The Montreal team is in the midst of a little slide (which Montreal hockey team isn't these days!?) and have tumbled down to 3rd place in the Telus Western Division with 53 points behind Gatineau (62) and Rouyn-Noranda (55). Their weird schedule has played havoc with the team lately. Coming off a long and difficult stint on the road that lasted pretty much all of the month of January and having played 4 less games than Rouyn-Noranda and 5 less than Gatineau has forced the Junior to do a bit of catch up in more ways than one. Hopefully sleeping in their own beds the nights before the next couple of games will help them.
The Halifax Moosehead seem (on paper) to be the perfect opposition to be facing to get yourself out of a little slump. The last place overall Moosehead were coming in with a record of 13 wins versus 32 losses. Oddly enough though, Halifax has won more games on the road (7) than it has at home (6). That coupled with the fact that the Junior tend to play up or down to the level of their opposition means that the Moosehead are not a foe that Montreal should take lightly.
So far this season the Junior defence (especially goaltender Jake Allen) has been their strength. They've only let in 135 goals in 49 games. Only Quebec (128) and Moncton (110) have done better. Offence, however, has been a thorn in their side as they've only scored 147 times, which is 4th worst in the league. I'm sure if Coach Vincent had any hair to pull out it would be gone by this point trying to figure out this particular puzzle.
Having been away for such a long period and right around the trade deadline, this game was to be the first time the home crowd was getting to see defenceman Fran Grzeszczak (#24) play. Based on this one game of seeing him play I would classify him as an offensive defenceman with good speed. Another difference in the Montreal lineup on this evening was between the pipes as backup Jean-Francois Bérubé was getting a rare start.
Montreal did not come out like gangbusters or even seem like they were bolstered by playing on home ice. There was no cohesion in the offensive third of the ice and in their own end there were several bad giveaways in the first 5 minutes of the game. Offensively the team seemed to having trouble against the rather large Halifax defence corps. With three Moosehead defencemen standing at 6'4" and two at 6'3", the Junior could not get their cycle going and Halifax was able to get out of their own zone easily. Halifax got on the scoreboard first in a fairly uneventful first period. Other than a shorthanded chance by Chris Thorne off a 2-on-1 break with Matthew Brenton, Montreal did not have many scoring chances in the first.
Everything changed in the second and both teams started scoring. Halifax, courtesy of Alexis Piette, a native of Repentigny who had his own personal cheering section, took a 2-0 lead and only then did the Junior decide to kick it into high gear. Coach Vincent helped them out by putting his three most offensively gifted players (Nick Layton, Angelo Esposito and Luke Adam) on the same line. Layton scored his 21st and 22nd of the season on either side of a goal by Moosehead standout Jan Stransky (17th). After the Esposito, Layton, Adam line had exerted much pressure once again on the Moosehead on a shift late in the period, Esposito was able to level the game at 3-3 with his 21st at 19:25.
In the 3rd period it became obvious that the Montreal team could not rely on just one line to provide it with offense. Whenever the star trio was not on the ice Montreal could do very little to pressure the Moosehead. This led to a goal by the Halifax team just over 5 minutes into the period. Behind again Montreal had to try and comeback once more.
It was not to be on this evening. Montreal did have a couple of opportunities to get back even with Layton having a good shorthanded chance on a nice individual effort and Esposito hitting the post on the power play, but it didn't happen as the Junior lost 4-3 to the last place team. But it really wasn't a surprising result as the home team only decided to start competing once they were already down 2-0. Even against the worst teams this is a little too late.
The boisterous Halifax fans who had traveled to see their team play went home happy with the Montreal supporters going home wondering why all Montreal hockey teams seem to be struggling with confidence, cohesion and offense lately. A question to ponder…
-On-Ice Officials: Referee: Frédéric Leblanc
Linesmen: David Taveroff and Mathieu Chenier
-Goals: 1st Period:
11:13 – Halifax – Gabriel Desjardins assisted by Tomas Knotek and Justin Pender
5:00 – Halifax – (pp) Alexis Piette assisted by Ben MacAskill and Pascal Amyot
9:45 – Montreal – Nick Layton assisted by Luke Adam
10:31 – Halifax – (pp) Jan Stransky assisted by Graham Bona
17:36 – Montreal – Nick Layton assisted by Luke Adam and Angelo Esposito
19:25 – Montreal – Angelo Esposito assisted by Luke Adam and Nick Layton
5:18 – Halifax – Gerrad Grant assisted by Linden Bahm
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 32
-3 Stars: 1) Jan Stransky – Halifax
2) Gabriel Desjardins – Halifax
3) Nick Layton – Montreal