The Montreal Canadiens put forth a solid road effort at home in front of 21,273 fans at the Bell Centre. Goals by Mathieu Darche, Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammaleri powered les bleu, blanc et rouge to a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. Tight defensive play, inopportune bounces and a sparkling 26-save effort by goaltender Carey Price kept the Sharks from stringing together their first back-to-back road wins since October 30th.
After emotional games against the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators, the Sharks tried to compose themselves early against the 2nd best defense in the NHL. Unlike the Jaroslav Halak led 2009-10 Montreal Canadiens who sneaked past the New York Rangers by a point for the 8th and final playoff spot, the Carey Price led 2010-11 Canadiens are a disciplined squad battling for first place in the league at the one-third pole. At 12-8-4 heading into the Saturday night, the Sharks are off to their slowest start since the lockout. Injuries and inconsistent play has the San Jose V8 offensive engine firing on only 5-6 cylinders on many nights, but captain Joe Thornton told Hockey Night in Canada during intermission that the battle for consistency is an endemic problem around the league. In the Sharks particular circumstance, “Later on in periods, later on in games, we are not putting teams away,” he said.
After a slow start, the Sharks started picking up the pace later in the first period eventually outshooting Montreal 10-4. Six minutes in, a Sharks dump into the offensive zone deflected off the skate of referee Ian Walsh and created an odd man rush for Montreal in the other direction. Instead of Mayers carrying the puck low into the corner, Hall Gill jumped on the loose puck and fired a breakout pass to Benoit Pouliot up ice. The Sharks had disasterous luck with officiating, bad bounces and missed calls in November, and this is not the first time in the last few weeks a referee should be credited with an assist on an opponent’s goal. Pouliot slid a short backhand feed to a slashing Mathieu Darche, who scored far side on goaltender Antti Niemi. Darche played 2 games for the Sharks in 2006-07, and 76 games with the AHL affiliate Worcester Sharks before moving on to Tampa Bay and then Montreal.
“We made enough mistakes to allow 3 goals, but you have to give Montreal credit,” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said after the game. “They earned those three goals. We weren’t overwhelmed by their offense, but there was enough of it for them to get the win.” McLellan praised the Montreal defense that tightened up in their own zone in the final two periods, and the play of goaltender Carey Price. “At the other end of the rink, we knew they were a very good defensive team, and probably the best goaltender in the league right now. You have to score more than one.”
After one of their most complete performances of the season against Ottawa, Todd McLellan said he needed more from a handful of players on both sides of the ice. “We have some key people I don’t think skated real well,” McLellan said reiterating a point he has already made several more times this season than he made in his first two years coaching the San Jose Sharks combined. “When you play against a top defensive team, when you play against a top goaltender, those players have to be there.” McLellan has been quick to get in front of criticism for players in the past, but if shift to shift intensity continues to be a problem moving forward he may have to name names.
One line that was clicking for San Jose Saturday afternoon was the newly configured line of Logan Couture, Benn Ferriero and Ryane Clowe. Ferriero has 3 goals and an assist since his second callup up from Worcester November 27th. Along with McCarthy, McGinn and Mitchell, Ferriero is a depth forward who can list hockey sense and intellegence along with his other on-ice strengths. Ferriero released a quick shot short side for his third goal of the season at 13:04, assisted by Logan Couture. It was the only goal the Sharks would score on the night.
The Sharks did not make a number of mistakes, but those that were made were quickly deposited into the back of the net. With three rookie defenseman starting due to injuries, Todd McLellan said overcoming occasional mistakes was built into the Sharks gameplan. Tomas Plekanec took advantage of Jamie McGinn 13:58 into the second period. After McGinn fell down trying to check Plekanec against the wall, the Montreal center cut to the center of the ice as defenseman Douglas Murray and Justin Braun came back. Taking an angle out in front of the crease away from the backchecking defenseman, Plekanec buried a shot against the grain.
Another turnover late in a shift set up Mike Cammalleri for the final goal in the third period. After defenseman Roman Hamrlik blocked a Justin Braun backhand dump-in attempt, he narrowly beat Joe Thornton to the loose puck at center ice. With a strong backcheck by Thornton, Hamrlik was forced to take a low percentage shot to Niemi’s left, and a quick rebound attempt. Douglas Murray and Justin Braun failed to see Mike Cammalleri, and the former Los Angeles King skated in from behind to punch it home.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price stopped 26 of 27 shots against for his 9th win in the last 12 games. Price is 5th in the NHL with a 1.96GAA, leads the NHL with 16 wins, is 3rd in the NHL with a .935SV%, is tied with Henrik Lundqvist for 2nd in the league with 4 shutouts, and has faced more shots (751) than every goaltender save for Jonas Hiller (754). Impressive, although Price has played 147 more minutes than Hiller demonstrating the quality of the defensive play in front of him. A HNIC source noted that the decision to keep Carey Price over playoff darling Jaroslav Halak was an organization-wide decision, something that is far easier to say after the fact. For his part, San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi played well enough to earn the win but for the 6th time this season he has received 2 goals or less in offensive support. The Sharks finished 0-2 on the power play, and did not take a penalty during the game. The Montreal Canadiens registered twice as many blocked shots as San Jose (23-11), but committed four times as many turnovers (16-4). Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, Jason Demers and Devin Setoguchi were scratched for San Jose. P.K. Subban and Dustin Boyd were scratched for Montreal. At 12-9-4, the Sharks are in last place in the Pacific division, 5 points behind the Dallas Stars.
[Update] Audio/photos from the game available via Habs Inside Out.
[Update2] Plekanec leads Habs over Sharks – Pat Hickey for the Montreal Gazette.
Goaltender Carey Price made 26 saves and was named the first star of the game, but he was the first to admit that his teammates limited San Jose’s chances. The No. 1 defence pair of Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik was matched against the Sharks’ top line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and limited their chances. While they combined for five shots on goal, their scoring chances were limited to a slapshot by Heatley in the first period and a close-in opportunity for him in the third.
[Update3] About yesterday afternoon – Mike Boone for Habs Inside Out.
Doug Wilson, one of the NHL’s more astute general managers (but thanks for Josh Gorges and Max-Pac, Doug) drafts and acquires big, fast smart and talented hockey players. Todd McLellan, an alumnus of the Detroit organization, coaches them to contest every inch of the ice.
The result, when the game began, was relentless pressure in all three zones. I alluded, in Quick Hits, to time and space. This is the calculation a player with the puck must make: how much farther can I advance and how long can I wait before passing the puck?
San Jose’s suffocating style impeded the Canadiens progress up the ice and obliged them to make hasty, low-percentage passes.
[Update4] Habs jump on bounces to beat Sharks, Montreal gets goal in each period as Price grabs 16th win – CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.
[Update5] Demers and Wallin should return in Detroit — plus new linemates for Marleau, fourth line concerns – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.