Montreal - March 14, 2014 - Calling Carey Price!
The Montreal Canadiens have played nine games since the Olympic break. They've won three of them. But not one in regulation time. The lousy record is certainly not all on goaltending. But whatever swagger the Habs might have had entering the break was lost the moment Carey Price left the ice just moments into his first practice after arriving from Sochi. Watching Price leave the ice flexing his knee was a troubling sign. Predictably - two weeks later - what was a swagger has morphed into a staggering group of players who are looking around for their star goaltender to help them get off the ropes.
A power play goal or two would also help.
•Thomas Vanek. Buzzed around the Boston net a lot. Was a constant threat. The Plekanec-Gionta-Vanek trio created some early chances but just couldn't finish. Still learning what some of his teammates can or can't do. Midway through the second period Vanek carried the puck into Boston territory. He had plenty of room on the left side to move in and shoot but decided to stop to set up a forward who had just jumped off the bench and was entering the Boston zone with some speed. Unfortunately that forward was Ryan White who mishandled Vanek's perfect feed at the blue line, turned the puck over, and watched helplessly as Boston converted a 3 on 1 to take a 2-0 lead. As was the case in San Jose last Saturday, Vanek spent the third period on the RW alongside David Desharnais & Max Pacioretty. The trio accounted for Montreal's only goal in their last seven periods. Vanek is a big, strong guy. He should play a lot more than 16:00.
•Alexei Emelin. I liked his game. It was important for him to stand up to Milan Lucic. They're going to be seeing a lot of each other over the next few years. Emelin didn't back down even after Lucic hit him up high and into the glass early in the game. It was Lucic who had the final say in this one - knocking Emelin off the puck and the finishing off a pretty play with linemates Jarome Iginla and David Krecji for Boston's third goal late in the second period, a goal that killed the Habs and silenced the Bell Centre. Emelin led the Habs with 4 hits and also sprung Alex Galchenyuk free with a perfect pass through some traffic. But Galchenyuk hit the post with a backhand.
•Max Pacioretty. Six shots on goal. Had great opportunity to open the scoring on an early breakaway but was beaten cleanly by Tuukka Rask. Another indicator of the Habs popgun offense - they had three breakaways in the first 25 minutes but Pacioretty's was the only one that actually resulted in a shot on goal. Bad turnover in the neutral zone line led to Boston's 4th goal 23 seconds into the third period. He didn't exactly turn it on after Brad Marchand stripped him of the puck but that seems to be an epidemic right now.
•Brandon Prust. Not much of a factor but it was good to see him back in the lineup for the first time in a month. Tried to spark the Habs after Boston took a 2-0 lead when he challenged defenseman Kevan Miller. Got a couple of good uppercuts in on the bigger Miller before Miller used his height advantage to drop him to the ice. Prust was flexing his left shoulder in the penalty box. That would be upper body, right?
•Francis Bouillon. First game in a month. He didn't hurt them. He played over 24:00. More on this in a minute.
•Penalty Kill. Bruins were 0-2 on the power play. I thought the PK unit would be in deep trouble without Price and Josh Gorges but they've managed to kill off 10 straight power plays (11-13 since Gorges went down).
•Faceoffs. The Habs dominated the 4th best team in the face off circle, winning 62% of the draws. You don't often see Patrice Bergeron struggle (46%) but he wasn't alone. Desharnais (64%), Lars Eller (64%), White (63%) and Daniel Briere (60%) all had good nights. But - and it's a big but - Eller's questionable hockey IQ came into play after he easily won a face off against Carl Soderberg.
•Peter Budaj. Habs needed more big saves than what Budaj provided. Can't be faulted on the second goal but he had a clear view of the Lucic shot that beat him that put the game away. Budaj has lost four consecutive starts. In his last 6 starts, he's 2-4 with a 4.76 goals against average and a save percentage of .855. I get that he's a popular teammate and a veteran and a good backup. But if Price is not ready to start on Saturday than Dustin Tokaraski should.
•Jarred Tinordi & Lars Eller. Bad combo on the game's opening goal. Eller, as mentioned, beat Soderberg cleanly on the draw but started to leave the zone before Tinordi could reach the puck. Tinordi never did come up with it after it took a bad bounce off the back boards while Budaj seemed mesmerized as Eller's man - Soderberg was all alone to snap it up and fire it home. Eller started the night with two offensive wingers - Alex Galchenyuk and Daniel Briere. They were a combined -6. He ended the night sitting in the penalty box after taking a dumb boarding penalty against Jordan Caron (It could have gotten ugly if the Bruins were in a more ornery mood). The two also got roughing minors at 12:18 but because there were no stoppages in play over the final five minutes Eller got to watch from the wrong side of the ice. The Habs had to be hoping for more from Tinordi against a team like Boston. But pairing him with Douglas Murray won't help.
•Tomas Plekanec. Missed the net on a second period breakaway which would have tied the game. No shots on goal. Only Montreal centerman to lose the majority of his draws. Since playing 26:00 in Anaheim, Plekanec is pointless with just two shots on goal in three games. Coincidence?
•Power Play. Habs spent a good chunk of Tuesday's practice working on it. And spent more time working on it during the morning skate. Maybe it will finally pay off against Ottawa. Habs were 0-3 on PP. Overall, they're 0 for their last 10, 1 for 13 and their once dangerous unit has slipped to the middle of the pack in the NHL at 18.6%.
•Michel Therrien. Played Thomas Vanek - easily Habs best forward - 16:19. Played Francis Bouillon - Habs 8th defenseman - 24:03. Nobody played as much as Bouillon. On either side. Not even Chara. And Nathan Beaulieu is still in Hamilton?
•Brian Gionta. The captain looked terrible watching the Bruins convert a three on one while Andrei Markov, who had slipped at the Boston blue line, hustled all the way back to his own net a split second too late to prevent the goal by Patrice Bergeron. Markov was visibly upset on the Montreal bench. Can't blame him. I understand Gionta was fatigued after a long shift. But he should have done what linemates Plekanec and Vanek did when they had the opportunity on a short second period change - head to the bench. As noted earlier, Pacioretty was slow getting back on the Chara goal and Emelin had the same issue after he was knocked off the puck by Lucic just prior to Boston's third goal. Is it really fatigue? The Canadiens had three days off between games with only once practice. Difficult to believe it's sheer indifference. But imagine if that was P.K Subban coasting back on a play.