Playing back-to-back games in two different cities is never an easy feat for any team. But doing it when the second of the back-to-back games is your fourth match in six nights is even harder.
So, when the Montreal Canadiens stepped onto the Bell Centre ice against the Florida Panthers last night, it was not surprising to see what looked like a slow, sluggish team.
The Canadiens had moments where they were moving their feet and when they did, they tilted the ice towards the Panthers zone.
The problem for the Habs—who welcomed star defenseman Andrei Markov back into the fold—was that once the Panthers scored their first goal, it was difficult for them to maintain a high level of energy. Instead, they oscillated between looking flat and playing with vigor.
Despite outshooting the opposition 41-31, the Canadiens were disorganized for long stretches of the match and really looked like they needed a nap. The end result was that the fresh Panthers took advantage of turnovers and missed passes to put this game away.
Final score: Panthers 3 – Habs 1
Habs’ scorers: Mathieu Darche (2)
Panthers’ scorers: Michael Frolik (1), David Booth (4), Shawn Matthias (2)
Three stars: 1. Thomas Vokoun, 2. David Booth, 3. Mathieu Darche
Carey Price was excellent but Tomas Vokoun was better.
For some reason, players who used to play for the Canadiens tend to put on their best efforts when facing their former team.
Last night was no exception as Tomas Vokoun did his best impression of a brick wall in shutting down the Canadiens. The one goal that did get by him was the result of hard work from Mathieu Darche, but on the replay you could see that it squeezed under his arm and would be slotted in the ‘slightly weak’ category.
For his part, Price was yet again solid in the Habs’ net. In particular, he continues to make key saves at key times and gives the Habs a chance to win every game. Last night, when the score was 1-1, Price made two great saves from in close just when the Habs energy level looked like it was at its lowest. Time and time again this season, Price is making those key saves and giving his team a chance to win.
I know people dislike Jaroslav Spacek, but the David Booth goal was not his fault.
The Habs defense looked slow and tired for most of the game and made a ton of bad decisions with the puck which often lead to turnovers. Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, and others were continually throwing the puck into harm’s way and many of those play lead to scoring chances against the Canadiens.
None was more egregious than the play that led to the David Booth penalty shot though.
On the play, Hamrlik tried to skate the puck through the Panther’s trap, lost it, and found himself skating back to try to cover up his mistake. The problem was that the puck ended up on Booth’s stick and he had a clear break away. Spacek, who is not the most fleet footed defenseman on the team, couldn’t catch Booth and had no choice but to haul him down. On the subsequent penalty shot, Booth scored the game winning goal and the Twitterverse was alight with calls for Spacek’s head.
While I agree that Spacek looks terrible so far in this still young season, he was not to blame on that play. That entire situation happened because Hamrlik made a foolish decision with the puck. Rather than passing it off or trying to dump it in, he tried to stick-handle through the Panthers trap. That was a foolish play by a veteran defenseman who should have known better.
The rest you know.
If Tomas Plekanec’s line does not score the Habs don’t win.
I’ve been saying for a while now that despite the Canadiens success so far this season, they have a lot of holes on their team. One of the biggest holes, aside from their impotent power play, is the lack of production from the Scott Gomez line.
What I had also said is that there will come a point where the Plekanec line does not score and in games like that it will be very difficult for the Habs to win.
Last night’s game illustrated that point perfectly.
The Habs only goal-scorer on the night was fourth liner Mathieu Darche. While the offensive contributions from the bottom-six are a welcome addition to the team, The Habs must get consistent offensive contributions from the second line.
Last night, the Plekanec line also looked tired and disorganized at times. At other times, they had their mojo going and came close to scoring on a few occasions. They didn’t, however, and since Gomez is still lost in a fog, the Canadiens had no offensive thrust to speak of despite their 41 shots on goal.
It is when the Canadiens lose that we can see how big of a problem the second line is.
Jacques Martin and co. need to figure something out quickly because with games against the Flyers, Bruins, Kings and others this month, the margin for error will only get smaller.
Andrei Markov was back but the power play still fired blanks.
Markov, playing his first game after recovering from off-season knee surgery, looked a little tentative last night. He didn’t seem to have his game timing where he needs it to be. Also, he and P.K. Subban looked like they need to get used to playing together.
Both are very dynamic players and it will take a few games for them to find their rhythm. When they do, however, they will become a formidable first pairing for the Canadiens.
The duo also struggled on the power play where Subban fired the puck as often as he could but often missed the net or had his shot blocked. Subban will have to learn that he doesn’t have to shoot the puck as hard but that he does have to get it on net, a la Josh Gorges.
The coaches made a strange decision when the Habs had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:25 to start the third period. On the ice were Plekanec, Subban, Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Gionta. You would think that a 5-on-3 would be the best opportunity for Markov to do his thing. But no, the coach had four forwards and one defenseman on the ice for the entire time and they were unable to score the tying goal.
It’s kind of hard for Markov to help fix the power play when he is sitting on the bench.
Gomez continues to be an island.
All night long, Gomez was trying to rush the puck all the way up the ice by himself. And, when he would get to a wall of Panthers sweaters at the offensive blueline he would either turn the puck over or just toss it to the Panther’s players. He has been doing this all season and it is getting a little tiresome.
On another play he passed the puck to Gionta on near the right offensive zone faceoff circle and then, instead of stay at the side of the net, he positioned himself behind it. The result was that Gionta’s pass to the vacant wing sailed into the wind as Gomez watched what would have been a sure goal, from behind the net.
Gomez is making bad decisions with and without the puck and is completely ineffective for the Canadiens as a result. His partner, Gionta, is working hard and leads all Canadiens’ players with 40 shots on net, but he is completely snake-bitten.
On the Habs’ third period 5-on-3 power play, Gionta had the tying goal on his stick and couldn’t put it into the empty net. Instead, he somehow managed to hit the defenseman’s skate on the play, keeping the puck out and the score 2-1 Florida.
With each game that passes, Gionta is getting more and more frustrated and is squeezing his stick a little tighter.
The Canadiens second line is just a disaster right now.
Standings and Next Game
The loss drops the Canadiens to 7-3-1. Their 15 points in the standings mean that they are still in first place in the Northeast Division.
The team now has a couple of days off before taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday. Maybe they can get their power play going during this two day reprieve.