Two years ago the Canadiens were not only a terribly constructed team, worse they were boring. Last season few called them boring, but they missed the playoffs again. One constant from both of those teams was the fact that they were fairly prolific winners on home ice.
This season the Canadiens are sinking back to their 2017-2018 level of play with the difference being their home ice record. Having witnessed the Canadiens 16th loss in 25 home dates, fansThursday night sent the Canadiens off the ice under an avalanche of boos. With one win at home over the last month, the patience of Montreal fans, who pay the second highest ticket prices in the league, has obviously reached it’s limit.
It’s too easy to blame all things on goaltending but it has been an issue all season and certainly they have been hung out to dry more often than not. Carey Price has had more bad nights than good ones. Charlie Lindgren was in goal against Chicago, and while he could have done with more support, he had to shoulder a lot of the blame.
With the Canadiens on a power play, his indecision playing a puck behind the net started the Hawks on their way to victory. Chicago fourth liner Drake Caggiula picked his pocket and set up Zack Smith in front of an empty net for the first of his two first period goals.
He was out of position and without his stick and blocker on Chicago’s third goal. From there the Canadiens had no remaining answer. Lindgren has now lost all three of his Canadiens starts. Carey Price’s backup combination of Keith Kinkaid, Cayden Primeau and Lindgren has won two of the ten starts. Admittedly I haven’t seen the team in front of supply much support, but the Canadiens needed at least .500 hockey out of their second goaltenders. The Canadiens would still be out of the playoffs, but three more wins from them would have put them within hailing distance of the final wild card berth. As it stands, chances of a spot in the playoffs border on hopeless.
The Canadiens’ played like a team that is setting up their golf club dates for late April. Concentration was not part of their game. Chicago put them back on their heals with five high danger early scoring chances. Despite outshooting the Hawks 33-28 it was the Hawks with a 12-8 edge in the ‘good’ scoring chances. Even more damaging the Canadiens turned over the puck 24 times, a demonstration of how little effort was put into winning the one-on-one battles.
Brendan Gallagher was again missing from the lineup along with Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia and Paul Byron. To replace them, the best the Canadiens could do was hope that fourth liners or 20 year olds would pick up the slack. Scoring by committee may work over a short period but eventually it hits the wall. The Canadiens have scored more than two goals in only one of the last nine games.
LACK OF SELF-CONTROL
Max Domi has a temper and he tends to show it at the worst of times. Phillip Danault had narrowed the score to 2-1 early in the second period and the Canadiens seemed to be getting their act together. Midway through the period Domi took exception to the Hawks Matthew Highmore which brought him a roughing minor during which the Hawks scored their third goal. Domi was benched the rest of the second period with cause.
ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN
In the sequence leading up to the Debrincat power play goal that made it 3-1, Lindgren lost not only his stick but his blocking glove in the scramble in front of the net. The referees allowed him to play bare handed while he was down trying grab the puck with razor sharp skates all around him. No stoppage which is strange to me and could have led to serious injury. A goaltender loses his helmet play is immediately stopped. Playing goal barehanded is equally dangerous but referees could only blow the whistle when the Canadiens gain possession or the puck leaves the zone. Something for the rules committee to consider in the off-season.
Ilya Kovalchuk added another point his his total – his fifth in six games. This one was pretty; a neat backhanded pass to Phillip Danault in the first minute of the second period to narrow the score to 2-1. Outside of that I didn’t notice him a lot on offense. He’s still doing a surprisingly good job defensively however.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….I like the way Victor Mete has been taking charge on offense as he did in this game. I’m not as excited about his defense however.
….Not a good night for the special teams. Their penalty killers gave up a goal and the power play, which has been mostly absent since the Christmas break was 0-for-3 and gave up a shorthanded goal.
….Since November 16th the Canadiens have won three of sixteen home games. In that stretch (3-9-4) they have been outscored 57-35. Ten of those games were decided by a goal; the Canadiens winning only one of them, that one in overtime against Ottawa.
….The only teams to win fewer home games than the Canadiens’ nine are New Jersey (8) and Detroit (7).
….The Canadiens rank 13th in the 16 team Eastern Conference.
….It was announced that Joel Armia will make the trip to Philadelphia with his presence in the lineup a gametime decision. As a result the Canadiens returned forward Michael Peca to the Laval Rocket.
The second half of the back-to-back set will have the Canadiens in Philadelphia Thursday night. The Flyers hold the last wild card berth and are nine points ahead of the Canadiens with a game in hand. They’ll conclude their pre-All Star break schedule against Las Vegas Saturday at the Bell Centre.