For teams struggling to squeeze into the playoffs, every play, every goal and every coaching decision is subject to intense scrutiny and, more often than not, heavy second guessing.

For the Canadiens fan base, the second-guess du jour will be Claude Julien‘s decision to play Antti Niemi in Thursday night’s game at San Jose, leaving Carey Price to face Anaheim Friday night.

The second guessers have a point. In San Jose, the Canadiens put in one of their strongest road games of the year but the under-utilized Niemi let in two terrible early goals forcing his teammates to unsuccessfully play catch-up the rest of the night.

Twenty -four hours later it was Carey Price backstopping teammates who playing their second game in 24 hours and third road game in four nights. Predictably, after a fairly good start, they ran out of gas. Anaheim scored the last five goals in an 8-2 win.

HANGING BY A THREAD

The Canadiens continue to cling to that second wild card berth despite their ninth loss in their last fourteen games. They’re tied with Carolina who hold the first wild card berth and they are two points ahead of the ninth place Columbus Blue Jackets. Both of those teams now have two games in hand and the Canadiens face a tough season-ending schedule with eight of the thirteen games against teams already in the playoffs or fighting for a berth and five of those games on the road. And if somehow they wind up in a tie for that final playoff slot, all of the tie-breakers favour the other teams.

FLU BUG UPHEAVAL

Tomas Tatar came down with an untimely flu bug. It forced Claude Julien to shuffle three of his four lines. Jonathan Drouin, who was being hidden on the third line, was back up with Danault and Gallagher. Jesperi Kotkaniemi came back in the lineup which moved Jordan Weal to his wing along with Artturi Lehkonen who came up from the fourth line. Joel Armia dropped down to the fourth line with Thompson and Weise. Julien also replaced Brett Kulak with Mike Reilly. I can’t say any of the moves produced positive results. Drouin was typically ineffective. Armia played one of his worst games on the fourth line. The Kotkaniemi line was minus-3.

THE CAPTAIN

It might not be saying much but Shea Weber was the best part of a bad night.  He was weak on the fourth goal and found himself where he found floundering around on the ice on the sixth one but early in the game he was pretty steady defensively.  . On offense he was back to his rocket-launching best. He scored the Canadiens second goal on one of them. Ultimately Weber attempted nine shots. Seven of them were on John Gibson in the Anaheim nets. After a slump that had many of us questioning his health, Weber has re-established his game over the last ten days.

SPEEDSTER

Paul Byron was another who had recently been looking weighed down to some kind of physical problem. He was flying against the Ducks. He opened the Canadiens scoring on a rebound off Andrew Shaw‘s backhand and missed a second goal when he put the puck in the net a half second after the second period ended. The only intact line was Domi/Byron/Shaw. Co-incidentally they were the Canadiens best. Domi and Byron were the only members of the team that weren’t on the ‘minus’ side of the defensive ratings.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

…..After the loss to Anaheim sportsclubstats.com now lists the Canadiens with only a 52% chance of making the playoffs, compared with the Friday morning rating of 60%.  Among the three teams around them, Pittsburgh is considered a 97.3% chance at the playoffs; Carolina @ 84.5% and Columbus 60.7%.

…. Victor Mete was the Canadiens best defenceman in San Jose Thursday. He had a rough night in Anaheim. Mete’s lack of size was a major factor against the more imposing Duck forwards who seemed to target him rather than deal with the more imposing Weber.

….Carey Price let in 8 goals on 29 Anaheim shots. He didn’t get much help early in the game. In the second half of the game with a comeback possibility unlikely, he seemed to lose his concentration. Outside of Weber, not one member of the defence in front of Price could feel good about the support they gave Price..

….One could point to a terrible four-minute high sticking penalty taken by Jordie Benn during a faceoff as the turning point of the game. The Canadiens had narrowed the score to 2-1 late in the first period. The Ducks scored on their power play to re-open a two goal lead and went on to score six of the next seven goals.

….Thanks to Weber, the Canadiens power play had a few good moments. It produced 10 shots and finished 1-for-6.

….Phillip Danault won 12 of 16 faceoffs (75%).

….It was the Canadiens fifth straight loss at Anaheim. Over the last six years the Canadiens record in California is 3-13-2.

MOVING ON

The Canadiens return to Montreal Sunday. They’ll take Monday off and start their stretch drive at the Bell Centre against Detroit Tuesday. Then it’s Thursday against the Islanders in New York and back home to face Chicago next Saturday. The Canadiens just completed a stretch of seven of eight on the road during which they were 3-5-0. Seven of their thirteen remaining games will be played at the Bell Centre.