So how about those Habs? Are we having fun yet, Habs addicts?
I didn't think so.
The only good thing about the Canadiens current funk—including last night, they have won only two of their last seven—is that the players aren't having much fun either.
But maybe that's the part of the problem.
They are, after all, playing hockey for a living, not doing brain surgery. Perhaps it's time for someone to remind them of that fact.
Last night, playing their second game in two nights, the Habs laid a stink-bomb in Carolina against the Hurricanes. The Canadiens started the game well enough, attacking the Canes' zone with speed and setting up some quality scoring opportunities. The problem is that as good as they looked in the offensive zone, Montreal seems to have forgotten how to play defense.
The Canes opened the scoring off a Canadiens turnover, handing the puck to rookie Jeff Skinner in the high slot. His quick shot squeezed through Price's five-hole to make it 1-0, 11:01 into the first.
It was a bit of a softie.
That goal aside, Price once again received no defensive support from his team. Their plentiful turnovers handing scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity to the Canes in the first period alone.
Skinner would pot another in the first period—his 29th of the season—off a strange play where Roman Hamrlik appeared to fall for no reason. Michael Cammalleri cut the lead in half with a second period power play, but the Canes got that one back only 47 seconds later.
After that, it was all Canes.
As the Habs' defensive zone coverage completely fell apart, the Canes peppered Price, scoring four goals on 26 shots before he was pulled in favour of Alex Auld.
The bottom line is that Montreal's once hermetic defensive scheme seems to have evaporated, replaced with a chaotic free-for-all that leaves their goaltender exposed.
Montreal look like a fragile team that lacks confidence, and with only four games to play, time is running out to right the ship.
Final score: Canes 6 - Habs 2
Habs scorers: Mike Cammalleri (17), P.K. Subban (12)
Canes scorers: Jeff Skinner (28, 29), Jamie McBain (6, 7), Joni Pitkanen (4), Cory Stillman (11)
Three stars: 1. Jeff Skinner, 2. Jamie McBain, 3. Cam Ward
Calder for Skinner
With the end of the season fast approaching, player award discussions are reaching a fever pitch. One of the most interesting races to watch this season has been for the Calder trophy—rookie of the year.
Prior to last night's game, I really thought it was a two-horse race between Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture, with P.K. Subban a not-too-distant third—perhaps even second.
After the game, however, I can't see anyone but Skinner claiming the trophy.
His two-goal performance gives him 29 for the year, 58 points (29G, 29A), a plus-three rating and 196 shots on goal. All of this while averaging 16:39 of ice time per game. And the kicker?
He's only 18 years old.
Sorry folks, but as good as Subban is, and he is having an exceptional rookie season, this looks like an open and shut case to me.
Subban is the Habs' Top Shutdown Man
P.K. Subban, in his first season in the NHL, has become the Habs' undisputed No. 1 defenseman.
When Andrei Markov then Josh Gorges went down with season-ending injuries, most thought the Canadiens would sink like the Titanic. However buoyed by Price's excellent goaltending and a once-hermetic defensive system, the Canadiens have survived and, until recently, were thriving.
A huge reason for their success has been the play of rookie Subban, something that hasn't been discussed much.
Since being paired with Hal Gill, Subban has settled into the role of the Habs' No. 1 defenseman and is filling the spot admirably. He is the only defenseman on capable of skating with and shutting down the opposition's top offensive players.
Last night, there were several sequences that demonstrated the tremendous talent this kid has.
During a first period rush by Tuomo Ruutu, for example, Subban shadowed him move for move, closing him out against the boards before taking the body and stripping him of the puck. Subban then got the puck up the ice quickly, turning the play the other way.
On another play, he bailed out his defensive partner, Hal Gill, before again quickly moving the puck up the ice while evading two Canes' forecheckers.
A lot of these incredible defensive plays go unnoticed but if you focus on Subban in the defensive zone, you'll see them.
While he won't be winning the Calder Trophy this year, he has without a doubt become one of the pillars of this team. Along with Price's play and the Canadiens system, Subban is a key reason for Montreal's success this season.
Michael Cammalleri Played His Best Game in a Long Time
After looking lost and out of sync the last few weeks, Cammalleri and linemate Tomas Plekanec played their best games since coming back from injury.
Neither player has looked very good in the last few weeks, but last night they seemed to be getting their timing back. Cammalleri, who probably returned to the lineup too soon, has not been playing at 100 percent in recent weeks.
Last night, however, he showed flashes of the player that led Montreal in playoff scoring last year.
His line, with Plekanec and Jeff Halpern, created several quality scoring chances early in the first, with Cammalleri acting as the the spark plug.
Moreover, Cammalleri seems to have regained that speedy shiftiness that has been missing since his return. His tenacious play and quick feet are what led Brandon Sutter to trip him 3:52 into the second period.
On the ensuing power play, Cammalleri took a Plekanec pass at the side of the net, did a quick right-left-right deke before roofing it past Cam Ward. It wasn't a patented Cammalleri one-knee-special, but it was a lot closer to vintage Cammy than anything we're seen lately.
Price Didn't Make the Saves and the Habs Didn't Win the Game
Carey Price wasn't able to stand on his head last night and, surprise, surprise, the Canadiens lost the game.
Price didn't exactly play a bad game, though he would surely like to have the first goal back. The real problem, as have been the case for the last month, is that Montreal seems to have forgotten how to play defense.
In addition, Montreal once again made a ton bad turnovers and lost most of the one-on-one battles last night. These kind of breakdowns led to the first three goals against—turnovers by Brent Sopel, Benoit Pouliot and a fall by Roman Hamrlik.
On the Canes' fourth goal, Skinner out-worked Subban in the high slot, freeing the puck. Ruutu then beat Gill in a footrace—of course he did—getting it back to the point for Joni Pitkanen to blast through a screen.
In a lot of ways, the Canes' fourth goal was the loss in a nutshell. Lost battles, turnovers and constantly second to the puck, the Habs were simply outclassed by the hungry Canes.
With the playoffs looming, Montreal has a bevy of troubling, recurring problems right now, none of which is worse than their porous defensive-zone coverage.
If they can't figure things out quickly, this could end up being a short postseason or perhaps, unthinkably, they'll slide right out of contention.
Standings and Next Game
The Habs' return to their losing ways leaves them stalled in sixth with 89 points and 78 games played. With each loss, the prospect of catching teams ahead of them dwindles.
Tampa is in fifth with 93 points while the Bruins have 96 points. Both teams have two games in hand.
Behind Montreal are the Sabres and Rangers who are seventh and eighth, respectively, with 87 points and one game each in hand. Behind them are the Canes in ninth with 84 points and one game in hand.
Carolina has five more games remaining and can't afford a loss. Moreover, if they were to win all five games, which might be what it takes, they will end the season with 94 points. As such, it seems reasonable to think that two more wins, and perhaps only one, by Montreal is all they'll need to punch their playoff ticket.
However with only four more games to play and the team falling all over itself, that feat is not as easy as it seems.
Montreal now has two days off before taking on the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday. The match will be the second game in two days for Jersey, so the Habs really have no excuse for another sloppy loss.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
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