I wonder what Vladislav Tretiak thought as he watched this farce unfold at the Bell Centre Saturday night. The former Soviet superstar goaltender had to be wondering just what has become of the world’s best hockey league if this is the kind of show they put on.
The Canadiens weren’t bad in this game, they were awful. Even worse than the New Jersey Devils. But we expect the Devils to be bad. They came into the game ranked 29th in the overall league standings. Even so they were able to skate away with a 4-3 overtime comeback win. They probably should have easily won it in regulation but for some terrific work from Canadiens backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid.
Based on results of the season’s first quarter some would say the Canadiens performance was predictable. They have made a habit of throwing up a stinker immediately following an emotional win such as Friday’s 5-2 victory in Washington. Despite their miserable performance, the Canadiens actually never trailed in this game until they ultimately lost it on an overtime power play goal.
The Canadiens defense gave the Devils the game’s first three scoring chances which should have been a warning or at least a wake-up call. Eight minutes into the period the Devils had an 8-5 shots on goal advantage. From there it was downhill. Through the remainder of the period the Devils outshot the Canadiens 12-3. Still, with 1:19 remaining in the period Brendan Gallagher deflected a Jeff Petry shot to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
But with 25 seconds remaining in the period the Devils Nikita Gusev was left entirely alone in front, forcing Kinkaid to make one of his best saves of the night. . Five seconds later Gusev was still standing in the same spot and still left uncovered. It’s the league leading tenth time this season the Canadiens have given up a last minute goal in a period. The Canadiens lead lasted exactly one minute.
The Canadiens actually found a way to get a two goal lead in the second period. The highlight was Cale Fleury’s first career goal. It was a pretty. Fleury took advantage of a collapsing Devils defense to close on goal before hoisting a backhander.. Then the other rookie Nick Suzuki then scored on a 5-on-3 power play at 18:42. His fifth goal.
But then the last minutes blues struck yet again. The Canadiens were still on the second half of the same four minute power play when Kinkaid was forced to make a big save on a Nico Hischier breakaway. Still killing that penalty Hischier broke away again on a 2-on-1. Like Gusev on his second gift chance late in the first period, Hischier made no mistake. The shorthanded goal came with 2 seconds left in the period. Twice in the same game the Canadiens had given up a last minute goal. Even so, the Canadiens had a 3-2 lead going to the third.
Both teams and the game officials managed to turn a comedy of playing errors into a carnival of the absurd. There were a total of nine penalties called in the third period. Some of them earned. Some not. As you might know, I’m not a regular critic of officiating. This was a mess. Some of the penalties were earned. Some were of the makeup variety. Others were simply bad calls.
But it was Max Domi who would wear the goat horns. In his case it was well-earned. Through the first nineteen games of the season Domi had not served a minute in the penalty box. With four minutes remaining and the Canadiens still leading 3-2 Domi poked a fallen stick away from it’s owner. That’s clear interference. On his way to the penalty box he argued the point and had an unsportsmanlike penalty tacked on. Four minutes. While he was in the box Wayne Simmonds tied the game.
The game officials still weren’t off the hook. In the final minute Phillip Danault managed to force the puck into the Devils net.. After review it was ruled to be ‘kicked’ in. A misnomer. He appeared to bump it in with his hip. According to the rules, it’s still illegal. But, missed in the review was Hischier putting his hand over the puck which is an automatic penalty shot. Still no goal.
A hooking penalty to Danault in the overtime led to the game winner and that’s all she wrote. The Canadiens get a point they didn’t deserve. A night to forget.
….Eighteen minutes in penalties were called in the game’s final twenty minutes which completely shut down whatever flow was left in what was a pretty ragged looking game. The Canadiens (and the Devils) either had their power play or their penalty killing units on the ice for most of the third period. The non-specialists were left to sit for most of the period.
….With Jonathan Drouin going on the IR, and Paul Byron day-to-day, Claude Julien did some juggling. Tatar moved back to the Danault line. Jesperi Kotkaniemi returned to the lineup forcing Domi over to the wing for the first time. He played on a line centered by Suzuki. Charles Hudon, who was called up Friday from Laval, was on the fourth line.
I thought Tatar, who was back on left wing with Danault and Gallagher showed some of the form that made him so successful last season. He got another point on the Gallagher goal which was his ninth of the season. Need we even mention the unrelenting presence Gallagher supplied in the game.
Victor Mete continues to demonstrate that it’s speed and not size that can dominate in today’s NHL. As a defense pairing he and Petry have something going.
….On the down side, outside of that penalty Max Domi didn’t look very committed as a left wing on a line with Suzuki and Armia. The defense pairing of Weber and Chiarot were on the ice for three of the four New Jersey goals, although two of them came on the Devils power play.
….Our friends at Natural Stat Trick tell us that the Devils had nine high danger scoring chances in the game to only five for the Canadiens. It was 7-2 for the Devils in the first period which tells you how good Kinkaid had to be in keeping the Canadiens in the game. Had the Canadiens won, he would have been the game’s first star.
….Shea Weber picked up an assist on Suzuki power play goal. It extended his points streak to six games. He has 6 goals, 8 assists his last 14 games.
….I thought Hudon played with much more confidence that we’ve seen in most of his previous appearances with the Canadiens. Hudon was one of those who sat most of the third period because of the penalty flow. Whatever he contributed wasn’t enough to keep him around. The Canadiens sent him back to Laval after the game.
The Canadiens are now 7-1-2 through their last ten games. Sixteen of a possible twenty points is still a pretty good run. With the loser point the Canadiens are second in the Atlantic Division three points behind Boston. They get a day off Sunday and practice on Monday before heading for Columbus and their Tuesday meeting with the Blue Jackets. That will be the first of another set of back-to-back games which concludes with Ottawa Wednesday at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens are home to the Rangers next Saturday.