Saturday, November 28, 2015

Montreal Canadiens Conclude Week Long Siege of Metropolitan Area

From the desks of:  

Eastern Conference Standings:
#1 MON  18-4-2 (38)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
#2 NYR  16-5-2 (34)
#8 NYI  11-8-4 (26)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
#10 NJD  11-9-2 (24)

Les Habitants posent le siege a la region metropolitaine; distancent NY/NJ dans la ruine.

The Habs Lay Siege to the Metropolitan Area; Leave NY/NJ Behind in Ruins

While most Americans were busy preparing for, then partaking in our nation's annual Thanksgiving Holiday, les Habitants de Montreal sprung hockey's version of Tet (Offensive) into action against the NY/NJ metropolitan area member clubs.

Their week long siege of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Newark, concluded Friday evening with one last 3-2 shootout victory over the Devils at the Rock.

In truth, Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, and the Prudential Center all crumbled under Montreal's Godzilla-like rampage through downtown Tokyo.  The combined forces of the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are thus far 0-5 versus the Canadiens in November, and were outscored by a heavily tilted 24-9 margin.

Heading into Saturday's Devils/Canadiens game, an area team has yet to defeat the (now) Eastern Conference leading Montreal Canadiens.

Oct. 15 - MON 3; NYR 0
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Nov. 5 - MON 4; NYI 1
Nov. 20 - MON 5; NYI 3
Nov. 22 - MON 4; NYI 2
Nov. 25 - MON 5; NYR 1
Nov. 27 - MON 3; NJD 2 (so)
Nov. 28 - NYD @ MON

As of Friday night's final scores, the Montreal Canadiens lead the conference with 86 goals scored.   The Rangers are a distant 5th with 70; the Islanders 64 goals rank 6th, and the Devils 53 goals are 11th in the Eastern standings.

Defensively, the Rangers 47 goals allowed are still best in the NHL.  Montreal's 53 GA rank 4th; the Devils 55 GA are 6th, and the Islanders 57 GA are 7th in the Eastern Conference.

New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider Keeping Newark Within a Pitchfork's Distance of Top Eight.
The Great White North

With little question, Cory Schneider is the lead story in the Devils .500 start this season. Were it not for Schneider's play, where would New Jersey be other than much lower in the Eastern Conference standings?

For the moment, there are four NHL goalies with at least 17 starts: Cory Schneider, Henrik Lundqvist, Ben Bishop, and Braden Holtby.

Newark is playing representative defense, as Schneider has faced the second fewest shots, is second with a .927 Sv% among the four aforementioned goalies, while his and Henrik Lundqvist's 2.05 GAA average rank tied for 3rd.

The Devils obviously lack in the scoring department, which doesn't forecast to be changing much as the season progresses.  New Jersey is averaging the least shots on goal per game in the league.

Adam Henrique, now the seasoned vet, leads the team with 10 goals.  Winger Mike Cammalleri leads with 22 points.

  • Patrick Elias made his first appearance of the season against the Florida Panthers Friday, and after a change in scoring, he was credited with the 612th ever assist career, giving the Devils all-time points leader 1,018 for his career.

The Devils were the only team of the three locals able of taking the Canadiens beyond regulation time.  While that's no consolation, New Jersey did expose some chinks in Montreal's amour and gained a point.  Losing in shootout was just plain unfortunate, and should be taken as a failed opportunity to at least tie idle (#9) Tampa with 25-points.

And so begins life under a new regime.  Head coach John Hayse is an AHL promotion, while Ray Shero, whom constructed a Cup winner in Pittsburgh, assumed GM and Vice Presidential duties from the departed Lou Lamoriello.

It's still too early in their respective tenures for them to impact this team.  Instead, certain players should bet they're being evaluated very closely - maybe Adam Larrson among them. Otherwise, Patrik Elias will be moving on after the season.  The face of the Devils will begin changing in earnest either at the trade deadline, or next off-season for sure.

There's certainly several teams behind them in the standings that should not be underestimated.   Florida and Columbus might interfere with even the best laid plans of clinching the 8th seed.  But, Tampa, NYI. etc., will factor plenty as well.

The Devils, in other words, have no margin for error.  In a sense, not much has changed, then.  They have no star player to speak of, and must rely on a highly disciplined system in order to get by.

The Canadiens and Devils will finalize their home-and-home engagement north of the border on Saturday.

New York Islanders: Flatbush Itching for a Fight?
Sunny Hot Florida

Just as the New York Rangers and Devils learned, Montreal is fast turning into the Eastern Conference team of all measure.

The Islanders are already 0-3 against them this month alone.  They fell 4-1 in Montreal on Nov. 4, then dropped a home and home against the Habs just prior to hosting, and defeating the Flyers 3-1 on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve.

But, to hear Casey Cizikas put it, you'd think the Islanders arrived upon the Rubicon.

As the 3rd period against the Flyers devolved into typical mayhem, fists flew as one could expect.   But, Cizikas (as per Thurday's Newsday/Laura Albanese) thought -

"that's exactly what we needed.  A good, hard game like that ... They're fun.  When they get testy like that, when they get physical like that.."

Despite losing in a shootout at Sunrise, Florida, against the Panthers Friday night, the Islanders brought that same fighting spirit with them, and employed their hands once things got chippy for a second straight game.

When the Islanders play aggressively, and utilize their size and physicality effectively, the Islanders play their best hockey - Friday's outcome withstanding.

They're starting to feel good about themselves ... Clutterbuck, Martin, and Cizikas that is - which spells trouble for any team.

Under those circumstances, Jarolsav Halak could, and really should play well enough for them.  He's only made 12 starts so far (and therefore was not included in my previously sampled goalie comparison).  He's pitched two shutouts, with a .921 Sv%, while a 2.03 GAA puts him right there with Schneider and Lundqvist.

The newly transplanted Brooklynites seemingly tightened up their defense this year, particularly on the penalty kill.  They are presently 11th best, which as Isles fans know is a marked improvement over previous seasons, when they routinely averaged among the league's bottom tier PKs.

Ponderous, however, has been their inability to consistently score on the power play this season - which has traditionally been their strength in previous seasons.  To date, the Islanders are 24th on the power play.

The Islanders play Tampa and Colorado before they welcome the New York Rangers to Brooklyn, in what will undoubtedly start the next chapter of their long running rivalry.

Now it's Borough against Borough - or maybe it will build up to that over time, as Long Islanders are the one's largely attending games during this early going.  Expect hoards of Rangers fans in the building as well.

This intra-city situation has a way to go before getting ironed out.

New York Rangers: Some Things Just Never Change...
33rd Street and 8th Avenue

Fellow Rangers fans, I want you (us) to consider what (NYI) Casey Cizikas said for a second.


Now I want you to consider the hit Boston's Matt Belesky put on Derek Stepan Friday afternoon.

Matt Belesky is a marginal NHL player at best, whom enjoyed one decent season last year with the Ducks - perhaps the product of being on a good team, aye?  Although he does not usually go about the ice accumulating an obscene amount of brutish penalty minutes, his hit on Stepan was nevertheless a gross disregard of common sense.  Avoiding that play is constantly being drilled into player's minds.   It's outright dangerous.

Derek Stepan is now out indefinitely with several broken ribs.   Seems like a fair trade-off, right?


We know teams have freely taken their liberties against the Rangers for several years now, because they're generally secure in the fact there will be no reprisals.

Enter Dylan McIlrath, whom followed the play and proceeded to throw Matt (marginal player) Belesky a beating.

Thank you Dylan McIlrath!  That's the kind of element that makes other teams think twice about taking runs at your mates, or goalies for that matter.

But therein lies the physical player Alain Vigneault has no use for.  McIlrath has only played in five games, and has accumulated 17 penalty minutes, most of which came Friday.  Are there deficiencies in his game?  Sure.  But, I'd argue he needs playing time.  In return I would ask if his physical presence on the ice is becoming more critical by the day?  And to that I say unhesitatingly, absolutely, resoundingly, yes.

In fact, I find this whole start disturbing.  Pretty crazy to say considering the Rangers are third in all the NHL with 34 points.  But is it really, after the way they played Montreal on Nov. 25th?  I don't think so.  What was supposed to be a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy, instead turned into the Rangers poorest performance of the season.  One bad line change very early on got Montreal started, while the Rangers night just continued deteriorating.

In two games against the Canadiens to date, the Rangers are 0-2, and have been outscored by a commanding 8-1 margin.

Next item...  Time to start keeping tabs on Henrik's playing time.  He's been brilliant thus far, as usual.  The soon to be 34-year old, is arguably enjoying one of his best seasons, and is easily carrying the team.

Prior to Friday's disappointing loss against in Boston, Henrik was leading the league with 542 saves made, a .939 Sv%, and a 1.94 GAA.

Henrik Lundqvist is now tied for the league lead with 19 starts entering Saturday's action.  He also leads the league with 611 shots against.  He's the only goalie in the league above the 600 mark.   There's many reasons for that, which I'll get into another time.  Ottawa's Craig Anderson is second with 588 SA.

We're basically talking about an untenable situation over the long haul of the season, and we're only one-quarter of the way through.

Defensively, the Rangers have given up the third most shots on goal.  It is what it is - Rangers defensemen do not have enough physical presence, and as a result, fail to clear traffic effectively.   They rely on positioning, stick work, and anything but moving bodies around.

Offensively, this also means the Rangers aren't spending nearly enough time in their own zone.  It's usually one shot and done, then back the other way.  They've only taken the 20th most shots on goal.

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