When Montreal and Boston meet no matter where they are in comparison to one another in the standings it is a highly anticipated game. Rivalries do that. Players on either side hate each other and fans want a win for bragging rights. As a result the atmosphere in the rink is generally electric. All that hype and the game last night between the Habs and Bruins was like a balloon in which all the air had been let out of.
I hate to pick on one player (because it is not fair in a team game) or question a coach’s strategy because I am not an NHL coach, but sometimes it is so obvious that it has to be mentioned. For months now, despite the fact that Montreal is doing alright in the standings, fans have been complaining about Michel Therrien’s style of play, line combinations and generally how he has been coaching the team. The biggest complaints have been about his handling of PK Subban. Fans feel he is not getting enough ice time or being used wisely. Last night was a perfect example of that.
As usual Andrei Markov got the most ice time with 24:14. Next on the team was Francis Bouillon. Bouillon?? Really!?! And not the guy who is the reigning Norris Trophy winner? Makes no sense to me that a player who had not dressed since February 8th was now given the second most time. If he was that good why wasn’t he playing all along? Why pair a guy who wasn’t dressed 15 of the last 16 games with your stud defenceman? Why not give those moments to your future, i.e. Jarred Tinordi? Why not play Subban on the penalty kill? Especially with Josh Gorges out of the line-up. Why not unleash your most offensively talented defenceman at a time when your team is having trouble scoring? I won’t even really get into how it is to put a recently acquired guy who has twice scored over 40 goals in the NHL on a line with two defensive players. How can you be surprised that he does not score? As I said it is a team game and it is not because of Francis Bouillon, who was in the line-up in place of Mike Weaver, that the Habs lost 4-1 against the Bruins, but Therrien did not do what was needed to give his team the best chance to win.
Boston came into this game so far ahead of Montreal in the standings (12 points) that challenging them for 1st place in the Atlantic Division was not really in the cards. Though winning against the Bruins would show everyone that Montreal can compete against the big dogs in the league. Montreal has done well against Boston lately having won the last 5 games versus the Bruins. Plus they seem to have gotten in Bruins’ number one goalie Tuuka Rask (28-14-4) head in that he cannot seem to win against the bleu-blanc-rouge. His career record against Montreal is a terrible 2-10-2. Whereas Montreal’s starting goaltender, Peter Budaj, had a 4-1 career record against the Bruins. Though Budaj’s worst goals-against-average in on games on Wednesdays, so maybe that evened things out.
Coming into the game Boston was on a 5 game winning streak, whereas Montreal had lost 2 in a row. Montreal was in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division only 1 point behind 2nd placed Toronto and having a game in hand. The game in hand was this one against Boston and proved that a game in hand is of no use unless you win.
Montreal had a strong 1st period outshooting Boston 13-6, but could not break through for a goal. Over the course of the first 30 minutes Montreal had 3 breakaways and neither Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk nor Tomas Plekanec could cash in. It would have probably been a very different game if one or two had scored. Bruins’ goaltender Rask made the save on each occasion keeping his team in the game. This has been typical for Boston in that they weather a slow start and then explode in the 2nd period. The Bruins have only given up 35 goals in the 1st period all season mostly due to the excellence of their goaltender.
Over the next 20 minutes Boston scored 3 straight goals. Early on in the 2nd Carl Soderberg took advantage of misplays by Tinordi and Lars Eller. Eller lost the face off to Soderberg and just let him go. Then Tinordi missed the puck behind the net and it came to Soderberg, who was alone in front of Budaj. Just under 8 minutes later Patrice Bergeron completed a 3-on-1 to make it 2-0. To create the 3-on-1 Markov fell at the Boston blue line springing Bergeron, Marchand and Zdeno Chara in on Alexei Emelin. Marchand and Bergeron exchanged the puck a couple of times perfectly resulting in Bergeron alone in front of Budaj.
In an effort to change the tone of the game, Brandon Prust, his first game back in the line-up after an injury, dropped the gloves against Kevan Miller. He comported himself well in the fight against the bigger defenceman, but it did not seem to spur on his teammates. Boston was in control of the game and it didn’t change. They added another goal late in the 2nd. It was a weak one given up by Budaj. Milan Lucic got a little drop pass from Jerome Iginla and directed a shot towards the Habs’ net which managed to beat Budaj 5-hole.
Even if you held out some hope that Montreal, who had not scored many goals lately, could score 3 goals in the last period to tie the game that was snuffed out not long after the puck was dropped to start the 3rd period. 23 seconds into the period Chara waltzed into the Montreal zone and wristed a shot past Budaj. 4-0 Bruins and game over.
Therrien began mixing up the lines at this point. Vanek was moved onto the David Desharnais line with the EGG (Eller-Gallagher-Galchenyuk) line reunited and Daniel Brière put on the Plekanec line. I guess you could say this was somewhat successful as Montreal was able to finally score.
It had been 125 minutes since Galchenyuk had scored against the Phoenix Coyotes, but Desharnais broke that embarrassing streak with his 12th goal of the season at 2:46 of the 3rd. The goal came as a result of a mad scramble in front of the Boston net with Rask ending up flat on his back on the ice, but he did not have the puck covered so Desharnais was able to poke it by him.
A game of two teams going in different directions. Third loss in a row for Montreal whereas Boston won their 6th in a row. The Bruins showed why they are so far ahead of Montreal in the standings. This is a team with a lot of depth. Despite injuries to Daniel Paille (concussion), Dennis Seidenberg (knee) and Adam McQuaid (quad strain) they are deep enough to dress Jordan Caron and Andrej Meszaros to continue on without a difference. A test of their character and depth will happen over their last 14 games as 10 of those will be on the road.
Montreal’s next game is at the Bell Centre on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Get used to seeing Eastern Conference opponents as 13 of their remaining 15 games are against teams from the East. Important games all of them. Come on, Therrien coach the team you have and stop imposing a system on them that does not match their talents. You have a smaller, fast skating team – act like it!
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Ghislain Hebert and Marc Joannette
Linesmen – Steve Barton and Michel Cormier
-Goals: 2nd Period:
1:33: Boston – Carl Soderberg unassisted
9:25: Boston – Patrice Bergeron assisted by Brad Marchand and Matt Bartkowski
18:32: Boston – Milan Lucic assisted by Jerome Iginla and David Krejci
00:23: Boston – Zdeno Chara assisted by Brad Marchand and Andrej Meszaros
2:46: Montreal – David Desharnais assisted by Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 36
Boston – 32
-3 Stars: 1) Tuuka Rask – Boston
2) Zdeno Chara – Boston
3) Thomas Vanek – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
Boston – 4