Montreal 4 Pittsburgh 5 (Mellon Arena)
Hands up if you liked the way the Canadiens played against Washington. Yeah, me too. I mentioned in Thursday's game review that the Habs were effective because they spent less time in their own zone. This stemmed from an active forecheck and efficient breakouts.
So, imagine my surprise watching the first period of Friday's game in Pittsburgh. The Canadiens spent most of the period skating backwards. There was little or no forechecking, and the Habs kept vacating the neutral zone.
As a result, the Canadiens spent most of the period bottled up in their own zone. The Penguins outshot the Canadiens eight to three.
What happened? According to Doug Jarvis, it was by design. The coaching staff wanted all players back to protect against odd-man rushes. What was his opinion on the first period? He was happy. I thought the period was slow and dull.
By midway into the second period, the Pens were dominating and leading in shots 15-6. Why were the coaches still content with pulling the players back into their own zone?
The Canadiens are much more effective when they forecheck aggressively and pressure the puck carrier in the neutral zone. Tomas Plekanec had a great game and is a terrific two-way player. He is particularly good at backchecking, creating a turnover and then leading a rush. He did just that on the Canadiens' first goal.
Plekanec finished the play by scoring from a Andrei Kostitsyn feed. Plekanec scored his second goal of the game on the transition from a Pacioretty takeaway.
Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Pacioretty were clearly the Canadiens best line tonight with seven points.
The Canadiens power play was less effective last night with one five-on-three goal in four power play opportunities. Mathieu Schneider finally tamed his erratic point shot enough to catch the corner for his first goal since the trade.
That was the lone bright spot for Schneider who was very weak defensively finishing the game at -4.
Perhaps the blame should lie with the coaching staff who saw fit to have the 39-year-old on the ice for 27 minutes in the Washington game. Schneider and Bouillon miscommunicated and both ended up out of the play on the Pens' third goal. On the fourth, Staal muscled Schneider into Price.
It is curious that Markov and Schneider, two guys who love to pinch are paired together, and the two defensive rearguards, Hamrlik and Komisarek, are partners. I would much rather see Komo and Marky reunited.
Saku Koivu was an impressive 78 percent on faceoffs. But his line was a combined -9 tonight. Koivu, Higgins and D'Agostini looked fatigued.
Max Lapierre had his worst game in quite some time. He was guilty of several giveaways and managed to win only 22 percent of his faceoffs. Lapierre is only credited with two faceoff wins, and that includes one when the puck was dropped before Malkin was set.
The Pens' first goal was made possible when Lapierre failed to execute a flashy hip check rather than just taking his man.
George Laraque played less than four minutes. He had a forgettable staged fight with Eric Godard. It is time to pull the plug on this failed experiment.
Francis Bouillon left the game with an ankle injury and did not return.
Dan Bylsma got his first win as head coach of the Penguins. Bylsma alternated Malkin and Crosby every second shift in the third period. The Pens won by playing their best players. How does Guy Carbonneau get outcoached by Dan Bylsma?
A disastrous road trip ends with the Canadiens earning only three points. After the distractions earlier this week, the problems remain.
Starting lineup: Koivu, Higgins, D'Agostini, Markov, Schneider
Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury started in goal.
Brisebois and Begin scratched. Latendresse, Tanguay, and Lang were out with injuries.
Rocket's three stars
1. Evgeni Malkin
2. Tomas Plekanec
3. Andrei Kostitsyn
(photo credit: AP)