It is a question that’s been asked around Montreal for the last decade.

It goes like this.

“Which is better? A small but very fast team or a team with size and good speed?”

The answer from any NHL coach would be the latter, especially heading into the playoffs, or in the case of Thursday night’s game in Columbus, a game that could decide a playoff berth.

You would not be far off in blaming size as the key factor in the Canadiens 6-2 loss.  Size, and a failure to prevent the game from being played along the boards where the Blue Jackets physical advantage was guaranteed to dominate.  Why they failed to use their fast break skills to control the middle of the ice is a question that remains unanswered.

THE BREAKDOWN

We’ve seen it more often than is comfortable. After dominating the game’s first ten minutes and taking a 1-0 lead into the second period, the pendulum started to swing and the Canadiens went into protect mode. They still held their 1-0 lead to start the second period. An unbelievably bad line change in the second minute gave the the Blue Jackets a 5-on-2 break. (How do you mess up to the extent that you allow a 5-on-2 break?) David Savard scored and, despite the Canadiens taking a 2-1 lead on a soft Jeff Petry goal seven minutes later, the Blue Jackets had taken physical control of the game and by the third period also destroyed the Canadiens Claude Julien-induced game structure that has been key to whatever success his team has had this season.

ALL ALONE

Carey Price can’t do it all. Consider circumstances on four of the five goals he allowed. After the 5-on-2 break, the eventual go-ahead goal and game winner was the result Victor Mete failing to check Matt Duchene who then set up Panarin for the one-timer. The Blue Jackets’ backbreaking fourth goal was a clear breakaway by Riley Nash after Weber headed off on another badly-timed change. Price stopped the initial shot but couldn’t contain the rebound. Their fifth goal came off a 2-on-1 breakaway initiated by an easily intercepted Jeff Petry cross-ice pass in the Columbus zone. Price didn’t give the Canadiens any miracles, but then again, he was given little support.

FINGER POINTING

It is really hard to place blame when a team’s puck management system completely falls apart the way it did for the Canadiens.

Shea Weber and Victor Mete were asked to go up against the Blue Jackets top line. They had a miserable night.

On the third line (which is now actually the fourth) Kotkaniemi and Drouin struggled the entire game. But that’s been going on for a while now. We are all convinced it’s part of the learning curve for Kotkaniemi. Although he worked harder than he has recently, offensively Drouin remains a head case. I actually thought Armia on the right wing had a pretty good game, including a couple of good scoring chances and some effective penalty killing. But you can’t do it alone in the NHL, something Drouin never seems to be able to figure out.

For all of their issues, the defence scored both Canadiens goals (Kulak and Petry). Where were the forwards? Among the stalwarts, only Phillip Danault Gallagher had a rare bad game. So did Domi and Tatar.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….The Canadiens were terrific through the game’s first ten minutes.   Catching the Blue Jackets off-guard with their afore-mentioned speed, they outshot the Blue Jackets 7-0. Columbus adjusted and through the remaining half of the period Columbus and a 9-2 edge on the shot clock.

….The Blue Jackets mortgaged a great deal of their future to acquire Matt Duchene from Ottawa at the trade deadline. It was paid back in part by the major league move he made on Mete before he set up Artemi Panarin for the one-timer which was the game-winning goal.

….A two-point game for Brett Kulak including the Canadiens first goal and the setup on their second goal. Kulak’s second consecutive two-point game. He looks good alongside Jeff Petry, especially in his own end. He could be a restricted free-agent on July first.   Off what he’s been seeing the lat month Marc Bergevin will looking to re-sign him.

….With the loss, according to sportsteamstats.com computers, Canadiens chances of making the playoffs dropped to 26.3%. Going into the game they were listed at 45.6%.

….The Canadiens were forced to replace the concussed Paul Byron with Nicolas Deslauriers. It changed the dynamic of the fourth line, and not for the better as could be expected.

….Do we even have to mention the power play again? In 2:49 advantage time – zero shots on goal.

FADED HOPES

The Canadiens have really put themselves in a tough situation.

The Canadiens flew to Winnipeg right after the Columbus game where they’ll play the Jets Saturday night. Columbus will play at Nashville Saturday, while Carolina is home to Philadelphia.

On Sunday, both the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes will finally pick up the games-in-hand they hold on the Canadiens. Columbus will play in Buffalo (in the second half of back-to-back games) while Carolina is in Pittsburgh. If somehow one or the other conspires to lose their game in hand and the Canadiens beat Winnipeg, hopes in Montreal will again rise as each team will have three games remaining on their schedules.

In the final week Columbus faces a difficult game in Boston and back-to-back final weekend home games against the Rangers and Ottawa.  At the same time Carolina has home games against Toronto and Philadelphia and a game in New Jersey.

By degree of difficulty, those schedules are not even close to the Canadiens final week which features games against Tampa and Toronto at home Tuesday and Saturday  sandwiched around Thursday’s game in Washington.