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What a difference 2 games makes..

  • After the Canadiens played their 8th game of the season there was almost no hope among fans that the team would be able to salvage the season. Sitting in the bottom of the Eastern Conference with one measly win, a great number were talking about tanking in order to get a top draft pick. Two games later it is a very different feeling within both the fan base and media.

    Currently the Habs sit 2 points out of the final playoff spot (although 85% of the season remains yet to be played). At the very least, Canadiens fans are now allowed to hope for the type of performances that will allow the team to slowly climb back into playoff contention. I’m going to make a case for why this team IS a playoff team. That is not to say that making the post-season is a lock – just that with the pieces that currently reside in house, this team should be able to string enough points together to once again play when games matter.

    1) Carey Price. Over the past two nights we saw the Carey Price that many of us expected. Sure he’ll give up the occasional softy – Exhibit A was Thomas Plekanec’s cleanly won face-off that ended up lighting the lamp in the first period against the Bruins. What we saw afterwards, however, was vintage Carey Price.

    His rebound control was exceptional. His positioning was fantastic, and most importantly – he made critical, game-saving saves at times when the Canadiens defence broke down.

    2) Team speed. When the Canadiens are at their best, they are buzzing around their opponents in the offensive and neutral zone creating turnovers and scoring chances. In the final 40 minutes of BOTH the Philadelphia and Boston victories, the Habs  were extremely successful at forcing the slower defensemen into making bad decisions with the puck that ultimately ended with offensive scoring chances. Eric Cole has already added to last year’s strengths. Max Pacioretty is also an addition of sorts. The ability of both Lars Eller and David Desharnais to accept more responsibility has meant that Montreal is all of a sudden 3 lines deep offensively. That is a lot to worry about when you’re an opposing defense. Even though Montreal did not get the results in terms of wins and losses that they were looking for early in the season – there have been select few games in which I didn’t feel confident about the ability of the forwards as a collective group.

    3. Penalty Kill. You can almost blame all of the Canadiens early season struggles on special teams. The fact that the team was scoring only 6% on the powerplay through 8 games was terrible. What was worse was that the team was only killing 70% of their penalties. For a team that has been penalized 5th most in the league so far – that is a bad combo. Things have changed in 2 games though. Montreal has now killed 82% of the penalties that have taken. As the season goes along, I expect this number to continue to climb with respect to the rest of the league. Montreal’s defenders are blocking shots and clearing pucks which means that although they are heavily penalized , they are still minimizing the other team’s ability to score goals that kill your chances at winning.

    Areas of concern.

    1) Defense – One area that I’m still very concerned with is defense. TSN made sure to fall all over themselves in praise of Jaroslav Spacek and his ability to block pucks. I love that about the old guy. The question is – how many times did Spacek have to block a shot because he and his defense partner Yannick Weber couldn’t clear the zone. How many times did he have to jump in front of a slapshot because they couldn’t win a puck battle to save their lives? How many extra shots and scoring chances did the other team get because forwards became so tired that they couldn’t help out defensively?

    I respect guys like Jaro Spacek, Yannick Weber, and Raphael Diaz because they’ll try to play a game that is outside of his capabilities. That said, I don’t trust them to carry this team deep into the playoffs. Add Andrei Markov to the situation and you’ve all of a sudden got a defensive quad that is filled with redundancy. You can’t have 6 guys out there poke-checking their way to puck possession. You end up expending all of your energy chasing the puck in your own end, giving up quality chances.

    As it stands there are two defenders who I trust to play a physical game: Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin. There are two that I trust with elite offensive talent: Andrei Markov and PK Subban. Going forward that leaves you with 2 spots on defense. One will go to Hal Gill who despite his size plays softer than a roll of Charmin. So who do you entrust to play on his right side? In my opinion if this team has either Yannick Weber or Raphael Diaz playing in that spot we’re in trouble. Gauthier knew that his team lacked a physical presence going into this season and was either incapable of recruiting that element, or wilfully negligent.  Until Montreal finds another big body to clear the front of the net we’re going to continue to give up A1 scoring chances off of rebounds.

    2)Penalties. It seems weird to list penalties as both a strength and weakness, but Montreal can help their cause immensely by cutting down the amount of short-handed situations that they face. The reasons are two-fold. First, you limit the easy chances that another team gets. Secondarily, Montreal’s penalty kill features most of the offensive players that they depend on to score goals. If Plekanec, Gionta, Cammalleri and Subban are out there killing big penalty minutes, they’re getting run down. Montreal is still walking a tight-rope as far as hanging with the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Things are hardly as bad as some made them out to be after Game 8.. but we’re nowhere near close to being in the position we want.

  1. #1 Senet1 says:
    October 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Matts as far as our forwards are concerned I could not agree more. My main concern all summer has been our defence and the unknown players of Diaz and Emelin. I feel both have played well but we cannot have 4 young defenceman being counted on to hold this team together from the back end. Personally I would like to see either Weber or Diaz be moved to the fourth line and like Weber used ont he power play and in special defensive situations when needed. What Martin has agains Emelin I am not sure. One thing is for sure, Spacek has stablized our defence and our penalty Kill. Yes he makes some bad plays but he also is very good at covering up for himself. He blocked 6 shots out of the 20 shots we blocked against the Bruins. So as much as he has a weakness, his experience is still showing that it is improving our defence. That is my opinion anyway. I would agree thought that we need another experience big defenceman. Personally, I am not counting on Markov, if he can play that will be a bonus but right now, if we get 25-30 games out of him that will be great as long as he can still play. I was watching the Bruins go after PK last night and they were targeting his legs, much like they did Markov when he got hurt again. So it will be interesting if Markov does return whether he can stand that type of checking into the boards against his knees.

  2. You suggest that you can count on Only Gorges and Emelin to play a physical game. My feeling is that Gorges does not play a physical game. He is a good defenseman but he is not overally physical. Gil I agree does not play as physical as I would like but he did put a couple of guys on there rear in the Boston game so he can play physical when he wants to. PK tries to play physical too but he needs to control his game otherwise he gets out of position. Markov if an when he does play, is an unknown to me until he proves he can play without being injuried. Weber right now gives us that extra demenion on our power play at the point. However, to me he is trade bait if we can get a more physical player on defence. Diaz to me does not look of place and of all the young guys to me has made the fewest mistakes so far. He also is another option for the PP. So my feeling is that my defence right now are: Markov, Gorges, PK, Gil, Emelin, Spacek and Camponi. Diaz is #8 or #9 depending on Weber. If Camponi can come back healthy, then either Gil or Spacek or Both could be moved in February trading deadline. PROVIDING WE GET ANOTHER DEFENCEMAN OF SIZE, mainly becuase they will both be gone at year end.

  3. Gomez started out well with improved energy and seems like a different player when the season started. However, David had moved into his place as well as Eller and both have performed well. So it is obviously he is easily replaced in the line up. The only thing we are mising is his puck movement on the PP bring the puck up the ice. However, with his reduced salary he is now becoming moveable at the trading deadline or even sooner for any team who has cap space room. So as I see it we have three or four front line players that could be moved Gomez, Weber, Gil and Spacek to improve out team.

  4. I do not think that many were actually throwing in the towel, however, we could see the obvious weakness was out defence. The offense was working well but we were not scoring goals. However, there were a couple of games that we did score and still lost mainly becuase of our poor defence. Who would have thought that Spacek of all people would come in and stabilize the defence. Most of us have wanted him traded for two years now, however, as much as he makes mistakes is plays a game that helps kill the penalities and blocks the shots that need to be blocked. So as much as it will take some time of these rookies back on defence to find their NHL game, Spacek will provide the experience in tight spots that will help us win games. Eventually he will have to be traded but right now he was the medicine we needed back on the D.

  5. #5 Mats Naslund says:
    October 29, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I guess we just disagree on the impact Spacek has on the D Senet. As I said in my blog post I wonder how many times Spacek is getting credit for making a play that was only available because he failed to do his job in the first place? I lost track of how many turnovers Spacek and Weber gave up in the first period alone. That was one of the main reasons we didn’t have any sustained pressure in the first period. We spent the whole period fighting to gain possession – so much so that when we did get the puck the best we could do is chip it out or dump it into Boston’s end for a line change. It starts with the defense. If they’re getting bumped off of pucks then we’re in big trouble. I’m not blaming all of our struggles on Spacek.. But I truly believe Emelin should replace him. Emelin makes a great first pass and he’s FAR more likely to win puck battles and clear the net – which is key to limiting the oppositions chances.

  6. #6 Senet1 says:
    October 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I respect your opinin Matts but the proof is in the pudding. WE have not lost a game since Spacek came back. He makes mist akes yes but he is also good at recovering from them. Now I would not compare him to Bobby Orr but when Orr made a mistake he did the same thing re was able to recover. Spacek has played 20 solid minutes when we need him regardless of his mistakes.

  7. Please do not get me wrong, I am not a fan of Spacek, but I cannot ignore the fact that since he came back we are not getting beat by goals in our own end like before, Spacek is makeing experience decisions and he is in position most of the time, so even thought he makes mistakes, most defence we have do but he seems to be in the right place at the right time and we are now in the position of three games only three goals against, unlike what our record was before he came back. Would I trade him, yes in a minute but can I recognize is contribution to this team yes I can and most of it seems to be positive.

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