Coming into the game (their 29th) the Junior were sitting in second place in the Telus Western Division trailing Rouyn-Noranda by 8 points, but with 3 games in hand it is time to make up some ground.
One would have to think that Gatineau was ripe for the taking as they were coming off a game the night before (a 7-4 win over Val D'Or) while the Junior were idle. Also the Gatineau team is awful on the road with a record of only 2 wins in 14 games. But they say not to judge a book by its cover or in this case a team by its road record.
From the drop of the puck in the first period the Junior seemed like the fresh and superior team. They were speedy and always first to the puck, which created a few chances to score for them during the first half of the opening period. There was plenty of giddy up and intensity in the Montreal game early on. The Esposito-Adam-Layton trio had several early scoring chances (As an aside I've never seen a player have as many breakaways as Angelo Esposito and not score). This while it took Gatineau over 15 minutes to register their first shot on net.
Again that statistic proved deceiving as it only took one more shot for Gatineau to open the scoring. Gatineau defenseman Hugo Laporte scored his 8th goal of the season whistling a shot from near the boards past Junior goaltender Jake Allen after a Montreal turnover in their own end. After this goal the entire allure of the game changed…for good. The fragile Montreal team now seemed to be shocked they that found themselves behind and no longer the team they were to start the game.
Gatineau then hammered down another nail in the Montreal coffin when Alexandre Quesnel scored a power play goal with 9 seconds remaining in the first period. Late goals like this are always downers against any team, but against a Montreal team which seems to have a confidence problem it more often than not proves fatal.
Montreal dominated for most of the first period and come out of it down 2-0. Tough to swallow for these young guys. It must also be discouraging for the usual Great Wall of China, Jake Allen to allow 2 goals on 4 shots. Montreal would now have to dig deep and mount a comeback.
The great comeback was not to be as Gatineau scored a goal early in the second period. That was pretty much all she wrote for Montreal. They did bring up the level of their play in the third period to pretty much what they started the game with. They, however, could not solve Gatineau goaltender, Maxime Clermont (game's first star). This habit of hanging their heads as soon as they get behind in a game has got to stop. The Junior owe it to their fans and more importantly to themselves to keep plugging away no matter the score.
I have been to most of Montreal's home games and I have seen enough to recognize that there are a few problems with this team. One is that they have no real sniper. There are several players who can score goals and one exceptional passer (Angelo Esposito), but no prototypical scorer. No player who is deadly from 10 feet in. They need to find this type of player if they are to step up to the level of the best teams in the QMJHL.
Secondly, coach Vincent has to convince Esposito that, yes, he is the most skilled player on the team, but that does not give him the right to float. Too often Esposito is just flitting around and not really involving himself in the game. He has to step up, be a leader and do everything well.
Next, the team needs a big, physical defenseman. They have several average sized, puck moving defensemen, but they need someone who dishes out big hits and makes some room for everyone else with his strength and size.
Lastly, this team seems to have little chemistry. Is that due to the constant line juggling that coach Vincent seems enjoy engaging in? I would like him to stick with the same lineup and line combinations for several games in a row and allow players to get used to each other. For example, several games back the fourth line of Chris Smith, Ben Rubin and Louis-Marc Aubry were giving the coach some strong minutes. Always causing chances and gaining momentum for their team. Granted their hard work did not result in goals, but you don't need all lines to score to be successful. Sometimes you need an energy line that just goes out and gives the rest of the team confidence with their play. Vincent has broken up the line and sat out Smith in the last couple of games. My question is why? He must know that positive play from a line is not always seen on the scoresheet.
On the plus side this was just one game in a season of many games, so they have to regroup and come out with a strong effort on Wednesday against the Val D'Or Foreurs. Another team that the Junior should beat, but who might have something different to say about that.
-On Ice Officials: Referee: Darcy Burshell
Linesmen: Sylvain Losier and Serge Carpentier
-Goals: 1st Period:
16:49 – Gatineau – Hugo Laporte
19:51 – Gatineau – (pp) Alexandre Quesnel assisted by Jean-Philip Chabot and Paul Byron
0:40 – Gatineau – Jean-Philip Chabot assisted by Paul Byron
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 23
-3 Stars: 1) Maxime Clermont – Gatineau
2) Alexandre Quesnel – Gatineau
3) Angelo Esposito – Montreal