On Dec.12, Atlanta scored an overtime goal to beat Montreal 4-3 at Philips Arena. For tonight's result, just flip the numbers. On Dec. 21, it was the Canadiens getting an overtime goal to win 4-3 in the same building.
Just over a week ago, we were astonished to see the Thrashers dominate the Canadiens in the second period, out shooting them 16-4. Tonight, Atlanta didn't wait that long. The shots were 18-3 for the Thrashers in the first period.
Shots directed at the net (including shots on goal, missed and blocked shots) on December 12 were 67-34 in favor of the Thrashers, a differential of 33. Tonight Atlanta's advantage was 29 with shots directed at the net being 73-44 for the Thrashers.
The Canadiens now rank 29th in the league in average shots per game with 26.7. Habs are 24th in shots against.
Numbers aside, the Habs were fortunate to win this game. While some will point to a porous defense as the culprit, I would suggest that the Canadiens spend far too little time with the puck in the offensive zone. Jacques Martin's passive system has the Canadiens playing retreat, surrendering the neutral zone too easily so that the opposition can gain the Habs' zone with speed.
Instead, the game plan seemed to call for productive special teams and for the goaltender to stand on his head. Just as Carey Price had done on Dec. 12, Jaroslav Halak was called upon to make save after save. Halak set a personal best with 47 stops on the game. He now has made 87 saves in his last two games.
"It was one of those nights again," said Halak. "Many, many shots again. But we were able to win the game. That's all that matters."
As outstanding as Halak was tonight, he seemed to be his own worst enemy at times. The shot total against would have been reduced significantly if Halak had been better able to control his rebounds.
Martin seemed to confirm that notion after the game saying that there was less of a disparity between scoring chances for the two teams than the shot total would indicate. At the other end of the ice, Johan Hedberg once again looked beatable but he wasn't tested enough by the Canadiens.
Once again the Habs were undisciplined taking twice as many penalties as the Thrashers. The Canadiens allowed one short-handed goal in six opportunities.
The Habs' power-play scored twice in three opportunities with goals from Andrei Kostitsyn and Marc-Andre Bergeron. "No doubt, that was the difference in the hockey game, the two goals on the power-play," said coach Martin.
Martin went on to say that the Canadiens' first "line is coming up with wizardry on the power-play." Centering that line was Tomas Plekanec who was involved each time the Canadiens scored with a goal and three assists.
It would seem that many of the flaws in the Canadiens game should be able to be remedied by the coaching staff: more aggressive forecheck; being better prepared to start the game; discipline; faceoffs; and line matchups/personnel decisions.
Preventable mistakes combined tonight to result in a key Atlanta goal, only 22 seconds into the third period, which tied the game at two goals each. Max Lapierre lost the faceoff. Halak gave up a rebound. Martin left his fourth line on the ice to face Kovalchuk and the Thrashers first line.
Lapierre has been a major disappointment this season. He is a prime candidate for a trip to the press box when Benoit Pouliot joins the lineup for the game on Wednesday night. Georges Laraque and Matt D'Agostini are not far behind Lapierre for consideration.
Both Bergeron and Paul Mara received injuries during the game. Bergeron was shaken up when he hit the post while scoring the winning goal. He should be ready for Wednesday. Things are less certain for Mara who received a slash to his left hand.
Rocket's three stars
1. Jaroslav Halak
2. Tomas Plekanec
3. Nik Antropov
Material from wire services was used in this report.