The Boston Bruins were in Montreal last night for a highly anticipated match between two teams that are dueling for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
Despite their strong records in the standings, both teams have had their share of problems lately. The Habs, 5-3 losers the night before against the Flyers, were on a three game losing streak and have gone 6-7 in their last 13 games.
The Bruins too have been having trouble finding consistency, losing two straight including a 3-2 loss the night before against the Sabres.
All this to say that in an all important "four-point" match, something had to give.
The Canadiens opened the scoring when Michael Cammalleri was awarded a penalty shot only 1:04 into the game. Cammalleri did a little dipsy-doodle-how-do-you-do tap dance on Tim Thomas to make it 1-0
The Canadiens continued to press getting another by Maxim Lapierre before the 10 minute mark, as their aggressive forecheck continued to pay dividends.
Tim Thomas kept his team in the game long enough for Blake Wheeler to get one past Carey Price when he was looking the other way. The goal shifted momentum to the Bruins who started to control the play until P.K. Subban absolutely leveled Brad Marchand with a clean open-ice hit. The hit got the crowd and his teammates back into it.
Max Pacioretty put his first of the season past Thomas to give the Habs a 3-1 lead going into the intermission on 17 first period shots.
The teams passed the momentum back and forth over the next two periods on great body checks, solid goaltending and timely goals. Despite the Habs leading by two goals twice during the game, the Bruins kept the things close by capitalizing on bad turnovers and poor defensive coverage to make the score 3-2 then 4-3.
Ultimately, the Canadiens were able to come out on top because they were using their speed, chipping pucks behind the Bruins defenders and winning the 1-on-1 battles.
Hit of the night: P.K. Subban absolutely obliterated Brad Marchand midway through the first period with a clean open-ice hit. On the play, Subban saw Marchand headed towards the Habs' zone with a full head of steam. P.K. swooped from the middle of the ice to the right side, slamming into Marchand with his back. Marchnd, bell clearly rung, made slowly made his way back to the bench as his teammates tried to get Subban to fight.
Fight of the night: Michael Cammalleri and David Krejci dropped the gloves after exchanging pleasantries near the Habs blueline. Krejci got more shots in but Cammalleri landed a few too. Both players came up with cuts on the face but where otherwise no worse for wear.
Final score: Habs 4 - Bruins 3
Habs' scorers: Michael Cammalleri (11), Maxim Lapierre (5), Max Pacioretty (1), Brian Gionta (11)
Bruins`scorers: Blake Wheeler (7), Marc Savard (1), Milan Lucic (16)
Three stars: 1. Max Pacioretty, 2. Michael Cammalleri, 3. Brian Gionta
1. Max Pacioretty is Pacio-ready.
OK, I stole that from RDS, but it's true!
Again, he has only played two games but so far Pacioretty seems to be missing ingredient from the second line. All of a sudden Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez have so much more room to skate on the ice and it makes the trio that much more dangerous.
Pacioretty is creating scoring chances every time he is on the ice as his size and nose for the net are opening up lanes for his linemates.
The most surprising part of his game, however, is his incredible foot speed. At 6'2" and 208 lbs, he moves fast for a big man which is good because he is playing with two of the fastest skaters on the team.
MaxPac finished the night with two points (1G, 1A), a plus-1 rating, four shots on goal and 15:18 of ice time. That sounds pretty good to me!
2. Carey Price again let in a few weak goals.
There really isn't a lot to complain about with Carey Price since the beginning of the season. That being said, over the last few games he has let in a few softies.
On the Blake Wheeler goal, for example, Price was slow moving post-to-post and Wheeler was able to put the puck into a mostly empty net as a result. I am not sure it is a momentary lack of focus of if perhaps a little fatigue is starting to creep into Price.
The Wheeler goal was exactly the kind of save that Price was making on a regular basis, only a week or so ago.
Overall, however, Price still looks solid. Maybe it is just time to give Alex Auld a few more starts so that Carey doesn't start to break down over the back half of the season.
3. Subban played a much better and seems to be finding his game again.
From the start of the game you could see that Subban had more jump in his stride and more confidence in his abilities.
He wasn't all the way there but was much closer to the exhilarating player who has been pulling fans out of their seats since the beginning of the season. As a result, he was making better decisions on the ice, better first passes and was fully engaged physically.
Yesterday was the second game in a row where Subban threw a thunderous first period hit and on both occasions it got his team into the game.
The more I see him play the more he reminds me of a smaller Larry Robinson or Chris Chelios.
4. Cammalleri is much better suited to playing with Tomas Plekanec.
When he was playing with Gomez, Cammalleri was trying to do too much by himself largely due to Gomez's lack of production. But he is a goal scorer and needs someone to set him up, like Martin St. Louis does with Steven Stamkos.
But when Gomez was sputtering Cammy took it upon himself to carry the puck down the ice and he was often trying to beat defenders, causing turnovers as a result. In addition, he was moving around too much on the ice and it was harder for Gomez to find him.
Playing with Plekanec you can see the difference instantly. Plek will dangle through the offensive zone and suddenly pass the puck out to a stationary Cammy who fires it on net. That is when Cammy is most dangerous. He and Plek just fit naturally together and with the Gomez line awake again, I don't think Martin should ever put Cammy with Gomez again.
Cammy has seven points (4G, 3A) in his last six games. At the same time, Scott Gomez has four assists in his last two games so maybe JM has finally found a solution that can work for everyone.
5. The Habs defense needs reinforcement.
As much as the Canadiens had success when Markov was initially out of the lineup, they are playing .500 hockey over the last 14 games (7-7). The more the season advances the more apparent it is becoming that the Canadiens defense needs help.
Alexandre Picard, who has filled in admirably, is turning the puck over more and more and showing why he has basically been a journeyman player for most of his career in the process. He is an acceptable depth guy but not too much more than that and right now he is being counted on as the No.4 defenseman on the team.
That is far more responsibility than he is realistically capable on handling.
In addition, guys like Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill are all over 35 years of age, not exceptionally mobile and playing far too many minutes. Only P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges have any real mobility to speak of and while there is a high ceiling for Subban, he is a rookie and, as we have seen lately, it will take some time for him to truly come into his own.
If Max Pacioretty continues to play well up front the Canadiens should be able to focus their attention on finding a minute-munching, big, strong defenseman.
Kevin Bieksa is a name that has been thrown around in the rumour mill, but all indications are that he comes with baggage and does not always give it his all. As such, I would look elsewhere for a solution.
The player who I like and who the Team 990 mentioned yesterday, is Calgary's Robin Regher. At 30 years of age, Regher is 6'3" and 225 lbs, plays with a mean streak, routinely ices 20-plus minute games and is exactly the kind of had hitting defenseman that they desperately need. Given the problems in Calgary this year, Regher is a player that could be acquired through trade and he would make a great complement to Subban.
That duo would eat up significant minutes allowing Hamrlik and Spacek to play less minutes and have more left in the tank for a potentially long playoff run.
Standings and Next Game
The win snaps the Canadiens' three-game losing streak, moving their record to 19-11-2 with 40 points in the standings. The Habs now have a four point buffer on the Bruins who have 36 points in the standings and two games in hand.
The Canadiens now embark on their most challenging road trip of the season, playing in seven different cities starting Sunday night in Colorado and ending on December 31 in Florida.
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