Friday, September 30, 2011

29/09/11: Tampa Bay 4, Montreal 0; at least there's only 1 left

Any Habs fans expecting a change in the team that had a 1-5-0 preseason record now that there were more veterans in the line-up were quite disappointed last night. It seems the team has not yet decided to flip the switch from preseason to the real thing... or at least, we hope that's all this slumping play is. After a solid first period, the game went way downhill with many players having nights they'd like to forget. The 4-0 score is generous, even, as two clear goals for the Lightning were not counted (Lecavalier's because whistle blew, and Pyatt's because the refs just missed it and there is no video review). We discuss some of the players' performances below.

Peter Budaj: When your team is shutout, blaming a goaltender seems like a cop-out, but Budaj has had a very poor preseason. After 'tending in the blowout loss to Boston in Halifax, Budaj looked weak on virtually every shot sent his way (not just the goals), seeming lost in his crease at times and having to search hard to find pucks. At this point, I have little confidence in him as a back-up, but hopefully he improves as the year goes on, working with Pierre Groulx while Carey Price starts the lion's share of games.

David Desharnais: I'll give him a break as it's his first game back from injury, but definitely not his night. Admittedly he looked good when the puck was on his stick in the offensive zone, showing some creativity and flare, but at every other time he was out of position on the ice with horrible defensive zone coverage. Needs to step it up or he's on the outs when Lars Eller is healthy.

Andrei Kostitsyn: Awful game, even worse than Desharnais. Threw his body around a bit in the third period which earned him a couple of points back, but horrible play in his own end, soft when on the puck, and didn't generate anything offensively.

Andreas Engqvist: The Habs depth at center becomes a problem because Engqvist is no looking like an NHL'er right now. Clearly he didn't help himself by adding much weight/muscle this summer, as despite his 6'4" frame, he looks very weak on the puck and is knocked over easily. He is fine on the penalty kill, but at this point I'd take Tom Pyatt back over him. Gabriel Dumont was far better, but the Habs want a righty and some size so Engqvist stuck around instead.

Max Pacioretty: A few chances, but overall perhaps his worst performance of the preseason. Stayed to the perimeter far too much to be effective, committed a number of giveaways. Couldn't finish around the net, pushed out of position too easily.

Mike Cammalleri: Probably the Habs most dangerous forward on the evening. Unfortunately had hands of stone, missing empty nets and hitting goal posts. Cammy has looked quick and slick in preseason and seems poised for a good year.

Tomas Plekanec / Brian Gionta: I'll lump these two together for their highly unimpressive preseasons. Mostly invisible, lack of intensity, sleepwalking through to October. That's not a problem so long as they're ready for game 1 of 82.

Scott Gomez: Perhaps the second best forward for the Canadiens, but lacked in creativity with the puck. Seemed to try the same play over and over again in the offensive zone, with a bank pass off Dwayne Roloson's pads, but it almost clicked a few times, so not a bad night.

Erik Cole: I'd lump Cole with Cammalleri and Gomez in the "forwards who actually played well" category. Goes to the traffic areas where he needs to be, tries to deflect shots. He has also shown throughout preseason a knack at stealing the puck off players skating up ice. His ability at creating turnovers will be valuable on a smaller team like the Habs.

P.K. Subban: The good and bad of P.K. were on display, as he weaved his magic with the puck in dancing through the neutral zone a few times, but was also caught out of position a lot. Looks like he needs one more season of babysitting with a defensively responsible blueliner like Hal Gill.

Alexei Yemelin: Horrible start to the game, but got better as it went on. Subban is not the ideal partner for him as he isn't ready to cover for a partner's pinches or miscues. Known as a punishing, "dirty" defenseman, his physicality has been missing for most of preseason. He came to camp laying out big hits in the first day's scrimmage, but has completely toned it down ever since. The only plausible explanation is that someone on the coaching staff had a chat with him about focusing more on positioning than hitting, but it is severely hurting his game. When he improved in the third, it's because he was starting to take the body again.

Raphael Diaz: Looks to be ahead of Yemelin for the 6th spot on D. Has weaknesses in his own end, but showed good smarts in moving the puck, a strong first pass, and creativity in the offensive zone.

Brendan Gallagher: Good first period, but disappeared after that. Was very neutralized by bigger, experience Lightning players. Even Marc-Andre Bergeron completely rubbed him out along the boards on one play. His inexperienced showed on this night, but I don't know that it hurt his chances given the awful play of Desharnais and Kostitsyn. And honestly, with how badly the Habs have performed in preseason, I don't think they can afford to cut a guy who has consistently been one of their top forwards. Should get a 9-game trial just to bring some enthusiasm and energy to the group.

Josh Gorges: The Habs best d-man on this night. Looks like his old self, and survived a scare when Ryan Malone fell awkwardly on his right knee. Skated to the bench gingerly, but didn't even miss a shift, right back out there only seconds or minutes later.

Chris Campoli: He looked good for a first game. Certainly not a shutdown guy, but he's a good skater and moves the puck well. Fired some good shots at the net. Seems like a nice addition while the inexperienced players like Yemelin and Diaz adjust and develop.

And so that's it. We've got only one more game before the eternal optimists and apologists can tell us to "stop complaining because it's only preseason!" Hopefully they show up stronger on Saturday to give us some confidence for the season opener in Toronto.

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