Kovalev Raises Game to Down Habs

What’s the opposite of a well-oiled machine? A broken-down rust-bucket?

If so, then that’s what the Canadiens are playing like right now. A broken-down rust-bucket.

In taking on the Ottawa Senators in Montreal last night, you had hoped for a return to the kind of tenacious play that made the Canadiens so successful over the first 10 games of the season. Instead, they looked tired and disorganized as they watched the Ottawa Senators take the play to them for most of the night.

Right now, it seems that very little is going right for the Canadiens. Their defensive pairings are not working, none of the goal scorers are able to score, players who are known to be defensively responsible (like Scott Gomez) are making mistake after mistake, and the power play continues to be a laughing stock—3-for-47, 30th over in the NHL. From the top to the bottom of their lineup, the Habs are misfiring and the result was another have-hearted, disorganized loss against the Ottawa Senators last night.

To their credit, the Sens are playing much better than during the first 10 or so games of the season. They took advantage of a porous Habs defense and outshot the Canadiens 25-15 after two periods and 31-23 on the night. The only reason this game wasn’t over in the second period was because of the scintillating play of Carey Price.

The Habs had their chances, mind you, as the lack of physicality in the game allowed them to employ an effective cycle based off of their speed and skill. But when they did have good scoring chances Brian Elliott was there to shut the door.

Final score: Sens 3 – Habs 2

Habs’ scorers: Jaroslav Spacek (1), Brian Gionta (2)
Sens’ scorers: Alex Kovalev (4, 5), Zack Smith (2)

Three Stars: 1. Alex Kovalev, 2. Carey Price, 3. Brian Elliott

Notes

Time to send Lars Eller to Hamilton.

I’m sorry, but a player as promising as Eller needs to be playing more minutes and absolutely cannot be wasted in the press box, as he was last night. If the coach doesn’t see him fitting into the lineup then send him down to Hamilton and let him play top-line minutes. This will help him to continue seasoning.

If Jacques Martin, who does not have the best reputation of bringing along young players, is going to give Eller the press box treatment then the latter should not be playing in Montreal.

This past week, Habs’ prospect Max Pacioretty came out publically on Montreal airwaves (Team 990) to say that if he is was going to play in the top-six with the Habs he’d rather play the whole season in Hamilton. Pacioretty went on to say that every time he made a mistake, last year, he was demoted or put in the press box and how that hurt his confidence.

This is exactly the same treatment that Eller is getting from the wise old coach, right now, and I fear that it will do more damage than good. As such, I would rather the Habs should send Eller to Hamilton and bring up a David Desharnais or Ryan White.

Hopefully Martin doesn’t destroy another promising prospect.

Price was the unsung hero

When the Canadiens’ legs went to sleep in the second period and the Sens were blitzing the offensive zone, Price was the difference maker. His excellent play kept the score close long enough for the Habs to climb back into things with a fluky late second period goal. Price kept his teammates in the game again last night, and gave them an opportunity to win the game.

But when Tomas Plekanec couldn’t score on a shot handed break with the Habs trailing by a goal, the game was lost. On the ensuing play in the Canadiens zone, Kovalev scored his second of the game on what would end up being the winning goal.

Brian Gionta was better but Michael Cammalleri was worse.

Gionta had more jump to his game, as he seemed to be skating with a sense of liberation on the Tomas Plekanec line, and he was rewarded with his second goal of the season late in the third period. The goal was a bit of a lucky one on a shot from the outside that seemed to go through Elliott. But he’ll take the goal and cross his fingers that it will dislodge that monkey’s firm grip on his back.

The bigger problem for the Canadiens, right now, is that Gionta and Gomez’s lethargy seems to have rubbed off on Andrei Kostitsyn and Michael Cammalleri.

AK46 has zero points and a minus-4 rating over his last five games while Cammalleri has only two assists over his last six games. Add that to Gionta’s one goal and one assist in his last nine, and Gomez’s one goal and two assists over 14 games, and you see why the Habs are struggling to win.

Right now, the Canadiens look a lot more like the .500 team from 2009-10 that was last in 5-on-5 scoring than the team that roared to a 7-4-1 record to start the season.

Cammalleri in particular, played one of his worst games of the season. He looked tired, like the rest of the team, and when you’re tired you tend to cheat and use your stick rather than taking that extra stride. Cammy took a terrible slashing penalty to kill the Habs’ 5-on-3 power play when the game was still tied at zero. Had the Canadiens been able to score on that PP it would have changed the entire complexion of the game.

Aside from Price, the fourth line is the only thing that is functioning.

Benoit Pouliot looks like he has rediscovered his confidence playing on the fourth line with Mathieu Darche and Jeff Halpern. That trio combined for some of the Habs best offensive moments against the Senators last night and while they didn’t score, if they can keep playing this well they will provide valuable offensive depth.

There were a few shifts in the second period where the Habs were in the Sens zone for almost a minute each time, with Pouliot carrying the puck and controlling the play as his linemates using their gritty play to create time and space.

Even if they are not contributing offensively, lines like this can grab the momentum away from the opposition and help transfer it to the other lines.

However, the Habs need to get the top six going, and soon!

Speaking of missing in action, where is the Habs’ third line?

I have already stated that I am not a fan of Eller in the press box. That being said, there were three capable players on the third line, last night, but the trio was completely invisible.

To a man, Maxim Lapierre, Dustin Boyd and Tom Pyatt contributed nothing to the Habs lineup last night. This further compounds the issues in the Canadiens’ offensive ranks as a one line team will not win many games. Especially when that one line is their fourth line.

Standings and Next Game

The loss moves the Canadiens to 8-5-1 with 17 points in the standings. Their hold on first place in the Northeast Division is tenuous with both the Senators and Bruins having 15 points in the standings. The Bruins also hold three games in hand.

The Canadiens are now entering a more difficult part of their schedule as they play Vancouver, Boston, and Philadelphia over the next 10 days.

Hopefully Martin can use their two days off to find some stable lines before they welcome the surging Canucks on Tuesday in Montreal. Tuesday’s tilt will be the first real test of the season for the Canadiens, and with their recent swoon they are going to have their hands full.


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