Just past the game’s mid point Brendan Gallagher set up Bret Kulak for what seemed to be a 1-0 Canadiens lead only to have the goal erased on a coaches challenge that found Jesperi Kotkaniemi a fraction of an inch off-side.
Then in the third period’s first minute of a still goal-less game, as if the league’s best power play needed it, Phillip Danault was handed a phantom two-minute hooking penalty. With that advantage Nikita Kucherov scored what turned out to be the game’s winning goal.
Not that the ultimate result would have been any different but the two events proved to be pivotal. The Lightning scored their second goal 1:25 later and the Canadiens offense disappeared the rest of the night.
This was the Canadiens third straight loss.
It was a lesson on just how much ground the Canadiens have to make up in order to get to the league’s elite level. The Lightning are the best team in the league. They are 23 points ahead of the Canadiens. The Lightning’s league-best power play is scoring at a 29.8 % clip. The Canadiens are 31st at just over 13%. The Canadiens goal differential is plus-5. Tampa Bay plus-73. The Canadiens can only dream of the sharpshooters Tampa has. Each of their three goals was top corner on Carey Price.
Legitimately or not, much was made of Jonathan Drouin’s return to Tampa Bay. There was reason to hope that he would react positively when he authored a terrific forecheck in the game’s first minute. It was a false hope. Drouin had another one of his unproductive nights. He attempted only two shots on goal. One of his sloppy half-hearted passes led to Tampa’s second goal. More troubling was the lack of effort to come back after the pass was intercepted.
Nobody is expecting Drouin to become a reincarnation of Bob Gainey but, considering his skill-set, there should be an expectation of offence more often than once every five games.
Through two periods the Max Domi‘s line was the Canadiens best. I think most of their effectiveness centres around the play of Andrew Shaw. For the second straight game Domi failed to produce a shot on goal. Domi has three goals in the 25 games since mid December. The Canadiens are going to need more from him during the stretch run.
IN NEED OF WORK
In their second game together, there was nothing positive to mention about the newly constituted Nate Thompson/Dale Weise/Nicolas Deslauriers fourth line. Five-on-five they got about eight minutes unproductive ice time, most of it spent struggling in their own end of the ice which is not what Claude Julien wanted when he put them together. Part of their night included untimely penalties from Weise and Deslauriers in the third period while the Canadiens still were in comeback-mode. I’m pretty sure Claude Julien considers them a work-in-progress and will keep the unit together at least for the time being.
…Through the first two periods, according to naturalstattrick.com, the Canadiens had nine of the fourteen highly dangerous scoring chances. In the third period, the Lightning had all five top chances.
….Brendan Gallagher, who’s hard work in the corner led to the Canadiens disallowed goal, led the Canadiens with four shots on goal from ten shooting attempts.
….Carey Price was again the Canadiens best player. The three goals he gave up were next-to impossible to stop. He stopped he other 34 Tampa shots. Tampa had 17 shots in the third period.
….In the third period Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a harmless 30 foot shot at 4:37. It was the only shot the Canadiens managed through the period’s first fifteen minutes during which Tampa outshot the Canadiens 14-1.
….While unproductive, once again the Kotkaniemi line led the Canadiens in the Corsi number at 55%. Of the nine high danger Canadiens scoring chances in the game, linemates Lehkonen had two and Armia one.
As iconoclastic baseball Hall-of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige once advised “Don’t look back. Somebody may be catching up.” And they are.
After their win Saturday night the Carolina Hurricanes are only three points behind the Canadiens and the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berth. The Canadiens have to face Florida Sunday night and then play Columbus and Philadelphia at home next week. After that fourteen of their final twenty-one games will be on the road. A playoff berth is still very much up in the air.