Habs Goalie: Halak (L)
Opposition Goalie: Vokoun (W)
Habs goalscorers: Plekanec
Opposition goalscorers: Matthias (2)
Can you believe that we only had one PP? If you actually watched the game the answer should be a resounding NO as the refs 'let 'em play' a little too much for the Habs liking. Luckily, however, we were able to muster one opportunity thanks to the hard work of Metropolit who was able to get a tripping call with some aggressive work behind Vokoun's net. On the PP we put together a fantastic play that had Markov written all over it. The Habs were keeping the puck in the zone nicely and it was Andrei who was doing the best at this. On this particular play he was the one who threw it to the open side where there was no coverage. There Camms shot it right back to Markov who had moved closer to the net. This got the D and Vokoun moving for a second time. As quickly as he got the puck back, however, Markov shifted the whole Panther team yet again with another pass across the ice. This time it was to Pleks who somehow flipped the puck up and then batted it in to put the Habs up 1-0.
The good news is that Pleks is playing better than he was a week or two ago. The bad news, however, is that his play wasn't good enough to get by the trap of a very average team with any consistency. I am putting him in here though because he was our lone goalscorer and it was a nice goal to boot. He generated a few other chances too, but at the end of the day he, nor his linemates, generated enough.
Tonight Ben was the stand-out on his line as he accounted for more shots than his linemates combined. I would suggest that he pass more, but when I look closer I do see that he is often given the puck in an obvious shooting position, often where a one-timer is called for. He came very close to scoring on 2 occasions, but couldn't find a way to beat a team that he has been so good against thus far.
Sergei played a second straight good game tonight as he is proving to be much more valuable than any of the other three players that we just jettisoned. I am unclear why Moen is being used instead of him, with Plekanec, as I think he played better than Moen in both ends tonight. He often was involved in our attacks and played a responsible defensive game. I hope that he can work his way back onto the PK and I am also thinking that his play will force Martin to use him more than 12 minutes/game.
Markov did very well on the PP, but unfortunately had very little time to work with the extra man. Aside from that he was one of our top defencemen in our own end and represented our best chance of getting through the neutral zone. Surprisingly he played less than 3 other Habs - something that I think may have cost us more attacking time.
The player who played the most tonight was Spacek who, when I think about it, deserved every minute. A few games ago I called for more usage of #6 and I am glad to see it tonight. I would still keep him at 22 minutes while increasing Markov's minutes, though, as I believe those can be taken from Gill and O'Byrne. Jaro, once again, did a great job in our own end with a few very nice defensive plays. His game-high 4 blocked-shots is another indication of how well he is doing in terms of limiting chances against us.
Jaroslav Halak - Game Puck
This game could have been a shutout, but could have also been a 4-goal effort against. I am, therefore, quite pleased that Halak gave us a very good chance to win tonight. It would have been nice to see him stop one of the two goals tonight, though, as his play of late had me believing that he should have. This game will improve his save% and GAA, but will likely get him another game on the bench as a loss, in his case, means he sits.
I thought that the Habs actually played a pretty good opening 25-30 minutes. Sure the score was tied at 0, but never did I feel in trouble as it seemed to me a point was an inevitability. Halfway through the second, however, things changed and the Panthers were stopping us with more regularity and in turn were generating more chances themselves. I think that in a vain attempt to break their neutral-zone trap we were going too far up as a team, thus letting up odd-man rushes. We then somehow found a way to draw a penalty and that gave us a chance, before the end of the second, to go up by 1. Despite more shots than Florida in the third those odd-man rushes towards Halak continued and the Habs started letting up quality chances. The 2 goals against meant that Florida was able to become the first team, this year, to beat the Habs when they have held a lead after 2 periods - impressive when you think of it.
2 things that standout from the third period, aside from the goals, don't bode well for the Habs as we near the stretch and get ever closer to the playoffs. First, there was the passing issue. Montreal, in the last 5 minutes, seemed unable to put quality passes together and the result ended up being a broken play, a giveaway or a 30-second re-group to see if we could get it right on try #2. This type of passing, to break a trap, must be improved as teams like this should not be able to shut us down so effectively. The second point, and a good reason why I think we only scored 1 was the lack of penalties called. This, to me, is representative of 'playoff' hockey which we have all come to accept as the time where the rules change. Unlike basketball, where a foul is a foul, baseball, where a catch is an out and football, where refs treat the super bowl like week 1, hockey feels the need to change the rules at certain times of the year. Tonight was a preview of this type of hockey and it does not suit Montreal whatsoever. I think that tonight's motivation was that the refs believed that Montreal had too strong of a PP and that since it is almost a certain goal they would make sure to not call anything too questionable. Within the last 20 minutes alone I saw 3 plays that should have resulted in Habs PPs, but I believe that the refs didn't want to penalize Florida that much, by a goal let's say. This, of course, defeats the purpose of being good on the PP and also represents a horrible way to officiate any sport. To be fair to the Panthers the calls did (or didn't) favour both teams, but I am assuming that the Habs PP (8% more efficient than FLA's) just may have been a better bet at a goal. We can call the Habs stupid for relying on special-teams to carry the team through the season, but I am sick and tired of hockey changing at the refs' discretion. We have a rule book, why can't we employ some non-idiots to implement those rules in every single game and every single minute of the season? Yes, it is a shame to be scored on the PP, but it is also a shame to have a player held in the corner when he had a clear route to the net. Taking away our advantage just means that you are giving the other team a bigger one. Following the rules, in my mind, is the only fair way to go and I am sad to say that the NHL can't even follow the rules they have made. Imagine GMs just went over the cap in March because the league thought it was more exciting that way, because they just wanted to 'let 'em play'?