Canadiens-Penguins: Habs Lose Game One, Possibly More

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IMay 1, 2010

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 30:  Andrei Markov #79 of the Montreal Canadiens is assisted off the ice to the dressing room after being injured in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 30, 2010 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Montreal — 3 | Pittsburgh — 6

(Mellon Arena) — Penguins lead series 1-0

Posted by Rocket All Habs

"Security is a false God. Begin to make sacrifices to it and you are lost." — Paul Bowles

When you are facing the defending Stanley Cup champions, it's a good idea to be prepared.

For the first 10-12 minutes of the game, the Canadiens did their best to appear that they were ready to play a conference semifinal game.

But when the best player on the team was helped off the ice without putting any weight on his right leg, the Wizard's curtain dropped.

Some will debate the legality of Matt Cooke's hit on Andrei Markov, partly due to Cooke's resume. It wasn't a dirty hit, in my opinion, but neither was it clean hockey contact. Cooke skated from the opposite corner with one intent, and he arrived late.

With Markov out of the game (and possibly longer), the Canadiens had a noticeable letdown. Having been emotionally spent in the series win against Washington, Markov's injury tested their resiliency. Energy seemed to drain out of legs of the Habs' players.

“That’s a huge loss for us,” said Hal Gill.

In addition, it seemed that the Habs were improvising without adequate preparation. By contrast, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked ready.

For the past two days in Montreal, the conversation has almost exclusively been a look back. Sports commentators and callers alike tried to formulate elaborate comparisons. Was Jaroslav Halak the second coming of Patrick Roy? Ken Dryden? Vladislav Tretiak?

Others tripped over themselves to complement the perfect gameplan designed by Canadiens coach Jacques Martin to defeat the Capitals. It seems that the Habs' coach was the only one in the league to figure out that it was best to score first and then sit back and let Fortress Habs protect the lead.

From my perspective, it's not easy to understand how the coach supposedly made all the right moves.

Martin brought his team to Pittsburgh after barely surviving a shooting gallery in the first round, a direct result of his brilliant plan. They were fatigued and appeared ill-prepared. That was before Markov exited the game.

For his part, Halak didn't remind anyone of Glenn Hall or Johnny Bower. He didn't look sharp.

I received crazy looks when I suggested to friends and colleagues that Carey Price should start against Pittsburgh. The only ones who were singing the same tune were Spencer Ross, who has written an excellent guest post for All Habs , and Darren Elliot, a color analyst at Versus .

The rationale is that Halak's technique has broken down after three or four consecutive starts all season, even when he wasn't facing a boatload of shots. With two goalies being used all season, it would have been preferable to rest Halak and save his start until Game Two.

In addition, it would have put a monkey wrench into Pittsburgh's plans. Information from the Penguins' pro scouts had been used to break down Halak's vulnerabilities. On the first two Pittsburgh goals, the plan worked to perfection, with forwards providing perfect screens.

"We talked about getting traffic, we talked about getting pucks through, and we executed—that's the difference," Sidney Crosby said.

It was also obvious that the Penguins had studied ways to exploit Montreal's penalty-killing scheme. After killing off 32 of 33 Washington power-play chances, Montreal gave up four goals while Pittsburgh had the man advantage four times. Quick puck movement created shooting lanes with the Penguins having the patience to wait for a clear path.

"We watched some tapes and just tried to exploit their weaknesses," Kris Letang said. "Special teams always comes up big in the playoffs."

Habs skaters managed to block only 15 pucks. Halak faced 20 shots and gave up five goals.  He was replaced in goal by Price five minutes into the third period.

With Markov out of the game, Marc-Andre Bergeron was pressed into service on defense, playing 18:21. Bergeron was victimized on the fourth Pittsburgh goal, a back-breaker, as he was out of position, leaving Craig Adams all alone.

The mistakes were unfortunate because Marc-Andre Fleury looked beatable tonight. Fleury hasn't played well and entered this series with a save percentage of .890, lowest of any goaltender remaining in playoffs. Also, the Canadiens should have been able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh defense, particularly Jay McKee, with an aggressive forecheck.

This should bode well for the rest of the series as Coach Martin prepares his gameplan. The Penguins don't have the speed of the Capitals and looked unimpressive in five-on-five play. The two teams played a rather lethargic second period.

P.K. Subban will be more of a factor if Markov is out for an extended period.  Subban scored his first playoff goal tonight and played very well in almost 20 minutes of ice-time.

Andrei Kostistyn endured the coach's wrath tonight with only 7:25 of even-strength ice-time. Kostitsyn is clearly struggling, but snipers are streaky. Smart coaches have more than the demote-to-fourth-line motivator in their tool bag to spark one of the team's most dangerous scorers.

Jacques Martin could move Andrei Kostitsyn to the line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. They are perfect role models for the effort required, and they would be vocal enough to get a message through to Kostistyn.

The coach's personal grudge is getting in the way of communicating with with Kostitsyn's brother right now.

While we are juggling lines, that would leave a spot for Sergei Kostitsyn alongside Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri.

But Coach Martin is a stubborn man. And I no more expect the above suggestions to be implemented than I expected Price to start in goal for Game One. At the very least, Martin has to turn the Washington gameplan upside-down. He only has to look back to the blueprint from Feb. 6, a game where his team used speed and aggressive forechecking to beat the Penguins.

The Canadiens and Penguins meet on Sunday afternoon for Game Two in Pittsburgh.

Rocket's Three Stars

1. Sidney Crosby
2. Kris Letang
3. Scott Gomez

Special mention: Brian Gionta, P.K. Subban, Ryan O'Byrne

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.

(Photo credit: AP)


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