They might refer to it as a ‘magic number’ but believe me there is nothing magical about the elimination number hanging over the Canadiens after dropping a 4-3 home ice decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday afternoon.
Whatever you want to call it, that number is seven.
Most seem to think that 97 points will be the cutoff for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth. If that’s true, the Canadiens can afford to lose only seven of their remaining 28 games.
With so little margin for error, every little mistake is magnified. The first Columbus goal was soft. Their second was a failure to support the blueline creating a breakaway on Carey Price. On the third the Canadiens failed multiple chances to clear with Price eventually failing to cover the puck leading to a wraparound goal. The game winning goal came into an empty net as it turned out.
Ultimately, hockey is a game of mistakes. The Canadiens may have been been a better team territorially but three or four screw-ups led to goals. ‘What was disturbing was the fact that most of the issues were created from the veteran members of the team.
It was a game where little season-long issues are adding up to the season becoming shortened by a another non-playoff presence.
Unless of course number seven is actually lucky., My advice, don’t bet on it.
NO SAFE HAVEN
Think of where the Canadiens would be in the standings if they had produced even an average home ice record this season. Only New Jersey and Detroit have fewer home ice wins than the Canadiens’ 11-14-4 record at the Bell Centre. A turnaround of only four of those losses would mean eight points in the standings and it would have put the Canadiens in the thick of the playoff race. When we write the obituary for the 2019-2020 season, the failure to produce at home is going to be one of the headlines.
The Canadiens had a great start to the game. There were only three stoppages in play through the first eleven minutes and the Canadiens had the puck for most of that time and had run up an 8-2 shots on goal advantage. But Vladislav Gavrikov threaded that shot through Price on the short side in the 13th minute and the momentum quickly changed. By the end of the period the shots were even at 10-10 and early in the second period Pierre-Luc Dubois scored the first of his two goals and the Canadiens never could completely recover.
CANADIENS BEST AND WORST
It was good news/bad news. The Danault line carried the team most of the night offensively and the best member of the unit from an that standpoint was Tomas Tatar.
Tatar narrowed the score to 2-1 on a two man break with Gallagher. That gives him 20 goals for the sixth season in a row and a solid chance of hitting thirty for the first time in his career. Tatar also assisted on the Canadiens 3rd goal.
On the down side, Danault was on the ice for all four of the Columbus goals. It was Tatar who failed to support at the point after Shea Weber had pinched in. It allowed Dubois to get away on the breakaway for the second Columbus goal.
THE SUZUKI WATCH
It looks like the Canadiens second line will be Suzuki/Armia/Kovalchuk for as long as #17 remains with the team. The line controlled a team-best 71.43 percent of the shots while they were on the ice (15-6). It was Suzuki’s alert interception of a Dubois pass and his quick outlet to Gallagher that started the breakaway leading to the Canadiens first goal. He also was credited with one of the four Canadiens high danger scoring chances.
….Meanwhile Kovalchuk played in his 900th regular season NHL game. He drew an assist with a nice pass to Shea Weber on the goal that narrowed the score to 4-3 with 1:01 remaining.
THE OTHER ROOKIE
Ryan Poehling was inserted back in the lineup replacing Jordan Weal. It wasn’t a good idea and I have to think that the Canadiens would serve themselves better by sending him back to Laval to join the recently demoted Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cale Fleury. Because the Canadiens were struggling to come from behind each member of the fourth line spent large portions of the game nailed to the bench including Poehling who logged 7:04, a figure that is hardly conducive to talent development. Thompson/Poehling and Weise were on the ice together only six times over the last two periods.
….This was the 28th one goal game involving the Canadiens this season. They have lost a league-leading eleven of them.
….This was Carey Price’s 2nd loss in his last eight starts (6-2-0).
….Three times this season Price has been asked to play both games of a back-to-back set. Each time he has lost the second game.
….Two goalscoring slumps were ended. Max Domi scored for the first time in 14 games and Shea Weber’s goal was his first since December 29th.
….How does Julien feel about Kovalchuk’s contribution? For the 6th time in his 12 game with the Canadiens he surpassed teh 20 minute mark in ice time.
….There were only eight high-danger scoring chances registered in the game; four by each team. Brendan Gallagher had three of them. On two of them he missed the net.
….Both Tatar and Suzuki have four game point streaks. Each has six points in the four games (Tatar 3g, 3a: Suzuki 1g, 5a)
….Shooting percentage has never been the Canadiens strength. They took 72 shots in the game. Only 30 were on-goal.
….Artturi Lehkonen had another hard working night but all his effort failed to produce a shot on goal. He did lead the Canadiens with three hits.
….Another strong night for Brett Kulak, his sixth in a row. Can we safely say his game has taken a turn for the better?
Tuesday the Canadiens will meet the Devils in New Jersey before returning for three straight home games; against Anaheim Thursday, Toronto Saturday and Arizona the following Tuesday. If it weren’t for their struggles at the Bell Centre the upcoming schedule has a promising look to it.