Canadiens-Penguins: Fleury Earns Shutout As Pittsburgh Takes Series Lead

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Canadiens-Penguins: Fleury Earns Shutout As Pittsburgh Takes Series Lead
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

I guess Marc-Andre Fleury silenced his critics last night, eh? 

After performances in Game One and Two where Fleury looked shaky, he put in arguably his best performance of the playoffs last night and earned a shutout in the process.

The Habs had their chances, as they took the play to the Pens during a first period in which Pittsburgh wasn't even in the same building.

However, as has been the case too many times this season, the Canadiens couldn't score and that gave the Pens enough time to regroup and storm back.

In essence, the Habs got "Halak-ed" by Fleury.

The Pens got scoring from Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis (empty net) while the Habs were blanked.

Final score: Habs 0 - Pens 2.  Pens lead the series 2-1.

 

Game Notes

1. Jaroslav Halak was good, but Fleury was better.

While there is no question that Halak played another strong game for Montreal, we have to remember that the Canadiens are a team that has a very small margin for error.

This is largely because of their lack of depth and the passive-resistance style that they play. Essentially, for the Habs to win they need outstanding goaltending, good special teams, and opportunistic scoring i.e. they have to capitalize on their chances.

The Habs dominated the first period against the Pens last night, but couldn't put one past Fleury. This allowed the Pens to go to the dressing, regroup, and turn the game around.

While Halak kept the Pens scorers at bay for most of the night—he stopped 23 of 24 shots against him—the Habs ultimately did themselves in by taking penalties at the end of the second period.

As a result, the Habs started the third period shorthanded with both Josh Gorges and Hal Gill—the Habs two best penalty killers—in the box. The result was the game winning goal by Evgeni Malkin at 1:16 of the third period.

While Fleury only faced 18 shots on the night, many of the saves that he made were of the spectacular variety. He is the reason the Pens went into the second period tied at zero, rather than being down by one or two.

Had the Habs been able to score in the first period, the game would have been over.

 

2. P.K. Subban is going to be a stud on the blueline.

Playing a team leading 22:09 last night, Subban put in his best performance so far. Making great first passes, excellent defensive plays, blocking shots, hitting people, and proving an offensive spark from the back end.

While Andrei Markov is Andrei Markov and no one can replace him, Subban was given the nod to eat up the extra minutes left by his absence.

That the coaching staff is looking to a 20-year-old to fill in for their No.1 defenseman speaks volumes about Subban's maturity and his development in Hamilton.

If the Habs want any chance of winning this series, they will need every ounce of Subban's talent with Markov out and Jaroslav Spacek with no clear timeline to return.

 

3. Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot are key cogs for the Habs.

Both AK46 and Pouliot have been struggling for at least the last two months. Over the course of the playoffs, neither has been effective and it is hurting the Habs chances to win.

Both players are the third component to their respective lines—AK46 with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri, and Pouliot with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta—and neither are producing.

Starting the game on the fourth line, AK46 played some of his most inspired hockey in a long time last night.

AK46 was making passes, taking shots, and even taking the body. His effective play earned him a promotion back to the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri.

Unfortunately for the trio, they couldn't capitalize on their chances.

Pouliot suffered a similar fate last night, as he had a few shifts where he looked effective, but ultimately failed to do anything.

The result was that Jacques Martin, desperate for offense, was forced to put Cammalleri with Gomez and Gionta, meaning that the Habs only had one effective scoring line.

This is a desperation move and one caused by the fact that one third of the top two lines are not contributing anything.

This is disturbing for the Canadiens because 92 games into the season is not the time when we should be talking about players "waking up."

While I have so far not been impressed by the Penguins and see them as a team that is eminently beatable, if the Canadiens do not win I feel that it is their lack of scoring depth that will do them in.

 

Look Out Ahead!

For the Canadiens, there is not a lot that needs to be changed before next game. Getting Spacek back in the lineup would be great, but he is suffering from some kind of inner ear problem that is giving him vertigo. The result is a lack of balance and no clear timeline for return.

If Spacek can't come back next game, it will mean that the Habs top three defensemen will continue to be Subban, Hamrlik, and Gorges. When compared to Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski, the Habs don't stack up very well.

If there is one thing the Habs will want to do next game, it is go to the net more often. While Fleury was outstanding last night, the Canadiens made his life easier than it needed to be by not going to the net for screens, deflections, and rebounds.

As such, almost all of the Habs' chances came on first shots. Very few rebounds, or second chances, were picked up by the Habs and in this league, you're not going to score too often like that.

 

Next Game

The teams both enjoy a day off before playing a pivotal Game Four in Montreal, on Thursday.

Needless to say, Game Four is a must win for the Canadiens because as much as the Pens are a team that can be beaten, they are not going to give up a 3-1 series lead.

Win on Thursday, and the Habs go back to Pittsburgh with the series tied 2-2. Lose, and things might be over in a hurry.

So what do you think about last night's game and who do you think will win the next game? Can the Habs pull it off? Will the Pens steamroll the Canadiens?


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