Poor Performance, Controversy Mars Habs Loss To Penguins

We should probably preface all of this by declaring that, outside of Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens probably didn't deserve to win tonight (Jeez, haven't heard THAT before, eh?).

The Habs played a sloppy and inconsistent game against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre tonight, and the end result was a 4-3 overtime loss against what was obviously a better team.

That's what should have been the game story following tonight's game. Instead, we're left to sift through the wreckage of the hockey equivalent of a nuclear missile. No, the story of tonight's game wasn't Carey Price's amazing play or the disappearance of the rest of the team, or Sidney Crosby and the Pens lighting it up offensively. The story of tonight's game was much more sinister.

It included a deadly hit to the head, a controversial game-winning overtime goal, and oh, so many instances of goaltender interference.

We'd normally start with the most controversial play of the night (in this case, the overtime goal), but tonight, there was a play late in the game that more or less served up a dish of scathing hot karma for the Canadiens in the overtime frame.

That's right, a headshot. But in a sudden twist of irony, it was actually a Montreal Canadien delivering the questionable hit, and not just any Hab, but one that was on the receiving end up a vicious hit late last season. Naturally, the circumstances and hit themselves are completely different, but since the two will inevitably going to be grouped together, we figured we'd get a head start on the competition.

Late in the third period, Pens defenseman Kris Letang came streaking down the ice and into the Canadiens' zone, only to be met with a facefull of Max Pacioretty's shoulder. The hit would send Letang down to the ice, bloodied and with a broken nose. But a pin and a "cuncussion test" later, Letang would return in OT to score the winning goal.

Here's the hit:



Now, discussing the specifics of hits is usually a effort in futility, so we'll save you the excruciating details and allow you to form your own opinions in the comments below. The only things we can say for certain, is that there was definite contact with the head, and there's little to no chance that Letang saw Pacioretty coming. In other words, this was the exact type of hit that the NHL is trying to get out of the game, and that means Pacioretty will likely be getting a call from the Shanhammer before the Habs' next game, and, if I had to predict, a suspension of one to three games.

Now, the fun part. Firstly, there was absolutely no penalty on the play, despite the pool of blood left on the ice by Letang. The referees seemingly didn't see anything, but that's a discussion for another time.

The REALLY interesting part is that Letang was back on the ice, broken nose and all, no more than 10 minutes later in overtime. With a bloody shirt that we're pretty sure is against the rules, Letang went ahead and scored this goal:



So, let's recap. After leaving the ice bloodied and dazed from a hit to the head, Letang would go to the locker room, get a pin put in his nose, be administered one of the fastests "concussion tests" in the history of medicine, return with an illegal bloody jersey, and score a goal when the play should have been whistled dead thanks to a frozen puck.

Seriously, the Pens must have gotten about a dozen or so pokes at the puck under Price's glove before they pried it loose and it got to Letang for the goal. Either that was the worst officiating of the season from the referees, or one Hell of a make-up call.

We'll say it again, the Canadiens probably didn't deserve to win this game, outside of a stellar performance from Carey Price, making 38 saves. The Pens kept up the offensive pressure on the Canadiens for the better part of 65 minutes, and while the Habs definitely had a few great chances (and managed to score three goals themselves and hold the lead for most of the game), the level of effort was nowhere near reciprocated.

A typical Habs game, if you will, although the Pens forced them to open their game up a little more than usual. The Pens especially took advantage of a few players who have been the key to the Canadiens' inconsistencies over the course of the season.

Hal Gill, God love him, is doing everything he can but if there's a team in the league that knows how to take advantage of his lack of speed, it's the Pens, and the end result was a -3 on the night. The same can be said of Yannick Weber, who also put up a -3 and proved once again that he has no business on the Canadiens' blueline.

Up front, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri, and captain Brian Gionta had horrible nights for their team. Cammy is more than likely playing injured (more on that another day), Plekanec is more than likely just exhausted from being overused again, but Gionta was a whopping and inexplicable -4 on the night. As for the positive, Travis Moen would score his 8th, Max Pacioretty his 10th, and Erik Cole his 7th. 

But regardless of how many players we can blame for tonight's loss, the end result truly comes down to a blown play that led to that game-winning-goal. Again, nevermind the fact that the puck was clearly frozen, Letang shouldn't have even been on the ice, and you'd think that the team that just went through ten months without the best player in the league would be a little more careful in these situations (how's that for a comparison?). 

It's enfuriating. The Canadiens may didn't deserve two points, but who are the referees to decide that? At the very least, they deserved unbiased officiating, and they didn't get that. Not only on the GWG, or Pacioretty's hit, but all throughout the night. It was open season on Carey Price from the Pens, who consistently ran him on many of their offensive attempts, and would reciprocate with an extra amount of hypocrisy any time a red sweater would even come near Marc-Andre Fleury's blue paint.

Thankfully, in most of those cases, the referees actually did something about the Pens' offenses, even waiving off a couple of goals as a result, but there was a clear lack of respect coming from the Pens side of the ice towards the Habs, in their own building. And what's even worse is that the Canadiens seemed unwilling to do anything about it most of the night.

I'm not sure what I really want to be angry about; the poor officiating, or the fact that this team clearly can't spark a fire under their own asses. There was plenty in tonight's game to motivate them and get an effort out of them, and while we saw glimpses of what this team might be capable of, in the end, they fell flat, controversial calls or not.

And that's really the story of the season so far for the Canadiens. Finding excuses for poor outings and inconsistent play. Tonight, they have a good one, but it shouldn't hide the fact that they didn't play very well for most of the game.

The Canadiens have the next three days off, before heading to SoCal for games against the Ducks, Sharks and Kings on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.



Phil T's picture

Pacioretty will probably get suspended... It doesn't get any better from here.

Tyg's picture

"I'm not sure what I really want to be angry about; the poor officiating, or the fact that this team clearly can't spark a fire under their own asses. There was plenty in tonight's game to motivate them and get an effort out of them, and while we saw glimpses of what this team might be capable of, in the end, they fell flat, controversial calls or not."

I'd pick the lack of spark myself, and just wrote about this very thing on my own blog. The coach can't motivate them, their leaders don't motivate them, and a 20 minute intermission is a death knell because it's when they morph from dangerous Hyde into mild mannered Jeckyll. This team IS capable of better, but it's so much easier to blame injuries, reffing, Martin's stupid system than to look in the mirror and hold oneself and one's teammates accountable.

What's is Cammalleri's problem? Over a year after Gio gets the captaincy is Cammy still sulking or is his new baby keeping him up at night? And what is Gio's problem anyway? How can he lead his team when he can't fix himself?

Injuries are brutal, but there's not a team in this league not dealing with it either. Contrast the Habs attitude with Sidney Crosby's total love and dedication to the game. Too many players in Montreal are enjoying a cushy ride with a nice unwarranted paycheque and as a fan I at least want them to CARE. Given their total disinterest in the 2nd and 3rd period tonight, following that mail-it-in performance versus the Flyers, I find it hard to believe SOME of the players even give a rat's ass sometimes.

George Prax's picture

Cammalleri's clearly playing injured, but that's enraging on its own considering it's three seasons in a row he's had major injuries. Playing through an injury doesn't make him dedicated, it brings the team down. If he's 100% healthy then I don't really know what to say.

Tyg's picture

Pacioretty will likely get a game or two because contact was made with the head and Letang bled and the Habs can't catch a break. From the replay I saw Letang had no clue Pacioretty was coming at him so there's at least a partial blindside argument there as well.

Personally I'm pretty po'd about the lack of fire in this team. Too many players don't give a rat's ass or are lacking the ability to dig deep when the chips are down. But it's so much more convenient to blame the refs, the system and the unlucky bounces and hot goaltenders instead of gutting the ineffective upper brass and bringing in some youth, vision and creativity.

Bylsma showed up Martin in every possible way tonight - from line matches to his ability to refocus and renergize his team when they were down but never gave up. Meanwhile Martin had Diaz and Emelin on versus the Crosby line, and his team gave up after a 2 goal lead like they usually do.

On twitter someone mentioned that Muller got interview on the radio and the coaches used to beg the players not to sit back in Montreal. Yet they still do it. Why? Why? Why? And how about less begging and more ass kicking anyway?

And how can Gio lead this team and help fix that mental block when he can't fix himself? And is Cammalleri still sulking about not getting the captaincy? What is wrong with them?

I just ranted about all this on my own blog and I'm still seeking answers and not getting any...

George Prax's picture

Bylsma embarrassed Martin last night. How do you lose the match-up game in a home game? Again, every time we have a reason to show Martin the door, he'll find an excuse. It's completely ridiculous and last night's game was a clear indication of what's wrong with this team, outside of the circus acts.

Rene J Roy's picture

I really dont see Pacioretty getting suspended for this hit. Letang snaps a shot to the net at the last second, which turns his whole shoulder and head directly into Max's path. 2 different angles showed this. Letang had leaned in and got clobbered. Not real chance for Max to avoid it i thought.
Officiating was wretched, and the puck was definitely frozen at the end. BUT the habs, without hearing a whistle, just watched the Pens keep skating. inexcusable.
Top line is dead and useless, our defense is ahl level at best, we have 3 scoreres, and they each scored tonight. everyone else is dead weight. Love this Hockey Club. Hate this team

George Prax's picture

I hate arguing the specifics of questionable hockey hits because everyone has a different opinion. This is why the league needs a catch-all rule for hits to the head. The bottom line is really that Letang didn't see hm coming, he was in a vulnerable position and Pacioretty made direct contact, shoulder to head. That should be a suspension no matter how or when Letang turned his body. These guys are skating at ridiculous speeds, slowing down plays to a near stop to favor one argument over another in the suspension debate ends up being a little ridiculous. Obviously Patches didn't mean to hurt him, and Letang was clearly fine after the play, but he should get a few games for that. What's I'm more angry about is that Letang was back for OT.... how does one get a pin put in his nose AND a concussion test, whatever that means, in less than 10 minutes?

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

The Pens, in my opinion, didn't deserve to win this game either. They had umpteen chances to end it and only succeeded by a controversial goal, yes I believe that should have been blown dead as well. Carey Price is playing exceptional and showed up Fleury last night. Those two are very fun to watch head to head. While the Pens dictated a lot of play, they were very sloppy in their own end. They didn't clear pucks properly, they let a lot of action continue in front of the net, and frankly they could have had another 20 shots on net. The Pens love contact in front of the net. When you have a goaltender that is playing well, the only way to shake him is to get in his crease. The Pens never ran him once though Prax. They made contact a few times, but the only thing close was Kunitz pushing him with his stick.

As for Paccioretty, he should be suspended. The hit was to the head, initial contact with a shoulder. It was very similar to the hit Cooke laid on Savard, with Savard snapping forward to shoot and getting clipped in the head. It was a blindside cross body hit to the head. I believe he will be suspended two games.

This was a rather calm blog for a game that seemed just like a rivalry game, nice read Prax.

George Prax's picture

They weren't only running Price, there were a few instances where the Pens would push Habs into Fleury intentionally. It seemed like since they couldn't solve Price they needed to resort to trying to beat him by bending the rules. Clearly there were times where they were getting frustrated. So, maybe it was more frustration and less dirty plays, but there was definitely some running going on, and I didn't appreciate the way they acted when any player would come near Fleury's paint. Yet moments later they would be all up on Price's face. That said the Pens deserved that win, running into a hot goaltender shouldn't take away from a great performance from them. The Habs were terrible (look at us arguing who's team was worse lol).

And I gave myself an hour or two to calm down before I wrote this. It's more disheartening than angering, to be honest with you. I'm not as upset about the officiating because the Habs frankly played terrible anyway lol

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

As long as they do not take exceptional liberties against a goaltender I am fine with the bumping and some contact within the crease. They know the dangers of going down low and take the heat from the opposition. With that the pens will lay down some blows if you step in Fleury's crease. They learned a lot of that from Holmstrom and Detroit.

I just don't feel the goaltenders played that bad for a 4-3 game. Price and Fleury were great but a few crappy defensive choices led to a higher score. Those two are really fun to watch when head to head.

I was very suprised that Montreal didn't capitalize on the match ups better. Martin is really pushing himself out the door.

Then again Prax, they are still beat up and don't boast the talent of other top teams yet(good bit of young talent) so all in all it wasn't too bad a game by the Habs. It could always be worse, you could have Boudruea as your coach.

George Prax's picture

To be fair, on defense, they didn't have many choices. This isn't the team that shut down the Pens two years ago in the playoffs. Gill is 2 years older, Subban is slumping, I can't even remember if Spacek is in or out of the line-up, and obviously they don't have Hamrlik and Markov. Josh Gorges can only do so much, he's even putting up points. Emelin, Weber, Diaz, these guys are rookies and the latter two especially aren't exactly mini-Nick Lidstroms. Like your blog the other day said, the Pens have depth. The Habs don't, especially on the back-end, and that's where the game was won and lost Saturday night.

And I'm not that upset about the goalie "running", I know it's part of the game, it's more that the Habs let it happen. The GWG, regardless of whether the puck was frozen or not, doesn't mean the defense has to be frozen too, watching 3 Pens poke at Price's glove. A cross check or two could have saved the extra point for the Habs.

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

True, it is always easier to take a loss when you go down swinging.