Montreal 1 Florida 3 (Bell Centre)
“We got six out of eight points this week. But we had a chance to get all eight.” — Jacques Martin
MONTREAL, QC.– Following the game a well-meaning fan said, “It’s only one loss, we were due.” At least it was better than a know-it-all analyst who described this as an “ambush game that the Canadiens were expected to lose.”
This was the third game in four nights for the Canadiens. The team didn’t arrive back in Montreal until 2 a.m. on Saturday morning after a Friday game on Long Island. The Panthers were lying in wait, so to speak.
I’m sure it all makes perfect sense. Putting it all together, the story almost writes itself. So, why do those seem like lame excuses to me? Why am I disappointed that the Habs couldn’t put together an effort that was just good enough to defeat the 30th place team in the league?
Blaming fatigue at this time of year is just plain silly.
Heading into tonight’s game, Florida had just three wins, and was coming off losses to Toronto and Ottawa. Confidence was shaky with some of the stars of the team having been benched.
At 8:51 of the first period, Dmitri Kulikov took a penalty for elbowing P.K. Subban. If the Canadiens had scored on the resulting power-play, an already discouraged Panther team would have folded its tent. After all, for the past few weeks, we have been told by hockey pundits that Andrei Markov would be the cure-all for the Habs power-play woes.
Not so fast.
The Panthers killed the power-play and got a shot in the arm. 1:19 later Josh Gorges was beaten at the blue-line and Florida had a 1-0 lead. It was a huge swing in momentum and it was almost (repeat, almost) game-over as the first period ended with the Panthers up by one.. The Canadiens have not won a game this season when they trail after one frame.
The teams traded goals in the second period. The Panthers marker came on a penalty shot after David Booth was dragged down by Jaroslav Spacek after some sloppy play by Roman Hamrlik.
Montreal would have one more excellent chance to get back into the game. For the first 1:26 of the third period, the Canadiens had a 5-on-3 power-play. Shockingly, coach Jacques Martin didn’t send out Markov. Instead, Subban and Mike Cammalleri manned the points.
Last season, when the power-play was struggling, fans and media sang in unison for Sergei Kostitsyn to play the point. For the first ten games of this season with the power-play last in the league, Martin refused to play a forward with Subban. But tonight, with the team’s power-play quarterback sat on the bench with a two-man advantage.
Some guessed that Markov was being eased back into the lineup. Hardly, Markov played 23.03. If he needed to be rested why was he pulling penalty-killing duty with that unit being one of the top in the league in his absence?
Besides, it was the start of the third period. Markov had just rested for a full intermission.
When Markov was interviewed for his opinion of the issue, he simply said, “Ask the coach.”
When asked, coach Martin gave a non-sensical reply, “Last year, we didn’t use him either on the first unit.” You might want to check your notebook on that coach.
Martin went on to say, “We got a shooter in Subban and a shooter in Cammalleri and then we had Plekanec, Gionta and Andrei [Kostitsyn]. We had some chances but just didn’t capitalize.”
Martin still didn’t explain why he chose to use a forward on the point in this game. Cammalleri has been Mr. High-and-Wide for the first ten games and as such probably wasn’t the best choice anyway.
After the successful penalty kill, the Panthers went to work clogging up the neutral zone. It’s easier for a struggling team to slow a game down than it is to play catch-up.
The Canadiens missed their chance for an easy two points and the momentum boost of a 4-0 week.
A portion of the blame for the loss has to be heaped on Martin and the coaching staff. They made curious decisions during the game, and haven’t done enough between games to address the problems that affect the team. If you don’t think that coaching matters to a power-play, you may want to ask your friends in Minnesota about that.
One adjustment that does seem certain is a re-shuffling of the defense duos. When asked about the pairing of Subban and Markov, Martin hedged, “We’ll visualize the tape, analyze the game, and see what’s best going forward.” That’s Martin-speak for ‘I will have heart failure if those two play together again.’
The coach summed up the game by saying, “We were not enough direct in our attack and too many turnovers.”
Yes, and Florida bench boss Pete DeBoer outcoached his counterpart.
The Canadiens seemed like a tired team especially in their own zone and looked like they were skating in oatmeal. The Panthers were quicker to rebounds and loose pucks. But it is surprising how much lighter one’s legs feel when leading even after a busy week. As they were trailing most of the game, the Habs didn’t have that experience.
▲ Carey Price picked up where he left off and was one of the few bright lights for the Canadiens. He made several spectacular saves to give his team a chance to win.
▲ Mathieu Darche played well in his limited ice-time driving to the net for the Canadiens only goal of the game.
► Andrei Markov showed signs of rust early in the contest particularly in his passing game. He improved as the game went on, and will look better once paired with a partner who better complements his style than Subban.
▼ It wasn’t a good night for Roman Hamrlik who made some poor decisions and looked tired.
The Canadiens take to the road, playing in Columbus next Tuesday and in Buffalo on Friday before returning home to face the Senators at the Bell Centre next Saturday night.
All Habs game stars:
1. Mathieu Darche
2. Carey Price
3. P.K. Subban
Ryan O’Byrne, Alexandre Picard and Dustin Boyd were healthy scratches.
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Category: Game review