Canadiens-Sabres: The Stench Before the Storm

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2009

** This game review is published out-of-order due to a recent technical problem at Bleacher Report.  The issue has now been resolved. **

Montreal 2 Buffalo 6 (HSBC Arena)

posted by Rocket All Habs

Before tonight's game, TSN's Pierre McGuire advised to pay attention to the special teams which he felt would be key to a victory. The game's first penalty was assessed to the Canadiens with less than seven minutes remaining in the second period.

By that point, the game was already over. Buffalo was leading 4 to 0.

So where does this stand in the "worst game of the year contest?" It is a definite entry. Shots were 15-to-3 after the first and 29-to-8 after two periods in favour of Buffalo. During a 13 minute stretch at the end of the first and beginning of the second period, the Canadiens did not record a shot on goal.

The Canadiens looked confused and disorganized. We haven't seen coach Jacques Martin's so-called puck possession system, but frankly, there hasn't been evidence of any system. Defensive zone coverage is a mess, with players both hesitant and over-aggressive.

"I feel sometimes we want to work, then we start to overwork. You look at the first period, everyone was trying to do everyone else's job and we started running around," said Josh Gorges. "Good teams will pick you apart, and that's what they did."

Gorges may have been speaking from personal experience. He seems to have completely lost his way in the last few games in the defensive zone. Gorges is often caught over pursuing the puck carrier leaving his man and the the front of the net wide open.

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Gorges certainly had company. Marc-Andre Bergeron had a dreadful game in his own zone. Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and Ryan O'Byrne are the only consistently reliable defensemen for coach Martin right now.

Paul Mara should be acknowledged for coming to the aid of a teammate. When noted pest Patrick Kaleta tried to run Tomas Plekanec near the end of the game (and failed), Mara stepped in and fought Kaleta.

With the defense struggling so is the Canadiens' transition game, almost non-existent in the first two periods while the Sabres employed an aggressive forecheck. Errant passes and slow puck movement meant few opportunities for creating scoring chances.

In the past nine games, the Canadiens have relied on superb goaltending to keep them in games until they found their way. Tonight they didn't have it.

While Jaroslav Halak had far too many shots to face, he didn't do himself any favors either. Rebounds were a big problem for Halak tonight showing some rust from his three week layoff. Three goals resulted from poor rebound control.

"Obviously, I did not feel my best out there, and it shows with the rebounds," said Halak.

The Canadiens did show some life in the third period briefly closing the margin to two goals. They outshot Buffalo 15-to-8 in the period. But with two more late goals, the Sabres restored their four goal margin for the victory.

Scott Gomez got his third goal on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Sergei Kostitsyn. Gorges had the other marker for the Canadiens.

The Habs have now lost four straight games. They have been outscored 32-to-13 in the first period this season, 12-to-1 in the last six games. While the Canadiens have shown an ability to come back in games this season, getting down early is often beyond the slim margin of error that defines a win or loss for them.

Whatever the formula of pre-game preparation and initial adjustments that coach Martin is using, it needs to be changed. The players are not starting the game ready to play. "We knew the type of game they would play, come out hard the first 10 minutes. We did not respond," said Halak.

Frustration is obviously setting in. Mike Cammalleri, who failed to convert two glorious scoring chances, smashed his stick on the boards after the third Buffalo goal. "Enough is enough," said Gorges. "We have to stop this right now, be prepared and ready to play. No night is going to be an easy night."

The usually talkative (both on and off the ice) Max Lapierre, was more succinct, "We must stop talking and act now."

The Canadiens fly home to celebrate their 100th anniversary by playing the Boston Bruins on Friday night.

Rocket's three stars

1. Jason Pominville 2. Thomas Vanek 3. Derek Roy

(photo credit: AP)

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