The reality is, after sixty six games, the Canadiens and Penguins have established themselves as bubble playoff teams. For that reason, Saturday night’s meeting had the makings of a terrific late season matchup.
The Canadiens had all the tools to make a game out of it except one. Their entire lineup couldn’t match what Sidney Crosby can do when he’s on his game and in hindsight the game was over in twenty-one seconds.
Crosby scored on the game’s first shot on goal. On a power play he set up Evgeni Malkin on their third shot on goal and then on the Penguins fourth shot Crosby won a faceoff to set up Jake Guentzel for his 30th goal.
Three goals on four shots. Just to make sure Crosby set up Guentzel again to make it 4-0 early in the second. A four point game and we haven’t even started to talk about how good Crosby was in his own end of the ice. With the empty-netter it was a critical 5-1 rout. He’s inarguably the best player of his generation and right now at age 31, he is playing like the best player of the current generation.
From the opening faceoff (won by Crosby) the Canadiens were out of synch. In the first twenty seconds the Canadiens defence couldn’t get in gear in their own end capped by Jordie Benn‘s awful backhand giveaway to Jared McCann which led to the game’s first goal two seconds later on the Crosby tip-in. The worst part of the Benn play was the fact that he stood around while Crosby went to the net behind him to score. The tone of the game was set on first shot on goal.
Benn, a left shot who seems more comfortable on right defence, spent the night on Jeff Petry‘s left. His bad night included four bad giveaways.
TOO OFTEN TO THE WELL
The Canadiens had a bad start at Madison Square Garden Friday night but Carey Price kept his teammate in the game. Playing in his fourteenth consecutive game and his second appearance in back-to-back games in six nights, he couldn’t do it again. . There was nothing to be done about the opening goal. Some questions could be asked about how much he was screened on the second goal although it might have deflected off Joel Armia in front of him. He just wasn’t very good on the third goal which slipped through the five-hole. After that, Price was very good but it was too late. Despite attempting 77 shots to only 43 by Pittsburgh there was no coming back from 3-0. The Canadiens aren’t the Toronto Maple Leafs in that department.
Prior to the game Max Domi was presented with the February Molson Cup award. He then had an excellent game with six shots on goal of his thirteen attempts and four scoring chances. He did all of the work on the line. Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Drouin had one shot apiece. On nights like this, Drouin reminds me so much of the unproductive version of Alexander Kovalev. Lots of fancy stickhandling with little productive result.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Because he is suspected to be attempting to play through an injury of some sort, there’s been much focus on Shea Weber. As accurate as Weber’s shot was at Madison Square Garden Friday night it was amiss in this game. Six times he missed the net and in two of them an accurate shot would have found the back of the net. Weber did hit the net four times and hit a goalpost during a first period power play.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….The Penguins made it 3-0 on their fourth shot. For the remaining eleven minutes of the first period the Canadiens outshot the Penguins 11-0 and 37-25 in the game.
….Carey Price remains one victory behind Jacques Plante‘s club record 314 goaltender victories. He is likely to be in goal for the games in Los Angeles and San Jose Tuesday and Thursday of next week. The question will again be whether Julien takes a chance on Antti Niemi in the Friday game at Anaheim.
….Gallagher even got 2:41 on the power play but again nothing clicked. The PP was 0-for-3 with five shots and the Weber goalpost. It has now produced one goal in the last twenty-four opportunities.
….Five on five the Canadiens had only four high-danger scoring chances. Nate Thompson had two of them which says a lot.
….Speaking of the fourth line: it’s time to get newcomer Jordan Weal in the lineup. It is becoming clear that there was good reason the Flyers waived Dale Weise to their AHL farm team last month.
….Speaking of numbers: this was the 32nd four point game Crosby‘s career. The greatest player of his generation now has 1199 points.
….If 95 points is the cutoff point for making the playoffs, the Canadiens need 18 points out of their final 16 games. Nine of the sixteen games will be on the road. Also nine of the sixteen games are against teams comfortably in the playoffs.
It’s still a four way race between Carolina, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Columbus for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Carolina beat Florida in overtime Saturday night. Columbus was shocked by the Oilers 4-0. Carolina is now third in the Metropolitan Division with 78 points, one ahead of the Penguins and Canadiens. The Penguins hold the first wild card because they have a game in hand over the Canadiens. After their loss, Columbus is now ninth in the East but only two points behind the Penguins and Canadiens. They have two games in hand over the Canadiens and one game on Pittsburgh and Carolina.
I wonder where the Canadiens will be next week at this time.
They face their annual California trip and the Canadiens failures in California are well documented. They have been swept all three games over the last two seasons and have one shootout win in their last fifteen attempts in the Sunshine State and since 2011 their record is 3-15-3. Only one of those games was won in regulation time. An historical repeat could spell doom for Canadiens playoff hopes.