February 06 2014 10:18PM
It's usually disingenuous to label a matchup between two teams as "PLAYER A VS. PLAYER B" especially when those two players are goaltenders, but since we are just days away from the beginning of the Sochi Olympics, the allure of billing Vancouver-Montreal as Luongo vs. Price for Canada's starting job was all the more tempting. As it turns out, the head-to-head goaltending battle never really materialized as Max Pacioretty and the Canucks' hilarious defence stole the show in a 5-2 Canucks loss to the Habs.
For a recap of tonight's events and a look at the root of some of Vancouver's recent troubles, read past the jump.
As expected in a matchup between the 23rd and 24th highest scoring teams in the NHL, the game didn't exactly get off to a brisk and exciting start. There was a lot of chip-and-chase and neutral zone play, resulting in a whole lot of nothing early on. Ex-Canuck-turned-
analystCanadien Dale Weise actually had the best chance early, as Weise pushed his way by Raphael Diaz to shovel a backhand on Roberto Luongo, who turned him aside.
Montreal would get on the board first however, as Jason Garrison blocked a P.K. Subban powerplay slapper that deflected right back to Subban. The superstar defender then wristed a shot on net which deflected off the knee of Max Pacioretty and by Luongo to make the score 1-0 for the home side.
Then, just over a minute later (side note: why does it feel like every time I write one of these, I end up writing the phrase "the opponents added to their lead seconds later.") Montreal's vaunted fourth line that isn't really vaunted at all went to work, as the aforementioned Weise threw a puck on net, Michael Bournival kicked the puck out of Luongo's hands and right to Ryan White who went backhand shelf for his first goal of the season. Now, have a look at the screenshot of this goal:
That's Alex Edler and Raphael Diaz gang-tackling Bournival right into Luongo. I give Diaz a bit of a pass on this one since that's his guy and all, but I'm not quite sure what Edler's doing. Maybe he sees Diaz's diminuitive frame and was like "DON'T WORRY LITTLE BUDDY I GOT THIS," but really that's an awful breakdown. I mean, there are only two Habs in screen, so it shouldn't be that hard to figure out that no one should be uncovered enough to have the time and space to pull the puck forehand to backhand and pick the top corner.
Alex Edler probably had "The Most Alex Edler Game Ever" tonight, truth be told. He was unstoppable at both ends of the ice, finishing with a goal, an own goal, a couple of massive misreads, a game high eight shots and fourteen(!) shot attempts, +10 5v5 Corsi and a -3 +/-.
Vancouver finished the 1st down 2-0, but started the 2nd period with back-to-back powerplays. There was nothing doing on the first opportunity, but shortly after Roberto Luongo robbed Brandon Prust on a shorthanded 2-on-1, Chris Higgins redirected a soft Jason Garrison shot past Carey Price to cut Montreal's lead to 2-1:
After this, the play appeared to be tilting in Vancouver's favour, but Max Pacioretty made his second major appearance of the night. Catching the Vancouver defence flat-footed, he was sprung on a partial break but was fouled by the Vancouver defender, earning himself a penalty shot. Thankfully Roberto Luongo was up to the task, turning Montreal's best forward away to keep the score 2-1.
After this, the play appeared to be tilting in Vancouver's favour, but Max Pacioretty made his
second third major appearance of the night. Catching the Vancouver defence flat-footed, he was sprung on a partial break but was fouled by the Vancouver defender, earning himself a penalty shot. Thankfully Roberto Luongo was up to the task, turning Montreal's best forward away to keep the score 2-1.
Yes, the same thing happened twice:
Thanks to Luongo's heroics (and Pacioretty's lame penalty shot skills), Vancouver was within just one goal going in to the 3rd period. But Max Pacioretty would totally redeem himself, scoring to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead just 5 minutes in to the 3rd period. Once more, I would like to draw your attention to the defensive zone coverage on this goal:
My favourite part of this and the first screenshot is Zack Kassian standing in good position to watch himself get hung with a minus on both occasions thanks to a clusterbum around Vancouver's net. My least favourite part of these screenshots is that these are the Canucks. Well, really these are the Utica Comets wearing Canucks uniforms, but they don't withhold losses because your team has too many boo-boos.
As if a 2-goal 3rd period defecit wasn't insurmountable enough for Vancouver these days, Alex Edler's Most Alex Edler Night Ever continued as he kicked a Tomas Plekanec shot off a 2-on-1 into his own net, bringing the score to 4-1 for the Habs. Edler would kind-of-but-not-really atone for his gaffe by scoring a goal of his own, on the powerplay nonetheless, with roughly seven and a half minutes to go:
Vancouver controlled most of the play in the 3rd, but by that time it was all score effect induced. Vancouver would come no closer, and Max Pacioretty would add the empty netter for the rare hat-trick despite missing two penalty shots, helping Montreal to the 5-2 win.
Courtesy ExtraSkater.com but you know that by now.
There's not really a lot to discuss about the game tonight as it's the same old song and dance. Can't score early, give up a couple of quick goals, watch the score effects kick in. If you're really looking for positives, Vancouver carried a 61% 5v5 Fenwick Close tonight, but we need to wait until they string a few games together at that level before we declare "their possession game is back rounding in to form!" Also, Montreal is awful at the Fenwicks so there's that little thing too.
No, what I really want to discuss is the performance of Yann Sauve and Frank Corrado. As you probably know from Josh's weekly prospect reports, the Utica Comets are a terrible hockey team, and Corrado and Sauve haven't exactly been standouts on a blueline that has struggled handling AHL opposition. Well, it's showing at the NHL level. Through 10 games, Corrado is 243rd out of 257 NHL defencemen in 5v5 Corsi%. He has started above 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone, faced the easiest minutes of all Canucks defensemen, and the 6th worst competition in the entire league. He is getting crushed.
And Yann Sauve has been just as bad, if not worse. Although 3 games are an extremely small sample to draw from, Sauve's 36.5% Corsi would rank him dead last in the NHL. By comparison, John Scott manages to carry a 40.5% Corsi. The rookie pairing is by far and away the weakest part of Vancouver's lineup, and they're getting just killed. 40% is kind of the "Mendoza Line" of hockey, and if you can't crack that over a full NHL season, chances are you never see a shift in the league again.
The good news is that Vancouver basically has an entire above-average NHL defense corps sitting out with injuries right now, so Sauve and Corrado aren't in the long-term plans and will presumably be buried far down the depth chart once Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts and Yannick Weber all return to action. Should they all miss extended time down the stretch though, Vancouver will probably miss the playoffs all together.
Good morning from Sochi! You know the Canucks' season has gone sideways when, hey, at least the Jets lost.— Jason Brough (@JasonPHT) February 7, 2014
The last game before the Olympic break is Saturday night in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada against the Leafs, so get ready for a deluge of "oh, what happened to the Canucks??" stories, when the truth is that half the roster is on the IR and they're basically a bad AHL team right now beyond the top-6 F and top-4 D. Also, Vancouver hasn't lost to Toronto in 9 years, so maybe the Leafs are just what the ailing Canucks need to get themselves a win here. Whatever happens, we'll see you Saturday.