You know your team is deep when it can have a full forward line that compromises 47 goals missing and still win a game pretty easily. And that is not even the whole picture as Louis-Marc Aubry and his 11 goals are also out until mid February. Montreal has David Rose (14 goals), Philippe Lefebvre (16 goals) and Viktor Hertzberg (17 goals) all missing. These three players would comprise a number one line on many QMJHL teams. All three have recently suffered concussions and are out for an indeterminate period of time. When and if Montreal gets healthy they'll be the juggernaut that coach Vincent envisioned. Still despite the injuries the team rolls on. They would be playing a little short, so to speak, this game with only 10 forwards dressed and 8 defencemen.
Montreal was coming off two back-to-back road victories earlier this week in Val D'Or (3-2) and Rouyn-Noranda (5-1). Making his second start in three games for Montreal was backup Etienne Marcoux. It made me wonder if coach Pascal Vincent had lost a little confidence in his number one man, Jean-Francois Bérubé. Bérubé had been in nets for the win against Val D'Or, but had allowed 2 goals on only 17 shots. Seventeen-year-old Marcoux is technically sound and has better stats (Record: 9-2-1, G.A.A.: 2.62) across the board than Bérubé. This should not be the case. Your backup goaltender should not have better numbers than your number one man. Despite the fact that this is a deep, strong team, Bérubé must play at his best if Montreal is to go as far as they are capable of this season. Coach Vincent showed confidence in him by not trading for a goalie and now he has to justify that confidence.
Halifax (14-28) is one of the weaker teams in the QMJHL and is struggling to make the playoffs. Right now they are 15th overall with the top 16 making the playoffs. Halifax is 7-14 on the road. Defence is not the problem for Halifax; it is lack of scoring. Owner and former Habs centreman Bobby Smith recently took over the job coaching the Moosehead and has had his hands full trying to get his squad to be competitive each game. Whatever their record Montreal could not afford to take this team lightly and might have been a little guilty of that to start the game Sunday afternoon.
After Alex Lemieux was sent to the box for interference a lack of communication and maybe familiarity on the part of the Junior put Halifax ahead 1-0. In the second minute of the ensuing penalty kill, Marcoux left the puck right by his goal (while he was out of it) thinking that defenceman Xavier Ouellet would collect it and ring it around the boards. Such was not the case and Halifax's Brent Andrews took advantage of the miscue and put the puck in a deserted net. Thank you very much!
Responding properly, Montreal, just over two minutes later, scored its own goal largely due to a great pass by Louis Leblanc. Laflamme managed to get in between the two Halifax defencemen and then showed his speed by leaving German born Konrad Abeltshauser in is dust. Laflamme and Leblanc (who was being double shifted) were showing some immediate chemistry. Despite either playing few minutes as a fourth line player or not being dressed for most of the season, Laflamme is taking advantage of the injuries and resulting more minutes for himself. He had a jump in his game and was the forward with the most scoring chances on this afternoon.
Halifax regained its one goal lead less than a minute later on the power play. Marcoux had no chance on the tic-tac-toe goal by Charles Bety at 8:30. That goal meant that two power play goals were given up in two opportunities by the 3rd overall penalty killing team and were scored by the 16th overall power play team. Not very impressive for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations!
It was a sloppy beginning to the game by Montreal. Lots of passes were way off and several defensive lapses occured. Quellet had a rough game. He made plenty of mental mistakes and the 1st period was not his best. This was also the third straight home game that Montreal has been suspect defensively. Have they lost their defensive identity? Or is it just a case of the new players taking some time to adjust to the system? For one, Jean-Laurence Beauchemin has had some troubles defensively since his move to Montreal. He is a Hal Gill style of player with a long reach, but not very mobile. Coach Vincent will have to learn to play him to his strengths.
Also you can tell that the forwards are a little unfamiliar with each other. This is due to all the injuries and trades that have recently happened. For example, Raphaël Pouliot started on the 4th line and is now on the 1st line with Nicolas Chouinard and Leblanc.
Speaking of Leblanc, Halifax seemed to have gotten under his skin in the 1st period. He was riled up early and at one point stood at centre ice jawing at the Halifax bench. This was not a wise strategy by the Mooseheads as it woke the talented player up and he almost single handed defeated them.
There was a good sized crowd on hand this afternoon. But it was not totally due to the stellar play of the home team so far this season. Lots of fans were on hand to see local product Luca Ciampini. Despite the fact that he is only 16-years-old he has 7 goals so far this season. Recently he was the top scorer in the 17-and-under tournament and is expected to be a top draft pick in the 2012 NHL draft.
The 2nd period was a completely different one for the Junior. Halifax has a couple of chances early to extend their lead, but they botched them up. Then Louis Leblanc took over. Montreal scored three straight goals, which is not such an infrequent occurrence it seems this season. The first two by Leblanc and Charles Landry were on the power play and then an even strength goal on a great shot (goal scorer's type goal that shot the water bottle up two feet in the air) top corner by Pouliot. The assists all showed his hockey IQ with him finding Laflamme alone on the first, on the second he drew a couple of Halifax players to him like a magnet and then found the open man, and finally on the last he caused a turnover which led to the goal. One goal (a weak one five hole) and three assists for Leblanc. Halifax had awoken the beast.
After the 4th Montreal goal, Moosehead starting goaltender Anthony Terenzio was pulled and Frédéric Piché was inserted. This was the second of back-to-back games on the road for Halifax and they began to show signs of fatigue.
The 3rd period belonged to the pluggers on Montreal as they controlled it. The 4th line of Laflamme, Matt Provost (usually a defenceman) and whoever Vincent decided to double shift with them (Usually Leblanc or Michael Clarke) played a strong period. Laflamme had another chance to score when he hit the post early on. On the same shift Provost believed that he had scored as he raised his arms in celebration, but actually the puck just slid along the line. Provost actually did score at 6:50 on a nice give and go with Laflamme. Special teams made the difference in this game with 4 of the 7 goals scored coming on the power play.
At the 15:56 of the 3rd Montreal defenceman Alex Micallef and Halifax's Alex Souligny got into a fight. Because it was the last 5 minutes of the game the two automatically were thrown out of the game. What is more worrisome is that Micallef seemed to hurt his hand in the fight as he was holding it awkwardly as he went to the dressing room. The team really cannot afford any more injuries.
Despite the poor start the victory was a relatively easy one for Montreal. It was their 31st victory of the year with 18 of them coming at home. Montreal is off all week until a game at home against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Friday night.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Christian Gohier and Dominic Franc
Linesmen: Harold Dorvil and Stéfan Capano
-Goals: 1st Period:
5:36 – Halifax – (pp) Brent Andrews unassisted
7:47 – Montreal – Jean-Christophe Laflamme assisted by Louis Leblanc and Xavier Ouellet
8:30 – Halifax – (pp) Charles Bety assisted by Pascal Aymot and Carl Gélinas
5:53 – Montreal – (pp) Louis Leblanc assisted by Charles Landry and Nicolas Chouinard
7:41 – Montreal – (pp) Charles Landry assisted by Louis Leblanc and Nicolas Chouinard
10:27 – Montreal – Raphaël Pouliot assisted by Louis Leblanc and Nicolas Chouinard
6:50 – Montreal – Matt Provost assisted by Jean-Christophe Laflamme and Michael Clarke
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 37
-3 Stars: 1) Louis Leblanc – Montreal
2) Jean-Christophe Laflamme – Montreal
3) Matt Provost – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 5