Canadiens-Capitals: Caps Steamroll Habs To Take 2-1 Series Lead

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Canadiens-Capitals: Caps Steamroll Habs To Take 2-1 Series Lead
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Look away, look away!  They're hideous! 

Gross.  Ugly.  Putrid.  Embarrassing. 

Pick a negative adjective and it probably accurately describes the Canadiens in their 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night. 

A loss in which the Canadiens completely dominated the Caps during the first period, let them score a shorthanded goal to take the lead in the second, left Jaroslav Halak to his own devices only to be pulled in favour of Carey Price after the score was 3-0, then imploded with a series of frustration-laden penalties and misconducts.

Ugly.

The Habs did, however, calm themselves and play a decent third period, but the game was already too far out of reach by that point.  Hopefully they can take some good things from their third period into Wednesday night's Game Four.

The Caps Semyon Varlamov was solid in net but, like on too many occasions this season, the impotent Habs offense made him look like more of a star than he actually is.

The Caps got scoring from Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and Matt Bradley.  The Canadiens lone goal was scored by Tomas Plekanec on the power play in the third.

Final score: Habs 1 - Caps 5
Caps lead series two games to one.


Game Notes

1. Did Halak crumble under the pressure?

Yes and no. 

While Halak has been far from stellar over the last two games, he was left largely to his own devices last night.  The result was a terrible shorthanded goal at 1:06 of the second period, which basically opened the floodgates for the Caps.

On the play, Roman Hamrlik—and why was he in on the power play?—failed to block the Caps clearing attempt which set up a two-on-one with Jaroslav Spacek as the lone defender. 

Halak made the initial save but Spacek slid into him freeing the puck and handcuffing the Habs goaltender.  Gordon merely jammed the rebound in for a bit of a "gimmie."

After that, poor gap control, weak defensive zone coverage, and missed assignments meant that Halak was abandoned by his teammates and driven from his net.

On a night that I had suggested would be the defining moment of his career so far, Halak was not a difference maker but was also not responsible for the loss.


2. What veteran leadership?

While a lot of talk over the first two games has focused on the veteran leadership and Stanley Cup experience brought to the table by Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, and Travis Moen, last night they failed to deliver.

Once the Caps had taken a 3-0 lead, Gomez and Gionta completely lost their composure and the rest of the team followed them down the drain.

Following a goal mouth scrum, Gionta got two minutes for unnecessarily cross-checking Jason Chimera while Gomez got a ten minute game misconduct for lipping off at the ref.

A few minutes later, Plekanec got a two minute minor for interference and another two for mouthing off at the ref—following Gomez's example.

That is not veteran leadership, and that is not a calming influence. 

Just when the Habs were at their lowest point of the game, Gionta and Gomez only helped the Habs dig a deeper hole rather than settling the troops while the game was still within reach.

Frustration or not, their role on the team is to provide leadership and Stanley Cup experience.  As such, their personal, selfish implosions set bad examples and ultimately, both players should know better.


3. Jacques Martin is the Achilles Heel of the Montreal Canadiens.

While fans have been complaining about Coach Martin's poor decisions since the beginning of the season, this playoff series has only served to amplify his shortcomings.

Martin simply looks like a person who the game has passed by and his personnel decisions from game-to-game do not seem to make sense.

If there is one thing that has become glaringly obvious during this series, it is that the Canadiens are just way too small to compete.  So why then is Ryan O'Byrne—the only Habs defender who can bring any physical dimension to the game—a healthy scratch?

Moreover, why is Marc-Andre Bergeron—a severe defensive liability—on the top defensive pairing with Andrei Markov? 

While most players on the team were minuses last night, MAB was the only Habs defender who was worse than a minus-one for the night (he was minus-three).  He simply should not be playing more than five or ten minutes a game on the fourth line and the power play, and this is ultimately the coach's decision.

Martin just seems to make curious decision after curious decision, misses opportunities to call timeouts, refuses to deviate from his "system," is slow to adapt to the other team, and ultimately, is out-coached far too often.

If he is still here to start the 2011 season, the Habs are going to be in for another year of misery.


4. Glen Metropolit should have taken another night off.

Playing only 5:37 and finishing a minus-one on the night, Metropolit was clearly not ready to return to the lineup.  Yet, despite this fact, Coach Martin chose to sit Sergei Kostitsyn in favour of Metro.

While I admire Metro's courage and determination in wanting to get back into the lineup three weeks ahead of schedule—his shoulder injury was supposed to keep him out for six to eight weeks—the Canadiens could have used SK74's skill last night.

This is another oddity of Coach Martin who clearly does not like Sergei K and always seems to be waiting for any opportunity to sit him.

This is sad because unless Martin is fired in the offseason—an unlikely prospect given his history with GM Pierre Gauthier—then it seems likely that Sergei will be traded.

In a situation where the coach does not want a player it is either the player who ends up going or the coach.  If Sergei is gone in favour of Martin, I think the Habs will be keeping the weaker of the two links.


Look Out Ahead!

This series is looking more and more like the Canadiens let it slip away in their 6-5 overtime loss on Saturday.  Leading 4-1, the Habs should have won that game and if they had done so would have had a good chance at winning this series.

While this series is far from over, the Canadiens seemed last night like a team who had given up.  You would expect more from a team with four Stanley Cup-winning players on their team.

With Carey Price taking over in the net for Halak after the score was 3-0—he stopped 21 of 23 shots—it seems likely that he will be in the net for Wednesday nights uber-important game four. 

And why not? 

The 6'2" Price is much better suited to playing against the crease-crashing Capitals.  Plus, he had a 2-1-1 record against the Caps during the season.

However given Coach Martin's ability to do wacky things, I wouldn't be surprised to see Halak back in the net.  Disappointed, but not shocked.

Either way, I believe that in order for the Habs to have any chance of remaining in this series, their goaltender—whoever it ends up being—will have to steal the next game.  The Canadiens have the goaltending to steal a game in this series, and if they can't do it on Wednesday, then I think the Caps will close this series out in five games.


Next Game

Both teams have one day to prepare for Wednesday night's game four in Montreal.

Habs fans across the city this morning are hoping that the Caps players get done in
by the holy trinity of Montreal: Super Sex, Wanda's, and Chez Pare. 

While my heart tells me that the Habs still have a chance, my head tells me that this point, plus a lot of luck, looks like the only way the Habs will be able to win this series.


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