It Hab-Ened Last Night: Habs Bounce Back, Banish Devils 5-1
What a difference a single night and a single benching makes, eh?
Only 24 hours after an embarrassing 4-3 OT loss to the Edmonton Oilers, and after tongue-lashings from fans all across the net, the Montreal Canadiens bounced back pretty damn well to defeat the New Jersey Devils on the road by a score of 5-1.
The Canadiens would come flying out of the gate, scoring 11 seconds into the game on a weird play that would credit Brian Gionta with his 8th goal of the season, with his parents watching from the stands, and his brother, now playing with his former team, watching from the bench (and a few more people watching from the stands). Not a minute and a half later, Lars Eller would double the score and his goal totals on the season on a solid individual play.
That would be two goals on three shots on goaltender Johan Hedberg, and that would be all she write for him. Hedberg has been manning the fort pretty well for injured goalie Martin Brodeur, but the Canadiens, seemingly possessed by their loss the night before, and maybe even the 3-0 loss at the hands of the Devils a few weeks earlier, would drive him away from the net on this night, in favor of minor league goalie Mike McKenna, who wouldn't fair much better, allowing three goals in the second, but finishing the night with 26 saves against a hard-pressing Canadiens offense.
As mentioned, the rest of the goals from the Habs would come in the second, with Tom Pyatt (yes, THAT Tom Pyatt) starting things off and netting his first goal since the last ice age at 2:30 of the period form Lapierre and Halpern.Scott Gomez would contribute his 4th goal of the season, now starting to go on somewhat of a streak, and it would be on the powerplay from Mike Cammalleri and Yannick Weber, who was playing in relief of PK Subban; but more on that later. A minute later, Benoit Pouliot would ensure chicken wings with his sixth of the season at 9:57. Lars Eller and Roman Hamrlik (four points in two games) would pick up their second points of the night on the goal.
Unfortunately it would not finish a perfect game for the Canadiens on the scoresheet, as Jason Arnott would finally solve Carey Price halfway through the 3rd while being left wide open in front of the net, simply waiting for the feed from Jason Arnott.
And it wasn't a perfect game for the Canadiens. Despite the skewed score, and outside of the goaltending, the game was actually relatively close, especially in both offensive zones. The shots would finish 32-28 in favor of the Canadiens, and the Devils would definitely get their fair share of scoring chances throughout the night, as Price had to make some key saves that the Devils goaltending clearly wasn't able to accomplish.
Not to place this solely on the lack of proper netminding from the part of the Devils, of course. Despite seemingly going through the motions for large portions of the game, for both sides even, the Canadiens brought it when it mattered most.
For the most part the Devils looked like they had mailed it in. Two early goals will do that to you. And I won't waste your time rehashing the Ilya Kovalchuk No-Show, as we all know how that tune has gone, and continues to go. The Devils are simply not a team at this point. They're a team of individuals, and it shows, both in their play and in their faces. John Maclean is playing to keep his job, Ilya Kovalchuk is barely playing at all, and the rest are just sort of there. But instead of focusing on all the negative, let's look at one positive for the New Jersey Devils before putting this one in the books:
Mattias Tenenby, 1st rounder for the Devils in 2008, was clearly the best player for the Devils on this night, and has been one of the best Devils for the 10 games since he was called up from the AHL. The 20-year-old has 3 goals, 3 assists and a +3 rating in his rookie outing, and despite his lack of stature and entering into a bad situation in Newark, he seems to be the only Devil playing with a purpose. So keep an eye on this one folks.
While the Canadiens put forth a solid effort to get a solid win in Newark tonight, there was a piece of the puzzle that was missing throughout the entire thing.
Earlier today, word broke that defenseman PK Subban would be watching this one from the pressbox. Thanks to the two goals he would be on the ice for against the Oilers, coach Jacques Martin would make the decision to bench him in favor of Yannick Weber. Subban wasn't totally to blame for the final two Oilers goals, as Cammalleri showed absolutely no effort in his backcheck on the game-winning-goal in overtime. Plus, rookies make mistakes, it happens. Especially rookies who play as explosive as PK Subban.
This being said, was it right for J-Mart to bench Subban?
A lot of fans would suggest "no", and the proof would be in a lot of people's twitter feeds, my own included. At the top of the day I said that I thought Subban would be better off getting a chance to redeem himself after a bad game, as he is the best this team has got and going forward they won't be able to afford not having him in the line-up. With Andrei Markov out due to injury, Josh Gorges clearly battling some injuries and Gill, Hamrlik and Spacek not getting any younger, Subban is going to be the go-to guy this season.
All this considered, after some time to have the decision simmer, and to see the effect of said decision, you really can't argue with the methodology. Agree or disagree with the criticisms of Subban brought forth of the likes of Don Cherry and Mike Richards, it is possible that the long leash given to Subban by the coaching staff, the team and especially the fans might have allowed him to act and play with a little more over-confidence than he should have. At least for Jacques Martin, his players need to fit into the system, or debacles like Wednesday night happen. I stress again that it wasn't entirely PK's fault, but if there was ever an opportune time to sit him for a game, so he can gain some perspective and maybe learn that he would benefit from settling down a bit, it was now.
What happens now? The Canadiens have an upcoming game Saturday afternoon against the San Jose Sharks, and are riding high on a 5-1 win. Generally that usually means that Jacques Martin won't make adjustments, but how do you justify sitting Subban for another game, against a much better opponent? There's no way Weber comes out with the game he had (17 minutes of ice time, 1 assist, 6 shots), and the regulars were all fine. Either the Habs play seven defensemen, sit Alex Picard, or sit Subban again.
It's going to be an interesting next couple of days in Hab-land as Jacques Martin tries to sort all of this point.
Of course, whether any of what the Canadiens did on Thursday will carry forward to Saturday remains to be seen. What I've been preaching these last couple of weeks is the consistency of the Habs, and if they've taught us anything in the last few games, it's that we should expect another "let down" or lack of effort game on Saturday against a Sharks team that's coming off a 4-0 win in Ottawa tonight. It will definitely be a tough game at the very least, and one can only hope that the Canadiens will maintain their momentum and make Saturday's afternoon affair a competitive one.
And yes, the afternoon game on Saturday is odd, but we will be with you every step of the way, only a day before the next TCL Habs Panel with Kyle Roussel and Yves on Habs! So join us Saturday for an afternoon liveblog, and for Pete's sake, don't forget to visit our new site, Better With Popcorn!