Pittsburgh vs. Montreal: Indiscipline Against Penguins Sinks Habs
The Montreal Canadiens, winners of four out of their last five games, were at the Bell Centre last night to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in their second game in two days.
Much to the Habs' chagrin, the Pens came out of the gate with victory in mind, controlling play for the first 10 minutes of the game. But Carey Price, who was playing his first game since Saturday, was equal to the task, making several outstanding saves early to get the crowd in the game and keep the Pens off the scoreboard.
Pittsburgh got themselves into penalty trouble early, taking two needless penalties before the 10 minute mark of the first, but they were able to flex their second overall penalty kill, smothering the Canadiens on both PPs.
The Pens opened the scoring 12:57 into the first on a 4-on-2 break with Alex Goligoski firing a bullet top shelf over Price. Undaunted, the Habs tied things up only 18 seconds later with Tomas Plekanec potting a feed from Mathieu Darche in front to tie the game at one.
Things started to get chippy once the Habs tied things up, with goalmouth scrums after almost every whistle as the Pens players tried to give their team a spark.
The second period started with the teams tied at one, with the Habs taking the lead when David Desharnais deflected a P.K. Subban shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for his first career NHL goal.
That was when the wheels fell off the cart for the Canadiens.
Clearly fatigued from the game against the Rangers the previous night, Montreal proceeded to hand the Pens six straight power plays and the visitors took full advantage, scoring four unanswered goals to deliver the win.
To add insult to injury, Pens' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made a buffalo stance pose in mockery of the one that Carey Price did only a weak ago after defeating the Pens in a shootout.
I'm sure that will just add some spice to this already heated rivalry.
Final score: Pens 5 — Habs 2
Habs scorers: Tomas Plekanec (13), David Desharnais (1)
Pens scorers: Alex Goligoski (8), Tyler Kennedy (7), Jordan Staal (1), Alex Goligoski (9), Chris Kunitz (14)
Three stars: 1. Jordan Staal, 2. David Desharnais, 3. Kris Letang
1. Price played an excellent game but didn't get a lot of support.
After having three days off from action—with backup Alex Auld getting the start the previous night in New York—the big pregame question was how Price would respond.
We have to remember that while Price played stupendously through October and November, he lost his game through the month of December. That being said, he had was starting to rediscover his early season form since the new year, so the worry was the these few days off might kill his momentum.
Well, Price wasn't having any of that.
Only seven minutes into the game the Pens had several quality scoring chances from the slot and Price stood up each one. While he was good in the first period, Price truly shone in the second when his teammates looked slow and fatigued, turning aside 12 of the 14 shots fired his way.
Unfortunately he let in a bit of a softie with 11 seconds to play in the second period, shorthanded. It was a shot low stick side that kind of went through Price. To his credit, however, the play wouldn't have happened if Jordan Stall wasn't able to easily strip Jaroslav Spacek of the puck. Spacek was weak on the play and should have done a better job insulating his goaltender in the dying seconds of the period.
That goal ended up being the turning point of the game yet despite the softie, Price was the only reason the Canadiens went into the third only down by one.
Once again, however, the team in front of him was not able to provide their goaltender with much offense and, as I have said before, if the team can't score the Canadiens won't win a lot of games, regardless of how well Price plays.
2. Benoit Pouliot is playing like a man possessed, but...
Since scoring a regulation and game winning shootout goal against the Penguins a week ago, Pouliot has two goals, an assist and a plus-3 rating over four games.
Last night, he continued his excellent work, this time on a line with Darche and Plekanec. Plekanec, who makes all of his wingers better players, looks like an excellent complement for Pouliot and seemed to bring out the best in the 6'3" winger yesterday.
Against the Pens, Pouliot was playing big, which is something he hasn't done very much since joining the Canadiens and he looks alive and is playing with a spark lately. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that he has played his best hockey since Maxim Lapierre was traded.
Maybe Mr. Pouliot really likes it in Montreal and wants to stay.
Whatever the reason, the Habs are surely hoping for more of the same from him going forward.
While he seems to be getting things going offensively, the problem for Pouliot is that he is taking too many foolish offensive zone penalties. Hooking, tripping, slashing and the like. These are all lazy penalties that tend to result from him not moving his feet.
Against the Pens, Pouliot took three penalties—high-sticking, hooking and slashing—the first of which led to the tying goal and second of which led to the insurance marker.
If Pouliot wants to make a difference on this team he has to stop taking these costly penalties because, offense aside, Jacques Martin has no patience for that kind of play.
3. David Desharnais played well but has struggled over the last two games.
Despite scoring his first NHL goal on a sweet deflection off of a P.K. Subban slapshot, Desharnais has struggled against NHL competition over the last two games.
Now, to his credit, he hasn't exactly been playing with linemates that complement him very well and I would prefer to see him playing with the likes of Max Pacioretty. That being said, yesterday, the Penguins brought a physical brand of hockey to the rink and Desharnais was getting knocked around like a rag doll.
Physical games like that are good tests for the diminutive center, since he will have to show that he is able to play through that kind of physical abuse if he is going to make it in the NHL.
Despite the added attention, he still displayed a gritty style of play, going into the corners and to the front of the net, without the slightest tinge of fear.
That's a step in the right direction.
We all know that he's got the heart but if the coach would play him with some true scoring wingers we'd get to see if he also has the skills to make it in the NHL.
4. Lars Eller looked decent in a limited role.
Much like Desharnais, Lars Eller is fighting to show that he belongs with the big club. The difference between him and Desharnais, however, is that this is likely Desharnais' last chance while Eller has plenty of time to continue developing.
Playing 14:37 with 1:03 of power play time, Eller had a few flashes of brilliance as he used his mobility and size to set up scoring chances in the Penguins' zone.
Unfortunately, playing with Desharnais, who is another play maker, and Tom Pyatt, who is a defensive player, it is hard to truly judge what he is able to do because he isn't playing with linemates that complement his style.
I still don't understand what Jacques Martin's hesitation is to give Eller more power play time. If you want to play him on the third or fourth line then you should at least give him ample time on the PP in order for him to perhaps contribute offensively.
In absence of that, and playing with linemates that do not complement his style, I'm not sure what more the team expects from him.
5. Penalties did the Habs in.
As has been the case far too often this season, the Canadiens were their own worst enemy last night by taking untimely, undisciplined and lazy penalties.
Playing their second game in two nights, it was perhaps to be expected that they would begin to tire in the latter half of the game. Especially when you consider that the team didn't get to Montreal until around 1 a.m. the previous night.
With their energy levels dropping by the minute, the Canadiens took a series of fatigue or lack of effort related slashing and hooking penalties. The result was that they handed the Pens six straight power plays over the final two periods.
The Sidney Crosby-less Pens were able to capitalize on four of those man advantages, taking a 4-2 then 5-2 lead in the third to close things out with Montreal's league-leading penalty kill failing to stop them.
The special teams were the difference last night and, had the Habs played a more disciplined game the outcome might have been different.
But bad penalties have been a problem for Montreal since the beginning of the season, and it seems like loss after loss coach Martin talks about the need for discipline in his postgame presser.
I am wondering, then, when he will actually do something to correct this problem.
Standings and Next Game
In losing to the Penguins, the Habs missed a golden opportunity to catch the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins—both have 53 points—in the standings. Their record now stands at 24-17-3 with 51 points, seventh in the Eastern conference, tied with the Atlanta Thrashers who have played one more game than the Habs.
The Canadiens now have two days off before getting another crack at the Rangers, in New York, on Saturday night.
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