The lofty goal of the three game California trip was to win two of the three games. Considering the two decade losing streak in San Jose, the best chance of reaching that goal were wins in Los Angeles and Anaheim. So Claude Julien made Antti Niemi the sacrifical lamb against the Sharks. No one could have predicted the Canadiens would come up with one of their best road games of the year in San Jose. Sadly, Niemi was the goaltender we have seen in all but four or five of his starts this season. He let in two soft goals on the first five shots he faced and the Canadiens were in a hole out of which they unable to climb.
On January 15th Niemi stopped 52 shots against Florida. Since then his record is 0-3-1 and his save percentage is .810. In his last Canadiens appearance three weeks ago he let in three goals on nine shots and was replaced by Price. Against the Sharks the first three goals came on eight shots.
Marc Bergevin had plenty of opportunity to shore up his backup goaltending at the trade deadline and passed. Under the pressure of the playoff race, it is now evident that Carey Price will have to play the season’s remaining fourteen games to retain any hope of a berth in the post season.
In the books it will go down as the twelfth consecutive loss in San Jose over twenty years. It’s a crying shame because the Canadiens were very good. For two periods their speed and work ethic had the well rested Sharks on their heels. The Canadiens carried 69% of the first period offence and had five of the six high danger scoring chances. Still they trailed 2-1. The final stats showed the Canadiens controlled 58.1% of the games shooting attempts. They also led in scoring chances 33-24 and high danger chances 14-10.
GETTING IT TOGETHER
For the first time, the newly constructed fourth line looked like it starting to get things together.
Artturi Lehkonen ended a 28 game goal drought.. The goal was something of a deflected fluke but the overall offensive effort from the fourth line was strong. According to naturalstattrick.com, in their ten minutes of ice-time the line controlled 60% of the play.. Dale Weise had two high danger scoring chances. Nate Thompson assisted on the Lehkonen goal. That goal was Lehkonen’s first in 30 games.
Newcomer Jordan Weal replaced Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the third line for the second straight game. The line had a mixed night. Weal and Armia finished the night at minus-2. Weal also produced three shots and two scoring chances. Again we didn’t get an awful lot from Jonathan Drouin.
Whether it’s a reflection of a resurgence in Shea Weber‘s game or a step up in his development, Victor Mete had his second consecutive strong outing in the role of a rushing defenceman. He is still looking for his first career goal. He came close twice in this game.
Before the Canadiens took to the ice the Penguins had shut out Columbus 3-0 in Pittsburgh. The Penguins now hold third place in the Metro Division at 81 points. Carolina and the Canadiens have the first and second wild card berths respectively with 79 points each. Columbus has 77 points. The Blue Jackets and Penguins have a game in hand over the Canadiens; Carolina has two games. The Blue Jackets have lost four of their last six games.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….The Canadiens are now 9-0-3 at San Jose since December 1999. In the twelve games they’ve been outscored 50-22.
….The Canadiens had only one power play opportunity in the game. There was more puck control and movement than we’ve seen recently but it still came up empty. The PP is now 0-for-11 the last six games and one for it’s last twenty-six which puts them 31st in the league.
….Shea Weber, Jordie Benn and Brendan Gallagher led the Canadiens with four shots on goal each. Max Domi won 7 of 8 faceoffs (88%). Weal won nine of thirteen (69%).
….Andrew Shaw scored his 17th goal of the season. He had only two shots on goal but had four of the Canadiens fourteen high danger scoring chances.
Because of California airport problems, the Canadiens had take the bus from San Jose to San Francisco to catch their charter to Ontario California and then take another bus to Anaheim which puts them in bed at around 4:00am Friday morning California time. Under those conditions, matching their San Jose performance at Anaheim Friday night seems problematical.
After the Anaheim game the Canadiens return to Montreal to play Detroit on Tuesday.