It’s the way they lost. For whatever possible reason, the Canadiens didn’t come to play and, but for some heroic work by Carey Price, earned themselves a 6-1 loss rather that the 2-1 defeat that showed on the game-ending scoreboard.
Some will say that, because of that late game-winning goal, the loss was a heart-breaker but the only member of the Canadiens who should be heartbroken is Price himself. His teammates didn’t put in enough work to merit a win.
Bluntly put: the Islanders played like professionals involved in a playoff race.
The Canadiens didn’t.
THE OPENING ACT
The Canadiens have had trouble putting together 60-minute efforts this season. On more than a few of those occasions the opening minutes have been their downfall.
But for Price, this was one of those nights. Of the nine shots Price faced in the first six minutes of the game five required spectacular goaltending efforts to keep the game scoreless. By the end of the first period, scoring chances favoured the Islanders 13-6 and high danger chances were 7-2. (The grade-A chances for the Canadiens were both from Brendan Gallagher). And at the end of it, it the game was still scoreless.
THE FINAL ACT
1-1 with three minutes left and Canadiens fans hoping to at least get the game into overtime. Jonathan Drouin, who for some reason had been put back on the Domi line late in the game, sent one of his soft passes intended for Max Domi. Domi fell and with Brett Kulak pinching at the wrong time, the Islanders Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee were off on a 2-on-1. Barzal’s pass through Jeff Petry to Lee was perfect. Game winner with 2:57 remaining.
The Canadiens team defence spent the entire night playing “let Carey do it all.” The Islanders attempted 69 shots on the Canadiens goal, 38 of them on-target. In what must have been a low point in the season, according to naturalstattrick.com in all situations the Islanders had forty-six scoring chances. Twenty-one of those were of the “high danger” calibre. Price weathered it all right to the end. Another wasted effort.
We ask the question yet again. What is the coaching staff (or for that matter Marc Bergevin) going to do with Jonathan Drouin?
Drouin started the game on the third line with Kotkaniemi and Jordan Weal. As the game was clearly slipping away from Canadiens control, Drouin was moved up to the Domi line. His sloppy intercepted pass led to the game-winning goal. It wasn’t his only mindless giveaway in the game and one of many over the last month.
At the end of the night, only Kotkaniemi and Nate Thompson logged fewer minutes than Drouin’s 13:35.
Drouin has not scored a goal in six weeks (February 7th). His only points over that time (4) came in the 8-1 pasting of Detroit February 26th. For someone who’s skills are so highly regarded Drouin has showed a shocking lack of competitiveness and leadership when the team has needed him most.
DO THE MATH
Neither Carolina nor Columbus played Thursday night so the Canadiens remain ninth in the Eastern Conference but they’ve lost another in the games-played column leaving Carolina with two games in hand and Columbus with one. Columbus with the same 81 point total as the Canadiens has the last playoff berth because of regulation/overtime wins. The Blue Jackets will host Carolina Friday night. The Hurricanes have 83 points. Philadelphia lost to Washington Thursday night. They’re still five points behind the Canadiens with a game in hand as they head in to Toronto Friday night.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….Brendan Gallagher again led the Canadiens in shots-on-goal with 5. His only dangerous scoring chances (2) came in the first five minutes of the game. After that he was nearly as invisible as his teammates, which is a rarety for him.
….Jordie Benn scored the only Canadiens goal. He’s had a few rough outings recently but he was good in this game. Although I’m less enthusiastic about Christian Folin, the Benn/Folin pairing was the Canadiens best of what was a terrible lot.
….I still like what I’m seeing from Jordan Weal. Although he didn’t get a shot on goal, it was Weal’s screen that allowed Benn to score from the blueline. Weal started the night with Drouin and Kotkaniemi. Byron replaced Drouin on the line late in the game.
….Kotkaniemi had a chance to score his first goal on the road when he used a nifty toe drag to set himself up midway through the third period with the game still tied. It was one of Thomas Greiss‘ better saves.
….The Canadiens, who have scored the fewest power play goals in the league, had their second chance of the game with thirteen minutes left. They didn’t get a shot on goal.
….The final 1:40 of the game was instructive as the Canadiens were trying to get Price out for the extra attacker. What followed a neutral zone faceoff were two Islanders hits, two Islander takeaways and a Canadiens giveaway, all in a period of 55 seconds while Price was trying get to the bench. The only Canadiens shot in those final 100 seconds was Jeff Petry’s 93-foot drifter with one second remaining. Humiliation piled upon humiliation.
….Including their February 9th home overtime loss to Toronto February 9th the Canadiens have won only six of their last sixteen games (6-9-1). Of the six wins, only one has come against a team currently in the playoff picture (Columbus).
THE HARD ROAD AHEAD
Over the last three years the Eastern Conference playoff cutoff point has been between 95 points (2017) and 97 (2018). The Canadiens have eleven games to accrue the 14 points that would get them to the low water mark of 95. It means they would have to finish the season with something like a 7-4-0 record. Of their eleven remaining games, seven are against teams currently in a playoff position; five of those on the road.
Next up – Chicago Saturday night at the Bell Centre and then at Philadelphia Tuesday. The only option at this stage is wins in both games.