Nothing comes easy in the current parity-driven NHL but Canadiens fans might have felt odds were on their side for a win over the Arizona Coyotes Monday night.

They didn’t get it and another nail was driven into the coffin of Montreal’s rather quixotic quest for a 2020 playoff berth.

There’s always something to complain about when the Canadiens lose a game that fans think they should win.  With them, the list includes lack of depth and top level offense, a weak defense, goaltending issues and, that old stand-by, injuries.

In this game the finger of blame can be pointed directly at special teams.  The power play to be precise.

DISADVANTAGE

The Canadiens’ have one of the best power plays on the road in the entire NHL. At home they 28th which might explain the fact that only three Eastern teams have fewer home ice wins this season and those teams hold down the bottom three places in the conference standings.

The power play was without Shea Weber, which turned a bad situation into a hopeless one. Claude Julien decided to go with a five-forward power play including Kovalchuk and Drouin at the blueline. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

The Canadiens had six power play opportunities. There was a 16 minutes stretch while the Canadiens still held their 2-1 lead where the Coyotes were handed five consecutive penalties including a full two minutes when the Canadiens were at five-on-three. Through the entire night which amounted to almost eight minutes with the man advantage the Canadiens put up only four shots on goal including just two during that abortive 5-on-3.   Of the four total shots, only one was rated ‘high danger’; that is a shot coming from the area between the two faceoff dots.

Throwing salt on the wound, Arizona scored the game winning goal on a power play of their own with a minute left in the game.

THE NUMBERS GAME

The loss reduces that so-called ‘magic number’ that would erase almost all hope of reaching the playoffs to 12. Of the remaining 48 possible points available, the Canadiens can only afford to lose twelve. Better stated, the Canadiens have to take 36 of their remaining 48 points to reach the perceived playoff cutoff point of 97. That means winning three of every four games the rest of the year starting with those road games this week in Boston and Pittsburgh.

The only faint hope of a playoff berth lies in grabbing third place in the Atlantic Division.  Toronto currently holds that spot five points ahead with two in hand. Florida lost as well Monday night. They are three ahead of the Canadiens with three in hand.

THE DECIDING GOAL

Despite it’s timing, it’s hard to criticize Joel Armia’s hooking penalty with 2:30 remaining in regulation time. It nullified a dangerous Arizona scoring chance.  With Armia in the penalty box and Phillip Danault already out of the game after taking Tomas Tatar’s shot in the face, the Canadiens were now without two of their best penalty killers. The result was the Jakub Chychron game-winner.

UP AND DOWN

Carey Price did some good things in the game, especially in the second period when the Coyotes held a 17-3 shots advantage but I didn’t think he was particularly good on either the first or the third goals.  On the first, Brett Kulak could take partial blame for the turnover as he exited the zone but Derek Stepan’s shot was stoppable. On the game winner, Price was not screened and although Chychrun’s shot had juice, it came from fifty feet away. Both of those goals were scored on Price’s blocker side which seems to be a recurring problem.

SO FAR, SO GOOD

Most think Jake Evans is going to eventually settle in as a third or fourth line centre. Right now he’s a fourth line winger and doing a good job of it. His first NHL goal came off a Nick Cousins rebound. He also used a spin move to send the puck off the crossbar in the second period. Had it gone in, the Canadiens would have taken a 3-1 lead.  He only got 7:52 total ice time but 1:13 was on the penalty kill and another 49 seconds on power play.

Evans was a seventh round draft pick (207th overall) It’s clear that his six year Notre Dame and Laval development path has paid off.

ALSO WORTH MENTIONING

….The Canadiens disappeared after Brendan Gallagher gave them a 2-0 lead in the game’s second minute. From that point until the end of the second period Arizona outshot the Canadiens 27-9 and came back to tie the game.

….The Canadiens had eleven high danger 5-on-5 scoring chances in the game. Brendan Gallagher had three of them including his 19th goal. Arizona had only 4.

….Nothing special from Ilya Kovalchuk. He posted four shots on goal, none particularly remarkable except his final attempt which came with five seconds remaining in regulation time.

….The injury to Danault came early in the second period. No definitive report on the facial injury beyond Julien’s statement that he needs dental work and has a mouth laceration.  UPDATE:  There were no fractures or signs of concussion.  Danault left for Boston with his teammates Tuesday afternoon.

….Max Domi replaced Danault on the Canadiens first line with little remarkable effect.

….With Danault out, most of the penalty killing duties fell to Nate Thompson who was on the ice for 6:15 of the 9:18 the Canadiens were shorthanded.

….Jonathan Drouin continues to struggle with his timing. His best chance came early in the third period off a Nate Thompson forced turnover.

….Victor Mete is lost playing right defense. He was in position to block Chychrun’s game winning shot but could only wave at it.

….After the January 27th loss to Washington the Canadiens were listed by hockeyreference.com as having a 3% chance of making the playoffs. It went up to 8.1% after winning five of six games. With the loss to Arizona the odds have been reduced again to 5.2% and only 1.7% of getting a wild card berth.

MOVING ON

The Canadiens will make the road trip to Boston Wednesday and then Pittsburgh Friday without Shea Weber. Saturday they will host Dallas. The following week it’s rad games in Detroit, Washington and Ottawa.