Lightning Strikes Reveal Habs Cracks
Three game losing streaks put me in a pissy mood. Two loses in a row I can deal with. Three - that's the end of the world!
Now I won't go far as to suggest blowing up the team blueprint. What's going on now hardly neccessitates such a reaction. Much of what I'm sensing after a loss like this is that there is something gravely chewing at the team work ethic and chemistry.
Early in the third period, I fed my shredded game notes to the paper basket for reasons you'll read in a bit, but what I saw in this game tonight, fell under one big banner.
The Montreal Canadiens were seriously outworked by the Tampa Bay Lightning in this game, and big time.
Imagine that? It's not impossible. If you read here yesterday, you know that I felt it coming. Hardest working teams win all time, and the playoffs have essentially begun for Tampa. Actually, if you look at their record in the past ten games, they are playing like they have just won a round.
This morning, and yesterday morning, a Pat Burns anecdote and warning, from his CKAC call in show have stuck in my head. The former, about Claude Lemieux, I'll relate in a bit.
Burns was being asked about the mood of teams coming off consecutive losses, and what they have to do to turn things around, when he cautioned listeners about taking Tampa too lightly. Burns, as some may know, scouts games for the Devils from Tampa and Florida, and gets to take in many Lightning home dates in his work. You might have seen him in his box suite if you watched on RDS last night.
In his job, Burns gets to chat with all kinds of NHL folk, Habs personel included. He was bringing up the work of Tampa assistant coach Mike Sullivan, newly hired by the club, and not coincidentally responsible for their recent turnaround. Sullivan, says Burns, has brought great structure to the Tampa game plan. He said that it was obvious when looking down on the ice at how the players are now positioned as opposed to before. The statement by Burns that tugged my ear, was when he said that the Canadiens knew what Sullivan had brought.
So there you have it in testimony - the Habs coaches prepared the players to face the Lightning and the changes they have made to their game.
What went wrong? The Camadiens were outworked, plain and simple. The team that wanted to win most, won. Tampa spared the effort and reaped what they had sown.
Not alot of this was popping from my noggin when the Canadiens grabbed a 2-1 first period lead eight minutes into the game. Something, though I didn't quite know what, was bugging me after the period ended.
After outshooting the Lightning by a 20-7 margin, an uneasy notion said that the Canadiens ought to up by an extra goal of two. Looking back now, I get why I felt worried despite the lead and edge in shots.
This flies under the radar to many onlookers, and I hadn't thought of this in a while, but I once heard it termed as "penalties earned" versus "penalties unearned". It's not a statistic or a category of any kind, but merely a way to determine how a team is playing by the type of penalties they are drawing.
If a player is dogged along the boards, working hard to protect the puck, and draws a holding call from a frustrated for, that is a penalty earned. A player speeding by a defender with the puck, breaking in on net when he is hooked or hauled, is an earned call. If hard work brought it about, it is a drawn penalty.
Midway through the first, the Canadiens were beneficiaries of three consecutive unreaned penalty calls in a three minute span. Immediately after scoring their second goal, Steve Downie was given a four minute roughing minor against two minutes for Max Pacioretty during a crease scrum that got out of hand. Kudos to Pacioretty for being at the net, but the additional minor to Downie was unearned by the Habs.
Soon after that minor elapsed, Tampa's Craig was called for tripping when Max Lapierre stepped on the puck and fell in the neutral zone. Unearned again. Andrei Meszaros, 38 seconds later, is called for delay of game, after playing billybat with a puck that went over the glass. Once more, unearned.
From the nine minute mark to the thirteen minute mark, the Canadiens had a two minute powerplay, followed by a 30 second 5 on 4 chance, and then another minute and 22 seconds of 5 on 3 time. It was during this span that they gained their great first period shot margin on the Lightning, and likely where the lost the contest by not adding another goal on this silver platter opportunity.
Looking back on all this once more, could it be said that since the calls going their way here were not neccessarily earned through their own effort, did it give the Canadiens an illusion that their play in the first period was superior?
It was an illusion.
Those five minutes spent on the powerplay proved that the Habs focus was way off kilter. There was hardly any communication at all between the players on the PP, and they stood about set in ice like a table hockey game. Tampa was on their every move, and no Hab took charge, few went to the net, fewer made themselves pass options, and all waited to watch what another player would do before reacting.
Powerplays work best when players react in synchronicity, and there was none of that to be seen. There's no insinuation in this statement, from one who knows, but the Canadiens played like a team hungover.
When looking closer at the Canadiens first period goals, the unearned theme can be worked in once more. The deflected Lapierre goal, off a blistering Markov shot, was evidence of effort, but also involved a touch of luck. Kovalev's goal was a gift from goalie Mike Smith, earned somewhat by the pressure of Pacioretty moving in on him at a deceptive speed. Still, though, lotsa luck in it.
What wasn't an illusion, was how hard Tampa players had been working. First in killing off those successive calls, and then in wrestling the game away from the Canadiens, which amounted to child's play on this night.
Now if the Canadiens were well informed on how the Lightning had been working of late, they have only themselves to blame for being second on the puck for most of the game.
Some random ramblings that are staying with me from this one.
Would you never mind the Lacavalier rumour deal and offer up Plekanec even for Artyukhin?
Do you think Francis Bouillon was the most relieved human in Florida state after he challenged Artyukhin late in the third and was declined?
The officials didn't have too bad a night for a change, they just had troubling seeing the puck in crowded creases at both ends.
Max Lapierre was far and away the best Habs in this game, and stood head and shoulders above his team mates.
There were 18 Max Lapierre's dressed for Tampa.
Rhino Burn is less aliability paired with Hamrlik than Bouillon. Trouble is, he turns Hamrlik into Bryan McCabe when paired with him.
As far as I could tell, Brisebois played as good as the Lang and K brothers line. Not good.
Kovalev had his usual few thrilling individual moments. The day he discovers he has linemates will make him doubly good.
If anyone had said that by the 47th game that Maxim and Guillaume would have as many goals as Plekanec would you have offered to buy some off them?
Price made himself short and smaller on the Lecavalier goal. Pucks should never beat Price in that area, at that angle ever, unless the scorer shoots with a golf ball retriever.
Mike Smith is a darn good goalie, isn't he? I wonder if Dallas had a do over in the Brad Richards deal today, if they would flip Marco Turco instead.
Burns was asked on CKAC Monday, which player that he coached was of the most miserable disposition during a losing streak. The question was hardly finished by the time Burns said, "Pepe!"
Pepe, is the one and only Claude Lemieux, and as Burns told it, nothing was beyond his wrath when he was pissed. Team mates, coaches, people in general, hockey equipement, inanimate objects and anything under the sun would suffer Lemieux's scorn if the team weren't doing well. He could cuss a breeze as well as chew out a painting. This behavior was so consistently played out and by all means harmless to everyone, that after a time players just busted up laughing as Lemieux went on his maliscious way. Often it reached an overdone extreme, and with everyone around just cracking up over the act, Lemieux would then bust up himself. It was all a sham!
Now a humourous disclaimer of sorts, from a game in which I found nothing was very funny: Often before writing these posts, I'll make little mental notes during the game, scribble things on paper and such. I enjoy it when a commentator is right on the ball and bringing up interesting points to get me thinking and to expand upon. Benoit Brunet, I do not dislike, but he must be saying all kinds of obvious things because he says them either right at the moment I'm thinking them or not long after. Yvon Pednault use to make me go, "Holy smokes, never thought of that!" I tore up my note page early in the third period, as they were completely redundant with Brunet's words. Very frustrating. I don't want to come off sounding like I'm echoing Brunet's sentiments. Next game I'll watch with the sound off!