moved around and many pairings occured for all situations, solid work for him and Bergeron even out of their usual assignments. Bergeron had another goal and set up the rebound that allowed AK46 to get his 4th of the season, for 750,000$ this season and 7 goals, I'd say he was a pretty good late addition to the team.
Josh Gorges and Hal Gill continue to be that pair I favour for hard work, they cover their goalie and make smart, safe defensive plays for the most part, provide shot blocks and do what is needed to keep the defensive end of Montreal's game solid. Team men and good guys all around.
Goaltending: A good comeback game for Halak after an ugly loss in Buffalo, he shook off the rust and delivered one of those big games he's capable of putting up when he has to and the team needs it. The only goal against him was not his fault and I doubt Price on his best net would have prevented it, nothing to be ashamed of, everything to be proud of. Halak continues to be one of the best backup goalies in the NHL, in terms of salary cap and ability.
1. Jaroslav Spacek, a 45-save evening? What more do you want from the guy? Great performance for a goalie who's barely seen action since the middle of November.
2. Tomas Plekanec, he set up the Cammalleri goal and was instrumental in the cycles that set up the Bergeron and Kostitsyn goals, he continues to be the best centre in Montreal, over 6 minutes of PK time speaks to his strength at that position.
3. Roman Hamrlik, he sets up the Bergeron goal and plays an inhuman number of minutes for a Defencemen in Montreal whose name is not Markov. A career year for an aging defencemen who will pass over 1200 GP in January.
Three wins in a row. Three regulation wins, three wins where Montreal outscored the opposition 5-1, 3-1 and 4-1, they scored twelve goals and only allowed three, Cammalleri scored five times and now has 17 goals this season. I'd say Montreal took the Centennial game to heart based on their current play, they don't give up, their forwards strike with lethal precision these days when scoring chances occur and defensively, the PK unit and goaltending has been a black hole for teams going against it with the man advantage.
That's the start of a good December and a consistent winning record that will help Montreal get in playoff position for April, any ground gained now while Markov is out is one less game we must hope Markov can help deliver later when the MVP Defencemen returns.
Andrei Kostitsyn has two goals in his last two games, which could indicate with the net prescence he has shown in his last two matches that many more could come from the gifted sniper who's had a hard time finding the net this season. His linemates Plekanec and Cammalleri seem to be the right fit for the young Belarusian forward.
Halak showed he doesn't take long to throw off the rust and played a strong game, he'll be a key backup for Price in a month of 17 games for the team, I imagine he'll have 3-4 more games this month depending upon Price's play and the schedule. He's good enough for it and is probably good enough to be a starting man in half the NHL, but that will come later for the Slovak netminder, he'll need the practice to first cover his National Team at the Olympics in February.
Montreal faces Pittsburgh on Thursday, so they can only hope Spacek is ready for that match, otherwise it will be a much more difficult time of things with Mara already out with an upper-body injury, a body will have to be called up from the farm likely. Pittsburgh caught a rather uncoordinated Canadiens squad when they pounded them 6-1, then later 3-1 when Montreal was composed of half an AHL team on their second straight game and still stood up to them remarkably well. This time, five of Montreal's top 6 forwards will be ready to go, the Metropolit/Moen/Pacioretty line will shut down Pittsburgh offence, while Hal Gill and Josh Gorges will give the Penguins Deja Vu of their own Scuderi/Gill line from the Playoffs last season. It's a winnable game for Montreal with their current work ethic, special teams work and available players, the Penguins are a tough team with way too much talent they picked up from being bottom-feeders, but I think Montreal as they are right now has a good chance to extend the streak to four games.
- Saku Koivu assisted on the 2nd Anaheim goal of the game against the Dallas Stars and the first goal on the 2nd game of rookie call-up Dan Sexton's NHL career. Koivu would later mark the OT winner for Anaheim for his 4th goal of the season.
- Alex Kovalev was held without a point against his former club Montreal, one of those nights he decided not to work.
- Former dimunitive D-man Francis Boullion assisted on the 2nd goal of the Nashville-Vancouver game, setting up the second of Martin Erat's hat trick.
Juniors Habs Recognition:
Nothing much from the kids, the week's generally quiet for days at a time for prospects.