The warning signs were in place. Coming off a mediocre performance against the Red Wings two nights earlier, the Habs were facing a Hurricanes team that is in a better place. Out of the playoffs but moving up in the standings while going 10 games without a loss in regulation time. And ever since coach Bill Peters eviscerated Eddie Lack in public for not being able to make saves, the affable goaltender has responded by posting a save percentage close to .950.
It was an almost perfect start as a new line – which is currently the top line (by default) – had an early Grade A scoring chance saved by a sliding forward but then connected moments later on a two on one to open the scoring seven minutes into the game. But then almost everybody stopped competing.
So instead of giving themselves some breathing room down the stretch and the opportunity to rest some key veterans – instead of scratching healthy depth players – they once again face an Ottawa team that could surpass them in the standings with a regulation win.
Maybe that’s what the Habs need. Because since their second straight win over Ottawa last Sunday – and except for very late in the third period against Detroit – there has been no great hunger or desperation level to any part of their game.
So much for being playoff ready.
- Andrew Shaw-Artturi Lehkonen-Alex Galchenyuk. In the first minute Galchenyuk was about to bury a loose puck into an empty Carolina net before Derek Ryan got in the way. There was nobody to stop him the next time he had the puck as he converted a two one one pass from Shaw for his first goal of the month. Lehkonen, playing on his off wing, continued his strong play. He had a couple of good chances from in close. And Shaw was ok down the middle, except in the face off circle where he was 29%. After the game the captain of the Habs said “Alex looked more comfortable on the wing”. So maybe he’ll start drawing number one pairing defensemen?
- Jeff Petry. Forget how easily he was knocked off the puck by Jeff Skinner prior to the Carolina winger scoring his empty netter. As bad as it looked the game was already over. When the two points was actually still up for grabs, Petry was easily the Habs best player outside the Shaw trio. It started early when he found himself alone in front of Lack, the first of at least four forays deep into Carolina’s end. While struggling to score goals the Habs have obviously given the strong skating Petry the okay to lead the rush and enter the zone. He hit the goalpost from in close late in the first period after Carolina had tied the game. And he carried the puck deep into Carolina territory late in the second period seconds before Lee Stempniak’s backhand deflected in off his defense partner’s skate to give Carolina the lead with just 39 seconds to play in the period. Petry hasn’t scored a goal since December 23rd. The Habs need his offense from the blue line. But first they need him to feel confident on the ice – involved. When he gets involved early he can be a big factor. Let’s see if he can follow this up against Ottawa.
- Michael McCarron-Torrey Mitchell-Andreas Martinsen. Second best Habs line of the night. It was that kind of night. McCarron had a very strong game – nearly doubling his recent amount of ice time (13:25). Unlike too many of his teammates, he was hungry for the puck. Martinsen, in his Bell Centre debut, looked like Paul Coffey compared to Dwight King. But it’s apparent he has no hands. Mitchell drew the only Carolina penalty of the night.
- Paul Byron. Worthy nominee for the Bill Masterton trophy. Didn’t exactly celebrate the nomination but did again use his speed to create an excellent scoring chance late in the second period when he went wide right to break in alone only to be stopped on a terrific save by Lack. A game changer really since a minute or so later Stepniak scored the game winner.
- Alexei Emelin. He was fuck-up free for two straight games. Three in a row was too much to expect. With the Habs nursing the lead late in the first period, Emelin decided to put his new found North American tackling skills on display. For the second straight game a struggling Montreal defenseman had to make the slow skate back to the bench after taking a costly penalty. And then, of course, the puck found his skate to ricochet past Carey Price and the Habs night was done. When does Nikita Nesterov return to become part of the “rotation”?
- Shea Weber & Jordie Benn. And for the second straight game the Habs top penalty killers allowed a forward to stand unmolested in front of the net to finish off a scoring play. They made it way too easy for Detroit and Carolina to score on their first power play attempts of the night.
- Weber & Andrei Markov. Apparently conserving energy for the third and final meeting of the week with Ottawa.
- Power Play. Going nowhere until Claude Julien sent out McCarron to stand in front of Lack. McCarron also managed to hang onto the puck down low while many of his fellow forwards seemed to expect the puck to magically move to them.
- Face offs. No Galchenyuk in the middle and they were even worse. They went 21 for 60 for a paltry 35%.
- Tomas Plekanec. Horrendous night. Symbolized by his inability to win a draw (2-14 or 13%). He was no match for Jordan Staal – who is kind of typical of the opposing centreman Plekanec will be up against in the playoffs – as long as he continues to centre the likes of Brendan Gallagher and Byron.
- Phillip Danault-Alexander Radulov-Max Pacioretty. Freed of Galchenyuk, Radulov and Pacioretty responded by playing perhaps their worst home game of the season. A shame that Danault had to be dragged down into this because he was looking so good again with Shaw and Byron. Radulov is playing like his very effective season effectively ended when he got hurt. Maybe he still is. Pacioretty is always streaky and right now he is ice cold. Since scoring two goals in Edmonton he has gone pointless in five games. Prior to the game in Edmonton he had gone five games without a goal. In the last three games his shot totals have dropped from 4 to 3 to 1. He lost his stick (or had it lost for him) while killing the Emelin penalty leaving the Habs two men short instead of heading to the bench (it was a short change). The capper was Stepniak’s second goal of the game early in the third period which gave Carolina a 3-1 lead. Pacioretty and Radulov skated back up the ice with all the urgency of an arsonist proudly strolling away from his latest sick creation. Once again Price was left defenceless. When was the last time you saw the Habs goaltender break his stick in anger?
- If the playoffs started today the Habs down the middle would be: 1. Danault 2. Shaw 3. Plekanec 4. Steve Ott. But they’re better off with Galchenyuk on the wing? Instead of centering, say, Gallagher and Lehkonen? Ok. Gotcha.