Montreal 3 Vancouver 0 (Bell Centre)
posted by Rocket
I have memories of some of the very first backyard boot hockey games. On the small ice surface, it was often my brother and I versus our similar aged neighbour and his Dad. Mr. Webb was a not-very-svelte 250 pound guy who wore hip waders and a baggy army parka.
He didn't stray too far from the net, preferring to lie on the ice across the goal line. While my brother and I could easily advance past our friend, raising the puck over this hulk with hip waders was an entirely different matter.
We hammered away, ran up the shot totals, and usually lost four or five to nothing. The streak continued for a few years until we learned to raise the puck, and then the hip waders were unavailable to come out to play.
More about this later.
The final two periods of tonight's game, the Canadiens were outshot 26 to 11. If you are experiencing deja vu, you aren't alone. Since the game against Detroit, the coaching staff have employed a new strategy.
In the first period, the players are allowed to use their skill and speed and employ a forecheck. Hopefully, this yields a lead. In the second and third period, the Canadiens use a different scheme. Sometimes, its a 1-4 or even a 0-5.
Some people call it a 1-2-2. More simply, its called 'maximum retreat!' It essentially means abandoning the neutral zone and dropping all five Canadiens behind the blue-line.
This system has limited success until teams realize that they just have to attack with speed and chip the puck past the defenders. As we saw on the recent road trip, the Canadiens don't fare very well when they spend most of the game in their own zone. But for whatever reason, it is the strategy that Guy Carbonneau is comfortable with right now.
This strategy reminds me a little of those early games in the backyard. Maximum defense...everyone back...barricade the goal. But the system can be beat by good teams with skill. It is a scheme designed for a team who is afraid to lose rather than one who wants to win.
And perhaps its can be effective to keep the Canadiens in games against bottom feeding teams. It seems that skilled teams will find a way to exploit it while the Habs just try to hang on. Washington proved that to be true.
Back to tonight. Finally, Jaroslav Halak's performance caught up with his press clippings. This season, Jaro has enjoyed the a habit of getting wins even with mediocre efforts. But tonight was Halak's best game of the season.
Yes, he still struggled with rebound control and puck handling. Jaro had lots of help tonight from his defense who cleared the rebounds and blocked second shots. For his part, Halak's positioning was much better in the net. He was sharp all game.
But this game was really about special teams, particularly the Canadiens penalty killers. The PK unit was a perfect six for six, which included the defense of a Canuck two-man advantage for a full two minutes.
To their credit, the Canadien defenders limited the Canucks so that Halak didn't have to make one tough save.
Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec have been the two hardest working Canadiens night in and night out this season. As the Canuck five on three came to an end, Koivu dived to knock the puck out of the Canadiens zone just as Plekanec came out of the penalty box.
Plekanec turned on the speed, went in alone, and went top corner on Roberto Luongo. It was the turning point of the game. Plekanec and Koivu were also dominant on faceoffs.
Max Pacioretty continues to be one of the best Habs every game. Pacioretty is a speedy, physical power forward with hands that the Canadiens have been waiting for.
The defense was much better tonight. Andrei Markov was terrific playing twenty-six minutes and scoring a power-play goal on a nice feed from Tomas Plekanec. Mike Komisarek and Josh Gorges combined to block seven shots with Komisarek also getting five hits.
The scouts box at the Bell Centre was filled tonight. Perhaps Halak's performance impressed one of them enough to give Bob Gainey a key bargaining chip to bring in the big center that this team needs going into the playoffs.
The Canadiens got a win and an important two points tonight but they will need a better effort for the upcoming games. The Flyers and Sharks are next on the schedule; two teams who can definitely 'raise the puck.'
Starting lineup: Plekanec, Kovalev, Andre Kostitsyn, Hamrlik, Komisarek
Jaroslav Halak and Roberto Luongo started in goal.
Laraque and Begin scratched. Bouillon, Latendresse, Tanguay, and Lang were out with injuries.
Tanguay will not be available to play this week. He will be re-evaluated next week.
Happy 36th Birthday to Alex Kovalev.
Rocket's three stars
1. Canadiens' penalty-killing unit
1. Jaroslav Halak
2. Tomas Plekanec
3. Saku Koivu