Montreal Canadiens-Atlanta Thrashers: Penalties Finally Hurt the Habs

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2009

Montreal 3 Atlanta 4 OT (Philips Arena)

It was quite a different beginning to tonight's game.  The Canadiens were successfully using an aggressive two-man forecheck to pressure the Thrashers.  Montreal outshot Atlanta and even got an early goal to take a first period lead.

But even as the first period ended there were signs that the Thrashers were turning the tide.

In the second, Atlanta outshot Montreal 16-to-4, scoring three times.  It could have been much worse.  The spectacular goaltending of Carey Price was the only reason the Canadiens kept the score close.

Price had another brilliant performance.  Throughout the game, Price made a number of hi-light reel saves on Todd White, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Eric Boulton, and Maxim Afinogenov.

At the other end of the ice, Johan Hedberg was less than stellar. Heberg gave up a weak goal to Glen Metropolit only three minutes into the game and he allowed two goals by Andrei Kostitsyn on four Montreal shots in the second period.

Andrei Kostitsyn created a turnover and scored his first goal unassisted.  His second goal featured his excellent shot and quick release.

Over the final two periods, the Canadiens fell back into bad habits: too few scoring chances and too many penalties.  In that time, the Habs were outshot 23-to-9.

It was an infraction in the final minute of the game that was the most costly.  Metropolit didn't act like the smart, veteran player he is when taking a retaliation penalty.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a four-on-three power-play to give the Thrashers an overtime win with only three seconds left in Metropolit's penalty.  For the Canadiens penalty-killers, it was the first goal surrendered in 34 straight short-handed situations.

"It was a tough way to end it," said Metropolit. "Our penalty kill has been great. When Kovalchuk gets a chance like that, chances are he's going to score."

After Thursday's game, coach Jacques Martin said that his players needed to draw more penalties.  Perhaps he should be more concerned about the penalties his players are taking.

With the second most minor penalties in the league, the Canadiens are not showing the discipline that could be expected from a team under the guidance of an experienced coach.  That also applies to sloppy line changes.

In addition, the Canadiens aren't playing sound positional hockey in their own zone.  This should be a hallmark of a Martin-coached team.  Tonight, even Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek were guilty of poor defensive zone play.

Ryan O'Byrne was the Canadiens' best defenseman with over five minutes of short-handed icetime and five blocked shots.

The Canadiens fourth line continues to struggle and is unreliable.  While Matt D'Agostini only played just over four minutes, he was a minus two.  Georges Laraque and Tom Pyatt were also minus players with very limited ice-time.

Max Lapierre dropped the gloves for a fight with Zach Bogosian but probably wishes he didn't.  Bogosian treated Lapierre as a rag doll.

The bottom line for tonight's game was no different from many others.  The Canadiens spent far too much time in their own zone and without the puck.  Shots directed at the net (including shots on goal, missed and blocked shots) were 67-to-34 in favor of the Thrashers.

Until Martin begins to adjust his system and imposing some team discipline, the Canadiens only chance to win will be perfect goaltending and penalty-killing.  Both are unrealistic ways to become a playoff team.

Rocket's three stars

1. Ilya Kovalchuk
2. Andrei Kostitsyn
3. Carey Price

(photo credit: Getty)

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