The Habs were bested by the Pittsburgh Penguins at home on a Saturday night. Here are ten takeaways from the loss.
1. The Habs were the road team for the first 13 minutes.
I expected the Habs to come out strong at home on a Saturday night, but I was treated with the opposite. They weren't flat, they were concave. Multiple icings, an early penalty, tons of defensive zone time ... it took them 13 minutes to muster up enough momentum to shift the balance of power and make it an actual hockey game and not a Penguins practice. Mike Condon was stellar, that will be a common theme throughout this post.
As you can see by the shot attempt chart below, it wasn't pretty.
2. Despite that, the 1s were able to generate offense.
The 1s, get it? I'll accept alternate suggestions. The line of Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Paul Byron was quick, creative and all 3 of them were strong on the boards. Byron drew a penalty by moving his feet down low. They had a +6,+8, and +10 5v5 shot-attempt differential, respectively. They were Montreal's best line last night until the lines were blended in the third. I touched on Eller and Desharnais playing together in the last issue and I hope they get a chance to stick together because they really did look good out there.
3. The Habs power play was a Jekyll and Hyde novel.
They need to figure out how to be consistent on the man advantage if they want to have any chance at winning games. Their first chance of the night was, to be blunt, a joke. They were a disaster on the break-in, as a start. They couldn't maintain any semblance of pressure. They hurriedly chucked the puck around the end boards like it was a live grenade.
As the game progressed they were able to reel it in and put together an NHL-looking power play, but they were unable to get anything on the board. It's the total lack of team consistency that has plagued the Habs for the better part of a month.
4. The Habs' defensive zone coverage was laughable at times.
They seemed to be overwhelmed by Pittsburgh's attack, which was an onslaught of offense from the get-go. They were panicky on the boards, made errant chips to nobody in particular and didn't have time to get out of their zone on their own terms. One thing I noticed was that they constantly had their backs to the shooters; Pittsburgh was so effective at moving the puck that the Habs were on swivels, trying to catch up to the play.
They were confused and irresponsible. Without Condon's heroics it would have been 4-0 Penguins in the first period.
Greg Pateryn's poorly timed check was a truly terrible play that left Rust with a wide-open lane to the net. On top of Pateryn going out of position, Beaulieu didn't drift over to cover for his partner. Therrien was visibly ill after that Rust goal. It's not the first time we've seen Pateryn leave his position and get caught, these things will leave his game as he grows as a player.
5. Michel Therrien was keen to match PK Subban against Sidney Crosby.
Therrien knows enough to know that Subban on Crosby was his best chance at shutting down the best player in the world. Through the first 24 minutes of play Crosby only had two shifts when PK was not on the ice, which is impressive for Therrien. I am not sure of the final count but for a coach who doesn't preach match-ups, it's good to see that he values best-on-best defending.
6. Condon was incredible.
This deserves its own topic. I mentioned last post that he was stringing together consistent games and this was no exception. He was the reason the Habs were able to be anywhere close to the Penguins on the scoresheet. It was good to see the goaltending Habs fans are used to seeing. He made some significant saves early on and kept them in the game as they tried to claw back for the tie. Condon's game dropped off in December but lately he has been taking away Therrien's rookie excuse. Goaltending isn't the issue.
7. Here comes PK Subban.
I wrote last issue that he was frustrated. He took all his frustrations and put it into that puck. His follow through took him all the way to center ice, what better place for him to send the gorilla living on his back rent-free packing? How about that pass by Markov? Sneaky sexy. That goal was needed but I'm sure he wanted the win more.
After the game he went on a rant full of not-safe-for-work words. The frustration is still there, which is good because he isn't satisfied and as a fan of the team he plays on, it's nice to know that the players aren't OK with losing while playing poorly.
8. The Habs kept coming.
They ended up with more shots on goal that the Penguins as they tried to tie it up late. There are games where you know they aren't going to get it done and last night wasn't one of those games. My heart was pumping and I thought they were going to do it. They were playing with energy and urgency and even though they didn't put that effort in for 60 minutes it was good to see it when the game was on the line. In a streak like this you need to look for the little things.
9. Five days off will do them good.
This is as cliché as it gets but the break wll give everyone, organization-wide, an opportunity to take a long look at what has happened over the past six weeks. Work with video, find out why they aren't scoring, study what they did during the win streak versus what they are doing now. This is the time to get it right: while they still have time to right the ship and get serious about the playoffs. If they continue to play this way they won't be playing in April.
10. Andrei Markov feels worse than you do.