On the last night of 2013 the Montreal Canadiens played a game which was a perfect representation of their season. At certain times of the season they look like one of the 10 best teams in the league while at others they are a team that struggles. That up and down kind of play is exactly what happened in this New Year’s Eve game.
Habs coach Michel Therrien said before the game that his team had to score more to win more consistently. The team against Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward had to take more shots and go to the front of the net to create screens and pick up rebounds. Carolinas number one goaltender is having a tough season so far between injury and poor play; he is no longer one of the best in the league. The opposite is true for Habs goaltender Carey Price as he is having a great season. Price is back in nets with his 18 wins and 2.06 G.A.A. Though it seemed differently in the beginning of the game as the Canadiens were firmly in charge of it by the 3rd period they would need Price to be at the top of his game.
In the last 15 games against Carolina Montreal is 10-5-1 so they have dominated their East Division mates. Last season they were a perfect 3-0 versus the Hurricanes. Carolina is not doing well lately and was on a 5 game losing streak. Even worse, they have lost 8 of the last 9 games. As a result, former NHLer and Montreal assistant coach Kirk Muller is on the hot seat. They are the second worst offensive team in the East just above Buffalo. It has gotten so bad the owner of the team Jim Rutherford came out in the press saying his goalies were not doing the job and that his top players were not contributing what they should. Not a healthy environment.
Montreal got off to a good start when a man who only has 1 goal in the last 20 games scored the first goal. A mere 1:20 into the 1st Lars Eller put Montreal up 1-0. Montreal scores the first goal of the game for the 22nd time. Carolina gives up the first goal for the 28th time. With this goal Hurricane captain and number one player Eric Staal is now a dreadful -18. Makes you think he does not merit making the Canadian Olympic team and that Rutherford is right.
NHL referees have been mandated to come down harshly on head shots or hits from behind so there are more penalties being called, but still in my opinion the sign of a good referee is that they are invisible. The make the calls that are warranted and do not influence the outcome of the game. This cannot be said for the two refs on this evening. Mike Hasenfratz and Ghislain Hebert made 17 minor penalty calls. It was not a rough or chippy game especially so the calls were not warranted. Several of the calls were iffy at best. Carolina scored 2 power play goals and Montreal notched 1. Even when they did not score the large amount of power plays including a few 5-on-3s allowed sides to control large portions of the game. The two referees influenced the outcome of the game and I am not just saying that because Montreal lost. It was just a bad night at the office for these two.
Montreal was able to build a good lead against Carolina by the end of the 2nd period. Max Pacioretty, who had been invisible in the game against Florida, scored 2 goals. One in the 1st and one in the 2nd. With only 20 minutes left and a 3-0 lead you had to feel confident that Montreal had the game under control. Hopefully you did not bet the house on that because you would have lost.
With a loggerjam of penalties at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd periods Carolina found themselves with a 4-on-3 advantage. A lot of space opened up on the ice for their more talented players. At 1:38 Jeff Skinner scored a goal. Price had scrambled around just prior to the game and was obviously upset about being scored on as he broke his stick over the crossbar. He barely had time to compose himself when Montreal was assessed an abuse of officials bench minor and Skinner scored another power play goal.
It was now tight collar time at 3-2. Montreal had to try and refocus. They had a 3 goal lead at beginning of period which had now become a slim 1 goal lead in less than 3 minutes. A lack of discipline is hurting the Habs. Obviously the refocusing did not work because at 4:07 Eric Staal scored the tying goal and at 8:16 Manny Malholtra the go ahead.
Thankfully for the Canadiens the doling out of penalties did not stop and Tuomo Ruutu got an interference penalty. A bullet shot by PK Subban after Montreal had moved the puck around smartly was too much for Ward. It was an opportune time for Montreal to snap an 0-for-11 streak on the power play on the road. This crazy game was tied at 4-4 and that is how regulation time ended despite the fact that Eric Staal was assessed a double minor at 16:31.
Carolina managed to kill off all 4 minutes of the penalty and almost as you would have expected Alexander Semin scored to give Carolina a 5-4 overtime victory. A tough loss for the Habs.
One good thing about the game for Montreal was the play of Andrei Markov. Markov, along with his partner Alexei Emelin, had a really rough game against Florida. The veteran like him did not have to be told how bad he played. He elevated his game against Carolina. His defensive play was better and his passing was back on the mark.
The next game for Montreal is their last on this road trip. They are in Dallas on Thursday to play the Stars.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Mike Hasenfratz and Ghislain Hebert
Linesmen – Brian Murphy and Tim Nowak
-Goals: 1st Period:
1:20: Montreal – Lars Eller assisted by Alex Galchenyuk
7:46: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by David Desharnais and Andrei Markov
14:24: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by PK Subban and David Desharnais
1:38: Carolina – (pp) Jeff Skinner assisted by Andrej Sekera and Jordan Staal
2:15: Carolina – (pp) Jeff Skinner assisted by Eric Staal and Andrej Sekera
4:07: Carolina – Eric Staal assisted by Jeff Skinner and Brett Bellemore
8:16: Carolina – Manny Malhotra assisted by Zach Boychuk and Tuoma Ruutu
10:16: Montreal – (pp) PK Subban assisted by Andrei Markov and David Desharnais
3:27: Carolina – Alexander Semin assisted by Ron Hainsey and Eric Staal
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 25
Carolina – 42
-3 Stars: 1) Jeff Skinner – Carolina
2) Max Pacioretty
3) Eric Staal – Carolina
-Final Score: Montreal – 4
Carolina – 5 (so)