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Cullen: Habs Face Rude Welcome From Penguins PP

Scott Cullen
5/1/2010 7:40:28 AM
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It's hard to believe that it was the same Montreal Canadiens in Game One against Pittsburgh that we had just seen in Game Seven against Washington a few nights ago.

The star of Montreal's first-round upset was goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who stopped a miraculous 131 of 134 shots to win the final three games of the series.  After stopping 15 of 20 Penguins shots, Halak was yanked early in the third period.  It's possible fatigue is a factor with him, but it should go without saying that Montreal has no chance without first-rate goaltending.

A Montreal penalty killing unit that had turned back the Capitals, the league's best power play, on 32 of 33 chances (97.0%) was victimized on all four Penguins power plays in Game One and that was the real difference in the game.  Ask the Vancouver Canucks what it's like when you can't stop the opposition on the power play -- it makes winning awfully difficult.

On top of all that, Montreal's best skater, Andrei Markov, was injured on a hit by Penguins winger Matt Cooke.  Reports suggest that Markov has a lower body injury, though there has been some speculation that his shoulder may have taken the brunt of the impact.

If Markov is indeed out of the lineup for any length of time, it's a crushing blow for the Canadiens, who were dramatically better with him in the lineup this season.

Montreal will have to hope that Jaroslav Spacek has recovered enough from his virus that he'll be able to play in Markov's absence and the Habs may need to live with some of the risks that come with playing rookie P.K. Subban heavy minutes.  After limited playing time in his first two games, Subban logged 19:40 in Game One against the Pens, scored a goal and was one of Montreal's more effective players.

There were some encouraging signs for the Canadiens. They outshot the Penguins 31-23, weren't overmatched in 5-on-5 play and the Penguins may have suffered a serious injury in their own right, as Staal's leg buckled underneath him after getting tied up with Subban. 

With Tyler Kennedy already out of the lineup, that is a significant absence as Pittsburgh's third line was one of the league's best two-way units this season.

It's possible to give the Canadiens some benefit of the doubt, just coming off a seven-game series against Washington, but they will need to be better going forward if they are going to present more of a challenge for the defending champion Penguins.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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