Montreal - Dec. 3, 2011 - Full credit to Habs for doing something I didn't think they were capable of - taking three out of four points in San Jose and Los Angeles after going for a dump in Anaheim. But they sure make it difficult for themselves, once again failing to take full advantage of an opposing goaltender who was clearly shaky to start the game. That's not to say that Jonathan Bernier is not a good goaltender. But he's played only a few minutes more than Peter Budaj has and looked very beatable before the Canadiens helped warm him up, much like they did for Niemi in San Jose, Hiller in Anaheim, Bobrovsky in Philadelphia, Nabokov/Dipietro on Long Island, etc.
Montreal also took advantage of an LA team without their top goal scorer and penalty killer in Mike Richards and vet defenseman Willie Mitchell.
Cannot accuse Habs of sitting back in the third, at least not until they actually had a late power play and acted as if they were killing a penalty. But thanks in large part to their goaltender, the long plane ride back to Montreal will be a lot less gloomy. Even as the news on Andrei Markov gets darker by the day.
Carey Price. Strongest when Habs needed him most - early in the first period and late in the third. I pity the opposing forward who is going to be on the receiving end of a Price tantrum at some point this season. It's coming. Probably in a game that is already lost but you can be sure it'll happen. Not withstanding the Lucic hit in Ryan Miller, is there a goalie anywhere in the NHL who has had more opposing bodies hit, rub, push and/or fall on him this season than Price? And if Montreal defensemen are not going to retaliate, then if a power play opportunity presents itself as the result of some goalie interference the PP unit has to respond with a lot more intensity and killer instinct than what we saw. Habs had a chance to bury LA after Dutsin Penner sent Price sprawling. Instead it was Price who had to bail them out with a game saving save with a dozen seconds to play.
Andrei Kostitsyn. Terrific game for AK46 starting with the opening goal on the power play when he used his body to open up room for goal scorer Thomas Plekanec. And of course the goal he scored capping off an old fashioned tic tac toe with linemates Lars Eller & Louis Leblanc.
Josh Gorges. Led all Montreal skaters with 26:08. The power play has looked more effective with Gorges doing his Markov impression and heading down low while PK Subban mans the point. Love the fact that those 26 + minutes were taken in 38 shifts. Meaning he kept each shift to about 40 seconds. His partner, PK Subban, also kept his shift length down, to 37 seconds.
Louis Leblanc. Great news on this trip. Leblanc looks like an NHL player. He's been smart with the puck. Very effective. Active legs. A lot of energy. Huge upgrade over Aaron Palushaj. First post 2007 draft choice to make it to Montreal. Interesting to note that two other players taken in 2008 also made their NHL debuts this week - Zach Kassian with Buffalo and Simon Despres with Pittsburgh.
Thomas Plekanec. Much more active than in San Jose. Did a decent job on face offs (15 for 29) so why did Brian Gionta take a late offensive zone draw -which he lost - with Plekanec on his wing?
Jacques Martin. Keeping Mathieu Darche's ice time to under 6:00 and using Yannick Weber, against another big team, for just 3:33, mostly on the power play.
The news on Markov no matter how Pierre Gauthier tries to spin it.
Erik Cole taking two penalties to give the Kings some life. I didn't like the first call (interference in neutral zone) because it had nothing to do with the play. Chintzy. The exact kind of things refs Rooney & Pochmara let go in San Jose. But, sensing a gift opportunity, LA coach Terry Murray called a time out with the obvious message that it was a chance to get back in the game. And they did.
Hal Gill on the Kings goal by Dustin Penner. One of the few defensemen in the league who actually towers over Penner, failed to wrap up Penner's stick, resulting in a perfect deflection and the only puck Price couldn't stop.
Dustin Penner. A 6' 4" 240 pound version of lazy. Still find it difficult to understand why many Montreal fans want to see this guy in a Habs jersey. Yes, perhaps, he'd be able to get to some loose pucks in the slot instead of some of Montreal's smurfs, but as somebody who has watched a lot of late night (Pacific time) hockey over the years, this guy, believe me, would drive you nuts.
Pierre Gauthier. Why he would choose to describe arthroscopic surgery on Markov's knee as "good news" is beyond me. But then again, back in September, Gauthier said Markov "would not miss too many games". At the same time, Chris Nilan, who had knee issues of his own, was telling TSN 990 listeners that Markov "would be fortunate to play 30 games this season". Gauthier also suggested to a media scrum in LA that anybody who saw Markov practice lately "would not be able to tell that this was an injured player". Ok I'll give him that. Perhaps a 10 year old or two who saw Markov skate in Brossard thought he looked perfectly healthy.