Let me start by saying I actually agreed with the coaching decision to sit Carey Price and play Peter Budaj against the New York Islanders tonight.
Many fellow Habs fans on Twitter did not agree with this decision, taking another opportunity to make shots at Jacques Martin (whom which I dislike just as much as the next guy, by the way). Would these people have had a different opinion had Price not earned a shutout last night?
The decision to play Budaj or Price was more than likely made before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes even started. It didn’t matter to the coaching staff how the game ended; they had already made up their minds.
With two games in two nights and some tough matchups remaining this month (Rangers, Bruins, Hurricanes followed by back-to-back games against the Flyers and Penguins), giving Price a break was a smart move. He might be the saviour in Montreal, but the guy isn’t invincible; he needs a rest once in a while. That’s why we have a backup goaltender in the first place.
Onto the game itself, where the Habs fought back from a 3-0 deficit to ultimately lose 4-3 and the hands of the Islanders.
New York’s first goal of the game can solely be blamed on Budaj who attempted to play the puck behind the net and instead gift wrapped an early Christmas gift for Pierre-Alexandr Parenteau.
After playing a solid first period, the immediate “Pull Budaj” comments following the first goal he allowed were a bit much, to say the least. In my opinion, that would be the only goal of the game that he could take full blame for (let’s remember there are five players in front of him too).
The Islanders’ second goal, the first of the season for Jay Pandolfo, began with a 3-on-2 into Montreal’s defensive zone. Both Scott Gomez and Aaron Palushaj coasted into the zone, while Mathieu Darche came back hard and dove in attempts to break up the pass at the blue-line. Both Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz had their men covered leaving Pandolfo all alone in front.
Had Gomez or Palushaj actually skated hard to defend our zone, the goal may not have happened. Budaj was in position but stood no chance against the unprotected Pandolofo.
Mark Streit, who played for the bleu, blanc, rouge from 2005-2008, shovelled the Isles’ third goal passed Budaj on a Habs defensive error.
Emelin made a weak attempt to clear the zone, when he had all the time in the world to set up a play. Streit picked up the puck and brought it back over the blue-line then passed it in front when Travis Moen lightly bumped him. After getting around Moen, who barely put any pressure on him at all, he picked up the loose puck in front of Budaj and put it home.
You can argue it was a weak goal on Budaj’s fault but it started with two major weak plays by his teammates.
Max Pacioretty finally put the Habs on the score sheet late in the second with a snap shot that beat Rick DiPietro on a pass from Lars Eller who capitalized on an Islanders defensive error.
The game really started getting exciting when Erik Cole cut the lead to one as he roofed the puck over a sprawled DiPietro who couldn’t regain position.
Just as quickly as the Habs looked to be taking back control of the game, Matt Moulson gave the Islanders their safety goal back.
Once again, on a 3-on-2 into the Habs zone, Moulson fired a wrist shot, which may have deflected off P.K. Subban’s stick as he turned, that beat Budaj between the legs.
Brian Gionta would give the Habs a power-play goal in the third, with an assist going to Mike Cammalleri who put in a solid effort getting the puck to the net.
From this loss I leave with the feeling that the Habs need to work on their defensive zone coverage. The forwards are not supporting their defencemen enough through the neutral zone and behind the blue-line and it’s costing them odd man rushes leading to goals.
The Islanders, who are last in the Eastern Conference out shot the Canadiens 33-29 in the 4-3 victory.
On the plus side the Habs continue to have a strong penalty killing unit, defending three New York power plays tonight. They have not given up a short-handed goal in their last six games.
I also really enjoy seeing Subban, Gionta and Cammalleri together on the power play. They were able to capitalize just once, but their chemistry led to a few great chances on others.