A betting chalk player would see that the two best Canadiens goalscorers out of the lineup against a team like Tampa Bay and would be inclined to bet the house against them. They might even stretch that and put money down on the Canadiens losing by shutout, which is exactly what happened.
Not only were Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher out of the lineup, but in the hangover from the trade deadline housecleaning, there were seven in the lineup who played more games with Laval this season than with the Canadiens. The only way they were going to beat the Lightning was a gift from the hockey gods and when it comes to the 2019-2020 season, the hockey gods haven’t looked too kindly upon Montreal.
Talk about your brain farts. The Canadiens started the game with five of their most reliable players on the ice; Weber, Chiarot, Danault, Lehkonen and Byron. They looked like something you might see at a peewee hockey game. Forty-nine seconds into the game all five of them found themselves chasing the puck in the same corner of the ice with Victor Hedman alone in the slot to get the pass from Nikita Kucherov. Carey Price was so shocked at what he was seeing, he left a gaping five hole for Hedman. It turned out to be the game winning goal. Twelve minutes later Jeff Petry pinched when he should have stayed back and the Lightning had a two-on-one break. Alex Killorn artfully faked the pass and beat Price with a perfect shot. Down 2-0 and with the team they had on the ice, there was little chance of a comeback no matter how hard the Canadiens might have worked.
Head coaches are put in that position to win games and, draft lottery or not, Claude Julien was trying to win this game. With the Canadiens trailing from the first minute of the game, he tried to find a way to manufacture at least a modicum of offense. He started the game with eleven forwards. Both Lukas Vejdemo and Dale Weise’s ice time was under ten minutes meaning for the most part he depended on nine forwards for most of the night including almost all of the third period Desperately for offense, Julien used fourteen different five-on-five line combinations. The only two lines that saw significant ice time together were Domi/Byron/Weal and Suzuki/Hudon/Armia.
Karl Alzner admitted that he hadn’t been a forward since he was nine or ten years old. But at the morning skate,in the absence of Tatar and Gallagher at the morning skate, there he was up front on a line with Phillip Danault. Against the Lightning, it seemed Alzner was the only one in the game who didn’t see ice time with Danault. Mostly Artturi Lehkonen was his left wing but six forwards saw duty on his right side. And with Nate Thompson gone at the trade deadline Danault was on the ice for 21 of the game’s 57 faceoffs, winning 67% of them. For all of this Danault deserved a distinguished service medal.
Mikhail Sergachev can thank his lucky stars he ducked at the right time. Sergachev made the mistake of crosschecking Nick Suzuki twice during an altercation behind the net at the end of the second period. After witnessing Zdeno Chara’s stickwork on Brendan Gallagher a month ago, Shea Weber wasn’t going to let this one pass. The roundhouse right he threw at Sergachev would have felled a tree if it had connected. Weber doesn’t fight very often for which the rest of the league can be thankful. His only other fight as a Canadien was three years ago (April 14, 2017) against the Rangers J. T. Miller. It didn’t go well for Miller.
LOOKING FOR POSITIVES
I thought Joel Armia was the Canadiens best player. Most of us have given up on the idea that Armia is going to have a multitude of twenty-goal career seasons but he does give himself chances. With the score still 1-0 Petry sent him in alone but he failed to score. It was one of two high danger chances he gave himself in the first period.
IN THE TANK
It is said that 97 points is the playoff cutoff point. The Canadiens have 71. If they were to win every one of their remaining thirteen games the best the 26 points would get them is 97 points.
They still rank 9th in the draft lottery but Chicago’s win Thursday night left the Blackhawks 8th but only a point behind the Canadiens with two games in hand. Buffalo lost Thursday night. They’re five behind the Canadiens with two in hand. Idle New Jersey, currently 6th in the lottery, is seven back with three in hand. If the Canadiens were to remain 9th in the lottery they would have a 5% chance of winning the Alexis Lafreniere sweepstakes and 16% chance of drafting in the top three. If the Canadiens were to fall to 6th chances of winning the lottery would only increase to 7.5% but their chances of drafting in the top three would be 23.3%.
ALSO WORTH MENTIONING
….There are reasons Charles Hudon’s NHL future is limited, mostly related to his defensive shortcomings and his lack of consistent aggressiveness. But he does produce some offense. He led the Canadiens with six shot attempts, three of them on goal. Because most of them came from the perimeter, none was particularly dangerous however.
….Without Gallagher and Tatar the Canadiens managed only five high danger scoring chances in the game (none in the third period). Armia was leader with two.
….Max Domi led the Canadiens with five shots on goal. His line with Weal and Bryon had nine of the Canadiens 32 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy.
….Another interesting night for Jake Evans. Playing on the fourth line mostly with Weise and Vejdemo, he produced four shots on goal and won all three of his face off attempts.
The Canadiens will finish the road trip at Florida Saturday night then return home to face Nashville, Buffalo Tuesday and Thursday. After that the Canadiens will have only three Bell Centre games the rest of their season. Starting next Saturday they begin their annual, and usually disastrous three game California trip.