Montreal Canadiens vs. Florida Panthers @ BB&T Center – December 29, 2013

Exactly two weeks previous the Florida Panthers had come into the Bell Centre and defeated them 2-1.  This time it was the Habs traveling to Sunrise, Florida to take on the Panthers in their annual holiday tilt.  Montreal would have to make they matched Florida’s work ethic this time as they seemed to be surprised last time.  You would have thought that Montreal would bring it this time unfortunately for the fans it wasn’t the case.

With a victory Montreal would move ahead of Tampa Bay into 3rd place in the East.  Neither team would have an advantage as they were both playing two games in 24 hours.  Montreal had won against Tampa Bay 2-1 in shoot out while Florida had lost against Detroit.  Montreal would have a slight advantage in that playing in Florida (especially around the holiday period) is like a home game for Montreal.  Most of the fans in the stands were cheering for them.  Plenty of Go Habs Go cheers could be heard from time to time.  Still Montreal did not seem to get a lift from the fans; it did not seem to give them any jump in their legs.

Like the last game against Florida Michel Therrien decided that Peter Budaj would get the call in nets.  Not surprising as this is what Therrien has done all season with back-to-back games.  Though it did make me think twice as Budaj lifetime record against the Panthers is 1-4.  With Budaj’s record against Florida and the fact that Carey Price (and the rest of the team) was coming off a week rest would have made me start the number one goalie in an effort to get that important (standings wise) win.

Through their first 40 games of the season the 1st period has not been a good one for the Panthers.  They have only scored 18 goals in the 1st this season.  So of course, Florida opened the scoring in the game at the 6:10 mark of the 1st period.  Andrei Markov got caught up the ice on the goal leading to an odd-man rush for Florida.  Tomas Fleischmann led the break with Dmitry Kulikov joining in the 3-on-Alexei Emelin.  Kulikov, who hadn’t scored in 28 games, hung a little back and Fleischmann deftly played the puck over to him.  Before Budaj could get from one side of the net to the other Kulikov unleashed a precise wrist shot that bulged the twine for his 2nd goal of the season.

Montreal thought they had tied up the game late in the 1st period on a Rene Bourque goal.  Bourque was back on a line with Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec.  The goal was called back because it was judged that Gionta had touched the puck with his stick higher than his shoulders at the Florida blue line.  This was not the only time the Canadiens had a goal called back, but more about that later.

The bleu-blanc-rouge did tally a goal that counted early in the 2nd period.  The 4th line has been playing well over the past couple of games and as such Therrien was rewarding them with more ice time.  They paid him back by not only providing the team with some rare energy, but chipping in a goal to briefly tie the game.  Brandon Prust scored his 4th of the season with helpers going to Francis Bouillon and Raphael Diaz.

The tie did not even last two minutes as Brian Campbell scored a goal to give Florida a lead they would never relinquish.  The pairing of Emelin and Markov allowed Campbell too much space to enter the zone and unleash a shot on Budaj.  Budaj was off balance when he made the save on the Campbell shot.  It bounced up and over his head and then found its way into the net.  Not pretty, but a goal is a goal.  The impressive 18-year-old Aleksander Barkov doubled Florida’s lead at 14:29.  Tom Gilbert was really the man behind this goal as Barkov just had to redirect his smart pass.

With the score 3-1 for Florida Montreal thought they had reduced the lead to a single goal at 7:23 of the 3rd.  Daniel Brière backhanded a rebound into an empty net during a scramble in front of the Florida goal.  The referee blew it off immediately ruling that Alex Galchenyuk had interfered with Scott Clemmensen.  It was not goalie interference that warranted a penalty as Galchenyuk had been pushed into Clemmensen by a Panther defender, but not a goal.  Therrien was furious, but that was probably mostly due to his team’s weak game.

In desperation the coach pulled Budaj with 1:53 remaining in the game.  Montreal’s best chance came with 30 seconds remaining in the game.  Clemmensen came up with a sparkling save off Galchenyuk to shut the door on any glimmer of hope.  Florida then put insult on top of injury when Sean Bergenheim scored in the empty net with 17 seconds left in the game.  A defeat and worse it was a flat effort for a team that has not shown up too often lately.

Besides the lack of jump despite coming off an extended time off, there were a few things that worried me about the Habs.  It is games like this that makes me wonder about Max Pacioretty.  Not only was he -2 in the game but he made no impact offensively.  Through the first two periods he did not even register a shot on net.  I guess the fact that in the game against Tampa the night before he lost two teeth and received 21 stitches in the mouth area could give him a pass if this was a rarity, but it seems to be a pattern this season.  Yes, goal scorers are streaky, but he does not even look interested at times.  Something to keep an eye on for Montreal fans.

Over the course of this road trip Montreal’s power play had not been faring well.  Montreal has gone 0 for its last 11 power plays on the road.  They had a couple of opportunities with the man advantage, but it did not become unstuck.  This despite the fact that Florida is the worst team in the league on the penalty kill.  They have to figure out a way to make it less predictable and start making teams pay for taking penalties against them.

Another worrisome aspect of the game was the defensive pairing of Markov and Emelin.  When Montreal was going through a losing streak a while back Therrien had broken up the successful Markov and PK Subban pairing and in order to evenly distribute the offense from the back had put Subban with Josh Gorges and Markov with Emelin.  They have been together for half dozen games or so and it is not working.  Emelin has been especially awful.  Last night the pair was a combined -7.  In their 3rd period when Montreal was trying to score some goals they reunited Markov and Subban.  While it did not result in any goals it is something Therrien should think about.

The road trip continues as Montreal’s next game is in Raleigh, North Carolina against the Carolina Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees – Frederick L’Ecuyer and Kevin Pollack

Linesmen – Derek Amell and Tony Sericolo

-Goals:  1st Period:

6:10:  Florida – Dmitry Kulikov assisted by Tomas Fleischmann

2nd Period:

2:56:  Montreal – Brandon Prust assisted by Francis Bouillon and Raphael Diaz

4:51:   Florida – Brian Campbell assisted by Tom Gilbert and Brad Boyes

14:29:  Florida – Aleksander Barkov assisted by Tom Gilbert and Brad Boyes

3rd Period:

19:43:  Florida – (en)  Sean Bergenheim assisted by Brian Campbell

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal – 22

Florida – 25

-3 Stars:  1)  Aleksander Barkov – Florida

2)  Tom Gilbert – Florida

3)  Brad Boyes – Florida

-Attendance:  19,891

-Final Score:  Montreal – 1

Florida – 4

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