Penguins-Canadiens: Habs Can't Get it Together, Pens Lead Series

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IMay 5, 2010

Montreal 0 Pittsburgh 2 (Bell Centre) Penguins lead the series 2-1.

posted by Rocket
All Habs

"Play Strong, Play Smart, Play Together"

With the Canadiens getting a split in Pittsburgh, and gaining home-ice advantage, Game 3 was pivotal. Win it in front of the faithful, and the Habs might be able to convince the Penguins that their round one win against Washington was no fluke.

Lose the game, and home ice returns to the defending champs.

To absolutely no one's surprise the Bell Centre atmosphere was electric to begin the game.

After the first period, Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman speculated "If [the Canadiens] could have put one past Marc-Andre Fleury, it would really blown the ceiling off the building."

No doubt.

Shots on goal after the first period were 7-to-3 for the Canadiens. The three shots by the Penguins were taken from the 450 area code. Jaroslav Halak was able to rest up and conserve energy. He would need it.

But despite the shots advantage, and the emotional boost of the crowd, the Canadiens didn't have a dominating period. They had a couple good scoring chances, hit a post, and an impressive looking power-play. But, nothing more.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had his team play a smart on the road. Pittsburgh weathered the expected storm in the first half of the opening period. Twelve minutes into the game, the Canadiens had a 4-to-1 shot lead, with the Penguins blocking eight more shots.

Having managed the Canadiens, and the Bell Centre crowd, coach Byslma then turned his troops loose. For the next 30 minutes, the Penguins outshot the Habs 20-to-4. When the television cameras found Jacques Martin, he was wearing his standard puzzled look, taking copious notes, and unable to make the adjustments needed to create any offense.

Martin's strategy of getting an early lead and then playing maximum protect the rest of the way requires the Habs to get the first goal. They didn't tonight.

Prior to the game, Martin said that the game plan was to "spend more time in [the Penguins] zone."

Generating only 18 shots on goal in your own building would suggest that Martin didn't achieve his goal.

Martin also expressed that he wanted to "have a better forecheck" and "good puck placement on dump-ins."

By the second period, the Habs were vacating the neutral zone retreating into their own end. They had little forecheck pressure, and poor puck retrieval. Any chances were created from the rush.

Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri combined for 11 of the Canadiens 18 shots. No other Habs' forward had more than one shot on goal.

Player management certainly had something to do with the Canadiens lack of sustained offensive pressure. Coach Martin deployed a dizzying display of line combinations with not much to show for it.

While I admire Tom Pyatt's speed, heart, and defensive skills, he has limited creativity and hands of stone. So why did Pyatt play as many even strength minutes as Gionta, especially in a game that the Habs never led on the scoreboard?

With three minutes left in the first period, Pyatt failed to get the puck to Andrei Kostitsyn on a 2-on-1. On the same shift, Pyatt fanned from the slot on a perfect feed by Kostitsyn.

Kostitsyn was engaged in the game, playing hard on every shift, evidenced by leading the team in hits. Martin limited Andrei to only 10 minutes of ice-time even though Kostitsyn possesses a shot that could have provided the missing offensive spark.

Even more puzzling is the use of Mathieu Darche. He did not see the ice once. That gives Darche two shifts and less than one minute of ice-time in the past two games combined.

Yet, in Martin's estimation, it is more valuable to have Darche in the line-up than Sergei Kostitsyn. That's the same Kostitsyn who tied Scott Gomez with Molson Cup points this season, just ahead of Andrei Markov.

Some may point to Sergei's behaviour at practise. That is nothing more than frustration bubbling over, angry at a situation manufactured by the coach. When the Canadiens couldn't score a goal, one wonders why personal grudges couldn't have been set aside to benefit the team.

Midway through the first period, Conor McKenna from the Team 990 wrote "Say goodbye to Andrei Kostitsyn for two or less and probably the rest of the game after a moronic goalie interference penalty."

McKenna was mistaken. The penalty was taken by Maxim Lapierre. The question is, would McKenna have used the same words if he realized it was Lapierre? Not a chance. It's yet another example of the media's prejudice against the Kostitsyns.

As for Lapierre, he had two hits in his first shift, and zero for the rest of the game. He had one shot on goal, one hit post and was 29 per cent on faceoffs. Lapierre had three dumb penalties, including the one described by McKenna as "moronic."

This is the same Lapierre who took a pass on the 82-game season, and decided to show up for a handful of games in the playoffs. Yet, the same rules do not apply to him as to others. No short leashes here by the coaching staff.

After P.K. Subban's first few shifts, I said, "Someone will score tonight with Subban on the ice. Let's hope it's the Habs." Subban's play was frenetic, dazzling at times, but individualistic, and not as effective as he can be. Unfortunately he was on the ice for both Penguins' goals.

Pittsburgh would end the game with 18 blocked shots, 13 by Jordan Leopold and Brooks Orpik combined. Even with last change, coach Martin did little to play the matchups to give his shooters an advantage.

Tonight's turning point came near the end of the second period. After a game full of missed calls where it seemed that the referees were taking a "let the guys play" approach, Hal Gill was called for holding Sidney Crosby.

As the period ended, Crosby took out his frustrations by taking a jab at Josh Gorges. It was too much for Roman Hamrlik who went after Crosby starting a scrum. Hamrlik, had seen Crosby taking liberties with his teammates, including a cross-check to the back of Cammalleri.

The officials decided to penalize Gorges and Kris Letang who ended up tussling.

That meant the Canadiens two best defenseman on the penalty-kill were in the box to start the thrid period. In their set play Sergei Gonchar fed a pass to Evgeni Malkin who scored on a one-timer.

Tonight the Habs didn't play smart, didn't use their strength and determination to win battles, and didn't play as a team.

The Canadiens and Penguins will play Game 4 on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

Rocket's three stars

1. Evgeni Malkin
2. Brian Gionta
3. Marc-Andre Fleury

Special mention:

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.

(photo credit: Getty)

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