After roaring to a 7-1-0 record after the Olympic break, the Habs seem to have taken a breather over their last two games. Just when they were starting to roll, it looks like they have now taken their foot—at least temporarily—off the gas pedal.
Habs fans were disappointed with the Canadiens poor performance in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Leafs over the weekend, but at least they were able to salvage a point.
Last night, however, the Habs not only played poorly and lost the game, but they were also shutout at home.
This is not something that the Habs faithful tends to enjoy, and they let the homeboy's know just that, as they sent them off of the ice to a chorus of boos.
The Sens, losers of five straight games before last night, played like their lives were on the line and generally dominated the Habs all night long.
Jaroslav Halak stood tall in the Habs net and gave them a chance to win despite his team being outplayed. The Habs were ultimately done-in by bad defensive zone coverage, poor gap control, missed assignments, turnovers, and a powerless powerplay.
There was also a scary moment when Travis Moen took a skate in the face off of an upended Senators player, in the second period. He went immediately to the dressing room and there was fear that he might have been hit in the eye.
While he did not return to the game, word this morning seems to indicate that he received over 50 stitches to the forehead but will not require further medical attention.
Final score: Habs 0 - Sens 2
1. Halak is playing like a true number one. Calm, cool and collected, Halak has grabbed the ball and is running with it.
While he certainly did have some misplays handling the puck last night, he was otherwise near flawless as he made save after save to keep it a one goal game until the third.
Despite the Habs outshooting the Senators 29 to 27, the Sens had the better scoring chances all night with the Habs giving up odd-man rush after odd-man rush. The Sens could have filled the Habs' net with three or four goals in the first period alone.
2. Next time, decline the penalty.
The Habs second overall ranked powerplay again fired blanks last night, going 0-for-5. If you include the loss to Toronto, that gives the Habs a 1-for-12 success rate over their last two games, or 8.3%. That is simply not good enough.
Coach Martin has been preaching the need for strong goaltending and special teams all year. While that's true, it's important to note that when the Habs were winning six in a row, Halak was not stealing games and their powerplay was not clicking at top efficiency. In fact, it was actually their 5-on-5 play and balanced attack that was winning games for them.
The Habs need to find that balance again if they are going to have success over their final nine games.
3. Speaking of balance the Habs seem to have lost theirs.
Yes, they are only on a two game losing streak and can quickly turn things around, but if there is one thing that has stood out over those games it is the Habs lack of scoring balance.
One of the main catalysts of the Habs recent six-game winning streak was the four-line balance. It seemed like they were scoring by committee with a new hero stepping up every night.
More importantly, the Habs third and fourth lines were contributing on the ice with an effective, grinding cycle, and on the scoreboard with important and timely goals.
Since Saturday in Toronto, however, the third and fourth lines have been essentially invisible on the ice. Not only are they failing to offer any scoring thrust, but they are being caught out of position and causing defensive liabilities for their team. This trends needs to be reversed in a hurry.
I can't help but wonder if putting Maxim Lapierre back on the fourth line has somehow disrupted the chemistry there.
4. Tom Pyatt is not a top six winger and Andrei Kostitsyn is firing blanks.
Michael Cammalleri—who should be back in the lineup on Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres—should provide a sorely needed shot in the arm to the Habs sputtering offense.
While Pyatt plays bigger than his 5'10", 180 lbs. frame, there is no question that he is better suited to a bottom six role. He has done his best in Cammalleri's absence, but is just not what the doctor ordered.
Cammalleri's return to the top line should take some pressure and attention off of AK46 and allow him some more room on the ice. Hopefully he can convert that time and space into points, because two assist over his last 12 games is just not cutting it.
5. Speaking of firing blanks, what has happened to Benoit Pouliot?
While AK46's struggles are well documented, Pouliot has had no problems since joining the Gomez-Gionta line.
That was until the game against the Leafs.
Over his last two games, Pouliot is playing like he still has the Minnesota Wild's jersey on his back. He is not moving his feet, he is missing passes, he is fumbling with the puck and he is not shooting or going to the net. Basically he is doing the opposite of everything that has made him successful up until now with the Habs.
Like AK46, Pouliot needs to turn things around in a hurry because having two thirds of the top two lines clicking is a recipe for disaster.
Standings and Next Game
The Habs missed another opportunity to move ahead in the standings last night, and instead ceded the fifth overall spot to the Senators. The Canadiens now have 79 points in 73 games and sit in seventh overall in the East.
Just ahead of the Habs are the Flyers (79 points, one game in hand) and the Sens (81 points in 73 games). These two teams play each other tonight in another 4-point inter-division game with the winner moving into fifth overall.
Next up for the Habs is a Wednesday night tilt versus the division-leading Buffalo Sabres, winners of three in a row.
A win Wednesday would pull the Habs to within seven points of the Sabres. With only nine more games to play the seven point cushion would likely put the Sabres out of the Habs' striking range, but crazier things have been known to happen.
That being said, the Habs have done themselves no favors by losing to the Leafs and Sens and face difficult opponents in Buffalo and Jersey this week. There is no question that the losses have put the Canadiens on thin ice.
A few more losses could see the Habs fall back into the "hanging on by their finger nails" category. A few wins, however, could push them up the standings.
Note to Habs fans : While many are in the throes of depression this morning, it is important to remember that a team is never as good as it looks when it is winning and never as bad as they look when they are losing.
A call for calm and balance is in order, methinks.
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