Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Snapshot Preview: Habs vs Sabres - January 31st 2012

Montreal Canadiens (19-21-9) vs Buffalo Sabres (20-24-5)
Puck drop is at 7:30pm EST (RDS, TSN-MTL, TSN 990AM)

I have game notes on the Rangers game. I was at the mashing of Detroit last week....and yet no articles. I guess my rhythm of writing got messed up by my illness and vacation. I took the all-star break away from the blog, and look to get back on track as of tonight's meeting with the Buffalo Sabres.

I am also working on a new feature to run on off-days between games talking to people around the city. How the Habs affect their lives. I hope it will be a good recurring feature. Fans and media are invited to participate (get in touch with me if you'd like to be involved) and perhaps one day maybe players and former players too. The first of these features should be up soon - look for it!

The Buffalo Sabres head into Montreal looking for their 5th straight win at the Bell Centre. Montreal is 4-2-1 in it's last 6 at home included a 7-2 thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings to enter All-Star break.

Carey Price, fresh off a fun turn at the All-Star game faces off with Buffalo for the 21st time in his career - second time this season. Price has a lifetime record of 8-6-6 with a 1.96 GAA and a .936 save percentage against these Sabres.

His counterpart Ryan Miller has a 20-8 lifetime record vs Montreal. His numbers while not as sterling as those of Price are excellent. He has a career GAA of 2.29 and a .924 save percentage vs the Canadiens so this will be a tall order for the Habs.

Derek Roy has been a thorn in the Habs' side for many years, amassing 34 points in 34 career games vs the Blue-Blanc-Rouge, including a goal and an assist the last time these teams squared off.

Scott Gomez has been strong for the Habs since his recent return from injury. The points aren't as high as some would like, but he has been creating chances for his linemates. Tonight he will be playing wing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Rene Bourque as head coach Randy Cunneyworth looks to get all 3 going. Gomez has 6 pts in 11 games at the Bell Centre this season and has put up 28 points in 48 career meetings with Buffalo, so I'd look for him to be a factor tonight. It seems that if Scott Gomez is going well, so too are the Canadiens. If he is as involved as he looked to be before t he break, expect big things from him.

Both teams still feel like the have a chance at the playoffs. Both teams were expected to be higher in the standings than they are. The Sabres however seem to be tailing off, while the Habs look interested. Both teams play similar styles and tonight should be a lightning fast up-tempo game. Buffalo/Montreal matchups have been fantastic affairs since the lockout and expect nothing less tonight. This is a statement game for both teams if they want to get into the thick of the playoff race.

Ryan White has been skating with the team and looks to be close to a return. Andrei Markov skated today for 15 minutes on his own and there is no timetable for him as yet. Brian Gionta is "out indefinitely". I'd expect that neither #79 nor #21 are in the lineup before training camp.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Pittsburgh Breakdown!!!

I've started this article 4 or 5 times already.
Really. I have.

I've been having a problem recently. I don't know if it's because I have been ill, or if the Canadiens are turning me an unhealthy shade of green.

One game the Canadiens come out play a strong chip & chase style, but lose due to a flukey goal(Boston). The next game, they take the same style into another rink and get stoned by a hot goalie (Ottawa). Then they come home to play the same chip & chase style and they make a superior opponent look inferior (Rangers) before abandoning the style completely. They looked horribly flat against Washington, and then they went to Pittsburgh.

This is where I start to have a problem. All season long, this bunch of Canadiens has shown enough pride in itself to not put up two stinker efforts in a row, and yet the loss to Washington looked so bad most fans and media were forecasting the end of the season.

After the loss to Washington CTV/TSN 990's Randy Tieman tweeted "like a scene out of ER. i'll make the call. 11:30 pm. turn out the lights, the fat lady has sung, the party is over. sorry." When the eternal optimist Randy Tieman  is calling the end, as a viewer, listener and reader - you can take it to the bank.

What then to expect in Pittsburgh? Do the Candiens go back to the chip & chase that I liked so much? do they phone in another flat performance? The fact that the answer to both questions is "no" is, I think, what has had me stuck here for days.

Much of the media has discussed PK Subban's gaffe with a puck on Habs power play and his ensuing argument with Randy Ladouceur as a turning point in the game. Maybe it was.

After a solid effort against the Rangers, and games on back-to-back nights, Peter Budaj was given the task of handling the Penguins. "He earned his start. His last start was a great effort" were the words of encouragement for Budaj from head coach Randy Cunneyworth on TSN's pre-game and I found it hard to disagree.

The Game notes: 

First Period:
19:38 - 2nd quick freeze by Marc-Andre Fleury. No shots on goal, plenty of puck flurries around the crease.
19:26 - Eller Scores! Lars Eller dumps the puck in around the back of the goal. PK Subban picks it up on the opposite boards, shoots it in on goal, the rebound bounces onto Eller's waiting stick who tips it into the gaping cage. 1-0
18:20 - Gomez actually backchecking.
17:19 - James Neal in on a 2 on 1...shoots...hits the post.
17:03 - Kunitz and Pacioretty fight after Kunitz levels Erik Cole. The Penguins Kris Letang missed 21 games as a result of a hit by Pacioretty the last time these teams squared off. Pacioretty gets an extra 2 minutes for instigating, Pens to the Power Play.

16:44 - Steve Sullivan called for intereference on Moen. Power Play negated. 4 on 4.
15:58 - Letang scores! Letang walsk in, skates around 3 Habs, send the puck in front of the net...and it just trickles in. Budaj will want it back. 1-1.
14:19 - Cole Scores! Tomas Kaberle springs Cole into the offensive zone. Cole & Kostitsyn have a nice quick give n' go, Cole 1-times to back of the cage. 2-1.
13:38 - Neal can openers Hal Gill, goes to the box for tripping. League's worst Power Play goes to work. Gomez easily enters the offensive zone...and does absolutely nothing. The last 15 seconds or so of the Power Play, the Habs finally set something and have 2 attempted shots on net to show for it.
10:22 - Eller does some good digging work to get to a puck, but not much comes of it.
8:21 - Subban is called for roughing, Penguins (0/1) go back to the PP.
7:30 - Plekanec gets a short-handed breakaway (does he get one every game?) Letang catches up to him on a backcheck and cleanly swipes away the puck before it can reach the goal.Excellent play.
6:15 - Habs Penalty Kill a success, there's a scramble at the end in front of Budaj, but he stands strong and the play is whistled down.
5:02 - Subban loses a puck. As a result, the Pens walk in on a 3 on 1. Adams is robbed by Peter Budaj who "flashes leather". - Marty Turco
2:21 - Shots 9-5 in favour of the Penguins. A pane of Glass falls down behind the Habs goal, there's a long delay for repair.
0:47 - Erik Cole breaks free and creates a 2 on 1, he sends a pass over to Max Pacioretty, but the pass goes through his skates.
0:43 - Brooks Orpick gets 2 mins for hooking. Gomez has 2 excellent chances but can't bury them.

Second Period:

19:04 - Andrei Kostitsyn cuts in down low through the crease, but Erik Cole can't get a puck through to him. Best puck movement in the offensive zone yet on a Habs Power Play. "Fresh ice makes a big difference. Flatter passes. Big advantage for a team on the Power Play." - Turco
18:51 - Kostitsyn Scores! Kaberle sends a gorgeous blind pass to Kostitsyn who buries an excellent shot. "A few encouraging plays. The Power Play looks much more lively. Habs are playing great." - Turco
17:08 - Decent defensive block by Kaberle.
16:43 - shots 12-7 Penguins.
15:43 - Kunitz with a decent shot on Budaj, Gorges snuffs him out for the rebound, which sails wide.
14:45 - Adams holds up Erik Cole, Habs back to the Power Play for two minutes.
14:28 - Subban whips a blind pass around in the defensive zone on the breakout, it's picked off by Brooks Orpick who passes to Jeffrey. Jeffrey one-times into an open net. 3-2. 
Subban and assistant coach Randy Ladouceur would have a heated debate about this play on the bench afterwards. Eventually Randy Cunneyworth would step in and tell the young defenseman to shut it.
12:46 - Good puck movement again on Power Play, no shots on goal though.
12:18 - good stop by Fleury off of Plekanec.
12:02 - tip by Malkin hits the side of the net. Penguins buzzing.
10:25 - Dupuis takes a rocket shot right on - Budaj is there for the stop.
9:44 - A solid save by Budaj off a 2 on 1 with Alexei Emelin out of position looking to clobber someone.
9:26 - Budaj catches the Penguins on a line change and springs Erik Cole at the far blue line. Cole and Pacioretty on their umpteenth 2 on 1 of this game. Cole sends to Pacioretty who scores. 4-2
7:04 - Gomez with a slick pass to Darche.
6:46 - 22-13 Pens outshooting the Habs.
5:02 - Erik Cole stopped in the slot by Fleury.
3:08 - Andrei Kostitsyn with strong positioning on Letang, leads to a blocked shot.
0:18 - Moen picks up an errant pass and sends it to Plekanec. Fleury stacks his pads to make a safe, the puck sails high and hits the crossbar. Letang slashes Plekanec on his way in and gets called. Habs go back to the Power Play.

Third Period:

18:47 - Erik Cole hard on net, stopped by Fleury. "Love the way Gomez gains the zone." -Turco
17:10 - 23-19 Penguins lead shot totals.
16:28 - Subban high sticks Steve Sullivan, referees miss it, but karma bites PK a little as he accidentally screens Peter Budaj, allowing Dustin Jeffrey to score his second of the game. 4-3
15:19 - Cole creates traffic in front of Fleury while David Desharnais makes a great feed to Pacioretty, but his shit is stopped by Fleury.
14:26 - Kaberle puts a nice give n' go in motion with Matt Darche, but Darche misses the net.
13:22 - Desharnais and Pacioretty on a 2 on 1, Pacioretty takes a shot, stopped by Fleury. The Penguins immediately scurry back down to the Habs end where Budaj makes an excellent save off James Neal, who takes a slash from Erik Cole sending Pittsburgh back to the man advantage.
11:40 - Great work by Plekanec in the Canadiens half of the neutral zone digging for a loose puck.
10:55 - Penalty killed successfully.
7:48 - Pascal Dupuis in all alone, his backhander is stopped by Budaj.
7:19 - Cole back to the sin bin for interference on Kris Letang. Pittsburgh goes to their third Power Play. Habs playing with fire.
6:35 - Josh Gorges is hammered by Chris Kunitz who gets two minutes for boarding, negating the Penguins Power Play.
5:18 - Penguins continue to press. Nel's shot is stopped by Budaj, but the Pens bang away at loose pucks. Budaj stands strong, preserving the 1 goal lead.
4:00 - 33-23 shot edge for the Penguins.
2:43 - Malkin scores! James Neal who has been dangerous all night sends great pass across the ice to a waiting Malkin who rips a one timer into the net to tie the game. "Great position by Budaj. Better shot by Malkin" - Turco. 4-4

0:01 - Fleury makes a buzzer beating save off of Chris Campoli to send the game to overtime.

3:24 - Malkin and Neal barrel in on a 2 on 1, but Emelin makes an excellent defensive play to break it up.
2:29 - Subban springs Pacioretty who gets a shot on Fleury, but no one is around to pick up the huge rebound.
1:12 - Desharnais centers a pass to Emelin, but his shot is stopped by Fleury.
0:08 - Gorges battles in the dying seconds to try and create something in the offensive zone, but he runs out of time, the game goes to a shootout.

No need for me to describe. Here's the video:

A heartbreaking loss for the Canadiens who need as many points as possible in their quest to make the playoffs. It's a huge mountain to climb, but players like Hal Gill (who expects to be traded if things go sour) and Andrei Kostitsyn (who doesn't want to test free agent waters) who want to remain in Montreal need the team to win games if they expect to continue their careers here.

The Canadiens step on a plane for Toronto and a meeting with the Maple leafs who are trying to stay afloat in the playoff race as well.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Skilled note-taking

I'm doing things a little bit differently today.
I've already written a piece on the team's bi-polar nature (Consistently Inconsistent), I just recently wrote about Scott Gomez playing a strong game (Passion Play) - with both of those trends continuing on Wednesday against the Capitals, I really can't think of anything new to write about. So today, for your viewing pleasure, I present my game notes.

I mean that quite literally. I take handwritten notes during each game. Sometimes as few as three pages worth, and sometimes as many as 7 pages.

In short, Scott Gomez continued his excellent play in the offensive zone, but was lax on defense. Carey Price would love to have the second and third Caps goals back. The Power Play continues to be brutal.

First Period

18:45 - Bourque fights Hendricks. Wins fight. Answers bell for hit on Backstrom.
17:53 - Kostitsyn has a nice feed to Eller who fans.
15:19 - Matt Perreault scores. Perreault uses Gorges as a screen, shoots through the legs to opposite side of net. seeing-eye shot. Price sees nothing. 0-1
11:55 - Montreal leads shots 4-3
11:37 - Johanssen scores. Caps have a 3on2 through the middle of the ice. Johanssen leans on the puck, fights through a lazy backcheck of Kostitsyn while putting the puck short-side over Price's shoulder. 0-2. Price will want it back.
9:46 - Eller in on goal shorthanded, shoots wide.
7:20 - Gomez digging for a puck in o-zone, skating hard.
7:02 - Blunden takes a feed from Gomez, rips a shot, blocked by Caps defense.
6:59 - Erskine trips Darche, Habs to P.P.
5:52 - Weber sends a pass to Cole in front, but it goes wide. Pacioretty takes a feed from Kaberle, can't control.
4:55 - Penalty killed. 2 decent chances created off point-plays.
4:47 - Shots favour Montreal 6-4.
4:46 - Wideman gets 2 minutes for playing with a broken stick. Montreal back to the Power Play.
4:25 - Kaberle does a decent job gaining the zone, but is knocked off the puck easily by Hamrlik. Hamrlik easily clears down the ice.
"Kaberle hasn't made any impact on Montreal Power Play since his acquisition" - Ray Ferraro
3:00 - Subban gains the zone, passes to Kostitsyn, quick pass over to Gomez, shot on goal, saved.
2:23 - Gorges & Emelin sandwich Ovechkin.
1:43 - shots 7-5 favouring Montreal.
"Coming off a terrific game Sunday night, the rested team, Montreal, has had a pretty flat first period" - Ray Ferraro.

Second Period

19:00 - Semin in on a breakaway - stopped by Price.
17:12 - Cole taken down on a drive to the net. Montreal (0/2) heads to the Power Play (1/13).
15:39 - Gomez gains the zone, fires on goal. Noone around for a rebound. Hard shot on net, but if you're the puck carrier, noone will be ahead of you when you shoot. duh?
13:57 - Rene Bourque on a breakaway clangs off the post.
12:07 - Darche clips Johanssen with a high stick which draws blood. Washington to a 4-minute Power Play.
10:36 - shots evened up at 8-8.
9:16 - Ovechkin scores off the right point. Usually he plays left point (just above face-off circle) so defensemen block his shots. With a screen in front and Ovechkin on his opposite side, he buries a one-timer. 0-3.
8:05 - Gomez spins, turns, shoots -saved, rebound is picked up again by Gomez, blocked by Caps defense.
7:45 - Gomez in again towards net, shot gloved by Neuvirth.
"Gomez has been showing good legs tonight. Neuvirth has been sharp on him" - Ray Ferraro
4:48 - Desharnais drops a pass to Cole, his shot is stopped by Neuvirth.
4:40 - Good point shot. Pacioretty and Cole create traffic in front, and Desharnais feeds the puck through the crease. Neuvirth is strong on a Pacioretty tip.
3:27 - Moen sends a bouncing puck in front to Plekanec, but his shot trickles wide.
2:41 - (Gomez, 7:41 ice time, 3 shots on goal).

Third Period

17:26  - Erskine elbows Darche, then a high stick drawing blood, again on Darche, same shift. Habs head to Power Play for 6 mins.

At this point, I paused the PVR, had supper, watched regular TV with the wife, and got back to the game hours later. I didn't take any notes for the final bit, as if the result had already crystallized for me. The Canadiens' Pacioretty would take a Penalty during the long power play. Neither team would score. Canadiens would continue sending pucks Neuvirth's way for the rest of the period, but nothing of the dangerous variety. Final shot tally would be 31-17 favouring Montreal, but where it counts, the Caps were up 3-0.

Off to Pittsburgh.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Passion Play : Habs win 4-1 over NYR

Max Pacioretty had 3 points, as did his linemates Eric Cole and David Desharnais - but Scott Gomez was a man possessed.

22 shifts for a total of 14:23 on the ice and he was noticeable each and every time. He had 4 shots on goal, 3 of which were solid scoring chances, he was involved in plays, his legs were moving, and he was coming up with the great set-up passes one would expect of Scott Gomez. "He looks like a young man out there" was how Marty Turco described Gomez on the broadcast - Forgetting perhaps that 12-year NHL veteran Gomez is only 32. If he's motivated, it seems clear Scott Gomez still has some good hockey left in him.

Randy Cunneyworth had praise for the strong play of Gomez on the night as well. “"Scotty was good. He ended up taking on a bigger role as we encountered a couple of injuries. It was his former team and he was ready to play and battle. He did all the things he has to on both sides of the puck.”

Gomez finished with 1 assist on the night, but could have had 2 on the same play, setting up Michael Blunden twice on the same shift. Blunden would score with the second opportunity. Gomez also set up PK Subban later in the game, during a scramble early in the 3rd, but Subban would hit the post.

Peter Budaj was strong when he needed to be. The chip & chase game worked wonders, and according to John Tortorella the Rangers played a terrible defensive game and the Canadiens took advantage.

Rene Bourque looked a few steps behind some plays, but he's been on a long suspension and is adjusting to a new team. Give him a few games. He was noticeable, went to the net, tried mixing it up a little, and if he plays with that interest level every game - like Gomez - he too will be a factor down the stretch.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

a CHIP on their shoulder.

Well, we played well, right?

That's not really a question. The Canadiens under Randy Cunnyworth have developed a new chip and chase offensive system that seems to be working for them - albeit not yet providing dividends. In Boston on Thursday Tim Thomas and a flukey goal were the difference, and yesterday at home to the Senators Craig Anderson stole the show.

The Short of chip & Chase. Chip & chase is not the same as a dump and chase. With a dump & chase system, the offensive team (in this case the Canadiens) will dump the puck in to the opposing zone all the way to the boards and try to crash into the defender who has gone into a corner to play the puck. The optimal result of a dump & chase is to catch a defender out of position and get a cycle game going to create a chance. With a Chip & chase, the puck is not being dumped into the opposing zone it is being chipped past a defender by a foot or two. The optimal result here is for the offending team to use it's speed to catch a defender flat footed.

The Canadiens started to use this system against bigger teams like the Bruins last season (to great success) mainly to avoid having to use their bodies against the bigger teams. By using this system more frequently, the Canadiens are utilizing their greatest asset - speed. They are using their speed to put their opponents off balance.

The Candiens star selection process is funny. If a player scores the game winner in OT or SO he is automatically the games first star. Sometimes it is deserved, but in the case of Daniel Alfreddson, he was no first star for his entire nights work. The game's second star - Ottawa Goaltender Craig Anderson was easily the game's true first star.

Anderson made save after save stifling the Canadiens offense. He stooped diminutive David Desharnais alone in front on 5 separate occasions, he stopped multiple Canadiens through traffic, and he twice stopped Tomas Plekanec on short handed breakaways.

The Canadiens would have an apparent goal called off early. Andrei Kostitsyn would make good use of his puck movment ability before handing off to Josh Gorges. Gorges would pass to PK Subban while Kostitsyn headed towards Anderson's crease. Subban wound up, and Ottawa's Milan Michalek shoved Kostisyn into Anderson. Subban's shot would go into the net, but Kostitsyn would be called for goalie interference. Hab-fans would argue he was pushed in by Michalek (he was) but Kostitsyn made little effort to get out of the way.

On the ensuing penalty kill, Craig Anderson would be forced to make his first breakaway save off of Tomas Plekanec. The penalty was successfully killed by the league's second best unit in that area.

Unfortunately, as fantastic as the penalty kill continues to be for the Canadiens (6/7 killed), their power play continues to be equally inept (0/5). Tomas Kaberle was brought in to help the Power Play, and he has made it look better, but it continues to struggle, while he has quietly amassed 9 points in 15 games with the Habs - perhaps that's why he was used in the shootout?

Rene Bourque makes his Canadiens debut tonight as the Habs host the New York Rangers. Peter Budaj gets the nod in goal. Logic would dictate that the can't keep running into hot goaltenders each night. Keep up this style of play and it will eventually become too much for the other teams to handle. I expect a quick Habs start tonight, and a surprising home victory, using the chip and chase to break down the Rangers, and get the points they deserved in both Boston and against Ottawa.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Fried Calamari

Michael Cammalleri is no longer a Hab.

Sit there. Let it digest.

Let's break it down.

On July 1st, The Montreal Canadiens signed free-agent forward Michael Cammalleri to a 5 year contract worth $30 million US. Cammalleri was fresh off a 39 goal season with the Calgary Flames and at 26 years old looked to be an excellent signing.

170 games, 54 goals and 119 points later where did it all go wrong? Cammalleri scored 26 goals in only 65 games that first season and many fans and media had anointed him the next Captain of the Canadiens. For an encore, he scored 13 goals in 19 games during the playoffs of that season.

On September 29th 2010, Brian Gionta was named the new Captain of the Montreal Canadiens with Hal Gill and Andrei Markov being named alternates. Cammalleri's production tailed off, as did his excitement with the media. Did the novelty of playing in Montreal wear off? Or as many speculated was Cammalleri hurt that he didn't get a letter on his jersey?

NBC's Pierre McGuire suggested that not only was Cammalleri hurt he didn't get a letter on his jersey, but that Canadiens brass had made the right decision in not giving one. A mopey attitude is not the attitude for a leader. "The Canadiens have an excellent leadership group".

Over his first two plus seasons in Montreal, fans became accustomed to seeing Cammalleri drop to one knee whole scoring goals. This year with only 9 goals in 38 games it was rarely seen.  Many point to the injury suffered by an accidental cut to the knee that he would drop to. (Vs Winnipeg Oct.9th).

One Flames executive was quoted as saying that a trade had been in the works for three months, while Mr.Gauthier claims it was a month. Either way this had been brewing for awhile. When Cammalleri sounded off to Francois Gagnon and Arpon Basu following the loss to St.Louis speculation started to run rampant. Mitch Melnick openly speculated with Pierre McGuire on his TSN 990 radio show that perhaps Cammalleri had learned he might be traded and his comments were a way of expediting it, or a way of just venting frustrations since he felt he'd be traded for sure.

The end result is Michael Cammalleri, a clearly frustrated player - be it for lack of a letter on his jersey, not liking the style of the coach - is back in Calgary.

Along with Cammalleri, the Canadiens shipped a 5th round pick in this year's draft and the rights to Karri Ramo to Calgary as well.

Karri Ramo is a 26 year old Finnish Goalie who has played 48 games in the NHL - all with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has not played in the NHL since 2009. He has been playing in the KHL ever since where he has been a league all-star in two consecutive seasons receiving more fan votes than any other league player. He's likely to stay in the KHL, and doesn't figure in the Canadiens plans anyways.

The Canadiens received a 2nd round pick in next year's draft. Trevor Thimmins has done pretty well with second round picks, having selected Guillaume Latendresse, Ben Maxwell, Mathieu Carle, P.K.Subban, and Danny Kristo almost all of whom are currently in the NHL.

The Canadiens also received Patrick Holland. TSN's Bob Mckenzie describes him as "by no means a can't-miss prospect. No (Amateur Scouts) suggested he's a potential top six NHL forward but many said he does have a legitimate chance to play in the NHL as a solid third- or fourth-liner."

The "jewel" of the deal for Montreal is Rene Bourque. In Bourque, The Canadiens get bigger (6'2, 211lbs VS 5'9, 190lbs) cheaper ($3.33 mill VS 6 mill cap hit) for similar goals per game production. Over the last 150 games, Cammalleri has scored only 5 more goals than Bourque. It all sounds very good, but there are always intangibles. Kelly Hrudey describes the intangibles that Bourque brings as "Zero on the give-a-care meter".

Cammalleri is now a Flame, Bourque is now a Hab. Both teams struggle to get into the playoffs, both GM's try to save their jobs. Who will win out? Will both? One can only hope.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Seen it all before

Prior to the game it became public knowledge that Ron "The Professor" Caron had passed away. Fitting that the 2 teams for which he worked much of his career as a hockey executive would meet the same night. At least one would honor him by their performance. Condolences out to the entire Caron Family.  

"What can I say about tonight's shutout? It was the easiest shutout I've ever had in the NHL. I think I'm embarrassed to get a shutout like that."

The quote comes from Dominik Hasek (01/26/2006) but it could have just as easily have come from Jaroslav Halak after the Blues turned away the Canadiens 3-1 on Tuesday night. Not for a lack of trying from reporters end, Halak - a classy guy - wouldn't take the bait. Mike Cammallerri however took it for him.

"I would say we can do a lot more to create momentum, speed and puck control and make it harder on the other teams to defend. When you do those things it makes it hard on any team to defend." "I'm pretty sure if you asked them honestly, (The Blues) would tell you they weren't challenged as much as they should be tonight".

3:08 into the opening frame, with Lars Eller (he who was traded to Montreal for playoff hero Halak) off for interference, Thomas Plekanec stormed in on the Blues goalie with a short-handed breakaway. Halak would make not only his best save of the night- but pretty much his only save.

The bigger, stronger St.Louis Blues were first to every puck on this night. They played a variation of the Jaques Martin system (that Habs fans oh-so-loathed) to a perfect tee and the Canadiens sat back and had no answer. Stifling defense, solid dumping, good hard checks, 5 players back checking in front of the goalie. The Blues would block 12 shots for Halak, but the Canadiens would help them out by missing the net 12 times.

The similarities on this night to that fateful Habs/Sens meeting in January of '06 are plentiful. Both games ended with identical 3-0 scores. Both Hasek and Halak had to make 19 saves en route to a shutout. 

On that fateful January 26th night in 2006 Senators Captain Daniel Alfredsson described his teams strong play: "We controlled the game from the first faceoff. Once we got going, I think we played smart and we kept the puck in front of us." Seems like a quote that could just as easily be attributed to any of the Blues skaters after Tuesdays game.

Carey Price made 22 saves for the Habs in the loss, a few of the spectacular variety. 9:04 into the first he made one sprawling on his back, 4:04 into the second he tracked some slick moves by former Hab Matt D'Agostini, at 15:00 of the 2nd period he'd make a great stop off David Backes before Hal Gill would screen him on the rebound resulting in the St.Louis second goal.

TSN Analyst Marty Turco would give first star honors to Jaroslav Halak after the game, but I can't believe he was being serious. Turco said Halak was strong in the victory - however had he given up 1 goal, I'd argue most pundits would say he was weak. The fact that Halak had a shutout was a matter of circumstance, not due to a valiant performance. 

As TSN 990's Tony Marinaro would bring up on his show yesterday, if Price and Halak swapped teams last night, I believe the score would have been the same. Neither goalie was a factor in the result. The Canadiens looked listless for the most part, and they were outclassed, by a bigger, stronger team beating them at their own game. 

The Habs/Blues game was billed as a game of two goalies, but it can be summed up as a game of two words: Deja Vu.