(UPDATE – Columbus defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout at Madison Square Garden Friday night, thus preventing the Canadiens from reaching the playoffs for the second straight year and third time in the last four seasons. The last time the Canadiens missed two playoffs in a row was 1999 to 2001 when they failed to reach the post season in three consecutive seasons.)
The Canadiens put themselves in a nearly impossible position when they managed only one of a possible four points in those two earlier games against Columbus and Carolina. Left in a nearly impossible situation all Thursday night’s loss in Washington did was drive the penultimate nail into the coffin of their season.
In their final two games, all Columbus will need is a single point out of their games at New York against the 26th overall Rangers Friday night or Saturday’s game against the league’s worst team in Ottawa.
Friday night’s game in Washington was a microcosm of the Canadiens season. They dominated early. Should have had a two or three goal lead at the end of the first period but skated off in a 1-1 tie. Ultimately the Canadiens led every offensive statistic in the game including 61.4% of the shot attempts and 73.8% of the high danger scoring chances. And as we have seen time and again this season, their inability to score the critical goal eluded them and they lost the game.
But, all said and done, the 2018-2019 version of the Canadiens were a hit compared with last year’s chaotic, injury-riddled edition. They’ll finish the season with close to 25 more points and 15 more wins. Nobody mentioned that as a possibility back in October.
The Canadiens allowed only two goals. Both of them came with their fourth line and third defensive pairings on the ice.
n the entire first period, according to naturalstattrick.com the Canadiens allowed only one high-danger scoring chance the entire first period. For a team with the firepower of Washington, that’s all it took. Their forecheck forced Christian Folin to cough up the puck behind the net and as Jordie Benn was failing to clear, Folin along with the Canadiens backcheckers failed to protect the front of the net leaving Lars Eller all alone. 1-0.
The culprit on the second goal was Paul Byron who, quite frankly, didn’t have a very good game. With it 1-1 early in the second period, while exiting the zone he had his pocket picked by Andrei Burakovsky. Burakovsky quickly converted that into what turned out to be the game-winning Nic Dowd goal. Since the alternative was Nicolas Deslauriers, it’s hard to second guess Byron’s return from that concussion induced knockout in the Columbus game, but Byron has not been himself. He wasn’t alone. Thompson/Byron/Kotkaniemi had been a useful unit recently for Claude Julien. Not against Washington. They were the only Canadiens line that didn’t have offensive control when they were on the ice – generating only 35.71% shooting attempts and they were on the ice for three of the seven high danger Washington scoring attempts.
It has only been in the last month that many of the rest of us have truly started to recognize what the training staff and his teammates have been saying all along: Phillip Danault is a really good NHL centre and the catalyst for one of the best two-way lines in the league. Going head-to-head against Backstrom/Ovechkin/Wilson they controlled the ice for 75% of the game, and limited a line that has scored 95 goals this season to two dangerous scoring chances. And at the other end of the ice Danault/Gallagher/Tatar posted nine shots on goal and three high danger chances of their own.
MUST BE SAID
I can’t imagine what kind of disappointment Jonathan Drouin must be to Marc Bergevin. He thought he was getting a potential game-breaking talent when he traded first round draft pick Mikhail Sergachev for him. He has received nothing close to it. When needed most against the Capitals, Drouin shot the puck only three times with only one of them actually making it to the net.
In the Canadiens critical nine game drive for a playoff berth Drouin has managed only eleven shots on goal. Stretching it further, naturalstattrick.com tells us that during those nine games, Drouin had only four high danger scoring chances and produced zero points. Since he has no value defensively and is a sub-20 goal scorer, Bergevin has to be asking himself how he can rationalize value for each of the remaining four years in his contract.
You won’t be hearing it publicly but I’m sure Drouin’s lack of intensity and effort while his teammates have been busting their collective asses has not gone unnoticed in the Canadiens dressing room. Bergevin managed to get rid of acknowledged team-deflating issues in Pacioretty and Galchenyuk. Although the thought may enter is mind during the off-season, shedding the remaining four years and 22 million dollars of his contract will be next to impossible.
….Lars Eller‘s game-opening goal was his fifth in nine games against the Canadiens since they let him go for second round draft picks in 2017 (C-Joni Ikonen) and 2018 (traded to Edmonton for two later-round picks).
….Byron, Thompson, Kotkaniemi plus defencemen Folin and Benn were all minus-2 in the game.
….Max Domi and the resurgent Arturri Lehkonen led the Canadiens with six shots on goal apiece.
….Danault continues his domination at the face-off dots winning 10 of 17 (59%).
….In the twenty-five games dating back to February 7th, Drouin has one goal and five assists. Four of the five assists came in the February 26th 8-1 thrashing of the Wings in Detroit.
….Victor Mete officially has the longest active goal scoring drought in the NHL at 119 games.
….Another big game from Jeff Petry which, along with his zone exiting ability included ten shot attempts, three of them on goal.
….Nothing much Carey Price could have done on the two Washington goals. With the score 2-1 through the final half of the game, Price made brilliant second period saves on Burakovsky, Vrana and over a three minute stretch Connolly, Wilson and Ovechkin. In the third period he was notable against Dowd and Backstrom. This was Price’s twenty-eighth game appearance in the Canadiens last 29 games. Twenty seven of those have been starts.
WHAT THEY’RE FACING
Columbus can clinch a playoff berth (and eliminate) the Canadiens with a win at Madison Square Garden Friday night. If the Blue Jackets lose, they will still secure their post season spot Saturday with either a win in Ottawa or a Bell Centre loss by the Canadiens against Toronto. Basically the Canadiens have to hope the Blue Jackets contrive to lose both games in regulation time while they beat the Leafs. Not much chance.