It Hab-Ened Last Week: Habs Hit Rough Patch, Look to Rebound at Home
Last week wasn't exactly "successful" for the Montreal Canadiens.
In three games, the Habs only managed to pick up two points against divisional rivals the Ottawa Senators in 4-1 win on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. The game itself was somewhat overshadowed a non-rumor created by Pierre McGuire on the Team 990 afternoon show with Mitch Melnyk. In a statement that sparked much debate from many in "Twitterville", McGuire simply said that if he was the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, he'd look to see if Alex Kovalev was available. That's it. Of course, many took this as McGuire saying that the Habs were after Kovalev and would be imminently trading for him, which is ridiculous. Some agreed with McGuire's statement, others didn't, and we'll leave it at that. It seems as if people have forgotten about the newest Koval-gate ever since the dust of that game had settled, and the Canadiens moved on to their next game.
Getting back to hockey, the Canadiens showed a great effort against the Sens, with Brian Gionta joining Carey Price as the player of the game with a goal and an assist. Mike Cammalleri, Jeff Halpern and Roman Hamrlik, continuing his inspired play as of late, would be the other scorers in the 4-1 win, and Nick Foligno would be the lone goalscorer for the Ottawa Senators.
The Habs would have two days off to prepare for the game on Friday, and would travel to Motown for the first game in a back-to-back road situation against the Detroit Red Wings. Things didn't exactly start off great for the Canadiens, as they ran into some penalty trouble early in the game, taking four minor penalties in the first period alone. This included two minors to Cammalleri and Plekanec nine seconds apart at the end of the period, a fumble that would result in a deflating Nick Lidstrom goal with two seconds left in the period that would tie things up 1-1 (after Travis Moen got his 3rd a little past the halfway point). The Canadiens would take yet another penalty at the beginning of the second, and only a shift after the too many men bench minor for the Habs expired, the Wings would pick up another goal, this time from Nick Kronwall. Add a Pavel Datsuyk goal later in the period, and the Canadiens would be in some deep doo-doo heading into the 3rd.
But then, a light seemed to go off in the Canadiens, who decided to turn it on, throwing everything they had on goaltending Jimmy Howard and bringing things to within one with a Pouliot goal at 7:43. It was inspired hockey, and maybe the Canadiens best period of the season, peppering 19 shots on Howard, versus only 2 on Price. But no one said coming back from a two goal deficit against one of the best teams in hockey would be easy, and it was not to be, as Patrick Eaves would score an empty netter in the final minute to put this one in the books, 4-2 Red Wings.
This was a "good" loss for the Habs. They ran into some penalty trouble early, that happens, but they bounced back and made things interesting when most would have completely written them off. But a late period of inspired hockey would mean that the Canadiens would be tired into their game into the Air Canada Center the next night.
And on Saturday night, in the first 3D game to be televised in Canada, that's exactly what happened. The Toronto Maple Leafs were unfortunately the better team on this night (and I say unfortunately because I would have loved to see what the fans would throw at their team if they lost). The Canadiens would come out flat in the first, surrendering two mid-period goals to the Leafs' Kessel and Kaberle. The game would again feature penalty trouble for the Canadiens, as Jeff Halpern would take two back-to-back penalties, the second coming literally 4 seconds after stepping out of the box for his first penalty. Cammalleri would be the only goalscorer in the second, but Kris Versteeg would close things up in the 3rd with another empty net goal, 3-1 Leafs finals.
While I'll always be the first guy to tell everyone to lay off the refs, I have to admit the refereeing in this game was a bit suspect. Halfway through the first, Clarke Macarthur would jump Jaroslav Spacek at center ice for seemingly no reason. Spacek would leave the game as a result (and is now questionable for Wednesday's game at home), yet the only penalties called would be offsetting minors. No instigating, no intent to injury, just penalties for both. PK Subban would also be the recipient of a high stick later in the period with no call. Not to make excuses, the Habs just weren't meant to win this game, but considering the Canadiens generally get a fair amount of calls during games, it's only fair to at least question the calls in this game.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The moral of the story?
The Canadiens aren't invincible. And as you can see, seemingly in the first, short stretch of games on the road, they ran into some trouble. Over the next 8 games, after an even tougher back-to-back at home against the Flyers and Bruins this week, the Canadiens will embark on their yearly holiday road trip, which will include six games on the road against teams varying in difficulty and competition. But none of the games will be easy on the Canadiens, and by the looks of it, the injuries are beginning to pile up once again.
As mentioned, Spacek is questionable for Wednesday night. Scott Gomez missed both of this past weekend's games (the Canadiens are now 0-2 when he's not in the line-up... just sayin'). And Josh Gorges continues to take mysterious "therapy days", missing practice in the process. One can only hope that there won't really be any more injuries before the Canadiens bring in thew New Year in Florida before returning home.
But before we look too far ahead, there are two very difficult games on the slate against what's arguably the Canadiens' biggest competition: the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins. Considering the back-to-back scenario, the injuries and the two game losing streak, things could really go either way for the Habs.
Can the Habs come out with an important four points before their road trip?
There is, however, a glimmer of hope, as the Canadiens recalled forward Max Pacioretty from the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday. Pacioretty has had an incredible season with the Dogs, putting up an AHL best 17 goals in 27 games. Pacioretty's 15 assists put him at 32 points, or second in AHL scoring behind former Hab Corey Locke.
If you're wondering why it took nearly 30 games to get Pacioretty up here, well you don't have to look any further than the beginning of November, as the Bulldogs were preparing for their yearly game at the Bell Centre versus the Binghampton Senators.
In comments that would be completely misconstrued, chewed up and spit back out (this is Montreal, what did you expect? Reason?) Pacioretty told the Team 990 that he didn't "see the need, for my development, to play the bottom two lines in the NHL because, ultimately, I feel I'm going be a top-6 forward. I've experienced the bottom two lines in Montreal and it's obviously not what's going to develop me into the player I want to be."
What Pacioretty basically meant to say is that he'd rather play top line minutes dominating the AHL than bottom-line minutes in Montreal, getting criticized for why he hasn't scored playing 5 minutes a game, a tale that Lars Eller has known all too well in the first 30 games of this season. There really isn't anything unreasonable about that. In fact, most fans would probably say it themselves.
But of course, the problem was both in the manner it was spoken and the mouth the words were spoken from, and the comment was completely blown out of proportion.
Regardless of what he said, he's here now. The question that remains is how will the team respond to those comments? Does Pacioretty:
a) sit in the pressbox until Gomez and/or Spacek are healthy?
b) fill in on the 4th line, Eller style?
c) actually get an opportunity to do in Montreal what he's done in Hamilton and play on a top line?
One can hope that Jacques Martin goes with option 3, and gives Pacioretty a chance on the second line with Cammalleri and Eller, assuming of course Gomez will not play.
We'll find out on Wednesday.
NOTE: Forward Dustin Boyd has once again been placed on waivers. Boyd played a decent game on Friday night but the coaching staff decided to sit him again on Saturday, opting to play Yannick Weber on the 4th line. Boyd was placed on waivers about a month ago, and as per the NHL rulebook, must go through waivers once again if not sent down the first time, 30 days after clearing. Assuming Boyd clears, and he probably will, one has to think that the chances of him being sent down to Hamilton will increase.
We'll have more later in the week, including more liveblogs, so stay tuned!