Canadiens-Islanders: Michael Grabner's Two Hands Habs Third Straight Loss
One day after getting thoroughly beaten physically, emotionally, mentally and, most importantly, on the scoreboard by the Boston Bruins, the bruised and battered Canadiens returned home to take on the Islanders.
New York is, by all accounts, a pretty bad team.
With 41 points in the standings prior to last night's game, the Isles were the second worst team in the league. As such, the Habs absolutely needed to win the game, put two points in the bank, and put the Boston game behind them.
The worry, however, was that Montreal would have little left in the bank after such a hard loss to the Bruins.
Unfortunately, the world was according to Hoyle last night, and that is exactly what happened.
As was feared and perhaps expected, the Canadiens looked spent. They struggled to keep up with the play, committed turnovers, missed assignments and otherwise let the Isles into the game.
To their credit, the Isles played a sleepy, nothing-doing style that put the listless Canadiens to sleep.
Montreal got on the board first with Max Pacioretty powering a David Desharnais one-time pass past Mikko Koskinen—playing his second career NHL game—to make it 1-0. But the Isles got that one back with less than four minutes to play in this first.
Montreal took the lead again in the second on Benoit Pouliot's 11th of the season, but New York again returned the score at the 17:10 mark. Tomas Plekanec finally scored a go-ahead goal on a 2-on-1 with Andrei Kostitsyn, less than a minute later.
Unfortunately for Habs' fans, the Canadiens were simply too tired to keep the Isles at bay. New York tied the game on Michael Grabner's second of the game, 4:08 into the third period.
Overtime solved nothing, and Kyle Okposo was the lone goal scorer in the shootout, clinching the victory for New York.
Final score: Isles 4 - Habs 3 (SO)
Habs' scorers: Max Pacioretty (9), Benoit Pouliot (11), Tomas Plekanec (19)
Isles' scorers: John Tavares (19), Michael Grabner (18, 19)
Three stars: 1. Kyle Okposo, 2. Max Pacioretty, 3. Tomas Plekanec
1. The third line continues to make a difference.
I know I sound like a broken record, but this line, anchored by David Desharnais, truly brings their lunch pail to work every night.
Never taking a shift off, this is easily the Habs' hardest working trio night in and night out.
Last night, with Mathieu Darche sidelined due to a lower body injury, Ryan White was recalled from Hamilton and slotted into the third line. The good news is that the third line, with Desharnais and Benoit Pouliot, didn't miss a beat, continuing to apply pressure in the offensive zone and create chances off their hard work.
White, in particular, did not look out of place on that line and depending on the length of Darche's absence, he could be riding shotgun with Desharnais for a while.
Dare I say White appeared to be an even better fit than Darche due to hisspeed and strength down low?
White's gritty play led directly to the Habs' second goal, as they dug the puck out from behind the net and centered it to Pouliot.
It remains to be seen how long Darche will be out but, for now, White makes an already dangerous line that much better.
2. Max Pacioretty is on fire.
Pacioretty continues to improve every game and is now putting points on the board on a regular basis. Last night he played another excellent match, finishing the night with 18:18 minutes of ice time with 1:34 on the power play.
In addition, Pacioretty, who was all over the ice, finished the game with one goal and seven shots on net. And the best part? He seems to be able to play well no matter who his linemates are.
Paired with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta when he was first recalled from Hamilton, Pacioretty has been getting it done on a line with Tomas Plekanec as his center the last few weeks. Last night, he opened the scoring for Montreal when he one-timed a beautiful Desharnais setup with a one-kneed Michael Cammalleri special.
The goal illustrates his excellent positioning as MaxPac always seems to be in the right spot in front of or around the net. As such, he is often there to pick up rebounds and get scoring opportunities.
In case you were counting, Pacioretty now has 17 points (9G, 8A) in 26 games and six points (3G, 3A) and a plus-3 rating in his last five games. In addition, he is on pace to finish the year with 25 points (13G, 12A) in 38 games.
That translates to 0.342 goals per game which equals 28 goals per season.
The way he's playing right now, Pacioretty is really priming himself for a playoff breakout this spring.
3. The Habs left their hearts, and energy, in Boston.
After the free-for-all the night before against the Bruins, fans wondered if the Canadiens would have anything left in the tank. Unfortunately for the Habs, things unfolded according to the feared script. They looked spent, listless and out of gas.
Montreal left it all on the ice against the Bruins the night before, and it showed. Moreover, the Habs-Bruins game was an emotionally charged match featuring a ton of fights that left Montreal a battered team.
All of this to say: when you saw the Canadiens taking lazy hooking and tripping penalties in the first period, when you saw them constantly being second on the puck, when you saw them struggling to get anything going against a terrible Isles team, you could see that they were simply spent.
I supposed that's to be expected, and while the shootout loss to the second worst team in the league is not the result they wanted, at least they got one point out of it!
No need to panic. They'll rest, turn the page and come back strong this weekend.
4. Ryan White brings exactly what the Habs need to the lineup.
The irony of Ryan White being recalled from Hamilton the night after the Canadiens were physically manhandled by the Bruins was apparent.
This kid is exactly the type of player that Montreal needed the night before against the Bs. At six feet and 198 lbs, White is not the biggest player in the league. However, he is gritty and tough as nails.
Moreover, he is not afraid to drop the gloves to protect or stick up for his linemates and while he didn't have to do so last night, he most certainly would have against Boston the night before.
And, if all of that wasn't enough, the kid can actually play hockey.
Last night, White was a sparkplug on the Desharnais line which is itself the sparkplug for the Habs. Using his speed and grit to fight for and cycle the puck, White was able to dig the puck out of the corners for his linemates, and the result was a bevy of scoring chances.
On the Habs second goal, White won a 1-on-1 battle for the puck behind the net and centered it to Pouliot who wired it past Koskinen.
While that play seems like a normal part of any 82-game season, the Habs are far too often on the losing end of 1-on-1 battles, especially against physical opponents.
White's presence in the lineup is a boon for Montreal, and I believe the he has a place on this team whether Darche returns to the lineup or not.
5. Benoit Pouliot looks like a solid third line player.
As much as most would love to see Pouliot fulfill his potential as the fourth overall draft pick, I think it's pretty clear that that ship has sailed.
However, that's not necessarily a bad thing, because it is looking more and more like Pouliot is actually better suited to being a third line player, and a pretty good one at that.
Except for a few games here and there, Pouliot has basically played the entire season on the third line with a variety of centers and wingers. Despite the line juggling and limited time on the power play, Pouliot has quietly racked up 22 points (11G, 11A) and a plus-4 rating in 53 games.
And all of this while averaging no more than 12:10 minutes per game.
Pouliot has the fourth lowest average time on ice but is tied for seventh in team scoring and is fifth for goals scored.
Last night, Pouliot continued his excellent play and, buoyed by the younthful exuberance of Desharnais and White, looked like a very dangerous player in the offensive zone.
White, constantly hitting people and going to the net, created a lot of space on the ice for Desharnais and Pouliot to operate. As such, Pouliot often just had to get in the right spot to receive a prime scoring chance.
This is exactly how he scored his 11th goal of the season last night and, like Pacioretty, his goal scoring is timely given the continued lack of production by the Habs' second line.
Standings and Next Game
Despite the loss, the Habs did pick up one point in the standings.
Montreal is still sixth overall in the East with 66 points, two back of Washington who has one game in hand, and three back of Boston who has two games in hand.
The Habs still have some buffer room behind them as the Rangers, stalled at 62 with five straight losses, and the Hurricanes, 59 points and one game in hand, are still a good margin back of Montreal.
The Canadiens now have a well needed day off to lick their wounds before taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The Road to the Heritage Classic
The Team 990's Amanda Stein, who will be going to and covering the Heritage Classic, is going to be chronicling her trip and experiences on my site, HabsAddict.com, giving us all a peak behind the scenes.
Click here to read her first article and check back often throughout the trip!
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