The second game of the current road trip took the Canadiens to the desert to face the lowly Coyotes on Thursday night. This game meant little outside of draft implications, but some intrigue was created by Claude Julien before puck drop as he swapped some lines around. The changes would prove to be ineffective as the Habs showed up for less than a period on their way to losing 5-2 against the 31st place Coyotes for the second time this season. The loss also means that the Habs have lost nine of their last ten road games, not a pleasant consideration with the next two games away from home ice.
The first shift of the game was a preview of things to come. Carey Price was tested immediately, as he was quite often over the period, needing a big glove save to keep the game scoreless early on. Arizona really appeared more focused for the opening three minutes, until Clayton Keller was guilty of hooking Charles Hudon, sending the Habs to their first power play of the night.
The first man advantage of the night was unable to score, although Nikita Scherbak was absolutely robbed by Antti Raanta immediately following a Coyotes shorthanded 2-on-1. At the expiration of the power play, Arizona broke out for another odd-man rush with Price making his third excellent save of the period. With eight minutes to play, Max Pacioretty took a penalty for boarding. The Coyotes, taking a firm grip on the special teams battle of this game, utilized their terribly ranked power play to get on the board first. Keller hit the post and then got the puck back a few seconds later to blast a slap shot past a screened Price.
The goal only served to create more momentum for Arizona, who really dominated the Canadiens for most of the rest of the period. In a six-minute segment, Price notably stopped Christian Fischer with a dramatic glove save, as well as executing a series of excellent pad stops. The Habs attempted to save face with a good last few minutes of play, but by the end of the first, the Coyotes led the shot count 9-8, the quality of chances by a much wider margin, and most importantly the score 1-0.
If the first period was ugly for the Habs, the second was much worse. In the opening minute of the period, Derek Stepan simply out-hustled Joe Morrow to two consecutive loose pucks which allowed him to locate Brendan Perlini in the high slot. Perlini’s one-timer missed, but the off-speed shot fooled Price to score. Perlini would score again 19 seconds later as Stepan’s breakout pass got through Jeff Petry. All Perlini had left to do was to outskate the lead-footed Karl Alzner. After doing so, Perlini skated in alone against Price and scored five-hole for a 3-0 Coyotes lead.
The Canadiens would attempt to push back as Morrow and Alex Galchenyuk would create scoring chances that weren’t capitalized. With over six minutes to play in the period, Hudon was sent to the box along with two Coyotes for an altercation near the Arizona bench. On the ensuing man advantage, the Habs were nowhere to be found as the Coyotes easily killed the time of the infraction. Immediately following the power play, Paul Byron and Galchenyuk went to work on the forecheck to create a chance for Lehkonen who missed the net. The rest of the period would be played in Arizona’s zone, but the Habs played their typical perimeter game providing little opportunities for excitement or scoring.
The third opened on much of the same note as both teams appeared completely flat until the scoring picked up five minutes into the period. With 5:29 expired, Fischer took a slashing minor and the Habs would finally make them pay. The man advantage included a series of passes from Brendan Gallagher to Jonathan Drouin to Pacioretty to Galchenyuk. The latter shot but missed the net. Fortunately for Galchenyuk, the rebound returned to the side of the net for Gallagher to tuck the puck into the empty cage.
Two minutes later, Scherbak was all over a rebound from a Tomas Plekanec shot and appeared to have scored until the Arizona defender batted the puck out of the air and out of danger. Kudos to that line who stuck with it as Plekanec grabbed the rebound, put another shot on net with Scherbak in front. This time, the rebound found its way to Daniel Carr who made no mistake in scoring and making the score 3-2. With the wind in their sails, the Canadiens had possession of the puck in the offensive zone when Pacioretty inexplicably took an obvious penalty for holding the stick, his second dumb penalty of the contest.
After scoring on their first power play, the Coyotes wasted little time in putting an end to this game. With only 40 seconds expired in the penalty, Keller sent a cross-ice pass to Tobias Rieder who had a wide-open net to make it 4-2. How the Montreal penalty kill unit allowed that pass to get through is mind-boggling. Price is not to be exempt of criticism on this night, as with four minutes to play, he allowed an incredibly weak backhand from Josh Archibald to fool him and end the game on a sour note for every member of the team.
Observation of the Night
The bottom line is that many players appear to have quit on the season, and management should make it clear to the entire roster that from now on, they are playing for their jobs. Whether that entails veterans like Plekanec being shopped, or youngsters like Hudon and Scherbak securing spots for next season, management needs to step in and give Julien some motivational help. This season is providing none, so let’s start looking ahead. This might be the push Bergevin also needs to start shopping players for minimal returns such as David Schlemko, Jordie Benn, and Morrow to allow players such as Brett Lernout and Noah Juulsen to get looks at the NHL level. This admission could also allow the players to play a little looser and make the games a little less tedious to watch.
As of now, it appears Montreal is not only terrible on the ice, they are losing at tanking. Stop this and admit that this season is done and follow the plan described above. When I hear reports of Bergevin telling other general managers that such and such a player is not available (Andrew Shaw or Plekanec? These are the guys Bergevin needs to be specifically shopping…), it makes me hope for his dismissal more than any trade he’s completed over the last two seasons.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Daniel Carr
In his first game in a while, Carr wasn’t as bad as most of his teammates. I don’t really understand how a fourth liner who earns a point every second game gets benched for this long in favour of Byron Froese, but Carr was back, was somewhat visible and managed to score the goal that made this game interesting for all of three minutes.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 5 shots, 12:28 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Alex Galchenyuk
He’s playing very well of late and getting extra attention on the man advantage from the opposition because of it. This wasn’t his best recent game, but he still looked offensively more dangerous than anyone else on the team. He might need some help from Drouin at some point. He may also need to offer different looks if he wants continued success on the power play.
Stats: 1 assist, 0(+/-), 1 shot, 16:33 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Charles Hudon
Hudon had a rough night statistically, but that may not be entirely fair considering he was thrown to the wolves as the top line pivot. He created some good scoring chances early that Artturi Lehkonen didn’t finish, so perhaps the night goes a bit differently for the team if those go in. As a centre, Hudon is like Joe Morrow: a creator of offence. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, they don’t distinguish what zone they are in meaning they create offence for the Habs when in the opposition zone but also create chances for the opposition when in their own end. Hudon did create chances for the Habs and gets a bit of a freebie playing in a role he’s not accustomed to.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 4 shots, 1 hit, 14:21 T.O.I.