Penguins Make Squid Of Habs, As Canadiens Hopefully Get A Stinker Out Of Their System
As far as lame games go, it's doubtful you'll see the Canadiens offer up another noodle of the sort in this series with the Penguins.
The list of "what-could-go-wrong's" piled one atop the other would reach the top of Marc-Andre Bergeron's helmet.
Watching the game as it progressed, maybe you had the same sense as I, that the Canadiens as we know them were unrecognizable against Pittsburgh, and that the team that had so soundly undone the Capitals had....
....and then it hit me. The Canadiens were unrecognizable in defeating the Capitals. The perception is a little twisted....and then it double hit me, the Habs were blasted by Washington, outshot in dizzying numbers in six of seven games in the series won by a hair on Jaro's goatee*.
Either way, what I'm taking the round trip to getting at, is that this did not look like a team that belonged in the second round of playoffs.
On RDS, Benoit and Houde said the word "fatigue"more often than they said "Andrei Kostitsyn" last night.
Fatigue, I don't buy it.
Kostitsyn, I'm ready to sell.
I saw a tentative team right from the start, even as both clubs went through the obligatory feeling out phase. They were tentative, hesitant and honestly looked more than a bit spooked.
What it comes down to is first game jitters, because what seemed apparent is the Canadiens did not have sufficient time to prepare for the Penguins.
With only one day off between games, one has to seriously question why the Canadiens, who went the whole seven, start their series sooner than the Bruins and Flyers, who were over in six and five.
If the answer is television scheduling and a Sunday matinee, it simply shows where the leagues priorities lie, over producing a quality spectacle.
Anyway, nip that rant, as the preparation concern also falls squarely on the organization itself.
Do you get the impression the Habs brass, specifically the pro scouting, took a long hard look at the Penguins games from the Ottawa series? Judging by the deer-in-the-headlights play of several Canadiens, these boys got about a two hour video primer and not much in the way of Pens player breakdowns and tendencies.
Well what they didn't get more than a peak of between Wednesday and Friday, they got schooled in last night.
The Canadiens penalty kill, magnificent against Washington, was pulled apart at the seams Friday. Nothing worked. Players were scattered like leaves. Instead of sheltering Halak as they had, they exposed him.
Perhaps all that is putting the effect ahead of the cause, as some of the weirdities that occured in this game surely helped execution be compromised by circumstance.
One end of Mellon Arena rink turned into a sort of Bermuda Triangle for periods of the game. It messed with and sucked down both Andrei Markov and Jordan Staal with freak injuries. It ran off with Kostitsyn's brain. It caused Tom Pyatt's stick to explode on the PK, leading to a Pens goal because he could no longer block a lane. It caused a Brian Gionta ghost trip on Evgeny Malkin and in the third, sucked an innocent Gionta flip pass skyward over the opposite side glass.
If this all sounds like a too polite way of saying the Habs stunk, so be it.
There were, however, a few Habs that kept it from being a full skunker, and the Canadiens play five on five against the Penguins is one facet to build upon.
P.K. Subban continues to impress, scoring his first NHL goal, dishing a few good hits, playing well against Crosby and unveiling the Subban spinerama.
Dominic Moore hustled as always. Did you hear him nice and loud off the TV yelling "It's in!, It's in!, It's in!, It's in!" at the net when he'd felt he had shovelled a goal past Marc-Andre Fleury.
Michael Cammalleri continues to do what he's paid for and Gionta and Gomez really got involved, perhaps not always in intelligent ways, but they came to play.
Josh Gorges, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan O'Byrne looked ready for a physical series.
On the flipside, has Kostitsyn decided to summon the Kovalev enigma. The guy was a total zero out there, flubbing shots, missing passes, losing coverage and blowing dump ins. Sitting him next game in favour of his younger brother or Mathieu Darche is neccessary and required.
And what's a generally solid thinker like Tomas Plekanec doing going to the bench for a new stick on a Pens two on one?
Forgetting the Washington series for a moment, what we were all witness to on Friday was the return of "fragile" (as in psyche) Habs.
No doubt the injury to Markov weighed heavily on players minds, but that is something that is to be noted and filed away immediately. Markov is irreplaceable, but the return Jaroslav Spacek to the lineup and handing extra duty to Subban should help fill the crevice in part.
If there is a silver lining in a loss, and even a widow will tell you there's always one, it's that the Canadiens got this performance done with in the first series game and not the last.
Sure as Jacques Martin's got Dumbo's ears, the Canadiens can and will make adjustments, deal with the Markov loss, and come better prepared for Sunday afternoon.
* Bergeron's not tall, but that still a stack of things going wrong.
*Jaro doesn't have a goatee, so by that, I mean "not much."
*Squid, for those who do not know, is a penguins favorite snack.