Montreal-Boston: Groundhog Day as Jaroslav Halak Steals Another Game
Still waiting for the other shoe to drop? Me too. That's what the Montreal Canadiens have gotten their fans used to this year, though. Last night's game was one that the Habs had no business winning, but hey, don't look a gift Halak in the mouth!
In beating the Boston Bruins 3-2 in Boston, the Habs are now on a modest two-game winning streak, while the Bruins are on a horrific nine-game losing streak. While the Canadiens came out flat again, the Bruins looked hungry early as they shelled Halak for 15 shots in the first period.
Boston opened the scoring on the powerplay at 15:48 of the first period when Dennis Wideman's shot from the point was tipped in the slot by Mark Recchi to make it 1-0.
Bruins' powerplays were the hallmark of the first period as the Habs took three penalties and were at a loss to mount any sort of pressure, while also being outshot 15-5.
As has become customary, the Canadiens relied far too heavily on Halak to keep them in the game, as he made save after spectacular save to keep the Bruins' lead at one goal.
The second period didn't start any better for the Habs, as Blake Wheeler took a backdoor, cross-zone pass from David Krejci and shot the puck past a sliding Halak to make the score 2-0. The Krejci pass went through a mesh of four, yes four, Habs players, none of whom thought to look behind them to see if there was an open man.
With the Bruins leading by two and the Habs struggling to mount an attack, it looked like Boston would coast to an easy win. Even though the Bruins were a fragile bunch, they were completely outplaying the Canadiens.
However, the Habs had other things in mind. With less than three minutes to go in the second and Boston's Matt Hunwick in the box for hooking, Glen Metropolit scored his 11th goal of the season to make it a one-goal game with a rebound off a Gomez shot.
The Habs weren't done, either. 39 seconds after the Metropolit goal, Roman Hamrlik's shot from the point made it past a screened Tuukka Rask to tie the game at two. It was Hamrlik's sixth goal of the season and it sent the teams to the dressing room all tied up.
The third period and overtime solved nothing, so the game went into a shootout, which was fitting since both Rask and Halak were difference makers for their team on the night. The shots were shots 42-21 after the third period and 47-25 on the night, for the Bruins.
In the shootout, Halak stoned all three Bruins forwards—Krejic, Ryder, and Savard—while Rask stopped Plekanec and Gomez. Gionta was the lone goal scorer with a sweet shot-fake to his backhand and upstairs for the win.
1. Halak, Halak, Halak. Last night's win over the Bruins marked the seventh time this season that Halak has received more than 40 shots against. Ridiculous. The Habs were losing battles all night, were continuously second to the puck, and were generally outplayed. However, despite having no business winning the game, they did and it was once again on the back of a strong performance by Jaroslav Halak.
There is no question that Halak is carrying this team right now, and he will have to continue to if they hope to make the playoffs. That being said, I just hope that Jacques Martin continues to ride the hot hand because the Habs need every point they can get!
2. Ryan O'Byrne had a bit of an up and down game. He made some decent plays, but also had some brutal missed assignments, the worst being on the Bruins' second goal where he was caught looking at the puck rather than its destination, which was Blake Wheeler.
That being said, I think that is entirely understandable that Ryan was perhaps out of sorts considering that his mother had just passed away. I am actually surprised that he was even playing. To me, that shows a lot of character on his part. My condolences, Ryan.
3. Markov was tremendous on the defensive side of the puck. While we have all become accustomed to seeing Markov make dazzling offensive plays, we have to remember that what make him an elite defenseman is that he is equally good on the defensive side of the game.
Last night, Markov made several great defensive plays, but none that illustrated his skills more than lifting Marco Sturm's stick, on a breakaway, just at the right time. Markov did so as just as Sturm was about to shoot, nullifying any scoring chance. The amazing part is that he did it without taking a penalty, which is no easy feat.
4. Sergei Kostitsyn's confidence is growing. Not only did he make some great offensive plays and passes, he was also very defensively responsible against the Bruins. This, to me, shows that he has truly embraced the Jacques Martin system.
If he sticks with it, Sergei could become a very well rounded player, as Jacques Martin is known for molding defensively responsible players.
5. Hal Gill is a monster on the PK. While there is no shortage of holes in Gill's overall game, there is also no question that he is a PK specialist. On the PK, Gill uses his entire 6'7" frame to lie down and block the cross-crease pass. This move effectively reduces the number of set plays a team can use, which helps explain the success of the Habs' penalty killing unit this season—eighth overall in the league.
6. Question: What happened to Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara, and Milan Lucic? Last night, they looked like shadows of the players from last year. While all three were keys to the Bruins' success last year, they were mostly invisible last night.
What happened to the hard-hitting Lucic that would strike fear into opposing defenders? Last night, I don't think I saw him throw a single check. What I did see, however, was him getting slammed at the Habs' blueline twice. Once by Hal Gill and once by Benoit Pouliot.
I guess that is the pitfall of having a career year, as the Habs learned last season: What do you do for an encore?
7. Mathieu Darche was a sparkplug all night. Combative, grinding in the corners, and going to the net. Darche was doing it all and seems to have lit a fire under Maxim Lapierre in the process. There is no question, in my mind, that he has earned his place on the team.
Standings and Next Game
With 60 points in 58 games, that Habs now sit in sole possession of sixth place overall in the East. As is usually the case, their grip on this spot is tenuous with Philly and Tampa each having 59 points and three and two games in hand, respectively.
The good news is that the Habs now have a three-point buffer on Florida—with two games in hand—and the Rangers.
The Habs have Friday off before taking on the Penguins in a Saturday afternoon tilt at the Bell Centre.
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