The Habs were looking to make it two wins in as many days as they hosted Ottawa on Saturday afternoon. However, they put forth another subpar performance, falling 4-0 in the process.
Montreal made one lineup change for this one with Carey Price returning from his lower-body injury which meant that Cayden Primeau was sent back to the taxi squad. With no extra bodies among the skaters available to them right now with only one non-emergency recall remaining, there were no changes to the forwards or defence pairs.
Evgenii Dadonov was a thorn in Montreal’s side in their last meeting and he had some jump early on. On his first shift, he got around Jeff Petry, was tripped up, and knocked the net off its moorings. A minute and a half later, the Sens got on the board. Drake Batherson’s initial shot attempt hit Joel Edmundson in the face, knocking him out of the play for a few seconds. As that was happening, he recovered the bounce of his shot and sent it to Artem Zub who had plenty of room to skate in and beat Price high as their first shot drew first blood.
On the next shift, the Habs had a good chance to tie it as Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin came in on a two-on-one. Anderson was on his off-wing but opted to shoot anyway but missed the net. For the majority of the frame, that was their only chance of consequence.
Tyler Toffoli was called for holding the stick not long after on a bit of a questionable call although, to be fair, most of the calls for both sides in this game qualify for that particular designation. Ottawa had a couple of looks in close but couldn’t score while Dadonov was stopped just as the penalty came to an end.
Montreal got their first chance with the man advantage two minutes later on a Brady Tkachuk interference call and did absolutely nothing with it. That carried over for most of the second half of the period and they had a stretch of more than 16 minutes without a shot. The Habs had a good chance late when Drouin was gifted a golden opportunity off a Colin White turnover. He was in alone on Matt Murray, deked, and couldn’t even get a shot off as Murray poked it away. To make things worse, play continued and Brett Kulak was called for delay of game seconds later, giving the Sens a long carryover power play to start the second period. The shots on goal were 5-3 with the chances even lower than that.
The Canadiens did a good job on the penalty kill to open the second period and got another crack with the man advantage just after when Alex Formenton went off for hooking. They didn’t score but there were signs of life at least. Meanwhile, Formenton was stopped off the rush just after stepping out of the box.
The Nick Suzuki line had a good shift not long after the midway mark of the frame as he and Tyler Toffoli had good shots but couldn’t beat Murray, nor could Petry as his shot soon after trickled wide.
With seven minutes left, Montreal looked to have a good chance brewing but a broken stick put an end to that. The Sens came back the other way and Batherson snuck one through Price’s pads that qualifies as one of those shots that a goalie simply can’t allow. With how poorly Montreal had been playing up to that point, that was the back-breaker.
Ryan Dzingel sent the Habs back to the man advantage when he closed his hand on the puck with a little under four minutes left after being dumped to the ice. The ensuing power play was embarrassing. Montreal played with zero intensity and they were content to pass the puck around the offensive zone until they turned it over, chased it down, and repeated the same process. They had the puck in Ottawa’s end with decent possession but didn’t hit the net with a shot, didn’t even attempt one, and didn’t even fake one. But hey, they completed a few passes in a row which I guess is the standard they were trying to reach on that advantage; it surely wasn’t to try to score a goal. On that not-so-happy note, the two-goal deficit stood after 40 minutes with the Habs holding an 11-5 shot advantage from earlier in the period.
The Habs had a shot at a prime scoring chance 30 seconds into the third but Suzuki’s centring pass to Toffoli was too hot to handle. They couldn’t get much going after that before Toffoli took a cross-checking call. Ottawa’s best chance on that was a point shot that hit Tkachuk in the foot. For as bad as Montreal played in this one, the penalty kill was decent at least. Shea Weber then hit Tomas Tatar with a point shot to even that ‘score’ at one apiece.
With six minutes to go, the Sens had a chance to truly seal it when Connor Brown went in two-on-one with Formenton but couldn’t get a shot off. They got another opportunity not long after when Anderson was sent off for a needless cross-check and made it count. While Tkachuk was first stopped on a good chance, Ottawa worked the puck down low and then to Batherson who went high-glove on Price.
Price was then pulled with 4:21 left with an offensive zone faceoff. It was an aggressive call but understandable as it was a last-ditch effort to try to get something going. Fittingly given how poorly they’ve played lately, they lost the faceoff clean and Nikita Zaitsev scored from behind his own goal line.
Artturi Lehkonen had a pair of good chances after that to break the goose egg but couldn’t beat Murray though he drew a penalty on the second opportunity. With the game out of hand, the power play finally decided to try shooting. They got a late goal post but nothing more with Ottawa picking up their first shutout with D.J. Smith behind the bench. Murray only had to make 23 saves in the win while Price turned aside 11 of 14 shots in the loss.
Forget the three stars for this one. There weren’t really any positive performances to highlight. Instead, I want to discuss the coaching.
When Claude Julien was fired, many felt the team had been playing to get him fired. But how poorly they played in those contests pales in comparison to how truly awful the Habs have been the last three games. While there were some brief signs of life following Dominique Ducharme’s hiring, those have long since faded and the team is frankly worse now than it was under Julien aside from doing a better job at staying out of the penalty box.
Am I advocating for another coaching change? Certainly not. But it’s time to point the finger at Ducharme and the coaching staff for letting it get this far. There are no game-to-game adjustments being made. Teams have figured out that clogging the middle kills Montreal’s transition game and with it, their offensive game goes out the window. (That’s not just a coaching problem, it’s also a roster composition issue.)
But what annoys me more is that there is no accountability either. Jonathan Drouin is back to the version from last season where he floats around hoping for something to happen and if it does, he fails to capitalize on it. There’s no defensive effort, hustle, or anything useful most shifts. And yet he’s still on the power play and not even being demoted down the even strength lines. Shea Weber is handling the puck like a grenade and isn’t shooting as much either and yet he’s still on the power play. (I think he’s playing through an injury which would partially explain some of this.) I’m not saying blow everything up but if you want to try waking the team up, do something that might actually shake the team from its complacency and sit someone down for a few shifts. That involves sending a message to a veteran but as a coach, that’s your job, to do uncomfortable things when the situation warrants it. And it most definitely warrants it with how badly they’re playing.
There have been no available healthy scratches due to the roster and cap situation and even when they add Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson on the road trip, they’ll still be stuck with 12 forwards basically the rest of the way with only one non-emergency recall left. The roster is what it is at this point; there are no magic bullets coming or impactful reinforcements. While you may be hopeful that Cole Caufield can make a difference at some point, it’s patently unfair to expect that before he even plays an NHL game. They can’t plan on that happening. They need to find some lines that work with the players they have.
This is the hand Ducharme has been dealt. It’s not a great one and as I said when he was hired, I feel bad for the situation as is this is not an ideal spot for a first-time head coach to be in. But it’s on him to make the most of it. Right now, he’s doing anything but. Ducharme is 24 games into his NHL head coaching career and so far, the Habs have gone from an inconsistent disappointment to an even bigger inconsistent disappointment. If he doesn’t turn it around, he’s probably not getting another chance as his supporter in Marc Bergevin may not be around to make the call on his future. There is still a quarter of the season left to get things on the right track but there’s little time to waste. It’s your move, Dominique. Make it a good one.