Hockey is a game of created-opportunities. Players work hard to produce a scoring chance. But it is what a team does with those scoring chances that dictates a win or a loss. Some teams are simply better at capitalizing on opportunities than others.
Case in point, the Canadiens Sunday night. They had protected a 1-0 lead for two periods. Three minutes into the third period Brendan Gallagher checked a puck loose and raced in on a breakaway with a chance to give his team a 2-0 lead. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped him.
We’ll never know what might have happened if Gallagher had made it 2-0. We do know that three minutes later the Bruins tied the game and midway through the period they scored the eventual game-winner on a power play. In the end one could point to a failed opportunity that was the difference between a win and a loss. But that’s the way it’s been going for the Canadiens over the last two weeks.
TAKING IT ON THE ROAD
I mentioned in this space that the Canadiens had showed signs of getting their act together in the latter stages of Saturday night’s loss to Philadelphia. They carried what they were doing right against the Flyers right into Boston. For almost 47 minutes this was as good a road game as the Canadiens are capable of playing. Being successful on the road generally means shutting down the neutral zone and the Canadiens did a terrific job shutting down boston’s momentum. Against a team like the Bruins it also entailed a lot of hard work which meant, considering this was the second half of a back-to-back weekend, weariness would set in late in the game and the third period would be a matter of survival. Weariness led to mistakes and three of them wound up in the back of the Canadiens net.
Joel Armia has been something of an acquired taste. If you’re paying attention, one appreciates all of the little things Armia routinely does defensively. Anything offensively is a bonus. Or at least it was considered so until this season. For the second straight game Armia opened the scoring with a great backhand at 1:58 of the first period. It was his third goal the last three games. In the first period alone Armia had five shots on goal plus the only two high danger scoring chances the Canadiens produced. At the end his totals were seven shots along with a team leading six hits and two takeaways. Armia now has ten goals. Who predicted that? His career season high is the thirteen he scored with the Canadiens last season.
Did anyone think of the Guy Lafleur shot in the seventh game of 1979 Boston/Canadiens Stanley Cup semi-final when they watched David Pastrnak put that tying goal past Carey Price in the third period? Pastrnak’s shot was as perfect as that iconic goal scored on the Bruins Pete Peeters. With Price way out to cover the angle, Pastrnak placed his shot perfectly off the far post an into the net. The newcomer Gustav Olafsson might have played Pastrnak a little tighter but that’s nitpicking.
Nick Cousins took a terrible offensive zone penalty when he grabbed Torey Krug from behind the Boston net only two minutes after the Bruins tied the game. They would score what turned out to be the winning goal on the power play. Claude Julien’s predecessor might have had Cousins sitting at the end of the bench for the rest of the game after taking a penalty like that. However Julien had him back on the ice for his next shift three minutes later. This time he was lazy checking Jake Debrusk who scored the game-clincher.
As well as the Canadiens played, in the end it was still a loss and the Canadiens eighth in a row. Mostly I’m a half-full kind of guy but this losing streak has made me pessimistic about chances of the Canadiens making the playoffs in April. Optimists might point to the St. Louis Blues as an example of a team returning from the dead, but this year’s Canadiens don’t have the tools that were available to last year’s Blues. Their are 55 games remaining in the season. To even reach their 96 point total of last season the Canadiens would have to take 68 of the possible 110 remaining points. The team simply doesn’t have enough talent to go something like 34-21 in the remaining 55 games. And remember the losing streak hasn’t ended.
….The eight game losing streak has everyone reaching for the record books. The Canadiens failed to win nine in a row February 18 to March 8 2003. (0-6-2 with one overtime tie). Claude Julien also coached that team. The Canadiens lost ten in a row (all in regulation time) in 1939-40. And the longest in history was Feb.-Mar 1926 – twelve losses in a row (0-11-1).
….With Victor Mete out with his lower body injury, Ben Chiarot had to shoulder a heavy load. Saturday against the Flyers his ice time was 27:11. Against the Bruins 29:26, by far the most on the team. He was steady all weekend finishing up at plus-2 for the two games.
….Basically the Canadiens went with five defensemen. Gustav Olofsson was on the ice only 11 times for 7:04. He had only three third period shifts.
….Max Domi continues to have his problems. He has scored in only one of his last 14 games (2G, 1A vs. Rangers).
….Carey Price wasn’t forced to work too hard through the first two periods. As the Canadiens started to fade in the third period he was tested. One might argue his angle was a centimetre off on the Pastrnak goal but there was nothing he could do on the other two. During the losing streak Price is 0-5-1.
….A sign the Canadiens were running out of gas late in the game; in the remaining 9:31 following the Bruins second goal they managed only one shot on goal (Kulak from 30 feet).
The Canadiens will play the Islanders Tuesday and then Colorado Thursday at the Bell Centre followed by the Rangers Friday night at Madison Square Garden.