The Habs opened up their first-round series against Toronto this past week and while the second game was far from pretty, they still managed to pick up an important split on the road.
The Week That Was
May 20: Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1 – Josh Anderson was expected to be a go-to player in the postseason and he was just that in this one, opening up the scoring while having a very strong game overall. William Nylander picked up the equalizer in the second before it became a battle of the special teams (featuring three Toronto puck over glass penalties). I don’t mean that it was a battle in a good way either as it was more of which power play could do less. As it turns out, Toronto was the ‘winner’ as an offensive zone turnover led to Paul Byron’s highlight-reel shorthanded tally and Montreal was able to hang on from there.
May 22: Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 1 – Jesperi Kotkaniemi returned to the lineup with Jake Evans being unavailable and he opened up the scoring. Unfortunately for the Habs, that was all they could muster offensively and the second half of the game saw them get plenty of time to work on their penalty kill (which still isn’t very good). Unfortunately for them, Toronto’s power play came to life, putting the game out of hand in the process.
Goals: Three tied with (1)
Assists: Armia/Toffoli (2)
Points: Armia/Toffoli (2)
+/-: Jeff Petry (+3)
PIMS: Shea Weber (12)
Shots: Shea Weber (8)
News And Notes
– Shea Weber was fined $5,000 for a cross-check on Wayne Simmonds in Game 2.
– Jake Evans suffered a hand injury in the series opener off a shot from Weber. He’s listed as day-to-day and hasn’t been ruled out for Monday’s third game.
– Brendan Gallagher has been a consistent scorer in the regular season but that production has typically tailed off in the playoffs as of late. Over his last 19 playoff games (going back to 2015), he has just two goals.
Last Game’s Lines:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Byron – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen
Perry – Staal – Anderson
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Chiarot
Merrill – Weber
(That’s how the game started although almost everything was different by the end.)
The first two games can be viewed as a glass half full or glass half empty lens. On the positive side, they got a win, the playoff version of Josh Anderson can be a difference-maker (perhaps playing him higher than the fourth line might help), and Carey Price looked sharp in the first game despite being off for a month with just a two-period stint in Laval over that stretch. Objectively speaking, I think most Montreal fans would have been content with a split to start (that’s where I stand as well). I think some of the players would have taken that as well.
As for the half-empty viewpoint, it starts and ends with offence. More specifically, the complete lack of it. Yes, the Habs haven’t scored much since the end of January but they could still generate some chances. But we haven’t even seen that for the most part through two games with their goals coming off the rush or a broken play. The Maple Leafs are a better defensive team than some give them credit for which doesn’t help but some of these struggles are self-inflicted. The power play is so fixated on zone entries now that they don’t seem to know what to do when they actually get set up in the zone. They aren’t generating much in the cycle game (which is supposed to be the reason that Eric Staal and Corey Perry are in there), and slot chances are few and far between. A lot of this is correctable and wasn’t that supposed to be the point of the practice time, to work out these kinks?
If you’re looking for some cause for optimism, it’s this – the Habs haven’t brought their ‘A’ game yet and still managed a split on the road. If the offence can wake up and get them a win out of these next two, they’ll definitely have a fighting chance in this series. But if they need Price to allow one or fewer goals to have a shot at winning, they’re not going to have a shot at winning. The top six has basically taken the first two games off; it’s time for that to change.