Before last night's match between the Canadiens and Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, I had a lot of discussions about the game online. Some felt that the Habs were due for a stinker while others thought this was a game destined for a shootout. Whatever the final outcome, however, most everyone felt it was going to be a close game.
Well, it certainly lived up to the expectations.
The Habs employed a hermetic defensive system, shutting down the neutral zone and waiting for opportunities to counter-attack. This is the standard Jacques Martin road game and, were it not for a bevy of penalties, the Habs could have walked away with the two points.
The Canadiens opened the scoring when Michael Cammalleri's shot came off of the back boards and was knocked in off of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, by Travis Moen.
Up until that point the Habs were playing the perfect road game.
Things fell apart however, when the Canadiens took four first-period penalties including three in the final five minutes, handing the momentum over to the Red Wings. The result was a barrage from Detroit as they outshot the Habs 18-7 in the first.
The Wings tied it up on a 5-on-3 with two seconds left in the first period as Nicklas Lidstrom pinched to chip the puck past Price. The goal was setup by a Josh Gorges turnover in the corner where he didn't seem to know what to do with the puck.
Once again, if it wasn't for a brilliant performance by Carey Price, this one could have been over in the first.
The turning point of the game was when Andrei Kostitsyn missed an open net in the dying seconds of the Habs second period power play. Right after the play, Pavel Datsyuk outskated Hal Gill and backhanded a seeing-eye shot top corner over Price to make it 3-1 wings.
Had Kostitsyn scored that goal this would have been a different game.
The Wings would add another before the period was out to go up by two. Undaunted, the Canadiens took the play to the Red Wings for the entire third period. From the drop of the puck they dominated play, outshooting the Wings 19-3 and 38-32 on the night as they blitzed the Detroit zone.
Detroit net-minder Howard had to make several spectacular saves to maintain the lead but, with the Habs pressing, Benoit Pouliot wired one past him to make it a one-goal game. Try as they may, however, the Habs comeback just ran out of track and their constant trips to the penalty box early in the game came back to haunt them.
The Wings sealed the deal with an empty-netter.
Despite the loss, the Canadiens showed that they can not only play with the best but that they can also dominate them, as they did in the third period. If there were ever any doubts about whether this Canadiens team was for real or not, those questions were answered last night. This is a loss that feels like a win for the Canadiens as they showed that they can compete with the best in the league.
Notice has been served.
Scary moment of the night
Tomas Plekanec charged into the Wings zone, popped the puck around Brian Rafalski and then tried to sidestep the Wings' defense man. Rafalski stuck out his butt and cracked Plek in the knee, sending him down in a heap. Plek stayed down for a minute or so as Habs fans everywhere held their breath, but eventually made it back to the bench no worse for wear.
Final score: Wings, 4 - Habs, 2
Habs' scorers: Travis Moen (3), Benoit Pouliot (7)
Red Wings' scorers: Nicklas Lidstrom (4), Niklas Kronwall (6), Pavel Datsyuk (10), Patrick Eaves (5)
Three stars: 1. Pavel Datsyuk, 2. Dan Cleary, 3. Jimmy Howard
1. This game was a true goal tending duel.
Jimmy Howard got the third star of the game and without him, Detroit would have been buried by the Habs in the third. Carey Price, however, was not included in the three star selections which, to me, was a bit of a surprise. His 17-save first period was the only reason why the Habs were still alive in the second and still had a chance to win the game.
That being said, both goaltenders were at the top of their games as their speedy, skill-based teams attacked each other's defensive zones and had a bevy of scoring chances.
It is no wonder that these two keepers are one and two the league for wins—17 for Price and 16 for Howard.
Much of the talk before the game was about the crease-crashing and goalie-screening abilities that players like Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary had and they did not disappoint. Price made several incredible saves during the first period with Detroit players crashing around him like waves against the shore.
His ability to stay focused and find the puck through traffic is at an elite level and nothing seems to rattle him.
While the two teams were evenly matched and it would be amazing to see a seven-game series between them, the Wings are much better at going to the net than the Canadiens.
You would hope that any moves the Habs decide to make will work to bring in players who excel in that department.
2. I guess P.K. Subban is human after all.
Playing his first game back since a three-game stint in the press box, Subban looked mortal at best. Most of the night he was invisible and when he was visible he was usually turning the puck over, forcing a play or otherwise making mistakes.
The only time Subban did anything that was really noteworthy was on the Habs' lone power play of the game, where he did an excellent job of holding the blue line. Apart from that he seem to be reserved, over thinking things, trying not to make a mistake and overall not playing his game.
It is very unfortunate to see a player and a person who is all about confidence look like an insecure rookie. Hopefully Subban will still be in the lineup against the Leafs tonight, because it looks like it might take him a few to get his mojo back.
It seems that Jacques Martin's strategy with Subban has so far only served to destabilize the young defenseman.
3. Tomas Plekanec has become one of the best two-way players in the league.
There were several shifts during the first period where Plekanec showed why he has become one of the best two-way forwards in the league, and why I believe he will be a finalist for the Selke Trophy at season's end.
Plekanec was often charged with shutting down the Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg line and he did an excellent job in that department. He was all over the defensive zone often shadowing Datsyuk to ensure he couldn't get anything going offensively.
There were also a few sequences on the penalty kill where Plekanec skated the puck into the Wings' zone, and proceeded to take about 20 seconds off of the clock by circling and cycling the puck all by himself. On one instance, he even ended his shift by moving the puck back to his defense who then fired it down into the Red Wings' zone, killing off even more time.
Plekanec has truly come into his own as one of the most complete players in the league and it is a real tossup between him and Price for team MVP.
4. The Habs need to learn discipline.
I know the Habs have an excellent penalty kill but they have to learn discipline.
As of this morning, the Habs are the ninth-most penalized team in the NHL with 112 power play opportunities against. For a team that is based on skill not toughness, that number seems to be inordinately high.
Last night the Habs took four penalties in the first, including a five-on-three, and completely killed any momentum they might have had. Fortunately for the Habs, they have the first-ranked PK in the league at 89.3 percent. The problem, however, is that when you take so many penalties your offensive players spend too much time on the bench. Players like Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn are better served working in the offensive zone than sitting on the bench.
Moreover, it's harder for these players to get involved in the game without being on the ice, and that's why the Habs had such a hard time getting anything going until the third period. While many are complaining about the refs this morning I believe that the Habs were masters of their own fate.
Last night the Red Wings had the puck on their sticks more often than not and when you are constantly chasing the puck you have a tendency to take a lot of penalties. Given the trapping system that the Habs tend to play, it means that their opponent often has the puck and they try to take it away from them, leading to hooking, tripping and slashing infractions.
When the Habs are drawing penalties it's always when they have the puck on their sticks and are skating hard. Last night, they didn't really do that until the third period and it cost them the two points.
5. Dustin Boyd is an excellent addition to the lineup.
Scott Gomez, who is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, accompanied the team on this two-game road trip. That being said, there is still no official word on the extent of his injury.
As such, the Habs reinserted Dustin Boyd into the lineup to play the fourth line center position and he did not disappoint.
I liked what I saw from Boyd during training camp and felt his size, skill, speed and toughness would be an excellent addition to the Habs' bottom-six. Coach Martin didn't feel the same way, however, and Boyd has been a healthy scratch for most of the season as a result.
Last night, Boyd played in only his 10th game of the season but he delivered exactly the kind of match that can make him an important part of a winning team. Paired with Maxim Lapierre and Tom Pyatt, the Habs fourth line caused all kinds of problems in the Detroit zone as their aggressive forecheck wore down the opposing defenders.
During the third period Coach Martin started double-shifting Cammalleri, placing him on the wing with Boyd and Lapierre and that trio had some of the Habs' best scoring chances.
The one downside to Boyd's game is that he wasn't very good in the faceoff circle, winning only 40 percent of the draws he took. That being said, none of the Habs' centerman did very well in that department last night with Plekanec being the leader at a 52 percent success rate.
I hope they can find a way to keep Boyd in the lineup regardless of Gomez's status, because he is the perfect pivot for an energy line and has enough offensive skills that he should be able to pot more than just the occasional goal.
Standings and Next Game
The loss moves the Habs' record to 18-9-2 with 38 points in the standings, first place in the Northeast division. The Bruins, winners of two straight games, are three points back of the Canadiens with two games in hand.
There is no time to dwell on the loss as the Habs are in Toronto tonight to take on the Leafs. There is no word yet on who the starter will be but you would have to think that it might be time to give Alex Auld a go.
Tonight's game is the first NHL game ever to be broadcast in 3-D so have your blue and red glasses ready!
The puck drops at around 7:05 p.m.
Don't forget to listen in to the Team 990 tomorrow morning from 8 - 9 am for the Sunday Shinny with Nick Murdocco, Gary Whittaker, Amanda Stein and me.