The wheels continued to fall off the Canadiens playoff bus tonight as the Atlanta Thrashers came into town and delivered a complete thrashing. The final score of 4-1 could have been a lot worse as the Habs failed to present themselves at all for the final two periods.
A creeping worry has to be crawling around the Montreal brain-trust tonight as once again Jose Theodore failed completely to produce any kind of reliable goaltending. It has become blatantly obvious to most viewers that Theo needs a break, however in his effort to get the team past its recent rough patch, Claude Julien has continually gone to the Theo well, despite that well having run dry.
The most difficult part to take for the fans was the completely turnaround in the play of the Habs. In the beginning it was complete domination, but following a series of powerplays where they failed to produce a goal – including a five on three situation – the game swung mightily in the favour of the Thrashers.
After the drop of the first puck, the Habs served notice that they were going to work hard for this one, and shift after shift to start the game kept the Thrashers hemmed in and panicking continually. Particularly effective was the reunification of Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik who discovered old chemistry immediately.
This chemistry paid off when a hard-working Zednik got Koivu the puck. His brilliant behind the back pass from just beside the Thrasher goal found Jan Bulis alone in front, and the latter popped home his 13th to send Montreal out in front.
As the Habs were breaking out quickly in a rare penalty kill attack, Quintal lost his man and when the puck was turned over, he found himself behind and forced to haul down the Atlanta attacker. On the ensuing powerplay, Ilya Kovalchuk took the puck at the blueline and fired a shot past Theodore. There was no screen on the play, and the shot was from the very top of the circles – surely one Theo would like to have back.
Shortly thereafter the Habs found themselves on a full two minute five on three situation. There was plenty of puck control and movement, however they couldn’t get anything in the net. Immediately after those two penalties finished, the Habs found themselves once again on the powerplay. This time it was much less effective, and by the end the game had completely turned on its heel, and the Habs fell deep into the depths of hopelessness for the most part.
The second started quickly for the Thrash, Kovalchuk finding a breaking Kaberle with a brilliant pass to make the score 2-1. Begin was caught slightly behind on his coverage on the play.
The third goal completely killed all Montreal’s confidence and sunk any team spirit left. In fact, there was no more team play, there was little in the way of cohesion, and there were breakdowns all over the ice. On the penalty kill, Theodore found himself behind the Montreal net and decided to make the clearance on his own. His attempt hit the back of the net, and his second abortive attempt on the puck merely sent it out front to the waiting Thrasher who easily slid it in the very wide open goal.
There were three elements that were particularly positive on this night for the Habs – perhaps the only three. The play of the line of Koivu was generally very good and created chances on almost every shift. The chemistry between the three was easily evident. Mike Komisarek continued his strong play of late and showed a few extremely strong plays at both ends. Michael Ryder found his game again and was a threat very often, making plays for himself when his linemates were unable.
Another who had at least a decent game was Andrei Markov, however his mistake in the third cost the Habs the final goal against. In an attempt to pinch and keep the puck in, he misplayed a bounce and left the Thrashers on a two on one. The original shot was into Theo’s pads, however he was unable to freeze the puck – something he’d done consistently all year – and Dany Heatley picked up the rebound and scored his third of the year.
The rest of the game from the Habs was a mockery to the game of hockey in general, and a slap to the face of the coach’s system. Despite the line changes and efforts to spark things, Julien could not find the key and the Habs fell to their fourth straight loss. Certainly, he has to be looking at his goalie and wondering where all the All-Star play disappeared to.
Indeed, all Habs fans are wondering.