It was a perfect week for the Habs, three games, three victories, including one against Guy Boucher's Tampa Bay Lightnings, a team comprised of some of the best offensive players in the league. One can put in all the Cliches here, "Carey-ing the team", "Price is right", etc. and there is no doubt that Carey Price was the main star this week for the Habs, but one must give some credit to the rest of the team in front of him, especially the depleted defensive lineup. The addition of Brent Sopel was a good move by the team's General Manager Pierre Gauthier, and the young offensive stars in the team, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais have been great help.
It all started against the Atlanta Thrashers. Carey Price was rock-solid, there's no other way to describe his performance. After missing the last game of the previous week against the Carolina Hurricanes due to the flu, Price was back at it, focused as ever. He made 40 saves against a young, dynamic and fast Thrashers team to allow the Habs to win their second game in a row. Price, who made his saves look easy, admitted after the game that "it was busy out there, but it wasn't a lot of hard shots." Max Pacioretty and James Wisniewski gave the Habs a 2-0 lead before Nik Antropov was finally able to beat Price in the third period with only six minutes remaining on the clock. Brian Gionta added an empty netter that extinguished all hopes for the Thrashers. The Habs also shined when down by a man and managed to kill five Atlanta powerplays. Luckily for the Habs, Ondrej Pavelec, who shut them down in their previous encounter against the Thrashers was unable to start against them and they were able to beat Atlanta's backup goaltender Mason twice before adding the empty-net insurance marker. This win was all Carey Price. (Read the Recap here)
A day after wining a big game for the Habs, Carey Price was at it again. This time though, he did not miss his shutout bid. Price stopped 30 shots against a struggling Florida team to record his 7th shutout of the season. The surprise factor in the game was Hal Gill, the hulking defender, who scored his first goal in 100 games and a game-wininng goal at that. "I'm on fire" Gill joked after the game. Andrei Kostitsyn, David Desharnais and Lars Eller were the other goal scorers for the Habs. Even though the Habs did not get any success from their top two lines, it was nice to see their bottom two lines get on the scoreboard. Florida started the game with Thomas Vokoun in the net, but Kostitsyn's goal chased him out with less than 9 minutes played in the first period. Kostitsyn also increased his point-streak to 5 games after going 9 games without a goal. Montreal's special units continued their good work and killed three penalties to keep the Panthers at bay and win the game by a one-sided 4-0 score. (Read the Recap here)
The toughest game of this week was no doubt against the really hot Tampa Bay Lightning. A new head-coach, a new general manager, and the team has been on fire with the likes of Stamkos and St-Louis. But the Bolts were in for a surprise called Carey Price. The young netminder pushed aside 43 of the 45 shots he faced and was able to shut down Stamkos while Max Pacioretty scored twice to extend the Habs winning streak to four games. Price, who before this game, had a GAA of 4.13 against the Lightning, continued his outstanding week. Montreal also managed to get another goal from Hal Gill, who showed he wasn't kidding, he really is on fire. Finally, Andrei Kostitsyn continued his point streak after giving a beautiful pass to David Desharnais, who dazzled the spectators by making a nifty move in front of the net before scoring his 8th goal of the season, one more than Scott Gomez. Not to take anything away from the struggling Montreal center, Gomez played one of his best games this season and recorded an assist on Max Pacioretty's second goal. Ex-Hab Dominic Moore was one of the most dangerous players on the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring one and assisting on the other goal by Vinny Lecavalier. (Read the Game Recap)
Some interesting facts and numbers for Week #22
- It was all Carey Price this week. The 23 year old netminder started in all three games for the Habs, posted a 3-0-0 record, an excellent GAA of 1.00 and a super-human SV% of .974. It doesn't get any better than this. He also managed to get his 11th career shutout after blanking the Florida Panthers. He is now ranked 1st in the league in wins (31), 8th in GAA (2.34) and SV% (.923) and 2nd in Shutouts (7).
- It was a good offensive week for the Habs. For a team that's ranked 23rd in the league with 2.64 average goals scored per game, they managed to score 11 goals in three games. They were led by Max Pacioretty who recorded 4 points (3G-1A) and Andrei Kostitsyn (1G-3A) in this category. David Desharnais and James Wisniewski ended the week with 3 points each (2G-1A and 1G-2A respectively).
- Not only Desharnais is now on a 3 games point streak, he also continued to improve his numbers in the faceoff circle. He ended the week winning 61.11% of the 36 faceoffs he took. He has shown steady improvement in this part of his game since he has joined the Habs. Tomas Plekanec continued to be the most trusted faceoff man for Coach Martin but struggled this week and won only 44% of the 50 faceoffs he took. Lars Eller also did well and won 58.62% of the 29 faceoffs he took, a sign for the coaches to leave him at the center position.
- Roman Hamrlik led the team with 11 blocked shots this week and took the crown away from Hal Gill who was too busy scoring goals. Never the less, Hal Gill followed Hamrlik with 8 blocked shots along with James Wisniewski.
- Four of the Habs players, namely, PK Subban, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill and James Wisniewski led the team this week with 4 hits each and as a whole, the team managed to throw 49 hits this week on the opposing players. Not a big number, but considering the fact that this stat was distributed equally in the team with four more players ending with 3 hits each, one has to conclude that the Habs were aggressive in their forechecking and backchecking. Considering the fact that they scored 11 times and allowed only 3 goals, this number becomes even more important.
- There is no question asked, Roman Hamrlik is a work horse. Not only did he lead the team in blocked shots but he also led the team in average ice time finishing the week with 22:08. He has been trusted by the coaches in every situation and rewards them with good work ethics. James Wisniewski, Hal Gill and PK Subban also finished the week with 21 minutes + of icetime. As far as the forwards are concerned, Brian Gionta (18:41) and Scott Gomez (18:37) led the team. While one can understand why Gionta is found to be on the ice so often, the fact that Gomez has been taking therapy days and struggling offensively, his huge average ice time comes as a surprise.
- Since acquiring Brent Sopel, the Canadiens have been playing very well in short-handed situations and allowed only one goal this week (against the Tampa Bay Lightning) out of the 14 opportunities they handed to their opponents. The number of times the Habs find themselves short by a man is a worrisome factor in itself as it speaks a lot about the discipline the Habs show but it's encouraging to see that they had a 92.86% success rate when down by a man. They are now ranked 7th in the league with 83.8% success rate. They also continued to score key goals in powerplays and capitalized on 3 of the 9 (33.33%) opportunities they were provided with. Also ranked 8th in the league, the powerplay will continue to be a key factor in coming weeks as the regular season comes to an end.
- Offensively, the Habs are coming out of a good week with one goal scored on every 7 shots. Defensively, they have been carried by Carey Price (no pun intended) and allowed 1 goal on every 39 shots faced. That stat in itself is a testament to the kind of season Carey Price has been having.
- As a team, the Habs were +30 this week, a marked improvement on the +16 they posted in the previous week and a -26 they posted the week before. Michael Cammalleri was the only player who ended the week in the negatives (-1) while Max Pacioretty ended the week posting a solid +5. Scott Gomez and Hal Gill followed Patches closely with a +4 record of their own.
What's next for the Habs
Tuesday evening, the Habs will be taking on the Boston Bruins in a much anticipated match-up after the Bruins won their previous encounter by a score of 8-6 in a high scoring, fight-filled game. One must say, the Habs are ready for them, in fact, more likely, Carey price is ready for them after giving up 8 goals in their last match-up. Price, coming off one of his best weeks this season, will have to remain sharp and the Habs will have to rely on their speed and skills to beat the Bruin goons. Although Jacques Martin mentioned after the beantown brawl that "these are the things one doesn't forget" (in not so many words), one can safely assume that the Habs will not succumb to the level the Bruins displayed. Montreal has already won 3 out of the 4 games these teams have played this season and will be battling for the two important points this game represents. Catching up to the Bruins in the standings is way more important than retribution. The Habs are led offensively by Max Pacioretty who has accumulated 6 points (4G-2A) against the Bruins this season. Brian Gionta (4G-1A), PK Subban (2G-2A) and Scott Gomez (2G-2A) have also had a good season against Boston so far. On the other hand, Patrice Bergeron (2G-4A), Milan Lucic (3G-2A) and Nathan Horton (1G-4A) have been the offensive stars for the Bruins. The key will be to stay out of the penalty box and make the Bruins pay for any penalties they will be taking. NHL's Collin Campbell is rumored to be in the stands to watch this game at the Bell Center, more likely to watch his son Gregory Campbell play.
Following the game against the Bruins, the Habs will be off to St. Louis to play in the only game against the Blues this season. Their previous encounter in St. Louis dates back to 16 November 2008 when the Habs won on a game-winning goal by Alex Kovalev in the shootout while Carey Price allowed 2 goals on 26 shots. Last season, St. Louis visited Montreal and won the game by a score of 4-3 in overtime. Two of the three goals were scored by Benoit Pouliot. The Blues have lost their previous four games and will be playing against the Blue Jackets the night before playing the Habs. They have an 18-11-4 record at home and are struggling at this point without Jaroslav Halak. Along with Halak, they are also missing Vladimir Sabotka, David Perron and Phillip McRae.
To end this week, the Habs will be visiting another injury plagued team in Pittsburgh for their final meeting of the regular season. Montreal has won two out of their three previous encounters this season and are led by Benoit Pouliot (1G-2A) and Michael Cammalleri (2G). The Penguins, without Crosby, Malkin and Orpik among others, are led by Alex Goligoski (2G-3A), Jordan Stall (1G-2A) and Kris Letang (3A). Marc-Andre Fleury has not had much success against the Habs this season while Carey Price has played all three games. Even though the odds seem to be in the Habs favor as the Pens have not had much success without Crosby and Malkin (3-3-4 in their last 10), it should be noted that they have added James Neal and Alex Kovalev to their lineup and should not be taken lightly.
Although each game is important at this point of the season, how the Habs handle themselves against the Bruins will be the most important thing to watch out for this week. The game will be a strong indication of how the Habs can fair against high-hitting aggressive teams such as the Bruins in the playoffs. Carey Price will, yet again, be the most important player on the ice and there is a possibility that Alex Auld will get the start against the St. Louis Blues. Montreal will have to continue relying on their defense and hope to get more from their top two lines, notably Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec.