Habs ward off Sharks attack

Sorry for getting this out late folks, but the Habs afternoon game led right into the rest of the family plans for the rest of the evening.

The Montreal Canadiens showed yesterday that they can stand up to a serious Western Conference contender, defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-1, for one game anyways. How would they contend in a seven game series has to be wondered though.

The Habs were subjected to an aggressive San Jose forecheck, and took 36 hits. That resulted in 16 giveaways to the Sharks four, keeping the Habs to just four shots on goal in the first period, and six in the third frame.

When the Canadiens did get their shots, they were typically in close on Antti Niemi. Much of that had to do with the Canadiens strategy of dumping the puck in behind the slower Sharks defence and skating in after it.

The bulk of San Jose's shots were kept back, allowing Carey Price a clear look at the puck When they weren't Price continued to stonewall the Sharks, as he has throughout the season.

The initial reaction out of HNIC's colour man Gary Galley, and several internet commentariat, was that the lone goal that Price allowed was one he wanted back, citing a softie.

Sorry Galley, you were dead wrong Even P.J. Stock, of all people, made note of where the play went wrong. I have to think Stock's analysis was assisted by Kelly Hrudey.

Price made the right play to pass the puck behind the net, where Hal Gill picked it up. Unfortunately the big guy's attempt to gt the puck up the ice was contained, was checked into the boards.

Price was positioned well for the shot, but was well screened by the mismatch of Ryane Clowe vs Brian Gionta. That forced him to open up and peek around the pair, leaving him vulnerable to Benn Ferriero's shot..

The other concern was Scott Gomez blowing his coverage for the second consecutive goal, over-anticipating that Gill would get the puck up the boards. It's the second goal where he has been caught in that situation, and he had done a similar attempt in the same period.

The goal aside, the Canadiens played and excellent defensive game, even getting strong support form the forwards, against the aggressive Sharks. Whether they could hold up against that pressure in a playoff series remains to be seen.

Roman Hamrlik is again the workhorse of the club, and proved he still has the legs as he "charged" up ice on a breakaway and had a pair of shots on Niemi. Mike Cammalleri was there to cash the rebound on the insurance goal. According to Cammalleri, the veteran blueliner is a mule when it comes to bag skates.

What made the breakaway more humorous was that Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who between periods said that the Sharks were a better team than the Habs, couldn't chase down number 44. Granted he had been coming of 1:14 of ice time, but still.

With the Canadiens officially without Andre Markov for the rest of the season, the Canadiens will have to be giving 100 percent on all three pairings.

Thus far they have been sucessful, mostly due to Price, as CJAD's Rick Moffat noted that the team is playing .700 hockey without their number one rearguard. NHL.com's Arpon Basu also noted that Markov has played in just 52 of 109 games, since Jacques Martin took over behind the bench.

My only concern is the consitency of Jaroslav Spacek, who seems to play one game on and one game off as of late. I've mentioned this beforem, but Spacek needs to play smarter and remained more focused as the season rolls on.

The next question though is who does Martin start next game, P.K. Subban or Yannick Weber?

Martin's mentality is not to make any changes on a winning roster, but does he bench Subban for a third straight game? Weber got his chance for some ice time, against the New Jersey Devils, and I was honestly surprised to see him back out against San Jose. Maybe Martin thought Subban was supposed to be at Best Buy.

The end result was a strong 16:20 by the Swiss defenceman, going +3 with three blocked shots and an assist.

If anything has been learned, it's that there is depth on the blueline in Montreal. With Markov going on LTIR, it will open up some cap room for GM Pierre Gauthier to look at tweaking his lineup well before the trade deadline.

If a move is to be made, I have to think it will be on the forward lines, where they desperately need a finisher for Scott Gomez. Martin tried shuffling the lines against the Sharks to try to get Gomez and some offense going, but had little success.

One thing I don't want is Martin tinkering with the Lars Eller, Benoit Pouliot, Mathieu Darche line. That trio has been the most consistent for the last three games, and I doubt he's want to dismantle that, after seeing what happened when he pulled Cammalleri, Andre Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec apart.

Speaking of Plekanec, and for that matter Price and Eller, does anyone miss Jaroslav Halak anymore?

After signing a new contract with the Canadiens, Plekanec's play has come out in dividends and he is, without question, their most valuable skater on the ice. Eller just gets better and better as the season goes on, and his line was the most effective against San Jose. And Price? Well, his play speaks for itself.

This week should be another test for Les Glorieux as they make a road visit to another Western Conference powerhouse, the Detroit Red Wings. Before that, they host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, and close out the week in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

With Andrei Markov going on LTIR, what roster moves should Pierre Gauthier make?

None for now, let's see how the team fares127
Trade for a defenceman18
Trade for a forward (Top Six)110

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