Washington is a better hockey team than the Canadiens.
Much better. So losing to the Capitals Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre was not the worst thing to happen to the Montreal hockey club over the last two months.
Things might have been different in the 3-2 loss but for some sloppiness from the game officiating crew, the most egregious of which was a hooking call on Alexander Radulov early in the third period which handed the Capitals what turned out to be the game winning goal. They also missed an over-the-glass infraction by the Capitals, but the Canadiens power play was going nowhere in this game in any case.
Ultimately however, as most very good teams tend to do, the Capitals exposed most of the Canadiens weaknesses in a game was that was closer on the scoreboard than it was in reality.
Once again the Canadiens operated with one effective offensive line and from that line, Alexander Radulov was the game’s best player. He scored a goal, had one taken away from him after Max Pacioretty interfered with goaltender Braden Holtby. And he had the primary assist on Pacioretty’s goal. Twenty-three of Radulov’s 28 assists this season have been primary, a remarkable league-leading 81%.
LOST IN TRANSITION –
In the last week, four players have come off injury reserve to rejoin the team. At the same time, the transition game which has been the Canadiens main strength, has come off the rails. This is the second game in three days in which they had problems coming out of their own zone and maintaining possession through the neutral zone. The issue was glaringly evident in the loss at Philadelphia Thursday and while marginally better against Washington, it’s something that has to be addressed.
THE DREADED PENALTY KILL –
Five of the twelve goals scored against the Canadiens over the last five games have come on opponents power plays. Washington was 1-for-3 on the power play and this one turned out to be the game winning goal.
….Phillip Danault was hurt during a Canadiens power play midway through the third period and didn’t return. We won’t know how serious it is until early tomorrow.
….After Danault left, Alex Galchenyuk took over between Pacioretty and Radulov and the line functioned well through the three shifts they were together in the dying minutes. It was the first time Galchenyuk had shown signs of returning to form.
….Four of the Canadiens 22 shots came in the game’s final 3 ½ minutes as the Canadiens pressed for the tieing goal. It was the only time in the game the Canadiens mounted any sustained offensive pressure.
….From an individual standpoint, I like what I saw from Artturi Lehkonen, especially in the first period. Sven Andrighetto also had his moments.
….Radulov and Galchenyuk led the Canadiens with 3 shots each. Pacioretty scored on his only shot. He had five attempts blocked.
….Along with his goal, assist and 3 shots on goal, Radulov also led the Canadiens with five hits.
….While Canadiens penalty killing was again an issue, so was their power play. The Canadiens were 0-for-3 and managed only two shots in six minutes of power play time.
The Canadiens, at this writing are in sixth place in the overall league standings. Their record against the five teams ahead of them is 2-9-1 and they have been outscored 44-21. It’s a stark reminder of how much work the team has ahead of them.
LOOKING AHEAD –
…The Canadiens complete their Super Bowl weekend with the Edmonton Oilers Sunday at 1.00pm. The Oilers come to Montreal in a three game losing streak. The last time the Oilers were in Montreal was part of last year’s Super Bowl weekend. The Canadiens won the game 5-1 with Ben Scrivens in goal.