Canadiens-Ducks: A Thrilling Two Minutes Yields Two Points

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 06:  Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens skates with the puck against the Los Angeles Kings on March 6, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  Montreal won 4-2.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Some games can be broken down and explained by statistics. Others offer learned lessons for future contests.

And then there are games like this one that can only be described as bizarre.

The Canadiens 4-3 shootout win over the Ducks Sunday night at the Honda Center was exciting, and in the end, satisfying for fans but truly bizarre.

Statistics are meaningless. There is nothing that can be learned to provide a blueprint for future wins. The Canadiens simply need to take the two points and count their blessings.

That's not to say that there weren't players worthy of praise. There were. But for long stretches, this game was rather boring. It also featured two teams who both exhibited dreadful play at times, and two coaches who made questionable decisions.

Some will try to make this game all about goaltending. It wasn't. For whatever reason, these so-called fans lie in wait and relish the chance to heap abuse on Carey Price. I suppose that they were getting a little impatient the past few days because Price has been nothing but stellar in his two starts since the Olympic break.

In fact, coach Jacques Martin probably made one of his many mistakes by starting Jaroslav Halak against Los Angeles given how well Price played in the two games prior. Martin could have come back with Halak against the Ducks.

But no matter. The decision regarding the starting goaltender for both games played no part in their outcomes. It is time that "the most knowledgeable fans in the game" live up to their claim to fame and stop the nonsense. Focusing on goaltending and using it as a point of division is irrational.

As mentioned, statistical comparisons are not helpful in understanding the game. The Canadiens outshot the Ducks 15-to-11 in the first period. Yet one of the broadcasters pegged scoring chances as 9-to-2 for Anaheim.

While Price gave up three goals in the first period, it could have easily been a half-dozen more. Price made several spectacular saves. The problem was that the rest of his team didn't show up.

Some may nitpick that Price should have stopped the first goal. Others may criticize Halak for being slow to react and failing to poke-check Anze Kopitar in the Los Angeles game.

Both would be wrong.

Putting Canadiens goaltending under a microscope is akin to ignoring the proverbial plank in one's eye while focusing on a speck of sawdust.

The Canadiens' defense and forwards simply abandoned coverage in their own zone in the first period of the game. They were spectators.

Want to dish out scorn? Target defensemen who played soft and backed in. Be sure to save some for the forwards who didn't cover points or failed to backcheck.

After the first period, Marc Antoine Godin from La Presse said, "L'enclave dans le territoire du Canadien est un étang dans lequel les Canards pataugent allègrement. / The slot in Habs' zone is a pond in which the Ducks love paddling."

Those who were paying attention know that the responsibility for the Canadiens' appalling first period performance rests solely on the shoulders of players like Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez (on the ice for all three goals against) and Benoit Pouliot, Roman Hamrlik and Andrei Markov (on the ice for two).

Then there is the role played by Coach Jacques Martin. The Canadiens had two power-play opportunities in the first period. Both were awful. The penalty kills provided momentum to Anaheim just ahead of their first goal.

It is painfully clear to everyone but Martin that Hamrlik and Josh Gorges are not the answer on the point of the power play. Yet Martin stubbornly refuses to play Sergei Kostitsyn opposite Markov despite Kostitsyn's experience in the position.

Glen Metropolit, Tom Pyatt and Ryan O'Byrne all had small amounts of power-play time. Sergei Kostitsyn had none.

If Anaheim had nine scoring chances in the first period, they were fortunate to have half that many in the last two periods and overtime. For a stretch of 23 minutes, the Ducks had none. After the paint was peeled in the Habs' dressing room, they tightened up to begin the second period.

For their part, Anaheim stopped skating. The Ducks defense looked weak, forwards gave up turnovers, and goaltending was questionable.

Halak's handler tried to steal credit and fan the flames of hate by saying, "H-A-L-A-K!!!!! Perhaps his best game of the season and certainly one of his most clutch performances so far. Is Jaro the comeback kid?"

Either agent Alan Walsh is delusional, or he didn't watch the game. Or both. With the lack of Ducks' scoring chances, Halak wasn't a factor. He simply didn't have to be. And with a puck going through Halak and trickling by the post in the shootout, he also has the hockey gods to thank.

Walsh is also doing Halak a disservice. If the headline-craving agent presents last night's game as Exhibit A during negotiations, he won't be getting what his client deserves.

It's clear that in Montreal, the hype and the hate with respect to goaltending are out of control.

The spotlight for last night's turnaround should be on the player who has been the Canadiens' most valuable all season long, Tomas Plekanec.

Plekanec centered the Canadiens' best line. He exploited the Ducks' defense and scored on a breakaway in the second period to get the Habs back into the game. After the Canadiens tied the game with two goals in the last two minutes of the third period, Plekanec scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Plekanec had seven shots on goal, and his linemate, Andrei Kostitsyn, had five. The Canadiens were a one-line team in this game.

Sergei Kostitsyn is the other Habs forward who deserves special mention. Sergei created scoring chances but didn't have linemates who could finish.

With an exciting comeback win after being down three goals, the Canadiens end their very successful road trip with a 3-1-0 record. The Ducks fall to 0-2-1 after the Olympic break.

The Canadiens return home to play the Lightning on Tuesday.

Rocket's three stars

1. Tomas Plekanec
2. Scott Niedermayer
3. Andrei Markov

Special mention: Sergei Kostitsyn

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.

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