Montreal - Dec. 2, 2011 - Just when I was ready to praise the bench management skills of Jacques Martin (wait...) he throws out Travis Moen in a shootout. No, this was not one of those epic 15 rounders. Moen was actually the Habs' 5th shooter on Antti Niemi, following Mike Cammalleri, Erik Cole, Brian Gionta & David Desharnais. And he had the potential game winner on his stick.
Travis Moen? Wonder if Mathieu Darche was coming up after PK Subban.
Carey Price deserved better. Again. But once again, in a shootout he was beaten - twice - on the short side. In fact the first four San Jose shooters all went short side until Dan Boyle tried a deke and Joe Pavelski caught Price cheating and fired the winner through his pads. The Sharks do their homework.
The Canadiens should already be in "mission accomplished" mode while prepping for the Saturday afternoon match up in Los Angeles. I figured that heading into the California trip the Habs would beat Anaheim (so did Ducks G Bob Murray), that anything other than a regulation loss in San Jose would be a bonus, and they'd get at least a point against the Kings. That horrendous loss in Anaheim now puts the onus on a core group of weary players (once again 3 Montreal forwards - Darche, Petteri Nokelainen and Aaron Palushaj each got well under 10 minutes of ice time) to scratch out the needed two points that they blew away Wednesday night in Anaheim. Or Carey Price could come to the rescue as he did in San Jose in a performance that was definitely worth staying up for.
David Desharnais - Erik Cole - Mike Cammalleri. The line combined for 7 points and +6. A shame they got caught on the ice for Ryan Clowe's game tying goal with 90 seconds left because they were terrific. It might have been Desharnais's best game as a Hab. Cammalleri looked like the real Mike Cammalleri and Cole was Cole.
Carey Price. Faced 41 shots. Would like to have the rebound back that bounced onto Clowe's stick but the Sharks were allowed entry into the Habs zone way too easily and with plenty of speed. And Desharnais was no match for Clowe. The Habs may not want to play for Jacques Martin but they will battle for their goaltender.
Alexei Emelin. Played both sides off the ice and continues to provide the only real physical presence on the blue line. Early in the game Torrey Mitchell hit Emelin hard, but bounced off him as if Emelin was a padded wall. Emelin's open ice hit on Pavelski was a thing of beauty. Best body checked delivered by a Hab since PK Subban on Brad Marchand a year ago. And one of the best in NHL this season.
PK Subban and Josh Gorges. Battled hard as usual and on the one PP Montreal had they bottled up San Jose with Gorges moving down low and PK re-discovering confidence in his shot, perhaps the result of Montreal's 1st goal when Cammalleri deflected a Subban shot past Niemi.
Raphael Diaz. Led all Canadiens skaters with nearly 28 minutes of ice time and four blocked shots.
Lars Eller. Keeps making plays. Would be neat to see a true sniper alongside him. Had one of the best shifts of the season late in the second period as he continued to circle away from San Jose skaters while waiting and waiting and waiting for one of his line mates to set up in the slot.
Louis Leblanc. See below.
Referees Chris Rooney & Brian Pochmara. Best officiated Montreal game I've seen this season.
Jacques Martin. Late in the third period he had two centermen - Thomas Plekanec and Nokelainen - one the ice to take a defensive zone face off. He didn't play Hal Gill in overtime. He drastically cut the ice time of a badly over matched Yannick Weber in favour of both Diaz and Emelin. He took advantage of the youth and fresh legs of Louis Leblanc who ended up playing 14 and a half minutes, at the expense of the 35 year old terribly non - productive Mathieu Darche. In short, this was bench management attention to detail that has been consistently missing from Martin's coaching. Which is why I can't help but wonder if Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur have been given more responsibilities. But Moen in a shootout???
Andrei Kostitsyn. Seemed most affected by the back to back. Had the shakes on his first shift and again when he mishandled the puck which led to San Jose's first goal. Calmed down by the third period but a terrible start.
Thomas Plekanec. Where was he?
Yannick Weber. Moved back to the blue line with Frederic St. Denis scratched, Weber was incapable of stopping most San Jose forwards who entered his territory. Was -2 on the night. I have no doubt that Weber will eventually produce on an NHL power play and regularly score 10 -12 goals a season. But unless the Canadiens can find a physical, stay at home giant to play the left side, he's going to end up somewhere else. Besides, the right handed shot on the Montreal power play will be locked up for years.
Montreal in the face off circle. Dominated by the bigger stronger Sharks 63% to 37%. Plekanec was especially poor winning just 6 of 26 draws (23%).
Habs 4th line. I have no issue with Nokelainen who also kills penalties and can win face offs (but isn't it fair to say the Habs haven't been able to replace Glen Metropolit?) but Darche and Palushaj are black holes. As bad as he's been this season (26 games. 1 goal) Darche was an effective fill - in role player a year ago. He used his body and contributed 12 goals and 26 points in 59 games and posted a solid +7. This year he cannot seem to handle the puck in any situation and expressed more anger at his own teammate - PK Subban - than he has at any opposing defensemen. I don't know what's happened. Is he still hungry? If you combine all the players who have occupied the 4th line this season - Nokelainen, Darche, Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist and Mike Blunden - the stat line reads: 81 GP 2 G 1 A 3 PTS 41 PIM. Where is all that energy coming from?
Andrei Markov. Will somebody please step up and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Even if it hurts.