Calling it a “statement game” had become something of a hockey cliché in recent years. Call Saturday night’s more of a “measurement game”. And the Canadiens didn’t measure up against the Nashville Predators.
Not that we should be surprised. The Canadiens, who are trying to establish themselves as a wild card team in the East were playing a team that is on the short list of Stanley Cup favourites.
Compounding the problem was the lack of mental preparedness on the part of the Canadiens. They were dominated in the first period and fell into a 2-0 hole against one of, if not the best defence in the NHL. With the lead the Predators were able to dictate the game and they did it convincingly. By standing up at centre ice the Nashville defence took away most of the Canadiens transition and speed.
Call it a saw-off. Shea Weber logged 24:52 and scored his sixth goal of the season, a goal that briefly got the Canadiens back in the game at 2-1. He also gave us the check of the night on the Predators’ Rocco Grimaldi.
P.K. Subban assisted on the Predators first and third goals but was limited to 14:45, the fourth fewest minutes among Nashville’s defensemen. Like Weber, Subban is coming back from injury. It was his sixth game since his return.
The Canadiens defence had a tough night. Part of the problem could be attributable to a lack of help from the forwards, but there were moments when the second and third pairings seemed to be hesitant and not operating on the same page. Brett Kulak and Jordie Benn were completely out to lunch on the sequence that created the third Nashville goal which came only 18 seconds after Weber had narrowed it to 2-1.
There were calls from the Canadiens bench that goaltender interference should have been called on Craig Smith on that third Nashville goal. There is a lot of confusion about what constitutes interference these days but not on this play. With both Kulak and Benn lying on the ice at the side of the net, Carey Price tried to step out of the crease to tie up Smith. Smith bounced off the check and circled the net for the wrap-around.
Overall, Price was just all right. He had a clear view and I thought he should have got his glove on the Ekholm shot which turned out to be the winning goal.
I have no idea how this fits into the overall scheme of things but Jesperi Kotkaniemi became the third member of the Canadiens to score 20 points before his 19th victory (Mario Tremblay and Petr Svoboda are the others). The youngest player in the league won a faceoff in the Nashville end and then created a turnover to set up Weber for his goal. It was not a great overall night offensively for the forward lines but Kotkaniemi/Armia/Lehkonen were best, both on offense and defense.
Claude Julien seems to be content to ride out the current Max Domi/Jonathan Drouin slump despite indications they might need to be split up for a time. Domi and Drouin were each minus-three on the night. They combined for three shots. Meanwhile Paul Byron seems wasted on the line.
….Tomas Tatar led the Canadiens with five shots on goal.
….I don’t think the fourth line had a very effective night but Kenny Agostino led the team with five hits. Weber and Kulak had four.
….Phillip Danault took almost half of the Canadiens 66 faceoffs and won 57% (17 of 30). As a team the Canadiens finished at 47%.
….The Canadiens hits two cross-bars; Max Domi in the game’s first minute and Jordie Benn when Nashville was leading 1-0 in the first period’s sixteenth minute.
….Nashville checking forced the Canadiens into 22 turnovers including 18 giveaways.
The Canadiens will play the first of three sets of back-to-back games over the next thirty days. They’re at home to Minnesota Monday and in Detroit on Tuesday. After Detroit they move on to St. Louis Thursday before returning home for Colorado next Saturday night.