Despite their 4-1-1 start I was always somewhat skeptical of these ‘rebuilt’ Canadiens. Not that they were as bad as they were last season, just that they were not as good as their early season indicated. Their speed and forecheck caught a few teams off-guard but NHL teams have a history of adjusting. And adjust they have. Over the last nine games the Canadiens are 4-4-1. Over that stretch we’ve seen good nights and bad nights marked by a mixture of youthful enthusiasm, game breaking mistakes and blown leads. We had all of that Tuesday night in the 5-3 loss at Madison Square Garden.
Every team in the league has somewhere between 13 and 15 sets of back-to-back games on it’s schedule. Saying you’re tired just doesn’t cut it. We’re hardly in the January dog-days portion of the schedule where fatigue can be a factor and traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan is hardly an onerous between-games rode trip. Although they weren’t playing all that well from the outset they still ran up a 3-1 lead in the game and simply couldn’t hold it. Too many mistakes and more than a few individual letdowns.
Jonathan Drouin is fast becoming the current version of Alex Kovalev. Love him one game, hate him the next.
Drouin was the Canadiens best player Monday night against the Islanders. Against the Rangers he was awful. His failures were multiple. He was bad on offence; equally bad on defence. It was early in the game, but Jeff Petry’s disgusted reaction after Drouin’s giveaway led to the Rangers first goal said volumes. His poor defensive work led to the Rangers tieing goal. And a fly-by allowed Mika Zibanejad to score the clinching fifth goal. He was minus-4 on the night. That can sometimes be deceptive. In this game it isn’t.
All things considered Carey Price was well short of extraordinary in this game. He was very good the first half of the game. Second half – not so good. Despite their 3-1 lead the Canadiens weren’t playing very well from the outset. In the first seven minutes he stopped two 2-on-1 Ranger breaks. The first Ranger goal was on another 2-on-1 after the Drouin giveaway. He let in four straight goals in the second half of the game. Three of the four were the result of poor play in front of him. What was missing were the those game-saving stops for which he became famous. Five goals-against on 32 shots. Price is now 5-4-2 to start the season with a quite ordinary 2.81 goals against average and .901 save%. Room for improvement.
I wasn’t really thrilled with the performance on the Jeff Petry/Jordie Benn pairing Monday night in Brooklyn. They were less exciting against the Rangers. The pair was on the ice for four of the five Ranger goals and six of the eight goals scored on the Canadiens in the two-game road trip. Something not quite functional about the pairing.
….Andrew Shaw played his best game of the season. In the early going he was quite often chasing the play. In this game he was initiating. Strong on the power play. Also penalty killing. And he won 8 of 14 faceoffs (57%).
….Artturi Lehkonen had his second goal of the season taken away from him Monday night after postgame review. Once again he was active defensively and worked well with Shaw on the penalty kill. He also impressed his coach and teammates by blocking a shot with his hand during a third period Ranger power play.
….Worst night of the season for Noah Juulsen. The most obvious moment came when he was caught flatfooted on the Neal Pionk end-to-end rush for the winning goal but he seemed to be out of sync all night.
….For the second time in twenty-four hours the Canadiens were caught with too many men late in the game. Overall the fourth time in fifteen games. Bench management seems to be a problem. At another point in the game they had only four players on the ice during a power play.
….The Canadiens did get a power play goal from Max Domi. In the other five opportunities they weren’t impressive. They had a four minute advantage in the second period while holding a 3-1 lead and did little to score what would have been a clinching goal. At one point during that sequence they had a five on three PP erased when Tatar was called for interference. Shortly after that the Rangers scored their second goal.
….On the other side, the Canadiens penalty killers were statistically perfect through 6 Ranger opportunities although the Rangers second goal came one second after a penalty to Danault expired. They have now officially killed off 22 of the last 23.
….Joel Armia suffered what looked like a knee injury in a second period leg on leg collision with Brendan Smith in the second period. He left the game and didn’t return causing Julien to juggle his lines in the third period.
Home again to face Buffalo Thursday night and Max Pacioretty and the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. They the Western Canada graveyard next week. Games in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.