The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the game with the NHL’s best power play. The Canadiens had the league’s worst penalty killing.
Special teams weren’t the only things separating the two teams Saturday night but the Penguins three power play goals turned out to be the difference in their 5-2 win.
But give them credit. The Canadiens put in another full effort. They fell behind 3-1 early, made it 3-2 late in the first and then held Pittsburgh off the scoresheet in the second before their power play took over in the third.
Talent, or lack of it, continues to be the issue.
The Canadiens simply haven’t been able to beat the league’s better teams.. They’ve won only five of their last 24 games. All five of those wins have come against teams that are not currently in a playoff position.
There has been a lot of talk about Brendan Gallagher being the Canadiens next captain should Max Pacioretty be traded. Shea Weber fans might argue the point but there’s no question that Gallagher, with both Pacioretty and Weber out with injuries, Gallagher has taken over the team’s on-ice leadership.
Late in the first period of a meaningless late season game and the Canadiens killing a penalty, Gallagher awkwardly put his body on the line to block an Olli Maatta shot. It hit him near the knee and he limped off the ice only to return for his next shift. We’ve been seeing a lot of that even after the Canadiens were officially eliminated from the playoffs a couple of weeks ago.
Gallagher has already stated that he’s too banged up to take part in the World Championships next month. Not banged up enough apparently to prevent him from taking one for the team in game 78 of a meaningless season. He finished the game with two more assists.
I like some of the things Jonathan Drouin brings to the Canadiens and I’m convinced that in two or three years nobody is going to question the deal that brought him to the Canadiens. I’m presuming that by then the Canadiens will have given up the idea of making a centreman out of him. After a five game stretch during which he was winning more faceoffs than he was losing, he totally crashed in Pittsburgh. At the end of the night he won only 2 of 17 attempts – 12%; including going 0-for-11 against Sidney Crosby. He did score a nice goal late in the first period though.
….We’ve seen better nights from Antti Niemi. It’s not that he was horrible but he had issues on rebounds throughout the game. He also had some problems with his catching glove. And what turned out to be the winning goal was scored from behind the goal line off his back.
….Among the kids, I thought Noah Juulsen had a pretty good night. Same with Brett Lernout who used his size to advantage in recording six hits.
….Mike McCarron took a bad penalty in the first period which led to the first Pittsburgh power play goal but in his ten minutes of ice time he was at least throwing his weight around, which is the only way he’s ever going to stay in the NHL.
…..For the 16th time this season the Canadiens gave up two goals in less than a minute – actually 37 seconds apart. Between the two of them, McCarron picked up his penalty.
….Not much seen of the Canadiens third line outside of Logan Shaw. Nikita Scherbak and Charles Hudon were competely shut down. Shaw also had six hits to share the game lead with Lernout.
….Just before each of the Penguins third period power play goals, the Canadiens had shorthanded breakaways. Artturi Lehkonen fanned on his shot attempt. Byron’s backhand attempt was stopped by Matt Murray.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Canadiens loss to the Penguins combined with Vancouver’s overtime win over Columbus dropped the Canadiens down to 28th in the league. That converts to 4th in the draft lottery. From third through 6th, the odds of winning the lottery and the first round pick hover around 10 percent. If the Canadiens were to stay fourth in the lottery they could draft no worse than 7th overall. As we saw in this game, the last thing on the players minds is their draft position. Most of the rest of us are.
The second half of the weekend doubleheader and a rare Sunday night game at the Bell Centre with New Jersey in town. Then it’s the final home game of the season Tuesday against Winnipeg. Only four games left.