Daily Hab-it: A sense of occasion
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, from Finland, stops a puck deflected by Montreal Canadiens' Michael Cammalleri during third period NHL hockey action Thursday, November 18, 2010 in Montreal. The Predators shutout the Canadiens 3-0. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Published Thursday, November 18, 2010 11:59PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:11AM EDT
If there is one characteristic the Canadiens have shown over the past season and a quarter, it's that they play to the level of their competition.
Over the past week the Canadiens faced a red-hot Vancouver Canucks team and shut them out, handled a strong Boston Bruins club, blew out a Carolina Hurricanes team that always plays them tough and finally shutout an equally hot Philadelphia Flyers team.
So, when faced with a reeling Nashville Predators, one that hadn't won a game in regulation since Oct. 24 and blew a three-goal lead to the hapless Leafs in their last game, it appeared the Canadiens would be in for an easy night.
Unfortunately, the players seemed to think the same thing.
Coach Jacques Martin was not a happy fellow after the 3-0 loss, one that had 21,273 at the Bell Centre sleeping in their chairs, one that had Nashville coach Barry Trotz beaming with pride.
"I can accept losing when we have a strong effort, but we weren't good enough in a number of areas," Martin said. "It wasn't a matter of X's and O's, it was a matter of a lack of intensity to win our battles."
Martin was so enraged, he called out his best players and though he didn't do it by name, he was clearly referring to Tomas Plekanec, Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.
"Our support staff did their job," Martin said. "It was our better players that weren't good enough, just look at the plus-minus."
When you look at the plus-minus, you see Plekanec with a minus-3, the same for Cammalleri and a minus-2 on Gionta. So, the message was pretty clear.
It figures Plekanec would put together his only stinker of the year on the same day I write this glowing story about him for NHL.com, but you would think he would earn a bit of a reprieve from the coach after he's been the most consistent player on the team all season.
And that's fair – bonne guerre as they say – because when you are clearly identified as the team's top player you are expected to try night after night. And on this night, it looked like Plekanec and his linemates weren't trying.
"We had some disappointed people in this room with the way we played tonight," Cammalleri said.
And speaking of not trying, the Scott Gomez situation is becoming more and more troubling by the game. We are now 19 games into the season and Gomez only has six points. Six.
He had some moments in this game on the power play, but at 5-on-5, he was invisible. His lethargy needs to change, and soon, or else it might grow into something far more serious and chronic.
Without an effective Gomez this team is extremely limited in what it can do offensively. At the very least, if Gomez provides some sort of a threat it forces teams to pay attention to him defensively. If not, all the defensive focus can centre on Plekanec, making his life more difficult.
Eller makes most of opportunity
The beneficiary of the lack of effort from the top guys was Lars Eller, who had perhaps his best game in a Canadiens uniform, at least in my eyes.
He drove the net, battled for loose pucks, created offensive pressure and was generally dangerous when he was on the ice.
In subjective terms, he played hard. Not too many of his teammates followed his lead.
"Lars used his speed," Martin said. "He's a young player that is gaining some experience."
Eller played 12:48 in the game, including 5:04 in the third, and finished with a team-high four hits, won six of nine faceoffs and had five shot attempts (though only one actually hit the net).
Weber is here, exactly why nobody knows
Finally, Martin addressed the call-up of Yannick Weber earlier in the day.
Weber arrived very late at the Bell Centre and therefore was not available to play, though there would be no reason for Martin to make a lineup change to accommodate him after a 3-0 beating of the Flyers in the last game.
Still, the Canadiens went 0-for-4 on the power play in the game, getting shutout after scoring at least once in four straight, so Weber's presence adds a weapon to remedy that situation.
"Yannick had a real good training camp, I liked his play in training camp," Martin said. "He's had a strong start in Hamilton. With the injury to Markov, he's a defenceman that's available to us."
So now you know.