It Hab-ened Last Night: Lightning Strikes; Suspension for Lapierre?
The Montreal Canadiens fell to a 1-1-1 record last night, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in their home opener by a score of 4 to 3 in overtime. Despite leading a large portion of the game, the Bolts would battle back on three separate occasions to take the game into extra time and eventually win it on a Ryan Malone goal, with only 51 seconds left in the OT frame.
The Canadiens would open the scoring at 5:22 of the first on Maxim Lapierre's unassisted first goal of the season. It was a busy night for Lapierre, who was a pest for the Bolts all night, even hitting Steve Downie dangerously from behind late in the second. But we'll get to that in a bit.
It was a big night once again for Tomas Plekanec's line. Plekanec scored a goal at the end of the 1st on a great effort from Micheal Cammalleri, who drew the assist. While everyone was looking at Cammalleri's stick work and his shots, Plekanec set himself wide open on the other side of the net. Open net, no chance for Mike Smith, 2-0 Habs. The Magic would continue in the 3rd for Plekanec, after the Bolts would come back with a powerplay goal in the 2nd with Cammalleri in the box for a stupid interference call, and a Martin St. Louis goal in the third. Plekanec would rush up the ice, undressing the Bolts defenseman, pass it cross-crease to Andrei Kostitsyn, who would undress the other Bolts defenseman as well as Mike Smith and score in a near-open net.
But that's where things would go downhill for the Canadiens.
The Canadiens were already sitting too heavily on their hands, allowing the Lightning to walk all over them and not fighting back against an obviously mediocre goaltender in Mike Smith. Carey Price had to stand on his head just to keep the Canadiens in it, making a whopping 44 saves on a very deep and talented Lightning offense (as opposed to the 23 made by the inferior Mike Smith). Despite good performances from many Habs, including of course Price, Plekanec, and unlikely contributions from Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, it wouldn't be enough for the Canadiens to squeeze through with a victory.
PK Subban, who showed flashes of brilliance on both ends of the ice for most of the night, would take a downright stupid slashing penalty at 17:48 of the 3rd. Less than a minute later, Dustin Boyd would trip on his own stick and Steven Stamkos would notch his 3rd of the season from Lecavalier and Malone. Malone would proceed to score the game winner with 51 seconds left in OT after a plethora of saves from Carey Price on former Hab Dominic Moore, and what would have been one of the best nights of Carey Price's career ends up a 4-3 overtime loss.
1. With 44 saves and maybe the best performance of his career, Carey Price earns my first star of the game. Many times last season, the argument in Price's favor was that the team in front of him wasn't there to support him, which led to many of his losses. Well, last night, to no one's surprise, they weren't there for him once again. But for once, Price did not let that deter him, making highlight reel saves throughout the night. For what I consider to be the performance of his career, Price deserves all the recognition, despite the loss.
2. It was kind of difficult to pick amongst some of the Lightning's top players last night, at least through regulation. Dominic Moore played well in his return to Montreal, Martin St. Louis scored a goal and contributed 5 shots, Vinnie Lecavalier was dangerous all night. Steven Stamkos had a goal and an assist and a whopping 8 shots, and that's just to name a few of the big ones. But in the end, with the game-winning goal, the choice for second star ended up being pretty obvious in Ryan Malone, who went into overtime with 2 assists, and came out of it with the game-winning goal and 3 points.
3. While there were many good performances on the side of the Lightning, there were also some deceivingly good ones for the Canadiens. Mike Cammalleri took a couple of undisciplined penalties, but he set up a a great goal for Plekanec and ended the night a +2. Josh Gorges contributed an assist and was as solid as always. Spacek had a good rebound game after a pretty bad start in pre-season and the first couple of games, and as mentioned above, it seems as if there was finally a fire lit under Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, who also had good nights. But in the end, there was one forward who brought it all together and was the Canadiens biggest threat and most consistent player, and that was, of course Tomas Plekanec.
LAPIERRE AT IT AGAIN
For those unaware, Maxim Lapierre continued what's become the story of his career, and that's one word: Controversy. Everyone knows Lapierre likes to piss people off, and everyone knows he likes to do it without dropping the gloves, if possible. Some like it, some don't, but you have to admit that he's a pretty good pest.
In any case, sometimes the way Lapierre plays can get dirty, dangerous, and a tad despicable, and it was certainly the case last night, as Lapierre pushed Steve Downie from behind, bowling him over into the boards:
Downie would alright, getting right back up and into Lapierre's face, but it did not change what Lapierre did - he hit a player, straight from behind, into the boards, in what could only be categorized as a "dangerous" hit. In a similar incident last season Lapierre hit San Jose Sharks forward Scott Nichol from behind, sending him into the boards in a similar fashion. He was suspended for four games as a result.
The only logical choice here would be to suspend Lapierre again, as he has become a repeat offender. Whether he gets 1 to 5 games, or 5 or more, as four has his last punishment, is anyone's guess. But if I were a betting man, I would place my money on Lapierre watching at least a few games from the pressbox.
FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE
As you could probably notice by most of what was written above, there was definitely a lot of "negatives" to take out of last night's game. But three games into the season, we shouldn't be focusing too much on the negative. There are 79 more games to play for the Montreal Canadiens, and two road games and a home game aren't enough of a benchmark to really make a fair assessment of where this team will be in April.
Sure, it seems as if the 2010-11 Montreal Canadiens are just about the same as the 2009-10 Montreal Canadiens, giving up more chances to their opponents, sitting on leads, taking dumb penalties and simply not capitalizing, but there is still plenty of good to take out of these three games, and well as pre-season.
PK Subban took a dumb penalty at the end of the game that some would argue directly led to the Habs' loss. As far as I'm concerned, it really isn't fair to scapegoat Subban in such a fashion. The 20-year-old has only played five regular season NHL games, and considering his style - which is the reason the Canadiens drafted him and put so much on his shoulders in last year's playoffs when Andrei Markov succumbed to injury - and especially his age, he's bound to take a few dumb penalties. That one play may have cost the Canadiens their final lead of the game, but they wouldn't be in that position if, as a group, they played the game with more fire, more determination, and more forward pressure.
Jacques Martin showed us last night exactly why he's the same coach he was a year ago, focusing too much on defensive prowess that simply isn't there, and ignoring the speed, talent and explosiveness of the offense that lead to each of the three Canadiens goals. He refused to allow as a team take advantage of a mediocre goaltender having a bad night, and the result could have been seen coming a mile away.
There really is no excuse for the shot discrepancy last night. Mike Smith is not a goaltender you want to be shooting less than 30 shots on. Keep pouring it on him, and he'll cave. He did so last night on three goals. The score could have very well been in the favor of the Canadiens by two, three, or more goals if J-Mart wasn't so stubborn.
But, again, focusing on the positive, the score could have very well been in the favor of the Lightning as well, if it wasn't for a goaltender playing possessed between the pipes for the Canadiens.
As we said, 3 games shouldn't be a benchmark for anyone (*cough*Leafs*cough*), but if Habs fans should be talking about anything this afternoon, it should be Carey Price.
The Canadiens will continue their season this weekend with back-to-back games. Friday night they will visit HSBC arena for the first game against the Sabres, before returning home for their first game against the struggling Senators less than 24 hours later.
Expect some changes to the Habs line-up for Friday's game, as Habs Inside/Out is reporting that Jacques Martin is shaking things up at practice today. J-Mart swapped Travis Moen up to the Gomez/Gionta line, Jeff Halpern to the third line with Eller and Lapierre, and Pouliot down to the 4th line with Pyatt and Boyd, despite what I considered to be a decent game for Pouliot. Moen played the least amount of time amongst any player on the ice last night, so the move is slightly puzzling. Whether the switch sticks for Friday's game remains to be seen.
After a strong game from both Czechs, Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek were re-united on defense, PK Subban was paired with Alex Picard and Ryan O'Byrne skated with still-injured Andrei Markov. Whether this means that Picard will draw back into the line-up in O'Byrne's place remains to be seen, but I'm not sure if I like the sound of a Subban/Picard tandem.
Whether Carey Price will get both starts remains to be seen, but I'd imagine he certainly gets the Friday game in Buffalo. If he stays hot, there really is no way you could sit him, as the Canadiens only play next Thursday again after Saturday's game.
I'll leave you to your Thursdays with a few questions, so make sure to answer them in the comments!
1) What are the chances that Alex Auld plays a game this weekend?
2) Does Benoit Pouliot deserve another chance with Gomez and Gionta, or is his move to the 4th line justified?
3) Will Maxim Lapierre get suspended for his hit on Steve Downie? If so, how many games?
We'll be back tomorrow with a live blog for the Rangers/Leafs game, so make sure to check that out! Until then, don't forget to post your comments!