The 2018-2019 version of the Canadiens is based on hard work and team structure. When both aspects are functioning more often than not they give themselves a chance to win. When those parts of their game go missing as they did in the second and third periods of Saturday’s game in Toronto, a loss generally follows.
Their hard work and discipline gave the Canadiens a that 3-0 first period lead. With a little more scoring touch it might have been 5-0. But that extra goal that might have tipped the game wasn’t there and the Canadiens seemed to lose intensity in the second period especially after giving up two power play goals and then all focus disappeared in the third period under the pressure of protecting a one-goal lead.
For once we’re not complaining about the Canadiens power play. It was their penalty killing that let them down. Toronto had only two power play opportunities and made good on both of them to get themselves back in the game. Auston Matthews‘ shot was perfect on the first one and the penalty killers were running around like the proverbial headless chickens before Patrick Marleau set up Tyler Ennis on the second. 3-2 going into the third period and the Canadiens were in full retreat. A fluke bounce off a gap in the back boards tied it and with just over a minute left a soft turnover by the usually reliable Phillip Danault led to the game-winner.
For two periods Max Domi seemed intent on matching the nightly energy of a Brendan Gallagher. He had five shots on goal. His line with Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw was the Canadiens best and accounted for their first goal. The line was also on the ice when the Canadiens took a 3-0 lead on their first power play goal in six games. And his open ice hit on Andreas Johnsson had everyone talking. Unfortunately, like his teammates, Domi’s line was a non-factor in the third period. They had twelve shots on goal through the first two periods; only one in the third.
TAKING UP THE SLACK
Shea Weber wasn’t the Canadiens best defenceman in Toronto. Not even the second best. That honour fell to Jeff Petry. Petry’s terrific cross ice pass to Tomas Tatar gave the Canadiens the 1-0 lead and on the power play he held the puck long enough to get Frederik Andersen moving in the crease before registering his 11th goal and 40th point of the season. As for Weber, for whatever reason, he hasn’t been the Canadiens best on the blueline for a couple of weeks now. Against the Leafs he looked particularly slow, spending most of the night chasing rather than initiating plays.
Jonthan Drouin was scratched by a flu bug after taking the warmup which meant a re-shuffling of left wingers. Byron moved off the third line to play on the Domi line and Lehkonen moved back on the Kotkaniemi line. The obvious replacement on the left side of the fourth line was Charles Hudon but Claude Julien opted for the offensively bankrupt Nicolas Deslauriers. It doesn’t say much for Hudon’s future with the Canadiens which may not last past Monday’s trade deadline.
IN THE STANDINGS
One point separates the three teams vying for the two wild card berths in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens still lead the way with 73 points. Carolina and Pittsburgh won their games on Saturday and are now one point back. All three teams have 20 games remaining on their schedule.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Through the game’s first six minutes the Leafs had a 7-3 shots advantage. After taking control of the neutral zone the Canadiens outshot Toronto 17-3 the rest of the period. Toronto then held a 26-15 shots advantage through the second and third periods.
…..Through the first two periods the Canadiens had 10 of the game’s 13 high danger scoring chances. In the third period it was 4-2 in Toronto’s favour.
….Victor Mete played in his 100th career NHL game. Over those 100 games he’s posted 89 shots on goal. He’s still looking for his first career goal.
….Toronto has now beaten the Canadiens in seven consecutive games.
The Canadiens will play two sets of back-to-back games in six days next week. They complete their four game road trip with games against New Jersey and Detroit Monday and Tuesday and then the Rangers on Friday. That will be followed by a pivotal meeting against Pittsburgh at the Bell Centre next Saturday. The following week they’ll make their annual California trip. Five of their next seven games will be against teams that are in the bottom third of the overall league standings.