Montreal: Long Faces Follow Long Break
An extended break between Montreal games is a double-edged sword for most Habs fans. The anticipation that builds during long stretches between games can be richly rewarded with a win or feel even more devastating with a loss. The despair fans felt after Montreal’s HNIC 5-3 loss to Toronto was left to stew for a very long 96 hours only for things to fall apart even more soundly in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburg Penguins. Two losses like those on opposite ends of a long period between games only seem to magnify Montreal’s mistakes. Therrien’s odd decision to scratch Diaz and Emelin for the slower Murray and Boullion seemed a bizarre tactic against a Penguins team prized for its speed. But that decision paled in comparison to Therrien’s blunder of pairing Subban and Markov to form Montreal’s top defensive pairing. #76 and #79 were a -5 combined on the night and between Subban’s bad penalties and Markov’s defensive lapses, the duo received, and deserved, much of the blame for the blowout at the hands of the Pens.
What To Do With Markov?
Even Habs veteran Andrei Markov hasn’t been immune from the defensive lapses plaguing the Canadiens this season. Montreal’s most tenured blue liner is a -6 since the team returned from the Christmas break and has been on the ice for two opponents’ goals (or more) in Montreal’s last three games. Markov, a UFA at season’s end, has begun preliminary contract talks with GM Bergevin, but with a rumored asking price of $6 million for three years, the price tag might be too high for a 35-year old with multiple knee injuries under his belt. With six weeks and change until the trade deadline, Bergevin has to quickly assess this situation and questions abound. With his most productive days in the rearview, is Markov worth three more years on the books at 250K more than what he’s currently making? What kind of return would a puck-moving defensemen reap at this year’s deadline? If he does opt to deal Markov, is Beaulieu ready to shoulder the majority of Markov’s offensive responsibilities from here on in?
A perfect storm of flu-like symptoms, defensive ineptitude and lackadaisical effort has finally forced the Canadiens organization to call up reinforcements from their AHL-affiliate, Hamilton Bulldogs. Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the divisional rival Maple Leafs saw two fresh faces on the bench. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu made his first appearance with the Habs since October 26th, while 23-year-old Finnish forward, Joonas Nattinen played in his first career NHL game. Paired with Boullion most of the game, Beaulieu looked shaky at times, often looking to make a quick pass or dump-in without looking to see if there was a better play to be made. Even though he clearly had some nerves to work through, Beaulieu still finished the game with a pair of shots through 13:36 TOI and was the lone Montreal blue liner to register a plus rating for the night. Beaulieu looked more confident against the Penguins on Wednesday, playing just under 15 minutes, including some time on the PP. The young rearguard has been skating well including a couple of opportunities where he joined the rush and created some good scoring chances.
2009 3rd round pick Nattinen, on the other hand skated for only 1:45 through two shifts and spent the rest of the game parked on the bench. And with Bulldogs leading goal-scorer Louis Leblanc called up for Wednesday’s game against Pittsburg, it seems Nattinen has barely had a chance to let his NHL-level cup of coffee cool down before being returned to Steel City. Leblanc played adequately during his 7:49 of ice-time and demonstrated a physical side of his game that was new to most fans. Leblanc does not usually kill penalties, and Montreal’s five minor penalties might have also cut into the West Island native getting more shifts. Hopefully he sees some more ice-time before his inevitable return to Hamilton.
A few more #quicktakes
-The Habs loss to the Penguins was their first of three games in the next four nights. Montreal is still without back-to-back wins in the month of January and are now tied for the final (non-wildcard) playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with the Maple Leafs who have won six in a row for the first time since the advent of colour television.
-After a quick review, the refs made clear what Rene Bourque knew all along. With less than three minutes remaining in the 1st period, Bourque netted his first goal since December 2nd and unbelievably, his first road point all season. The goal against the Penguins ends both his 13 game goalless streak and his run of having four disallowed goals.
-A late game scrum against the Penguins almost answered the eternal question: Is Budaj the Slovak word for ‘donnybrook?’ Unfortunately a little bit too much posturing and jersey adjusting by the goalies denied Canadiens fans what would have easily been the most exciting part of Wednesday’s game.
-For those at home trying to keep up the with the proper etiquette regarding goal celebrations: Subban celebrating an game-winning OT goal? Not OK. Evgeni Malkin celebrating when his team is already up 4-1? OK.
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Ultimate Hockey Network