The Canadiens opened the 2018 portion of their calendar hoping to start with more victorious habits. This optimism was facing a stiff first test as the San Jose Sharks were in for a rare visit at the Bell Centre. One of the hopeful signs was that the Sharks opted to start backup goaltender Aaron Dell, so perhaps the Canadiens could score some goals. Alas, this was not the case as the Habs suffered yet another defeat, this time 4-1. This loss deepens the canyon that separates the Canadiens to the playoffs, and will surely feed the ever-growing rumour mill surrounding this tire fire of a season in Montreal.
The game started excellently for the Habs as they attacked the Sharks zone for most of the opening ten minutes of play. This opening ten minutes of dominance included two power plays for Montreal, and while both sequences included some scoring chances, I don’t think they really displayed the type of pressure they wanted on Dell. The best of the scoring chances went to Daniel Carr, who received a cross-ice pass from Max Pacioretty and beat Dell only to be frustrated by the post. Other opportunities included a nice give-and-go by Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk that ended with Artturi Lehkonen firing the puck high, as well as a Max Pacioretty partial breakaway that was thwarted by Brent Burns at the last moment.
With half the period in the books and the Sharks solidly on their heels, the Canadiens allowed San Jose to get back in the period. Against a team with the talent of the Sharks, it only took three minutes for them to pay. After a few excellent saves by Carey Price, the puck was sent to Justin Braun who sent a shot wide. The shot hit Joe Thornton in his chest and dropped to the ice before he tucked the puck in the net behind Price while Karl Alzner checked air.
After the goal, Charles Hudon stopped a 2-on-1 chance and forced the Sharks into their third penalty of the period. This third man-advantage started off great as Drouin found Galchenyuk cross-ice for his patented one-timer. Unfortunately, Dell came across and made an excellent save, and the Sharks really handled the Canadiens with ease for the rest of the power play. Joe Morrow then evened things out by taking an offensive zone penalty. On the bright side, Montreal also handled the Sharks’ power play rather easily. It was a good thing they did because Paul Byron was guilty of a second offensive zone penalty, this time a completely phantom check-to-the-head call. The Habs handled this one also to end the period only down one goal.
The second started with Montreal killing the last 20 seconds of the Byron penalty which they accomplished, but it allowed the Sharks to put the Habs on their heels to start the period. Play would settle down and become the Claude Julien-typical nothing happening period. I don’t understand how Montreal plays big chunks of game in this style while behind on the score sheet. If they had the lead, it would be boring but understandable. Regardless, as usual, it did not pay off for the Habs as the Sharks would extend their lead.
The action got going a bit in the second half of the period but the only problem is that the ice was tilted in the wrong direction for Montreal fans. It all started on a Sharks breakout as Morrow was caught pinching in the offensive zone. There was no reason for the pinch as he was clearly outnumbered and without support. The result was a 2-on-1 against David Schlemko. To make matters worse, Morrow busted his tail and back-checked without taking away Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s stick, the player who scored on the rebound.
Luckily for Montreal, the fourth line was still trying, and they were able to earn a penalty call. To open the door even wider, Brent Burns would clear the puck into the stands leading to a full minute of 5-on-3 for Montreal. They did not need that long as quick passes from Drouin to Galchenyuk to Pacioretty to Andrew Shaw gave the latter an open net and brought the Habs back to within a goal. The rest of the man advantage looked atrocious and this would prove to be important since Morrow be called for high-sticking as the power play was expiring. The Sharks would restore their two-goal cushion with the advantage with nine seconds to go in the period as the Sharks were able to pass the puck across the Montreal box twice for the Timo Meier tap-in.
Only a minute into the third period, the Sharks ensured that this game was over. As the Sharks broke out of their zone, Meier was given way too much time and space by Jakub Jerabek. A talented player like Meier took the gift and buried his shot top corner to make it 4-1. From then on, Montreal tried to find a way through the San Jose defenders with little success. The few chances they were able to generate, they missed the net entirely on. Basically, the Sharks were playing it safe, and the Habs had nowhere near enough talent to ever threaten a three-goal Sharks lead, not even with a backup playing his 35th career game between the pipes.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw was the author of the only Montreal goal. Shaw centred the fourth line in Byron Froese’s place and was the benefactor of the solid play of Carr and Nicolas Deslauriers. Kind of sad when two fringe NHLers have become the most consistent players on the team (unless you want to count consistently bad?).
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 2 shots, 0 hits, 15:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Charles Hudon
Hudon had some good jump on this night as he set up the Pacioretty breakaway in the first. He also set up Phillip Danault who used the chance to attempt a wraparound. Much like the rest of the team, his efforts appeared to diminish as the game wore on, but he was dangerous when it mattered.
Stats: -1, 0 shots, 4 hits, 13:13 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Daniel Carr
Carr appears to understand that this team is not very good, but that if he plays hard enough, perhaps he can earn a spot on a team that sucks a little less. That or he simply doesn’t care what is going on around him and continues to try to bulldoze his way into the NHL. Either way, despite his lack of skill, Carr has become the most consistent Canadien player in playing hard and creating chances.
Stats: -1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 11:37 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Carey Price
I’m giving the honourable mention to Price because I feel sorry for the guy. He made some good saves early, but much like the team, he seems to understand that once he’s allowed a goal, his chances of winning are not very good. His blueline is the worst assembled group I’ve ever witnessed as a fan of this team, and Price has to save their collective bacon every night, or else this team is toast.
Stats: 29 saves, 4 GA, .879 sv%, 60:00 T.O.I.