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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two Top Goalies = 14 Goals

 Photo Courtesy of REUTERS/Adam Hunger

The anticipation leading to last nights match up between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins was palpable. With only 2 points separating both teams for the lead of the Northeast Division, and a  great historical rivalry in the rear-view mirror, there was no doubt on either side of the border that this was an important game.

Everyone that I discussed the game with predicted a low scoring contest. Taking into the consideration that Carey Price and Tim Thomas would be between the pipes at each end, that seemed reasonable to surmise. Both keepers ranked in the top two spots for most wins in the league, and held more than respectable GAA and SV% numbers.

So, how is it that two of the three goalies in the league that many feel are in the Vezina Trophy race, managed to allow a total of 14 goals on a combined 67 shots? It was hardly the responsibility of either Price or Thomas.

On the Bruins side of things, they played a game that gave up too many power play opportunities to the Habs. Perhaps it was the flailing Montreal Power Play that lulled the Bruins into a false sense of hope. But if that was the thought process, PK Subban, David Desharnais, and Max Pacioretty (2) proved Boston wrong amassing four Power Play goals.

But Montreal should not have had any misgivings about the team that they faced last night. The Bruins size and skill set has been a powerhouse for the past month, launching them into 1st place in the Northeastern division, and 3rd in the conference.

So where did it all go wrong? Plain and simply put - defense and a forward line that failed in every aspect.

Before even reaching the halfway point of the first period, the defensive pairing of Hal Gill and PK Subban found themselves in the same spot they were in during Sundays game against the Devils. Each player being at -2. And much like Sundays loss to New Jersey, it was from poor, undisciplined, selfish defensive play.

Case in point: the Bruins second goal. After taking a shot high to the body, the puck careened off Price and high into the air in the slot. Subban stood there watching the puck descend, and then proceeded to make the most ludicrous choice of his young career so far. Instead of stepping into the zone and batting down the puck with his hand, he tempted fate by trying to utilize his eye hand co-ordination to slap at the airborne rubber with his stick. Apparently Seidenberg has the better co-ordination as he took advantake of the Subban miss, and whacked it into the back of the net.

Price stood no chance, and that seemed to set a tone for the night.

Despite the fact that Gionta and Subban (redeeming himself somewhat on the PP) managed to tie the contest early in the second, the Habs forwards continuously coughed up the puck, turning it over consistently in their own zone. The biggest offenders? Scott Gomez, Lars Eller, and Andrei Kostitsyn. With a combined -12 (each man individually at -4), it was no wonder that Martin decided to send them a message by keeping them on the bench for the majority of the third period.

I've taken a lot of flack this season for supporting Gomez. I know he's a playmaker and not a goal scorer. I also have preached the fact that his stats over the years prove that he's a second half of the season point maker. But last night was inexcusable. As for Kostitsyn, his lack of effort, lazy skating, and seeming lack of desire have earned him a spot on the fourth line as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather see Darche with a slot in the top six. At least he shows determination and heart.

So we can only imagine what the line up will look like tonight as the Habs come home to face the Islanders in the Bell Center. Carey Price will get a much earned and needed night off, as Alex Auld replaces him in net.

The question is ... what forwards are going to show up to play?

If the Canadiens want to avoid a mini slide here, they will need to show up with speed, grit, and determination. Get back to the quick tape to tape passing that they were showing in January. But they will also have to make a decision to keep the Islanders to the outside of their defensive zone, and own the neutral zone.

Hopefully Jacques Martin will also have made a coaching decision to move Gomez and Kostitsyn, sending a message that -4 from two top 6 forwards won't be tolerated.

If the Canadiens want to have any success against the Bruins in the last two matches they have this season (which the good news being: they're 3-1 v Boston so far this year), they are going to have to step up their game, and stop trying to play a Bruins style of game. They can't outsize them, so they best start looking at out playing them.

Let's hope that last night was not a glimpse of things to come. I hope to think that it was a lesson learned instead.

Tonight will give us a preview of that.

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