Another Western road trip was starting on this very young season, and what was witnessed by fans on Thursday night in Minnesota was the exact same type of play that was seen on the previous road trip. Goals scored in bunches against a flailing Carey Price. Many key players not showing up and placing other mentally fragile players in positions that they can’t handle at this point and time. It was a pathetic effort considering all of the positives the team had built over their recent homestand. The result also looked quite familiar as the Wild handled the Canadiens 6-3 in a game that was never truly in doubt.
The game started on a bad note for the Canadiens who allowed two open-net opportunities to Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter. Luckily for them, the Wild players missed both gaping cages to allow the Habs a chance to find their legs. This did not happen, and near the five-minute mark, they paid for it. Matt Cullen got hold of a rebound after winning an offensive zone draw, and he sent an off-speed shot that fooled Price who slid way too far on the play. 10 seconds later, Price sent a clearing attempt toward Max Pacioretty, but the attempt landed on the tape of Mat Dumba who floated a shot toward the net that was tipped in by Nino Niederreiter. This is a pass Pacioretty should have handled. Five minutes into the game and the Habs were already down two goals.
After another five minutes of unconvincing play, Phillip Danault was sent to the penalty box for slashing. Montreal killed the advantage quite effectively but were unable to create momentum from the kill. A few moments later, Brandon Davidson was caught deep in the Minnesota zone and Pacioretty failed to cover for him. This allowed Cullen to find Tyler Ennis on a 2-on-1 to make it 3-0. With the period expiring, Pacioretty took a high sticking penalty that would keep the Habs in their own zone through the end of the period, though they did manage to keep the score as it was.
The Habs started the second period by killing what was left of the Pacioretty minor before spending the better part of the opening five minutes hemmed into their own zone. This essentially set up the period as the Canadiens looked like they were killing a penalty for most of the first half of the period. Even the zone time they did get was completely inoffensive. With roughly eight minutes to play in the period, Shea Weber got caught checking air while Ryan Suter came streaking down the middle, accepted a nice pass and buried his chance.
Two minutes later, Montreal decided to get on the board. Charles Hudon picked a pocket to break into the Minnesota zone. He took the puck and patiently waited for Brendan Gallagher to get open. Hudon slipped the puck to Gallagher who was alone with Devan Dubnyk and completed a nifty deke to score. Before that shift was over, Gallagher was called for a penalty, a situation that was handled for the third time in this game by the Montreal penalty killers. While the penalty was killed, the negative of the situation is that it promptly returned the Habs on their heels, a position they would conserve until the end of the period. At the end of the period (14 seconds to be exact), Jeff Petry was called for a hooking minor, a fourth consecutive penalty against Montreal as they were easily beaten to most loose pucks and placed themselves in this position.
The third started with Montreal once again on the penalty kill, though this time the Wild made the Habs play. Minnesota finished a quick passing play as the penalty killers, mostly Weber and Karl Alzner, sat back and watched the puck bounce quickly around them. With this fifth goal and the invisibility of certain players, Claude Julien shuffled his lines. This would create a bit of a spark as Montreal finally created enough to gain some zone time and lure the Wild into a penalty. The top unit on the power play was as inept as ever as it continued to deploy players in the wrong positions but their second wave created momentum as the Habs started playing in the offensive zone.
Eventually, Danault sent a pass across the crease and found a streaking Andrew Shaw to score Montreal’s second goal of the night on a nice looking play. Montreal spent the rest of the game deep in the Minnesota zone as the Wild were content to defend their rather comfortable lead. With five minutes to play, Gallagher picked up the puck from a scrambled draw and shot from an impossible angle which squeaked passed Dubnyk. This made the game a little interesting as Montreal was suddenly behind by two goals with some serious momentum. Unfortunately, with two minutes to play and Carey Price at the bench, Pacioretty was guilty of a blind pass to centre ice that found Marcus Foligno perfectly to effectively end the night.
1) First period woes – One gigantic difference between the Habs of the last few years under Michel Therrien and today under Claude Julien is the way Montreal came out to start games. How many times over the last three seasons have the Habs forced the opposition to weather the storm to start the game? Now, it appears that the Canadiens are the team consistently trying to weather said storm. If they are successful, then they have a chance to put the other team to sleep and deploy their game plan. Otherwise, they are essentially playing from behind for the entire game. This team just doesn’t have the necessary pieces to effectively play this sort of rope-a-dope type of game. It doesn’t suit them at all. I’m sure it’s not Claude Julien’s plan or style, but maybe this is where assistant coaches can shed some light as to how Therrien got them ready to start games? Never thought I’d be nostalgic for the game Therrien had this team playing.
2) Selective Lessons – Alex Galchenyuk has been struggling for most of the season while he remains very close to the team lead in points, he still tends to cheat on the offensive side of the puck. Charles Hudon is often guilty of this same behaviour, though he logically gets a bit more forgiveness for the behaviour being a rookie who has much lower expectations to fulfill. Both players are far more capable offensively than Tomas Plekanec who has become an offensive black hole over the last calendar year. Therefore, in a game where the team falls behind by two goals in the opening five minutes, it’s incredibly hard to understand how Galchenyuk can play less than three minutes in the first period. It’s even more puzzling to see Hudon, main creator of the only goal pre-third period, demoted to the fourth line and separated from the best player on the night in Gallagher. Meanwhile, Plekanec continues to play a regular shift, as does Pacioretty, who was without a doubt the worst Montreal forward on this night (his soft play was responsible for 3/6 goals against). With the record what it is, the time to teach lessons is already over for Julien this season. Time to play for results, not for dressing room politics.
3) Positivity – A little positivity on an otherwise negative night, the Galchenyuk-Drouin-Lehkonen line created some looks offensively. It’ll be interesting to see if they stick together to start the game on Saturday. Aside from this line, it was a solid bounce-back effort from Victor Mete. But the only player to really play a full 60 on this night was Gallagher, he forechecked, caused some turnovers, had two goals, and was noticeably better than his teammates on this night. The guys in the room owe him a solid effort on Saturday. Here’s hoping they deliver.