Head coach Jacques Martin was fairly pleased by the week that went by, and there is no doubt, it was a tough one. With a pair of back-to-back games and some tough opponents (Capitals, Panthers, Rangers and the Devils), the Habs came out with 6 points in the pocket out of the potential eight, not a bad week of work at all. Even though the week ended on a sour note, no one can deny the fact that the Habs solidified their position in the conference after winning three out of the four inter-conference games.
The 18th week in the season began after a short break for the all-star game. To the relief of many fans, the real hockey began again with the Habs visiting the Verizon center in Washington. The Habs had to battle back in the game when the Caps took an early two goal lead within the first eight minutes of the game. Carey Price decided to give his team as many opportunities as he could to get back in the game, and that's exactly what the Habs did. Captain Gionta decided to reward Price for his efforts and scored a goal midway through the second period. Before the period ended, the captain struck again and tied it up for the Habs after Plekanec sent him on a breakaway. Both teams had their chances but the game ended up in the shootouts and Price remained on top of his game after giving up the early two goals. Gionta sealed the deal in the shootout and Price stopped Backstrom , Hendricks and Ovechkin to give the Habs the much needed two points. (Game Recap)
In the first of the back-to-back pair, the Habs flew back to Montreal after defeating the Capitals to face the Florida Panthers the following day. Alex Auld got the nod in the net against his former team giving Price a deserving break. Similar to the game against the Caps, the Habs gave up an early lead but got it back in the second period when Halpern deflected a harmless looking shot by Subban behind Vokoun. Auld made some big saves in the period to keep the game tied and his teammates rewarded him by taking the lead when Plekanec's shot deflected on a skate in front of the net. Midway through the third, the Habs added to their lead as Gionta took a shot from behind the net that hit Vokoun's glove and went inside the net. The Panthers pulled Vokoun with a little over 2 minutes remaining in the game and scored a goal to make it a one goal game. The Habs managed to hang on to the one goal lead and won both games in the first of the back-to-back pair this week. (Read the Game Recap here)
Next up, the Super Bowl weekend matinees, a pair of games in the afternoon with the first one against the Rangers. Price started the game for the Habs and on the other end, coach Tortorella decided to show confidence in Martin Biron. Both goalies made some good saves to keep the games tied till the dying minutes of the second period. With a minute and a half remaining, Scott Gomez took advantage of a missed shot by Picard and found himself all alone in front of an empty net with the puck on his stick. Gomez made a nifty move to get his stick in shooting position and gave his team a one goal lead. The Rangers decided to put their engines to work in the third and pressured Price from any and all angles, but the young net-minder did not give up and turned away 19 shots in the period to earn his 5th shutout of the season. Plekanec added an empty net to end the night and the Habs made away with two valuable points in the standings. It should be noted that the Habs were without James Wisniewski in this game and the next one. The Wiz, out with the flu, was replaced by Alex Picard. (Read the Game Recap)
Finally, to end the week, the revived, rejuvenated and the really hot Devils came to town on the Super Bowl Sunday. Carey Price started for the Habs and Martin Brodeur, Habs nemesis, started in the nets for the Devils. The Devils took Price and the Habs by surprise and scored two goals within the first five minutes to take a huge lead. Unlike the game against the Caps, this two goal lead was a mountain for the Habs as the Devils, once again, are adhering to the Jacques Lemaire system - take an early lead and put the trap out. Brodeur did not come back to start the second, out with a bruised knee apparently, but Hedberg did come out and he continued the work started by Bordeur. A few minutes into the period, Zajac scored to make it 3-0 for the Devils and before the period ended, the Habs managed to get one goal back as a shot by Subban deflected off Kovalchuk's stick to beat Hedberg. Kovalchuk, named the first star in the match, scored on an empty net to extinguish any fire in the Habs and quell any chances of a comeback. The Habs, unable to solve the trap laid out by the Devils, finaly lost the game by a score of 4-1 but managed to get 6 points out of the possible 8 in the week. (Read the Game Recap)
Some interesting facts and stats for week #18
- Carey Price was between the pipes for three out of the four games and recorded his fifth shuout of the season. He recorded an excellent 1.6 GAA and .907 SV% and was one of the major reasons why the Habs were able to get back everytime they were down. Alex Auld did his part in the only game he played and recorded a save percentage of .943 SV% stopping 33 out of the 35 shots he faced.
- Unable to score on the powerplay, the Habs scored 9 goals in 4 matches this week. With ALL of their offense coming on 5 on 5, they were lead by PK Subban, who collected four points (1G-3A) and supported by Brian Gionta (3G), Tomas Plekanec (2G-1A) and Max Pacioretty (3A) who each recorded 3 points.
- Except Jeff Halpern (56% of 46 face-offs), Montreal Centers were all below 50% in the face-off circle. Comparitive to his early weeks with the Habs, David Desharnais still showed improvement by winning 47% of the 36 face-offs he drew. Coach Martin used Tomas Plekanec (47%) the most, sending him out for 95 face-offs and Scott Gomez (48%) for 65 face-offs
- On the other end, Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik were extremely busy helping Price and Auld out and blocked 13 and 11 shots respectively. They were well supported by PK Subban who not only excelled offensively but also blocked 8 shots during the week.
- Andrei Kostitsyn was the most active in the hits section of the scoresheet and accumulated 8 hits in four games. Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty were also a threat to their opponnents and had 7 hits each.
- James Wisniewski played only two games out of the four this week but averaged 24:32 of ice time and lead the team. He was followed closely by PK Subban who averaged 23:51 over four games.
- While Montreal's Power Play was a total failure (0 in 14), they did show a lot of improvement while short-handed after having a horrible game against the Flyers. Their penalty killers enjoyed a 91.67% success rate allowing only one goal in 12 short-handed chances.
- Montreal scored nine goals on 133 shots averaging one goal every 15 shots while they allowed their opponents to score 8 goals on 128 shots or in other words, 1 goal every 16 shots. They also managed to score in an empty net after a long while when Plekanec skated away with the puck against the Rangers.