MONTREAL, QC.– Depending on which interpretation you choose to believe, Canadiens practise on Wednesday in Sunrise, Florida was an example of coach Jacques Martin encouraging an atmosphere of open communication amongst his charges or a leadership group expressing their frustration with an approach that clearly isn’t working. Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Travis Moen, Jeff Halpern and Mike Cammalleri in turn voiced their concerns. Cammalleri was perhaps the most vocal.
Whatever the explanation, it certainly isn’t everyday that we witness players openly criticizing the system developed by their coaching staff. It’s also rather unusual for the head coach to conduct a profanity-laced practise. That happened prior to the game in Atlanta.
So with the coach and the skaters trying to get on the same page on the southern road trip, the responsibility for delivering wins was left to this season’s most valuable player. Carey Price made 40 saves against in Atlanta on Tuesday night in a game that the Thrashers dominated in every aspect, except goaltending. Tonight Price pitched a shutout, his seventh of the season, for the Habs win.
The Panthers weren’t blessed with the same level of play between the pipes. Tomas Vokoun allowed two goals on Montreal’s first three shots giving way to Scott Clemmensen. The backup didn’t fare much better giving up a softie to David Desharnais.
With the Habs up by three just five minutes into the second period the Panthers, neutered by General Manager Dale Tallon with seven players traded at the deadline, struggled to generate a sustained attack. Price took care of the rest when Florida threatened.
“Price made some big saves at key times when the game was still on the line,” coach Martin said. “At the end of the second period on their power play he made a big save. He’s played with a lot of confidence. He’s been a big part of our success.”
The Canadiens are now 2-0 on their road trip but should we be concerned about the way they are playing?
”Duh, WINNING.” — Charlie Sheen
It’s true, fans certainly can’t complain about four points in the bank. And there were some good news stories in the game tonight.
Andrei Kostitsyn freed from the 10-game anchor that is Scott Gomez now has points in five straight games. Kostitsyn is developing good chemistry with his linemates, Lars Eller and Travis Moen. Eller’s line had six points and was the best on the ice for either team.
Hal Gill scored his first goal in 100 games with Vokoun screened by Max Pacioretty. James Wisniewski had two assists.
The Canadiens ‘only’ took three minor penalties in the game. On first glance that seems to be an improvement who has displayed a lack of discipline. However the Habs total is still two more penalties than assessed to Florida.
With one of their better puck moving defensemen in the press box the Canadiens struggled to get out of their own end. Regular All Habs reader Charlotte tweeted, “Best outlet pass on the team: Price.” She was correct.
The lack of a good breakout pass was also a huge problem in Atlanta. It kept the Canadiens trapped in their own zone allowing the Thrashers to run up the shot totals. The smooth skating ability and puck-moving skills of Yannick Weber were missed in both games.
With defensemen Weber and Paul Mara to choose from, most believed that we had seen the last of Alexandre Picard for the season. In a truly puzzling decision, Martin inserted Picard in the lineup. While his roaming style and poor decision-making didn’t result in goals against tonight, Picard was the only Canadiens defenseman who did not get a plus-rating tonight.
It was also a curious decision by coaches Martin and Perry Pearn to allow Roman Hamrlik to play more than 22 minutes in a 4-0 game. His minutes could have been managed much better to keep him fresh during the playoff run.
Mike Cammalleri was invisible in this game and hasn’t had a great road trip. Tomas Plekanec had six shots on goal but perhaps Cammalleri’s ineffectiveness has something to do with Jeff Halpern as the third member of the line. Halpern doesn’t have the speed to keep up and isn’t a top six forward.
The Canadiens have managed two wins on the southern swing but they will face a more difficult challenge when they face the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
All Habs game stars
1. Carey Price
2. Andrei Kostitsyn
3. Lars Eller
Ryan White, Yannick Weber and Paul Mara were a healthy scratches. Jaroslav Spacek is expected to be out six weeks. Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges are out for the season with a knee injuries.
(photo by REUTERS/Hans Deryk)