As the Canadiens took to the ice on Saturday night with the aims of avoiding yet another extended losing streak on the season, the perfect opponent presented itself to the Bell Centre. In the Edmonton Oilers, the Habs were facing a team built on offence, with little defence or goaltending to speak of. A team that relies heavily on speed to create havoc. It should have been the perfect matchup, but as is often the case around the NHL, the results come to the teams who want to win more than their opponents. This was the case again as the Habs lost their third straight game by a score of 6-2.
The start of the game was excellent for the Canadiens as they got deep into the Oilers zone and pressured until Leon Draisaitl felt the need to run interference on Paul Byron. The Habs’ 24th ranked power play went to work, and as the ranking indicates, not much happened during the two-minute sequence. Montreal got some zone time, but their shots on net were one and done opportunities; not good enough. With roughly eight minutes expired, Charles Hudon inexplicably failed to clear his zone. Draisaitl bounces a pass off Hudon to Mike Cammalleri who beat Carey Price for an early Edmonton lead. On the very next shift, Phillip Danault and Max Pacioretty were guilty of some lazy back-checking which allowed Milan Lucic to find Jesse Puljujarvi who appeared to beat Price to make it 2-0. Upon review, the puck hit the post, so the Montreal forwards got away with one there.
The goal(s) gave the Oilers some jump as they were suddenly all over the Canadiens. With 8:28 to play, Price’s clearing attempt got batted out of the air by Ryan Strome. The puck landed on the stick of Jujhar Khaira who wrapped it around before Price got back to his net as the Oilers finally did make it 2-0. The last eight minutes of the period included some great shifts by the fourth line who desperately tried to get their team going, but lacked the skill to finish the nice plays. Unfortunately, the other three lines continued to struggle through the second half of the period.
The group on the ice to start the second was Hudon, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber, and Jordie Benn. After 1:10, they were still on the ice except for Hudon who was replaced by Pacioretty. Pacioretty played soft and failed to clear the zone which allowed a Kris Russell point shot to be reached by Khaira who scored on the rebound to make it 3-0 Edmonton. Jeff Petry was called for holding 25 seconds after the goal. On the man advantage, Edmonton scrambled a zone entry, but eventually, Draisaitl passed the puck across to Milan Lucic who scored on a shot that Price should have stopped. This goal would be the end of Price on the night as Antti Niemi made his third appearance in a Canadiens jersey (second in relief).
Niemi made a few good stops immediately upon entering which got the fourth line going as they created some offensive chances. Andrew Shaw tried to get his team going too as he dropped the mitts with Darnell Nurse. Both efforts appeared futile as the play continued to be concentrated around Niemi. Montreal then got a break as Brandon Davidson (in his first game since Edmonton claimed him on waivers) was called for holding Danault. Montreal would take advantage of their second power play of the evening as Alex Galchenyuk sent the puck around the boards to Pacioretty at the point. Pacioretty sent it cross-ice to Petry, who sent it right back cross-ice, this time to the front of the net, where Galchenyuk was now posted for a tip-in to make it 4-1 and give the Habs some life. Edmonton wasn’t fazed by the goal as the rest of the period was spent in the Montreal zone as Niemi allowed the game to be interesting heading into the third period.
In the opening moments of the third, Gallagher was sent to the sin bin for a tripping minor. Montreal would be successful in killing the penalty, but Gallagher would never make it back to the bench before taking a second penalty, this time for slashing and this one proved costly as Oscar Klefbom shot from the point on the PP which went in off Karl Alzner’s skate. 29 seconds later Jonathan Drouin cheated down low in the Oilers zone and then Galchenyuk skated hard to cover no one on the backcheck. The result was a Yohann Auvitu goal to make it 6-1.
Drouin would continue the parade to the penalty box with a hooking penalty, but the Habs were able to kill it off to minimize the damage. Edmonton would continue to control the play heavily until Patrick Maroon took an idiotic penalty for mouthing off at the linesman. Whether or not one agrees with the call, the penalty was idiotic due to the score and the time left in the game. Montreal would not make Maroon pay, as their power play was mostly idle while looking for impossible passes. Immediately after the penalty, Julien sent out Danault with Deslauriers and Carr. The results were immediate as Deslauriers won a race, Carr sent the puck to the front, and Danault batted it home on a delayed call to cap the scoring on the night.
Carey Price did not play like himself on this night and the results speak for themselves. But let’s be a little objective here, this defence is built to not be able to bail him out. I mean, Shea Weber is likely the premier shut-down defender in the league, and instead of playing him with offensively threatening players, he’s paired with the likes of Alexei Emelin and Jordie Benn over the last two seasons. How does that make any sense? And don’t even get me started on the signing of Karl Alzner, a defensive defender, when you’re paying $10.5M for Price starting next season and are already counting on Weber for 25-30 minutes per game.
Max Pacioretty is not scoring at his usual pace and the results are speaking for themselves. To add to this situation, fans have gotten on him of late for defensive indifference and seek the same treatment that Claude Julien has reserved for Galchenyuk. Honestly, these conversations drive me nuts. Pacioretty is a perennial 30-goal scorer, and he’s playing with Phillip Danault as his centre. If Danault isn’t there to cover for Pacioretty defensively, then why is he on that line? Look back at all the recent plays where Pacioretty looks bad. On ALL of them, Pacioretty is either trying to cover for Danault, or Danault coughed the puck up to start the play going the other way. For Galchenyuk, he was moved to the wing because the team didn’t like his defensive play, so how is it going to be any better on the wing? And let’s not pretend Jonathan Drouin is playing any better than Galchenyuk was down the middle.
Long Time to Lick Their Wounds
One very good point about this last week is that after three lesser games by the team, they should have no issue with spending a ton of time practicing and improving their play over the nice long break that is awarded to them this weak. Here’s hoping Julien finds his inner-Therrien and comes down hard on his team. They need it desperately as they really are standing on their very last leg if a position in the postseason is the desired outcome to this season.
The media has been critical of Julien for his roster selection when the Habs get to overtime. I think the media needs to stop protecting certain players (Drouin, Danault, Plekanec). Julien coaches every minute of every game not to lose. As mentioned above, the defensive pairings are created with this very idea in mind. Otherwise, any one of Jakub Jerabek, Victor Mete, or even David Schlemko should be taking advantage of having Shea Weber, the top defender on the team, as their partner. The forwards are even worse. Galchenyuk and Pacioretty were last productive when playing together, with Gallagher on their wing, at the start of last season. Yet that line has been attempted how many times over the course of this horrendous season? None! It’s impossible to try this line, it would mean playing Galchenyuk at centre. He can’t play centre!! Where would Danault or Plekanec play? The problem is that Julien should be focused on finding where Galchenyuk will find success way before worrying about the success of his defensive guys like Plekanec or Danault. Instead, we get this balanced garbage on a team that already struggles way too much to find offensive consistency. I’m going to dream up a lineup but it’ll never happen the way Julien coaches. Would this line-up be vulnerable defensively, YES! But isn’t that why the blueline and goaltending is built the way it is? Something more than balanced or stacked lines needs to be attempted to get this team going, in my opinion.
Deslauriers-Plekanec-Froese/de la Rose
Silver Lining Fourth Line
There is absolutely no denying that this game was as ugly as last Saturday’s game was fantastic for the Canadiens. In the horror that was this game, one line from the team can walk away with their heads held high. That is the line of Deslauriers-Froese-Carr. Deslauriers has made all of the advanced stats people look foolish as he’s proven to be quite effective on the team. Carr has been the straw that stirs the drink and it seems likely, to me anyways, that he should end up playing higher in the lineup after his last three games.